Analysis by Judy Wardrope: This is the first in a three-part series on using the functional aspects of conformation to supplement the factors used in making breeding decisions. Subsequent articles will cover dressage and eventing. The functional aspects of conformation used in this series are intended to be in objective terms. As a noun ‘objective’ refers to an intended goal. As an adjective ‘objective’ means undistorted by emotion, bias or interpretation and is the opposite of subjective. Both definitions can be advantageous when choosing a suitable mate for our mares.
Objectively evaluating the conformation of both mare and stallion as it relates to function, perfectly supplements pedigree evaluation, performance records, production history and such. It also compliments financial choices, allowing the bargain hunter to get the most value for their budget as well as decreasing the likelihood of producing a substandard off- spring no matter the fee.
It is common practice to breed ‘like’ to ‘like’ in order to produce a foal of the same type as the sire and dam. It is also normal to look for a stallion that favorably compliments the mare, perhaps adding strength where she is less strong. We often consider these things automatically. We know that if we want to produce a 15-hand riding horse, we are not likely to cross our 12-hand mare to an 18-hand stallion. We are also unlikely to cross a reiner with an endurance horse hoping to produce a jumper. But it is not difficult to expand on what we already know and shift to a more analytical approach to breeding decisions. To enhance the thought process, we only need to take the time to consciously and objectively analyze both the physical strengths and the limitations of mares and stallions.
We can educate ourselves by first learning some of the major bones in the equine skeleton. Knowing the placement of the lumbosacral gap (where the articulation of the vertebra changes just in front of the sacrum or high point of croup), the ilium, the femur, the stifle, the scapula, the humerus, the elbow and the base of neck is a good place to start. We can then use these points as well as the point of hip, the point of buttock, the point of shoulder and the pillar of support (a line that runs through the groove in the foreleg to the top of the horse and the ground). This can be applied to the mare and the stallion as well as to their offspring.