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In my profession as a veterinarian I am frequently asked to evaluate a horse for purchase. I always try to compare the horse to the "perfect horse," a horse I have never found. The perfect horse would have a correct skeleton. The bones of the skeleton would have the lengths and angles in such proportions that would allow for maximum performance with the least amount of stress.

The perfect conformation is going to vary depending on the expected use of the horse. A barrel horse will need a different conformation than the three-day event horse; the cutting horse will need a different conformation than the dressage horse.

But one thing is certain. The more the ideal horse conformation strays, the greater the stress and the fewer the possible runs he/she will be able to make. There are always exceptions, but best not to plan on it being your horse.

The horse may be built around its conformation, but for useful athletic ability, the horse must also have "heart." I think "heart" is like attitude – it’s difficult to measure, but you know when you have it. Given you have a horse with conformation and a lot of heart, it’s also critical for you to care for the horse to the best of your abilities.

Let’s consider a few of these areas:

  • We all should know we have no horse if he has no feet. Proper and timely hoof care is mandatory.
  • Dentistry has been shown to be critical for the health and performance of the equine athlete. Not only are well-maintained teeth needed for chewing, great tooth care will help provide for a good head carriage. If a horse has a painful mouth, he's apt to carry his head slightly tilted, which in turn will cause his whole body alignment to be off. The athlete in him will be compromised.
  • It goes without saying that nutrition is also of great importance. The horse needs feed for the building of the body as well as the fuel for the engine. To maximize potential we need to provide the best fuel possible. More information on proper nutrition will be provided in future articles.
  • The rest is left up to you, including the training, the conditioning, the promoting, the competition and the showing.

As caregivers of horses, we are expected to provide the very best for them. We need to consider all aspects of horsemanship for it is difficult to overcome a deficiency in one are by over-achieving in another. Good luck and good purchasing!