Conformation's Affect on Training

Since Mary came, I've been thinking a lot about nature vs. nurture - kind of.  Specifically, I've been thinking about how conformation and training affect movement.

I studied conformation in college under the tutelage of Dr. Marks, conformation queen, and I know exactly what sort of conformation faults I can live with and what I can't.  I've always loved Connor's shoulder: that nice, sloping shoulder should make it easy for him to rotate his scapula and get his knees up over fences.




...right?

Early September 2013

The truth is, I'm learning that even if a horse is conformed in a way that makes certain things easy for him, there's still a massive training component to things like becoming a careful jumper with good form and tight knees over fences.  Good shoulder conformation will make the road toward good jumping form easier for him than it would be for a horse with a straighter shoulder, all other factors being equal, but it doesn't make good form happen from the first time he ever takes a fence.  And just because doesn't know how to get his shoulders rotated quickly now doesn't mean he never will.

Good form happens when teaching moments like this...




...teach him what it means to snap his knees up quickly, and then combine with favorable shoulder conformation to produce this:


 "Perfection on a stick" (Dr. Marks' favorite conformation line), won't take you where you want to go without the training and temperament to go with it, even if it seems like it should.  It's something I've never really thought about until now.

Thoughts?  This is new territory for my brain, I'd love some opinions.

12 comments:

  1. Good thoughts! Good conformation can also hinder horses depending on their training/the trainer, I think. A horse can be so athletic that things come easy to them, and they can jump the jump, but they don't really understand what they are doing, and sometimes that can result in the horse being pushed too quickly and losing confidence. The brain has to be trained along with the body, and lots of athleticism doesn't necessarily mean they don't need work.

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    1. That's a very good point, like a kid that's too smart for school. It's up to the trainer in that case to identify it and train it appropriately - one more reason to have a good trainer on hand when bringing up any type of youngster.

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  2. I am not so great at the conformation game. Do you think you could or would do some conformation clinics on your blog at all? or somewhere? lol

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    1. Sure, that's a great idea! Let me know if you have any ideas on what you'd like to see, I'd love to do it!

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  3. I love conformation!! I'm not the best at it, but it is a fascinating study.

    There is a horse at the show barn I work at that is gorgeous. Big, uphill, awesome shoulder and hip, clean legs... and he minces around like a pony. A fat, stupid pony, not a cool Connor pony. It's not a conformation problem and it's not a pain problem--it's something in his head. He can't handle pressure and if it's applied, god help the rider.

    Beyond that, Cuna has a terrible back end and is really long and stiff. That makes him a non-ideal dressage horse, but the length gave him the ability to reach over spreads and the stiffness meant he was very honest about his jumps--no spinning out at the last second. The downside is that he's heavy on the front end and his feet can't take it. :-/

    I could get into why I picked out C-rage and the things I like about him physically and how that translates into an entirely different ride, but I feel like I'm writing a novel instead of a comment now.

    Good post!

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    1. I love novels :) You bring up a good point about how one conformation "flaw" can turn into a benefit in a different sport, and another about how knowing your horse's conformation flaws affect his soundness. It is definitely important to your horse's health to not be barn-blind to his flaws if you plan on using him as an athlete.

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  4. It's conformation, training - and brain. I've known some gorgeously athletic horses that have benefited from excellent riding their entire lives that are still dumb as rocks and just don't have the willingness to jump, or to hack out, or what have you.

    I do think that a baseline of conformation lends itself to athleticism, and that one way to make training and to keep a brain engaged is to make something easy for your horse. They don't have that whole "even though I'm not good at something I can try try try and someday suceed!" mentality, y'know? They've never seen Rocky. So your best guarantor of a good experience is having a horse that's able to do the job easily and naturally - or at least has the right brain to be interested in the work.

    Tris is not exactly poorly conformed, but he has some factors working against him, and that mean it's not easy for him to do a lot of things. It's tough to work with. It means I have to watch his brain and attitude like a hawk to make sure he's building confidence appropriately, and not getting sour. It makes things harder all around.

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    1. Your comments always make me think, I love it. That's why I threw 'temperament' into my last paragraph, because brains ARE important. I always said the top benefit of good conformation was soundness through athletic pursuits, but you've tacked on a second benefit for me: to make it easier for them.

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  5. I sort of like conformation, but for me it is not the be all end all. Barry was cow hocked when he was standing at rest and the vet swore we would have all kinds of hock issues if I jumped him. Well he evented, carefully monitored, without ever showing hock issues. I do agree that good conformation can aid in training, but a great mind will go far. I normally fail conformation tests they put in the magazine though :)

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    1. Well, you also buy well-conformed horses from Lisa, so you have less to worry about. ;-) You brought up my #1 reason we should support breeders producing well-conformed horses: we need to be able to recognize a horse that will succeed or fail in a sport based on being able to physically do the work. Buying an ex-racehorse with completely straight hind legs as a jumper, or a reiner-breed QH that is built downhill (on purpose) as a Dressage horse is just not going to make it fun for the horse, as Amanda said above, and could also lead to injury. But you do have to know your individual horse, like in you and Barry's case. Good maintenance can help them go far!

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  6. I would go for brains over beauty ANY day given the option, but have been blessed with the whole package :) That being said I suck at conformation. Great conformation obviously makes things easier for the horse physically but I have seen far to many people buy for the looks and end up with a total nut case!

    It may be a little harder for our guys to do this dressage/eventing stuff but their brains balance it all out. And I happen to think they make sure cute tidy jumpers to :)

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    1. Agreed, you got the whole package. :) Any horse that doesn't completely lose his marbles over stepping into ground bees has brains to spare!

      What you're describing is exactly why I have a mental list of conformation traits that are in the categories of "Wish List" (conformation traits I would select for), "Could Live With" (conformation traits I would tolerate and "Will Cull For" (would not buy). But once you have a horse with none of the "Will Cull For" traits, THEN you have to evaluate brain and all that, because it really is just as important. Conformation should be a jumping-off point in a horse search, not the end of the road. I am loving these comments and this discussion, you guys are awesome!

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