May 01, 2020

Conformation Critique with Chris Ryan: Burning Thyme

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Merrick Studios Photo courtesy of Melinda Mueller.

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 prior FEH/YEH Championship judge Chris Ryan is sharing his insights into young horse conformation in our Conformation Critique article series.

“This horse is a smart blood type with lots of quality and refinement,” Chris Ryan began his assessment of this 2-year-old Arabian Sport Horse stallion. “I love the ‘forward look’ of this individual. A horse who looks forward, with his eye and ear, thinks forward and generally goes forward! The expertise of the photographer standing square to the horse’s near shoulder and this ‘open’ stance, which is just about perfect, shows this smart horse to best effect. Horses who have good conformation generally find it easier to hold this open stance than those who don’t. Why? Because everything is in the right place!”

“The head-to-neck connection is perhaps a fraction strong but is not coarse or heavy. I like to fit my fist between the horse’s jaw bones close to the larynx to ensure of good space for airflow. I see a well-defined jugular from this horse and a very good neck-to-shoulder connection and raised, defined withers. The length of rein which, in addition to the slope of shoulder, can be indicative of length of stride is also indicative of balance and scope. This horse’s length of rein is a little short but fits him perfectly.”

“He has a well-sprung ribcage with good depth, facilitating very good lungs and heart function. The angle of his shoulder is a fraction upright and quite heavily muscled, perhaps indicative of his breeding. Sprinter type Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses are generally heavier-muscled than distance types. Think of human sprinters against marathon runners! This horse is quite short coupled, putting the rider's seat quite close to the horse’s hind leg – the powerhouse!”

“He has a good front leg with a very good forearm (and second thigh, behind) and generous knee and lovely short cannon bone. Good, tight, and well-defined tendons and ligaments and joints. I don’t like these to be fleshy or the joints to be big and heavy and round. Pasterns are quite short and seem to have enough angle. I’d like to see this horse move to check he has good suspension. This is needed to help absorb the energy of the footfall.”

“He has a good hind leg and good angle and strong hock indicating great power. White socks and white pigmentation of feet can sometimes have sensitivity issues but are not conformation defects. This horse has good feet and a good heel.”

“Overall, a lovely quality sort with explosive power and good balance. He might not have the longest stride but can go 0 to 60 impressively with that hind end. I can see him getting away from his fences at pace, needing little time to regain gallop. He should be light on his feet, given his quality, to avoid any jarring. I’d love to see him move to check his biomechanics.”

Burning Thyme as a 4-year-old. Photo courtesy of Melinda Mueller.

This horse is Burning Thyme (GL Hawks Firestar x Nutmeg), a now 4-year-old Arabian/Appendix Quarter Horse stallion owned by Melinda Mueller and bred by Fresh Perspective Farm. At the sole USEA Future Event Horse competition on his record, “Gremlin” scored a 74.85 as a 2-year-old at the Windemere Run Horse Trials.

“He's about as home grown as they get,” shared Mueller. “My in-laws raised his dam from a weanling. My husband and I broke her out and I evented her through Training level. Before she ran out of viable maiden years, I retired her and bred her to an Arabian stallion that I always thought was built to event, but his owner never wanted to go down that path.”

“Nutmeg, the dam, was incredibly brave and a point-and-shoot ride, but she needed a bit more endurance and nimbleness,” Mueller described. “Many people thought I was nuts to cross an Appendix Quarter Horse with an Arabian, but I've been very happy with the cross. We are expecting the fourth full sibling any day now.”

“We tend to take things pretty slowly and carefully, so my husband and I have just started Gremlin under saddle,” Mueller explained. “He's extremely personable and quite smart. He also has the nimbleness his mother lacks. He is definitely a people horse and will leave his friends to come to the gate if he sees you step outside.”

“Due to a series of unexpected events, he wasn't gelded the first three times we were planning to. At that point, we decided maybe there was a reason our plans kept being waylaid and we have kept him as a stallion. However, he won't earn the privilege of breeding until he has proven himself under saddle.”

Interested in submitting your horse to be critiqued? Send your high-resolution conformation photos to Jessica Duffy 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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