Evaluating the conformation-Dutch style.

The systematic scoring of conformation carried out by the Warmblood registries is one of the things that really set them apart from other breed evaluation.

What are the main differences?


Contrary to breed shows such as those for Arabians, Morgans, or QH that are often filled with politics and disagreement since the judging is mostly left to the discretion of a judge, the Warmblood evaluations are carried out by trained inspectors.
The whole process is also geared toward evaluating breeding stock more than seeking a sash or a “Grand Champion” title. Horses do not campaign over many shows in order to gather a certain number of accolades or points in order to reach a title.

Warmbloods are evaluated once or twice in their lifetime and there is no appeal or seeking a different judge with a different opinion: hence there is no campaigning. Not to say there is no politics involved. I suppose any human endeavors carry some potential for it but the evaluation system used by the Warmblood associations is rigorous and perhaps most importantly: defendable (you get your score cheat with the inspector’s comments for example).

How is it more rigorous?

The guidelines are set by the registry, based on what direction they wish to take their members toward. There is a consensus that a well-conformed horse is more likely to be able to perform better and Warmbloods horses are bred mostly for performance, therefore it is to be expected that the evaluation of breeding stock favor a well-conformed horse. The shape of the head, the tail carriage or the amount of muscle has not been shown to be influential in the ability of a horse to perform and therefore is not included in the evaluation.

Inspectors are trained and mentored so that the evaluations carried out over months and years can be as close as systematic and homogeneous as possible.

It really takes “picking your horse apart” to a new level.

So how does it work?

Like we saw all Warmblood registries evaluate very similar aspects of conformation-those that have been proven to have an impact on performance and soundness. But each registry has its own specific approach.
They fall roughly into two categories:

a) Scoring each aspect of the conformation against a certain ideal using a scoring system from 1 to 10. (10 being almost unattainable and 1 being atrociously bad)-For the record absolute stunning and top-performing horses I have seen scored in the 7-8 ranges.
That system is mostly by the German Registries- Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Westfalen etc..)

b) Linear scoring on the gradient from desirable to less desirable for the selected trait. (Used mostly by the Dutch)

Let’s take a look at the KWPN (Dutch Warmblood) system of evaluating the conformation.

1- Body Shape (from rectangular (more desirable) to square (less desirable).
2-Body Direction (uphill/downhill).
3-Head Neck connection (from light (more desirable) to heavy (less desirable))

Ok, so you are getting the point? Horses are evaluated on a continuum from one extreme to another. Here is the rest:

4-Length of the neck (long/short)
5-Position of the neck (vertical/horizontal)- here we talk about how it attaches into the chest.
6-Muscling of the neck (heavy/poor)
7-Height of wither (high/flat)- relative to the line of the back.
8-Position of the shoulders (sloping/straight)
9-Line of the back (roached/weak)
10-Line of the loin (roached/weak)
11-Shape of the croup (sloping /flat)
12-Length of the croup (long/short)
13-Stance of the forelegs (over at the knee/back a the knee)
14-Stance of the hind legs (sickled hocked/straight)
15-Stance of the pasterns (weak/upright)
16-Shape of feet (wide/narrow)
17-Height of the heel (high/low)
18-Quality of legs (lean/blurred)
19-Substance of legs (heavy/fine)

Pictured here is a stylized ideal that I overlaid over top of the stallion Connaisseur a well-known stallion approved by the KWPN as well as almost all other European registries.

For more information on the KWPN scoring system please see:

KWPN conformation linear scoring scale

Owner and worrier in chief at Formosus Sporthorses in Alberta she's been breeding horses for over 15 years. Warmblood, warmblood crosses, and a few saddlebreds. She loves handling mare and foals and is passionate about giving foals the best start possible.

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