Have you ever wanted to look through the judge’s eyes and see what they see during the conformation portion of a USEA Young or Future Event Horse competition? Now is your chance! Using only a photo and information on age and breed, legendary horseman and past FEH/YEH Championship judge Chris Ryan is sharing his insights into young horse conformation in our Conformation Critique article series.
Chris Ryan’s first observation about this 4-year-old Thoroughbred mare is that she looks to be a “nice quality sort. She is perhaps a fraction thick in her head-to-neck connection – it could be that her head is quite strong. I’m not so keen on those with pretty heads, even on a filly, which can be very fine and tapered like the Arabian. A bigger head with a big ear is a sign of honesty, I think, although as regards conformation both can be just fine.”
“She has a good slope to her shoulder, although the shoulder is quite strong,” Ryan continued. “She is up in the withers and looks like she has attained her full height. She has lovely depth, indicating good heart and lung function, and she is nicely strong over her loins and has a good back end.”
“She has a good forearm and looks to have good bone, which some Thoroughbreds can lack, and her cannons are not too long. Long cannons equates to long tendons, which can be harder to manage. Her pasterns are a fraction long and sloped – it will give her good suspension but also can, in some cases, load the back of the knee. I’d still prefer these to ones which are very upright – 45 degrees are the optimum.”
“Her left hock is catching my eye,” he observed. “It’s probably nothing – I’d just like to see it from another angle for comparison. She looks to have enough foot and heel. Thoroughbreds can have very flat feet and low heels.”
Looking at the video footage, Ryan complimented her “great walk. She has great ground cover and overtrack. The walk is a four-beat gait, as is the gallop. I bet this filly can gallop. I can imagine she will lower her withers in gallop like the best can. She’s doing it at the walk! I gave a Thoroughbred a score of 9 for his gallop at the last YEH Championships I judged, and it was the same story there. For comparison, look at the great mare, Stanerra, winning at Royal Ascot. She broke the track record that day over 1.5 miles and ended the season European Champion. Look how she flattens to the ground."
"Her trot is correct and again has good ground cover, and she looks light on her feet,” Ryan said.
“She's a good athletic sort and looks to have a nice even temperament, which is a very big asset,” Ryan concluded.
This 4-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred mare is Baytown Trouble. “Sassy,” as she is known in the barn, was bred in Kentucky by Royal Oak Farm and is by Creative Cause and out of Winsome. Her owner, Abby Dubrawski, shared that Sassy raced twice in the spring of 2019 before retiring from racing.
Sassy now resides at Valinor Farm in Plymouth, Massachusetts. “She had a year off to mature and develop and was started up again in the fall of 2020,” Dubrawski said. “She is absolutely lovely under saddle and has a great brain and fantastic jump! She did her very first cross-country school earlier this month and loved it.”
Interested in submitting your horse to be critiqued? Send your high-resolution conformation photos to Leslie Mintz at [email protected] for your chance to be featured.
About Chris Ryan
Chris Ryan comes from one of the most storied families in Ireland. Following in his father’s footsteps, Ryan hunted the legendary Scarteen hounds for 28 seasons. The Scarteen hounds have been in the Ryan family for more than 400 years. From racing in his youth, to huntsman, and now judge and commentator, Ryan has become a regular part of eventing life in Ireland and Europe. One of the foundation selectors of the Goresbridge Go for Gold elite event horse sale held every November in Wexford, Ryan has developed a keen eye for young stock, many having gone on to great things in Ireland, England, and Europe. He is best known in the United States for finding McKinlaigh, the horse with whom Gina Miles won the individual silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, and producing him from a 3-year-old to a 5-year-old at his first Preliminary level event. International winning and placed horses including Copper Beach, Cooley Rourkes Drift, Cooley SRS, November Night, Prince Mayo, Glencento, Reenmore Duke, Ballymurphy Mark, and many others all came under his eye and passed the test. All this experience is blended with an instinct for what is required and the genetics to operate at the highest level.
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