Apr 30, 2021

Conformation Critique with Chris Ryan: Get The Point

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Photo courtesy of Jessa Hills.

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.

“This individual is all quality being full Thoroughbred,” Chris Ryan first observed about this 5-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding. “Some carry more refinement than others and this fellow is quite fine. He is short coupled. And, he is a lovely strong colour!”

“This is a near-perfect stand up stance from the near side with his front leg perpendicular to the ground,” Ryan observed. “In the photo from the off side you can see a slight angle. This shows him off to best effect. The distance between the front feet should be the same between the hind. Horses who are well conformed can normally arrive at this stance easily.”

Photo courtesy of Jessa Hills.

“So, to work! This horse’s head-to-neck connection is a fraction strong, but his neck-to-shoulder connection is good,” Ryan said. “His shoulder is a little straight and alerts me to check the ground cover in his movement. He has a lovely raised wither, showing me that he has attained his full height – they mature from their feet up, and the length of leg is normally fully grown at eighteen months. After that they just come up in their withers.”

“He has a quality shoulder (not loaded or coarse) and a good forearm,” Ryan continued. “His cannon bones (and therefore his tendons) are a fraction long. He is quite light of bone. His pasterns are a fraction upright, and we often see this accompanying a straight shoulder. His feet and heels look okay.”

“Super depth and a well-sprung rib cage,” observed Ryan. “He has a very good backend which should assure good power from behind. Good correct hocks and hind legs.”


Looking at his movement, Ryan said, “At the trot he could have a little more ground cover, but he looks correct. When showing a horse in hand, I much prefer to turn the horse away from me so as to put that inside hind leg under him for a good transition into an engaged trot. A lovely video of him racing and then two more videos of him under saddle showing what a lovely job is being done with him.”

“He’s a lucky boy to get into these hands,” Ryan concluded. “He looks lovely and soft through the contact and his canter is exciting. He will learn to work a bit more from behind. I bet there’s a jump there with that quality canter!”

This is Get The Point (Stormin Fever x Pilot Point Lady), a now 6-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding. Born and bred in California and then shipped to Penn National in Pennsylvania to race, “Gambino” raced 19 times – 16 times as a 4-year-old and 3 times as a 5-year-old, winning over $28,500.

Gambino’s current owner, Jessa Hills, acquired Gambino from Ashley Blank in Pennsylvania in August 2020, just a month after his last race. “Ashley posted this photo and I was hooked – don’t ask me why,” Hills said. “I watched some of his races and fell in love with his gallop, so I had my sister drive from New York City to Pennsylvania to see him.”

The photo Ashley Blank posted of Gambino that caught Jessa's eye. Photo courtesy of Jessa Hills.

“He shipped to me in California in August,” Hills continued. “Since then, my friend and trainer, Olivia Loiacono-Putrino, and I have been taking our time with him. We did about two months of groundwork before restarting him under saddle. He loves to work. We have schooled him on the ground out at the Copper Meadows cross-country course and he was a big fan. We hope to start showing him by the end of the year!”

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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