Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Conformational Defects, Limbs, Generally

Conformational defects can be separated into two groups, those that you can do something about, and those that you can’t.

In youngsters with various limb defects, there may be a window of opportunity to do something to help them live productive, pain-free lives. The key is recognizing this and acting on it sooner rather than later.

With respect to adult horse conformational defects, again there is a division: those that are likely to affect performance or soundness (a functional problem that causes discomfort or pain), and those that are not (purely aesthetic problem).

In almost all disciplines, there have been winning performance horses that have had poor conformation. Cannonero II won the Derby and Preakness in 1971 with a very crooked leg. Everyone knows the story of Seabiscuit’s apparently poor conformation. Generally, however, good conformation for a purpose predisposes to good performance.

Prognosis & Relevant Factors

For young horses, prognosis depends on the specific abnormality, its severity, and the age of the horse when treated. For mature horses, prognosis depends on the specific abnormality, its severity, and the presence (or absence) of arthritis.

Appropriate shoeing and trimming is critical to management of lower limb conformation faults.


  • Will this conformational defect affect my horse's use or quality of life?
  • What can be done about it?

    Try to avoid purchasing horses with poor limb conformation. Breed and buy horses of good conformation. A pre-purchase exam by a vet may help identify subtle conformation problems. Breeders should select against obvious conformation faults.

    Once you have a horse with a conformation problem: Know normal conformation and recognize deviations. For growing foals, understand that there is a window of time in which to act. Take photos and share them with your vet for discussion.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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