What is confirmation in a horse?

Rodeo Queen on a Horse(41292)Credit: jmwilding

When buying a horse you want to make sure you are getting a good animal as they are an expensive purchase and need to be made with much thought and research.  Owning one is a major commitment and should be taken very seriously. 

When searching the the perfect one it is important to judge each animal on its own merits.  Look for and choose a horse with good confirmation to insure you are getting what you want .  Confirmation on a horse includes type, balance, muscling, and structural smoothness.  Judging confirmation includes looking at the form and proportion of the various parts of the body of a horse.


Type means the function of the breed and how it is expected to perform.  A saddle or light horse, is the typical type that is most commonly used.  The desirable type in a saddle horse requires it to be of medium size and weight, generally ranging in height from 14 1/2 to 17 hands high and will weigh from 900 to 1300 pounds, depending on the breed. 

A saddle horse will have a long sloping shoulder, a long croup, a fairly short back, and short, strong coupling.  The bottom line is much longer than the top line which will allow for a long stride. 

Both fore and rear quarters show an adequate amount of muscling for the breed.  The chest is deep and the ribs well-sprung.  The legs are clean, flat boned, and medium to short in length.

When a horse does not fit this general description they are called off-type.  They may be too small such as a pony-type, or too large and heavy such as a draft-type.

Breed-type of horses will have unique and distinquishing characteristics particular to that breed. 


A balanced appearance comes from the forequarter and hindquarter appearing to be of nearly equal size and development.  The animal will just seem to "fit" together well.   Difference would be an example of a heavy-fronted horse that is narrow and shallow in the rear quarter or the rump part which is not balanced.  Neither is a heavy-quartered horse that is narrow, flat, and shallow in the front.

Parts of a HorseCredit: hawaiihorserescue.com

Body Proportions

Head - Depending on the breed, the requirements will vary on the different characteristics about the head.  In general, the head should be well proportioned to the rest of the body, refined and clean-cut, with a nice chiseled appearance.  The eyes should be set wide apart, the ears medium to small in size, and have a broad forehead with a straight nose.  The upper and lower teeth should meet when biting.

Neck - The neck should be medium in length to fairly long with the head carried at a moderate to high level with a slight arch.  A lean and muscular neck that blends smoothly into the shoulder is desirable.  The head should join the neck at about a 45 degree angle.

Shoulders - The shoulder should be long and set at a 45 degree angle from the withers, smooth and well-muscled. 

Chest and Forelegs - You want a deep and fairly thick chest with a deep heart girth.  The forelegs should be wide-set and blend smoothly into the shoulder.  The pastern and the hoofs should be set at about a 45 degree angle to the ground.

Back, Loin, and Croup - The top-line should include a short, strong back and loin with a long, nicely turned and heavily muscled croup and a high well-set tail. 

Rear Quarters - The rear quarter on a horse should be thick, deep, and well-muscled when seen from the rear or the side. 

Legs - The bones of the legs should be flat, clean and free from fleshiness and puffiness.  They need to be strong to support the body of the horse.  Good legs and feet are among the most important features that a horse should exhibit in strength.  All four legs should be set squarely under the body. 

Feet and Pasterns - The hoof should be well shaped, roomy and balanced in size with the horse.  The pasterns should be medium in length and set at about 45 degrees to the ground. 

When judging a horse you want to purchase you should have some basic knowledge and information as you inspect and judge each animal:

  • Know the parts of a horse and their location
  • Know which parts are important and the most desirable form of each part
  • Try to visualize a perfect horse in all respects
  • Make a keen observation of each horse and compare to your needs and ideal
  • Weigh the good and bad points of each animal and breed that you are interested in
  • Examine each horse without overlooking important points

Overall undesirable traits include:

  • Low flat withers
  • Back too long
  • Tail set too high
  • Straight barrel
  • Loin ties-in poorly
  • Goose rump
  • Tail set too low
  • Roman nose
  • Pig-eyed
  • Parrot mouth