Conformation Clinic

2- and 3-year-old Quarter Horse Stallions


Mark Russell

Mark has been an extension horse specialist at the University of Arkansas for four years. He started competing in horse judging competition as a youth in 4-H and FFA, and later competed as a member of the Colorado State University horse judging team where he earned bachelor and master degrees. He later attended Texas Tech University where he earned a doctorate degree while coaching the horse judging team. Mark holds judges’ cards with AQHA, APHA, and NSBA. He enjoys judging “a nice pen of horses,” and participating in the industry in various capacities.

Mark and his wife, Emily, also show in reining and working cow horse competition, and occasionally dabble in pleasure horses.

When I judge a class of halter horses, I want them to look the part. They need to have a pretty profile, with balance and quality, and need to be structurally correct. Balance is your No. 1 judging criterion. It starts with the shoulder, which needs to have a good angle and slope to make for a stronger, shorter topline. The angle of the shoulder directly relates to length of stride. A steeper slope means a shorter, choppier stride, and typically accompanies a longer back. To help with movement, the length of the shoulder needs to be equal to the length of the hip. I also examine the proportion of the top to bottom line; preferably it is a one-to-two ratio.

When you look at horses from the side, they don’t need to be straight from shoulder through pastern, nor through the hock. The pastern needs to match the angle of the shoulder. Desirable set in the hock isn’t completely straight (or post-legged), but not completely camped under, either. When viewed from the front or behind, a horse needs to be straight through to the toe in the front and straight from hock to heel from behind. 

A horse needs to look the part for its breed and sex. In a class of Quarter Horses, each horse needs to look like a Quarter Horse; in an Arabian class, the entries need to look like Arabians. A horse needs to have suitable conformation to serve a purpose. Ideally, a halter horse needs to be able to do something when it leaves the halter pen. 

Now you be the judge!

Instruction: Evaluate and place these in your order of preference. Simply click each photo from the left and place it in the corresponding placement to the right. Once you've made your decision, hit the button below and see how well you did compared to our expert judge!
First Place Here
Second Place Here
Third Place Here

To submit a photo of your horse to be evaluated in Conformation Clinic, send us a left-side profile photo of your horse (for digital photos: high-resolution, 300 dpi, in at least 3" x 5") to with your contact info and your horse's breed, age, gender, and height. (We welcome all breeds!) Visit for additional instructions.

Subscribe to Horse & Rider
Subscribe to Horse & Rider
today and save 73%

In The Magazine

Next Issue

  • 10 Tips for Ranch Logs

    Here are 10 hints for practicing over logs and poles to help you perform better in ranch riding and ranch trail classes.

  • Feel-Good Work for your Senior Horse

    Check out these tips for exercise strategies your old guy will enjoy and benefit from.

  • Seniors That Still Have It

    Age is just a number, at least when it comes to these six senior horses.

  • Lead-Change Precision

    Use my best lead-change drill to sharpen your horse’s lead change or banish bad habits, such as leaning into the change.

  • Senior-Horse Issue
  • Try Ranch Trail Logs
  • Understand X-Rays

Follow Us

Join the fun and share with friends