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Frequently Asked Questions



Q4)  What should I look for in front leg conformation?

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Ideally, when viewed from the side, you should be able to draw a straight line through the center of the bones of the forearm, knee, cannon and bulb of the heel.

The front legs support 60-65% of the horse's weight.  They are more prone to stress and injury than the hind legs.  Therefore, it is important to have a well-muscled forearm and a straight limb.

The elbow is where the top of the leg joins the shoulder/girth area.  A hand should be able to slide in between the elbow and the horse's body.

Viewed from the side, the forearm should be wide and well-muscled.  It's length will indicate length of stride.

The knee should be large, flat and straight.  The cannon bones should be short, compared to the forearm.  This increases stability and the length of stride.

The tendons should be well defined and broad from the knee to the fetlock.  Tendons that are too light for the size of the horse are "tied in" and appear cut in at the back of the knee.

The angle of the pastern should match that of the should angle.  the angle of the front of the hoof should march the pastern angle.

There are conformation faults which can affect the soundness of the horse.  When viewed from the side, the legs can be:

Camped out 

 The front leg, from body to the ground, is set too far forward.  May be an indication of Navicular disease or laminitis.


Camped under

The front leg is angled back. The horse carries too much weight on the forehand. Results in shorter stride with tendency to stumble.


Over at the knee  

The knee appears to be buckled forward. Produces greater strain on tendons and suspensory ligaments. Slightly over at knee is not as serious as back at knee.


Calf kneed (back at knee)

The knee curves backward. Produces strain on tendons, bones and ligaments. Knee chips and bowed tendons are the result of calf knees.


Tied In

The cannon should appear to be the same width from just below the knee to just above the pastern.  The tied-in leg shows the tendon slanting in toward the knee.  The flexor tendons are too close to the cannon just below the knee.


Abnormal bony growths on the inside of the cannon or splint bones. Caused by stress or injury.  commonly caused by overworking young horses.  Fast work, hard stops, fast turns, jumping on hard ground.  Horses with bench knees are especially prone to splints.

Bowed tendons

A bowed tendon is a tear or rupture of the flexor tendon. The bowed appearance is the result of the scar tissue that forms.  Caused by long, weak pasterns, long toes, fatigue, overexertion, improper shoeing or conformation defects.


When viewed from the front, the front legs should be straight.  A vertical line drawn from the point of the shoulder should fall in the center of the knee, cannon, pastern and hoof.  The front legs are parallel with the feet pointing straight ahead.  Deviations from this standard are faults which affect gait, soundness and performance.

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Look for these conformation faults when viewing the front legs:

Base wide

The distance between feet on ground is wider than between legs at chest.  Horse places more weight on inside of foot.  The inside of the leg is under more strain.  Gait shows "winging" inward.

Base narrow

The distance between the feet at ground is narrower that between the legs at chest level.  Horse places more weight on outside of foot causing fetlock and pastern strain.

Toes out

The hooves turn out from center line.  Fault may start at forearm, knee or fetlock.

Bow legged

 Usually associated with base narrow, toe in faults.  Places excess strain on knees.

Base narrow - toes out

Closely placed feet and winging gait will cause interference and plaiting. Plaiting gait can cause horse to stumble.  This is weak conformation that compromises the ability for heavy work.

Bench knee (offset knee)

The cannon bone is not centered in the knee.  A congenital fault.

Pigeon-toed (toes in) 

The hooves point inward.  Found in base narrow horses.  Horses will paddle.  May cause interference and puts strain on the fetlock joint.  Base narrow-toes in conformation can cause windpuffs, ringbone and sidebone.

Knock kneed

A deviation of the knee caused by growth plate abnormalities.  Causes excessive knee strain.  Outward rotation of cannon bone, fetlock and foot usually are present.

There are many excellent resources available.  In addition to the list below, visit the Conformation area of the online catalog.

Back to Conformation Index    

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