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Conformational Choke Points Can Limit Performance in HorsesBy Dr. Joe Pagan · January 21, 2013

To perform at maximal ability, a horse must be able to move freely without discomfort. Anything that impairs free and easy movement is a choke point that limits performance. Serious flaws in conformation are among the causes of inefficient movement.

A horse with faulty conformation may perform poorly for two reasons. First, conformationally incorrect horses are likely to be unsound. Lameness is the number-one factor limiting performance in all types of horses. However, the conformation faults  that lead to unsoundness do not necessarily reduce the biomechanical efficiency of the horse if the horse does not become lame. In fact, some of the best racehorses have very crooked legs that seemingly do not reduce their racing ability.

A second type of conformation defect never adversely affects the horse’s soundness. Rather, these horses are simply poor movers, and they expend extra energy when they work. This type of biomechanical inefficiency is especially harmful for racehorses because they must expend more effort to do the same amount of work and therefore fatigue earlier than more biomechanically correct individuals. Also, since respiratory rate is linked to stride frequency, poor movers with short strides have higher respiratory rates with reduced oxygen transfer in the lungs. This greatly reduces
their aerobic capacity.

Before purchasing a horse, a prospective owner should schedule a veterinary examination to see if the horse has conformation defects that can be expected to limit its performance in a particular discipline. Some defects fall under the category of  “unsightly but not unsound” and therefore are not necessarily deal-breakers. For instance, a horse with several minor conformation defects may not be suitable for top-level eventing or show jumping, but may still be quite useful for pleasure riding or low-level competition.