What is Functional Conformation?

For nearly 30 years Judy Wardrope has studied the top performing horses, as well as some not as fortunate, in both sport and racing to determine what separates the best from the rest.

Looking beneath the glossy coats and muscle development, she has determined that function is explained by the way each horse’s skeleton is constructed and how it impacts on the horse’s ability to perform at peak efficiency. It’s a matter of physics – both in regard to the equine skeleton and the tasks we ask our equine partners to perform.

Understanding functional conformation allows riders and their trainers to select mounts that are most likely to succeed in competition or on the racetrack. Horses that are built to perform specific jobs learn more easily, display fewer resistances to training and conditioning, are less prone to performance related injuries and will have longer and more successful competitive careers. Because they are happier horses, their human partners are usually happier as well.

Functional conformation, or form to function as it is also called, gives breeders another tool for selecting pairings of stallions and mares to produce foals that have the functional conformation to perform well in, and withstand the rigors of, specific disciplines.

Whether the goal is to produce a horse that can jump higher, move more gracefully in the dressage ring, complete a 160km endurance race or out strip the competition on the racetrack, breeding for functional conformation will impact both the marketability of the offspring today and the entire horse industry in the future.

Breed associations are finding the premises in her presentations invaluable for inspectors, evaluators and breeders. Sport Pony Canada, Connemara Breeders (in Ireland and the USA), Canadian Sport Horse, Canadian Warmblood and the government of Canada have all made use of the material contained in her presentations.

Equine Canada’s Coaching Update Program gives educational credits for attending Judy’s clinics and seminars, as has the Sacramento Chapter of the United States Dressage Federation.

Read about Functional Conformation:

It’s A Matter of Physics: An Introduction to the Functional Aspects
of Conformation
 (Thoroughbreds) (844kb PDF)
California Thoroughbred, August 2004

Conformation 101: What to look for in a Jumper (160kb PDF)
Horse Sport, August 2005

Conformation 101: What to look for in a dressage horse (196kb PDF)
Horse Sport, September 2005

The Mystery of the Hunter’s Bump (396kb PDF)
Horse Sport, October 2005

Pony Conformation (752kb PDF)
Horse Sport, December 2006

Conformation: Relatively Speaking Analyzing the conformation of three horses who have pedigrees featuring Argentinus. (424kb PDF)
Horse Sport, March 2006

The Right Conformation for an Eventer (844kb PDF)
Horse Sport, July 2006

Conformation for an Eventer (496kb PDF)
Eventing USA, Issue Six, 2005

Conformation: Hunter or Jumper? (832kb PDF)
Horse Sport, June 2006

Built To Do The Job: Barrel Horse Sires (656kb PDF)
The Canadian Horse Journal, May/June 2005

Built To Do The Job: Dressage (224kb PDF)
The Canadian Horse Journal, July/August 2005

Built To Do The Job: Show Jumping (896kb PDF)
The Canadian Horse Journal, Sept/Oct 2005

Read other articles by JW Equine