FireFly Walking Horses. We let the Walkin do the Talkin

Firefly Walkers. We let the Walkin do the Talkin.

Some tips on conformation


Conformation of the true, natural gaited Walking Horse.
By Ray Corum.  This article appears in Voice Magazine.

This study of how conformation of the horse relates to his way of moving will present some guidelines for selecting a horse that will perform the true, natural running walk. Conformation is definitely the most important factor to be considered in the selection and breeding of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

   The perpetuation of the breed depends on the judges and the breeders. They must fully understand the science of the laws of force and motion and how these dynamics depend on conformation. It must also be understood that conformation is inheritable and cannot be altered by man.

   Everyone is entitled to his opinion of what constitutes the best conformation, but as they relate to the Walking Horse they must be learned opinions. We can no longer afford the luxury of randomly breeding horses who have to be made to walk by artificial aids.

   Perhaps the most important factor to consider when examining the conformation of the Walking Horse is the angle of the shoulder in relation to his legs and total body.

   In making this observation, it is well to feel the shoulder with both hands. This will help you to determine the true angle of the shoulder. Also, you will feel the scapula and begin to understand the skeletal structure of the shoulder.

   The middle of the shoulder blade and the spine of the scapula tells you what the true angulation of the shoulder is going to be. Just looking from the point of the shoulder to the top of the withers can be misleading. Some horses have shoulders out on the front and still have a straight up and down scapula. These can look like sloping shoulders but they are just out at the front end. Muscle structure in this area can also deceive the eye, so when making this important observation the actual palpation of the area is important.



The model shown is Merry Boy's F88, 
a 26 year old stallion.
Note how correct conformation will remain constant 
over the years. Not even a swayed back at 26!



The main reason for assigning so much importance on the angle of the shoulder is because, 
the greater the angle, the longer the anterior (front) stride. Now the attention of all Walking Horse enthusiasts should be kindled.
   An added bonus of the sloping shoulder is that it's existence makes lameness in the horse's legs less apt to occur. The straight shouldered horse must hit the ground many more times to go the same distance, also creating un-necessary discomfort to the rider.
  The horse does not have a collar bone. Therefore the shoulder blade is attached to the body with only muscles, tendons, etc., and not bone. While this unusual construction supports the greater portion of the horses weight, it also doubles as an outstanding shock absorber. Since the horse is not hindered by a collar bone, the shoulder can rotate in a much greater arc than a man's.
    After it has been determined that the shoulder is constructed to get the maximum reach in front, the rear area of locomotion should be scrutinized. Obviously, the back end will have to keep up with the front without stringing out behind.
    One of the factors here to be examined is the croup. In the Walking Horse, the croup should slant or drop off quickly with the tail connected well up. The way the pelvis is attached determines the length of stride of the hind legs from the hip joint. The sloping croup assures that the pelvis is attached so the horse can reach up, plant his rear feet and drive.
   The other point of conformation that will increase the rear stride is the curvature of the hind leg at the hock. By referring to the skeletal structure of the rear leg, it is easy to understand how the sloping croup and well curved hock contribute to a longer stride without any rear flow. This curvature of the hock is considered a fault of conformation in some breeds that must perform extra strenuous activities. This is so because of the increased chance of strain, etc. The natural Walking Horse must have a well curved hock. It's existence here does not cause any undue chances of lameness as it only increases the smoothness of the gait.
   Strong, well muscled haunches are also important as the driving forward motion is dependant on the rear area of locomotion.

    Now the legs must be examined from the front, left and right front, both sides, the rear, and left and right rear. These legs have supported the horse since minutes after he was foaled. He is forced to compensate and make do with any faults the legs might have until the day he dies.

    When selecting a horse that is expected to perform a natural running walk, no compromise can be made for any fault of conformation that distracts from our goal.

    From every angle the legs should be straight, utilizing the total column of bone, muscle, tendons and ligaments. This straightness cannot be over-emphasized. To fully examine the many types and problems of crooked legs would add too much to this particular discussion. Just make certain the legs are straight.

    The front legs will support 60 to 65 percent of the total weight of the horse. They should come out of the shoulder somewhat closer together than they do in most other breeds. However they should not be so close that cross firing might occur. The feet should set apart on the ground the same distance as the limbs are apart as they leave the body.

    The front pastern should have about the same angle as the shoulder with the rear pasterns being 5 to 10 degrees straighter. The angle of the front hooves should range between 45 to 50 degrees and the rear hooves about 50 to 55 degrees.

