Buying a horse? Five vital conformation tips to consider first

  • Every now and then an unlikely champion comes along to remind us that a truly great horse is so much more than the sum of his parts.

    Despite his goose rump, cow hocks or some other frowned-upon defect, this unconventional hero puts his best foot forward to triumph over his perfectly formed peers. Could it be that correct training and management — and a big heart — can make up for a horse’s flawed conformation?

    After all, if certain top riders had been less willing to overlook a few faults in conformation, we might have been denied some of our most memorable winners.

    Here are five points to consider when viewing horses for sale:

    1. Put feet first

    “If he doesn’t have quality feet, don’t even bother starting,” says eventer Sharon Hunt. “And look at how he moves — does he jump and land lightly? Eventing is so tough on horses these days, with the turns, the twists and the terrain.”

    2. Have vision

    “Into The Blue was a foot higher behind than in front as a three-year-old,” says show and dressage rider Louise Bell of her working hunter champion. “As long as a young horse has correct limbs and good feet, with everything else sort of in the right place, he will get better. You need an experienced eye, however, so ask an expert if you’re unsure.”

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    3. Factor in age

    A horse already proving himself in competition, despite a fault, might be a safer bet. “If he’s 10 or 11 and has never had a problem, he probably never will,” says Tim Stockdale.

    4. Be choosy

    “You have to be stringent about not running a horse with a conformation issue on unsuitable ground,” says eventer Lucinda Fredericks, issuing a reminder that ongoing management of a defect requires self-discipline as well as money and expertise. “You can’t be greedy.”

    5. Think positively

    Don’t write off something less than ideal. “I can’t afford the perfect raw material,” says Steph Croxford, who jokes that she “splashed out” £4,000 on her grand prix prospect Mr Hyde. “That’s why I work with — and cherish — what I’ve got.”

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