Sunday, 13 January 2013

Science Sunday; Conformation And Disciplines

When training a horse it is important to be mindful that the behavioural responses required of horses, even at the highest level of dressage, are not beyond their physical capabilities. While physical limitations due to conformation may affect the quality of the training outcome, dressage movements are essentially derived from natural movements innate to the species. Conformation often limits performance such as height and weight when jumping. 

Conformation assessments may be done and the results of these used to breed horses from. This can be done from a young age and certain conformational traits are linked to abilities to perform well in certain areas. However, although this gives an early result it is not reliable as there are a wide variety of types of horses that compete in different disciplines therefore these horses will be missed.

Koenen et al (1995) did an interesting study into genetics and conformation of horses and how this related to their dressage and show jumping performance in Dutch Warmbloods. Over 10,000 mares were used with over 3,000 in each of the two categories, dressage and show jumping. They found low genetic correlations which suggested that selecting horses to breed based purely on their conformation is of limited value. Conformation points such as the length of neck, position of shoulders and muscularity of the haunches were all looked at amongst other things. It was found that the shorter necks had higher dressage scores, however this was only a small relationship.

In a study of 500 standard bred trotters it was found that 5 to 9% of their performance traits could be due to conformation. It has been found that conformation for the different disciplines varies. Show jumpers have been found to have smaller pelvic inclinations and smaller hip and pelvic angles. Dressage horses have been found to have a shorter neck and tibia, large elbow angles and a larger angle between the femur and the horizontal plate.

Conformational faults may lead to a horse being prone to a certain type of injury. This is a problem that is seen in race horses as sometimes they are retired to stud after an injury which may pass on this fault to its offspring. Poor conformation will not be the only cause of an injury but may lead to a predisposition.

Love Laura

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