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 is a lovely quality sort showing very good Thoroughbred refinement,” observed Chris Ryan of this 18-month old Irish Sport Horse/Thoroughbred gelding. “He is showing a good stance, though the off-hind could be slightly forward. It cannot be overstated that a photograph well taken like this helps hugely in the promotion of the horse. So much equine business is conducted on the internet, so a well-choreographed photo is so important.”
“Irish Sport Horse (ISH) Thoroughbred is given as his breed code,” Ryan stated. “I would guess there is plenty of Thoroughbred blood coming through the ISH part as this individual could well be 7/8 Thoroughbred or even full Thoroughbred as against ¾ bred or ½ bred. This provides a good opportunity to bring forward an interesting observation as regards to pedigree and the amount of Thoroughbred blood that is actually showing in the individual. We’ve often seen full brothers and sisters at opposite ends of the spectrum as regards to quality and yet they’re 100 percent the same DNA. Some individuals just seem to get more Thoroughbred blood showing than their pedigree might indicate and some less. Interestingly, some experts maintain that introducing Thoroughbred blood through the dam line generally gives more quality than crossing the other way around. Look at the Irish-bred Lenamore, a Burghley winner at 18 years old and all-time leading British Eventing points scorer – he’s only ½ bred, by the Irish Draught Sea Crest and out of a Thoroughbred mare. The stud books are now such a mix of genetics the breed code in itself doesn’t give us enough information – one needs to see the pedigree and the individual. I’d wager this individual here could be out of a Thoroughbred mare!”
Working from the head and neck downward, Ryan said, “He has a good eye and ear. I’d love to see his head looking out over a stable door of mine! There is good connection head to neck and perhaps a fraction strong and a fraction low neck to shoulder, but in no way coarse. The shoulder, though perhaps a fraction straight, is not heavy and loaded – it is clean and light. He’s showing a good length of rein. The jugular groove could have more definition.”
“He has a good bit to grow yet at 18 months,” Ryan continued. “His legs will be out of proportion to his body until he comes up through his withers. Look where his elbows are, then look to the top of his withers. Remember, that measurement of his forearm should match that from his elbow to his withers. He is quite short coupled and has a lovely depth for excellent lung and heart function. Good depth also behind the saddle. The rider is going to be sitting close to that powerful back end.”
“There is a lovely looseness about the elbow which should facilitate a good fold in front over a fence and an easy action. Good knee and short cannon for his potential height. Good angle and length of pastern. Lower limbs have very good constitution and should serve him very well to take the workload of upper-level competition.”
Overall, Ryan said this horse is a “lovely quality sort ticking so many boxes. I’d love to see him in the USEA Future Event Horse (FEH) 2-year-olds. He looks an athlete. Ideal event sort as regards to quality as he has a beautiful balance of refinement and constitution.”
This 2-year-old Irish Sport Horse/Thoroughbred cross is Flagmount’s Scandal (Flagmount’s Freedom x Coaxing Halo), bred by Dr. Janet Marden, DVM and owned by Robbie Peterson. As Ryan guessed, Flagmount’s Scandal’s sire, Flagmount’s Freedom, is Irish Sport Horse, while his dam, Coaxing Halo, is an off-the-track Thoroughbred. In his yearling year, “Spanky” competed in the FEH yearling class at MeadowCreek Park, scoring a 71.05 with handler Nikki Littrell. At the start of his 2-year-old season, he scored a 78.45 at MeadowCreek Park with Jackie Ericksen, qualifying him for the 2020 USEA Future Event Horse Championships.
“Spanky is the second foal of this cross and is showing great promise as a future event horse,” Peterson shared. Spanky’s half-brother, Flagmount’s Invincible aka “Vinnie” (Flagmount's Freedom x Devious Princess) won the FEH 2-year-old qualifier at MeadowCreek Park on a score of 80.95. “They will both be heading to the Central Championships this fall,” Peterson said.
“Spanky has a very ‘in your pocket’ personality and is very easy to work with,” Peterson described. “Jackie Ericksen, originally of Washington state and now a Texas transplant, spent the early spring season doing groundwork and round pen work with both boys, and presented them for me at the March FEH 2-year-old event [at MeadowCreek Park]. At last measurement, in late May, Spanky was a bit hip high, and measured 15.1 3/4 at the wither. I expect the next jump will put him between 15.2 - 15.3, in time for the championships this fall.”
Peterson keeps Spanky and her other horses on her family’s 285-acre ranch an hour outside of Bryan, Texas. “The most amazing benefit of this being that my colts have been ranch raised,” she said. “They cross a ravine/shallow creek bottom to get to their grazing pasture, they navigate great sandy loam hills and terrain as part of their daily routine, they have been exposed to cattle, ranch dogs, and all things natural, including feral hogs and coyotes howling in the distance, their entire lives. I truly believe that getting to grow up ‘like a horse’ has already had a tremendous effect on them, their personalities, and their handle-ability at a young age. They have been ‘sacked-out’ the natural way!”
“This cross, Flagmount's Freedom to both of my Thoroughbred mares, has consistently produced very level headed, trainable, athletic, and just plain fun horses over the years,” Peterson observed. “I expect no less from this, my final foal crop out of my mares. At 19 and 21, the mares are retired. Spanky and his brother Vinnie have big shoes to fill, in this final chapter and legacy for my breeding program is theirs to claim! Who knows, maybe Spanky will follow in his big sister's footsteps and become an upper level mount for another professional, or young rider! It will be an exciting ride, for sure!”
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.
As they hiked through the Galway Irish countryside, Shelley Bridges and John Whelpley soon found themselves amid a herd of curious Irish Draught mares grazing calmly around them. Bridges, an endurance rider extraordinaire with a well-known, educated eye for all things horse, noticed one of the mares in particular and said, “What about that one?” and our unlikely story began.
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