Dissecting mustang conformation, please help educate me!

I’m trying to learn more and more about conformation, and am looking get as many different voices and opinions as I can on individual mustangs in anticipation of selecting several in a few years time for myself.

I would LOVE to hear your DETAILED thoughts on the ups and downs of this horse’s conformation. Please keep in mind that what one person may see as a fault in their discipline may suit another discipline very well.

Also keep in mine that this horse has never had human contact, and was gathered from the range just a couple months ago.

This is a 5 year old gelding from Oregon (height not listed), so just about fully mature:


The link leads to his BLM listing, and on that page is a link to a clip from a video that shows a little bit of his movement.

Thanks! :slight_smile:

He looks cute. I think it’s​ hard to say too much about his confirmation based on those pictures. I don’t see anything that leads me to believe he wouldn’t be okay as a lower level horse in pretty much any discipline.


Thanks for your response!

Looks like a cutie to me, too. He seems to have an abnormally large head and neck for his age, would you agree? I wonder if they got his age wrong. He just looks so young overall.

In order to evaluate conformation we need photos showing the horse standing square in a sideview, against a plain background with no fisheye distortion from the camera. If you have a bit of time, you might want to get Deb Bennett’s book on functional confirmation. While it is true that different disciplines emphasize different body types, some things are weaknesses for any riding horse. In particular you want to look at things like hip and hock angle, amount of bone, and straightness of legs from side, front, and back view. Also where neck ties in to shoulder.

You can’t really evaluate these from a picture of a horse galloping. They all look pretty when they are galloping.

Also familiarize yourself with the various populations of mustang and feral horse. A few isolated herds like the Kiger appear to have more Spanish blood. Many herds however are the next result of lost, stolen, strayed, over the past 200 years and can have all kinds of draft blood, etc. They tend to breed down to smaller sizes under 15 hands, though.

In one herd you can probably find a range of functional conformation among horses that look similar. For instance think about the range of conformation in off track thoroughbreds. Some of them are very substantial and others weak, but all recognizably TBS.

What is your intended purpose with this horse, if you got him?

Mustangs as a whole have very different conformation than most riding horses - this is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just that some traits we breed for in riding horses are not necessarily conducive to surviving in the wild.

With mustangs you can generally expect shorter and stout, with thick limbs, shorter backs, shorter necks, bigger heads, good feet, and strong legs. So it is important to remember when critiquing a mustang that its anatomy might be very different than that of a horse bred specifically for riding.

I wasn’t able to view the pictures… do you have direct links?


I’ve never seen a mustang that didn’t have a big head. The neck may go down a little depending on when he was gelded, but many of the ones I’ve seen have been this cobby type. I don’t think he looks particularly young and wouldn’t expect him to change much at this point.


I rode a previously feral horse as a teen and saw some of her herdmates. I agree that they tend to have big heads and short necks. I wonder if that is in part because they breed smaller over the generations back to the optimum survival size of about 14 hands but keep some of the big horse or even draft horse genetics? On the other hand zebras and prezwolskis horse have proportionately big heads and short necks too so there is probably a survival advantage.

Vet tells me my current horse has good dentition because she has a big head. He said the closer your horse’s head gets to a zebras, the better the dentition.

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Elisa Wallace seems to be one of the experts around here. She seems to have quite a few going all the time as well as her eventing string, and all of her mustangs seem to be quite talented. I believe she is going to England soon to compete at Badminton and might not get back to you, but I think she would be a good one to at least contact with questions. She is very interested in promoting mustangs.


Thanks, I’m familiar with most of that already.

Also the horse isn’t galloping in any of the pictures shown.


It would be mainly for personal growth and pleasure, and maybe after a couple years some dressage and endurance competitions.

I agree with your general assessment of the differences between mustangs and domestic horses. While there’s obviously a large variety of types out there, in general they are extremely sound and have a better sense of self-preservation, and are quick learners. When it comes to athleticism geared towards the mid to higher levels of a particular discipline it can be all over the place.

I’m not sure why you can’t see this pictures, I’ll post a link again. Let me know if it works.


I’ve gotten very frustrated on another thread where I asked for some analysis of a couple difference mustangs. While some of the people who responded are supposedly very experienced horsewomen, when one showed me an image of what she considers ideal conformation I wanted to laugh. An extremely muscled, facially refined quarter horse with toothpick cannon bones is not remotely what I would look for in a horse. I don’t believe I have the experience with assessing conformation that some of the people on here do, and while I try to receive the critiques with an open mind, it’s served as a very bitter reminder that the horse that has been pursued in so many breeds is no longer one where soundness, strength, stamina, and sense are valued as I think they should be in any animal.

Obviously I’m biased towards those strengths that mustangs often exhibit, but I do also recognize potential weaknesses in any horse like overly steep or flat pasterns, extremely steep or extremely sloping shoulders, overly long backs, weak loins in mares, poorly set necks, etc.

I have a lot to learn in terms of the finer points of conformation, but some of the feedback has really shocked me (not at all completely negative) with how far removed some horse people are from any sort of natural horsemanship. And I’m not talking about Parelli, I’m talking about the type of equestrians who stable their horse for 22 out of 24 hours a day, and think they’re being generous. Disciple-specific performance has begun to breed out traits that seem like common sense- horses that know how to socialize with others, warmbloods that can be turned out without almost killing themselves, quarter horses with strong, healthy feet, etc.

