Horse Shoulder Conformation

Horse shoulder conformation is important to the movement of your horse and can affect its stride length and the horses ability to jump.

Your horse can have a straight, upright, or vertical shoulder conformation.

The equine shoulder blade measured from the top of the withers to the point of shoulder lies in an upright position, particularly as it follows the scapular spine.


A straight equine shoulder often accompanies low withers.

  • Upright shoulders are common and seen in any breed, particularly Quarter Horses.
  • An upright shoulder can affects all sport horses.

Horse Shoulder View

The horse will have shorter muscular attachments that have less ability to contract and lengthen.

This shortens the stride length, which requires the horse to take more steps to cover ground and increases the risk of injury to the structures of the front legs; and hastens muscular fatigue.


An upright shoulder may cause a rough, inelastic ride due to the high knee action.

It increases concussion on front limbs, possibly promoting the development of DJD or navicular disease in hard-working horses.

The stress of impact tends to stiffen the muscles of the shoulder, making the horse less supple with a reduced range of motion needed for long stride reach.

An upright shoulder causes the shoulder joint to be open and set low over a short, steep arm bone, making it difficult for horse to elevate its shoulders and fold its angles tightly, which is needed to develop a good jump or for cutting horses.

The horse usually will not have good form over fences, but will find it easier to accelerate in sprinting events.

An upright horse shoulder conformation is best found in gaited or park showing parade horses, or for equestrian activities requiring a quick burst of speed, like roping or Quarter Horse racing.


A laid-back or sloping shoulder conformation.

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The horse has an oblique angle of shoulder (measured from the top of the withers to the point of shoulder) with the withers set well behind the elbow.

Sloping Shoulder Conformation often accompanies a deep chest and high withers.

A sloping shoulder is fairly common. It mostly affects jumping, racing, cutting, reining, polo, eventing, and dressage.

The horse has a long shoulder blade to which attached muscles effectively contract and so increase the extension and efficiency of stride.

It distributes muscular attachments of the shoulder to the body over a large area, decreasing jar and preventing stiffening of the shoulders with impact.

The horse has an elasticity and free swing in its shoulder, enabling extension of stride that is needed in dressage and jumping.

  • A long stride contributes to stamina and assists in maintaining speed.
  • The longer the bones of the shoulder blade and arm, the easier it is to fold legs in and tuck over fences.
  • The laid back scapula slides back to the horizontal as the horse lifts its front legs, increasing the horse’s scope over fences

A sloping shoulder has better shock-absorption and provides a comfortable ride because it sets the withers back so the rider is not over the front legs.

A sloping horse shoulder conformation is advantageous in jumping, dressage, equestrian eventing, cutting, polo, driving, racing and endurance riding.