    The length of the legs should obviously be in proportion to the size of the body. They should join in the overall conformation so the horse will be lower in the rear than at the withers. Thus, no additional weight is tilted forward on an already over weighted front end. The length of the upper front leg from the knee up should be longer than the lower leg. A good rule of thumb is that the upper leg cannot very well be too long while the lower leg cannot very well be too short. The knee and lower leg should be well formed with size in proportion to the upper leg.

   The hoof should be well formed and full. Narrow hooves would indicate contracted heels.

    It is only here that any attempt can be made to somewhat change the horses gait by altering the angle of the front and/or rear hooves. Each individual horse will have to be assessed as to which angle will make the desired gait easier for him to perform. To this end, a slight change in the weight of the shoes either front or rear can be an advantage.



We have all heard someone state their preference for a horse with flat boned legs. In reality, the horse has only flat bones in his head, ribs and some small bones. The most efficient bone is a cylinder. The leg appears as if it has flat bones if the cannon bone is large with suspensory ligament, a deep flexor tendon and a superficial flexor tendon that is big enough to go with the bone. Thus, most old timers knew when the legs possessed the right appearance even though their description may not have been technically correct.

    In most instances, the conformation that contributes to the correct mobility of the Walking Horse will also contribute to the necessary absorption of shock to keep the horse sound. This is one of the reasons we have used a 26 year old stallion as our model. Throughout his life, this horse has remained completely sound.

    It is universal in all breeds that the head and neck should show a high degree of excellence of conformation. The head and neck serve as the balance arm to the horse when he is in motion. The head should be neat and trim so as not to add any unnecessary weight to the balance arm. The face should be flat, wide between the eyes, with large expressive eyes out on the corner of  the forehead. When the horse has his head down grazing, nature intended that he see almost a 360║ area. If he is pig-eyed with eyes deep in the sockets, or the eyes are located on the side of the head, he cannot see properly. If the face bulges between the eyes or if he has a roman nose, it will interfere with his sight. We want the horse to see properly, as one who does not is almost always bad mannered. Anyone that has been around a horse that is going blind knows this to be true.

   The head should taper well to the muzzle. The lips should be small and tight. The nostrils should be large so that he will be able to get the proper supply of oxygen. The ears should not be too large and should set on top of the head. The horse expresses himself with his ears and eyes. By observing them under different conditions we can learn a lot about a horses intelligence and disposition.

   By using the length of the head as a unit of measure, the following proportions of a horse may be quickly observed. 
Length of head equals length of shoulder from withers to point of shoulder.
Length of head equals length of barrel from behind shoulder blade to front of hip joint.
Length of head equals depth of barrel from center of back to belly.
Length of head equals distance from stifle to point of hock.
Length of head equals distance from point of hock to ground.
Two and one half times length of head equals the height of horse at the withers.
Two and one half times length of head equals the length of horse from the point of the shoulder to the rear of the buttocks.

    Thus if the horse has a large coarse head he will probably be lacking in other points of conformation. The neck should be moderately long, full, slightly arched with a neat crest, and it should gracefully become larger as it approaches the shoulders. With the fact that the head and neck is used by the horse for balance, the nodding of the head of the Walking Horse seems a natural function. The downswing of the head aids in locomotion as it pulls on the neck and back muscles.

   The Walking Horse must have a straight, short back. The loin muscles should be well developed as the horse has to tense the whole spinal column before he can pick up his total front end and propel it forward. All the sensory nerves which send signals to the brain to cause muscles to contract and result in motion are in the back.

   The center of motion is at the point considered the center of the back, usually at the fifteenth or sixteenth vertebra. The center of gravity is somewhat farther forward as we know the horse is somewhat heavier in the front. This point is usually at the eighth or ninth vertebra. Extra caution should be taken not to place the saddle too far forward. The already overweight front end should not have to take more than it's share of the rider's weight.

   Overall size of the Walking Horse selected can be left to personal preference. Size has little relationship to the degree of perfection of conformation. Just be sure the points of conformation meet a standard of excellence and that they are bound together in the proper manner.

   With the guidelines for correct Walking Horse conformation put forth in this article, the novice should be able to select a natural Walking Horse.

   Now for those of you who do not now own a natural gaited Tennessee Walking Horse, please follow this advice. Go shopping and buy one. The monetary cost will be an investment that will pay the highest dividends in a lifetime of healthful joy.