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Considerable attention is paid to the conformation of the limbs of young Flat-racing thoroughbreds in the belief that a pigeon-toed weanling or one with bandy legs will perform less well than one with perfect, straight legs.

But there is far less emphasis on limb conformation in warmblood sports horses, in which angular or rotational limb deformities are quite common.

Researchers in Sweden have looked at whether the wonky legs apparent in some adult Swedish warmbloods are inherited, and whether the received wisdom that they lead to lameness is correct.

The limb conformation, breeding and soundness of more than 8,000 Swedish warmbloods, presented as four- and five-year-olds for quality grading, was analysed.

Researchers found that freedom from lameness and good health were most strongly correlated with an intermediate overall size of horse, a well-positioned neck, a light front end and correct, straight legs.

Marked toe-in or toe-out conformation was associated with reduced soundness across the population and these abnormalities were quite strongly heritable. When hock conformation was analysed, very straight and sharply angled hocks were correlated with unsoundness.

The researchers concluded that their findings were encouraging, because they showed that careful, selective breeding based upon conformation and soundness could improve the overall health of the breed.

This article was first published in Horse & Hound magazine (18 September 2014)