Jun 15, 2023

Conformation Critique with Chris Ryan: First Say EPI

Photo courtesy of Patricia "Peaches" Schaeffer

Have you ever wanted to look through the judge’s eyes and see what they see when evaluating a horse's conformation? Now is your chance! Using only a photo and information on age and breed, legendary horseman and past USEA Young Event Horse Championship judge Chris Ryan is sharing his insights into equine conformation in our Conformation Critique article series.

First Impression

First Say EPI is a quite tidy, lovely quality, blood-type filly. Of note, I normally see more quality showing in the Thoroughbred x Warmblood or Irish Sport Horse cross individual when the Thoroughbred is on the dam side, as in this case. I quote the great breeder Jan Greve who stood Quidam de Ravel and Voltaire, and the Thoroughbreds Mytens, Lauries Crusader, and Julio Mariner: ”If you want to see quality in the first cross to Thoroughbred bring it through the dam line." It’s not 100 percent, but it is way over the 50/50 that you would expect as it proposes that the individual can get more "get" from the dam line. Interesting and a bit worrying for us fellas!

Just a note on the stance of this filly: I’d prefer an "open stance" to give the best impression, however, we can still see plenty.

Just a general note I should have made in the first of this series, for me, good conformation equals good soundness which equals good longevity. It is about evolution and survival of the fittest! Sure, we have seen five-star horses not correct, as we have seen in top racehorses. However, especially in performance and again especially in breeding stock, the more correct they are the easier it is for the stress of footfall to be absorbed firstly into a well-formed foot. It travels quickly through a 45-degree pastern (too quick through a very straight pastern and too slow through a very sloped pastern) and up the cannon and dissipates through the knee, on up through the forearm and the shoulder absorbs just about the rest. The same with the hind end only with more power, horses are "rear wheel drive." It is the ligaments and tendons which also have to manage any extra torque caused by incorrect conformation.

Conformation can actually be measured through a linear profile. We use it in our Irish Sport Horse stallion and mare inspections. Below is a completed sheet for a popular stallion. "E" is standard, and it marks left and right of that standard. For me, it lacks one column for body depth. Imagine having one sheet for your mare and putting it alongside one for your chosen stallion for comparison.

The completed assessment sheet for the popular stallion which Chris Ryan references. Photo courtesy of Chris Ryan.


This mare has good enough length and an okay length of rein. She has a nice, light head-to-neck, and neck-to-shoulder connection. The neck might be set a fraction low. She falls away behind the withers. She has a very good back end and a strong second thigh and good hock. Good depth. She might be a fraction back of the knee and perhaps tied in below the knee. Look at the horizontal measurement directly below the knee and then again directly above the fetlock joint. She has nice short cannons. Her pasterns look a good angle. I’m finding it difficult to inspect the feet in the surface.


First Say EPI tracks up okay at the walk, though I was expecting a bigger stride. This can improve with exercise, training, and maturity. This mare is only rising 4. I like the trot. I see a better engagement giving cadence, and better balance and lightness, as well as some elevation and rhythm. Some horses can have elevation, but still manage to be heavy with their footfall. Not the case here. Looks correct as regards toeing in or out.

Overall Assessment

This is a quality, athletic filly, who is quite tidy but still yet quite immature. There is a lot to look forward to with this mare. She looks to be a very good junior/young rider type.

Interested in submitting your horse to be critiqued? Send your high-resolution conformation photos and video to Meagan DeLisle 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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