Sorry, this has turned into a bit of a rant, but PLEASE tell me someone can empathize, because I am so discouraged by what much of horsemanship has become, particularly in the states.

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He certainly has a nice trot stride that you’ll need for endurance!

I admit it is easier to judge conformation with a horse squared up and standing still but that’s not what we are working with here.

South Steens horses are known for being lighter build. everyone always comments that mustangs are short and stocky or drafty. My mustangs mare is from the Eagle HMA and most people think she is a TB. She is 15.2 and all legs.

I think his neck will look a little cleaner as the testosterone goes away. He’s thick through the throat latch (which the neck tag accentuates). And his neck ties into his chest a little low but again nothing screams terrible conformation when I look at him.

And overall condition will change when you get them home and on a feed program. Many of them come out of the pens on the chunky side!


I like him. While it’s hard to judge from those pictures, he appears to have good balance. His neck ties in low, his hip may possibly be a little steep and short, but he appears to use himself well when he moves. And those are really common “faults” in mustangs that don’t seem to impede their ability to be competitive at the low levels.

He looks correct, or at least “correct enough” through his bone and legs. He has a good shoulder on him for a mustang.

A lot of mustangs have clunky heads; I personally don’t think his is bad at all. Something that’s been very hard for me to learn, growing up with arabs, is that you don’t ride a head, so really, who cares?

My biggest concern would be his size. A lot of mustangs are SMALL- like 13h small. He gives me the impression he might be in that size range just because he looks so much smaller than the other horses in the background. But then again, there is not a real frame of reference. A large pony can be usable for most all adults, but when you get into the low 13h range, you really limit who can ride the animal.

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Maybe realizing that the OP is not after real answers, but to push feral horses over those horrible domestic horses may help to give her the right answers:


Helps to have a similar frame of reference when discussing a topic.

For those interested in feral horses, here is an excellent book explaining so much of what they are and how they are being managed, written by someone involved with them for many years.
Amazon also carries it.

Oregon’s Living Legends, by Harmon:


When it comes to size, the feral herds that were carefully tended by local people in those areas do have the kind of horse that is more what we look for in the kinds of riding horses we have today.


Hard to tell much form those pics/video - everything looks like a better mover when its hyped up and snorty, but I think that is about all you get when looking at mustangs. I see a short thick neck with a low tie, also looked like he wings out though pretty hard to tell from that video. I like to see a horse that naturally sits and turns off the hind end for dressage/jumping - he is pulling himself around by the front end. I suspect his dressage ability will be limited to the lower levels. If you are comfortable with the crap shoot you get from choosing from snorty video and random photos and/or happy having fun at the lower levels only I think any of the mustangs that catch your fancy would be fine, if you want to aim for higher levels or are risk adverse I think you would get the traits you want with the ability to get a fair assessment by going to a Spanish Colonial breeder or someone who trains and sells mustangs after their 1 year? is up.

Hi Bluey.

I can see I have offended you, and I’m sorry. I hope you saw my response trying to clarify what I meant on the other thread. Your description of the way you manage your horses sounds very sensible and admirable, and I didn’t mean to demonize domestic horses as a whole.

I do hope to learn from these threads, and have already. The article you linked discussing genetics vs maintenance in the feet of Australian brumbies was very interesting, and I appreciate that you shared it. Please don’t hesitate to message me if you feel you have a further bone to pick and would like to explain something to me that you feel I don’t understand. Genuinely.


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No offense, but sorry if my post explaining a different opinion than what you espoused came across wrong and you felt like you offended?

Glad that you are not leaving the forums out of sort, because not everyone agrees with your opinion, because that is how forums work.
Everyone has their opinions and, as they say, two horse people will give at least three different opinions.:wink:

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I agree, I would be uncomfortable adopting from the internet unless it was evident that the horse was beautifully built and very sound from the poor quality pictures you often get.

I appreciate that the folks at Burns at least try to put together some sort of basic video of each horse, now. It’s a lot more than the online listings used to have, if I’m correct.

Interesting that in your experiences a horse travels more elegantly when hyped up, in my experience the relaxed gait of a calm horse is much more fluid and rhythmic, but I’d be interested to hear why you have come to that conclusion.

Since several horses there were walking not quite right, I wonder if the ground was frozen and they had been slipping around and now were not moving as freely as they would have normally?

The high knee action won’t change, but that some that possibly would have used themselves better may not have, as most there didn’t.
At least some should have, if the footing didn’t seem to interfere with it.

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I’m not offended at all by the commentary you’ve offered, I just thought you were upset by the way you phrased your response on this thread. And no, I’m certainty not leaving the forum, haha. I intend to her opinions of people I disagree with, and as you said, that WILL happen here. I do know that I have a tendency towards being combative in discussions, and appreciate that you had the patience to respond thoughtfully to my rant/response on the other thread, haha.

I hope my response on the other thread helped explain where I was coming from, I don’t know if you saw it.

That seems likely. Certainly the ground is snowy and uneven in the enclosure they shot the videos in, so I expect that contributed to altering their usual gait.