Nov 06, 2020

Conformation Critique with Chris Ryan: Hennessy's Honor

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Photo courtesy of Brett Anderson.

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.

At first look, Chris Ryan called this 5-year-old Holsteiner mare a “good correct sort. She could be a Thoroughbred cross, but might still lack a little refinement to make the times at the upper levels.”

“She has a good, light head-to-neck connection,” Ryan observed, “and she has a well-muscled crest, indicating a correct way of going. Occasionally I see heavy muscling on the underside of the neck of a ridden horse, indicating the opposite and resulting in poor muscling over the loins. She has nicely raised withers over a good shoulder, though they might be a fraction strong. She’s showing a super length of rein offering scope and ease of movement and therefore natural balance.”

Ryan called this mare’s front and hind legs “excellent. She has short cannons and an excellent angle of pasterns (we want to see 45 percent). A very good croup, hindquarter, and second thigh are indicative of great power from behind and a looseness of the elbow and shoulder, which should make for a free moving individual. There looks to be slight capping of the hock, but that wouldn’t worry me.

“Her feet look good, though I think the camera might have caught a growth line on the off fore and near hind. This could be the result of a quite radical change in nutrition or illness or growth spurt several years ago. It does not seem to be an issue in any case.”

Looking to the video footage of this mare’s walk and trot, Ryan said she is showing “great swing” in her gaits. “Watch the tail and the hips,” he noted as she walked away from the camera, “this horse really covers the ground with a great walk. Generally, horses who walk like this can really gallop. The walk and the gallop are four-time gaits. I’m looking for enough clearance between the hind limbs so that when energy levels increase they are not in danger of hitting themselves. The same with the front end when they are coming towards you. Here she shows a good correct and straight movement showing that all weight-bearing is even. You can normally see any toeing in or out at the walk which will be accentuated at trot.”

“The side shot of the walk bears out what we see in the still photo,” he continued. “What great looseness and reach in every stride. Look at the overtrack – it’s about 12 inches! Medium trot is going to be so easy for her with all that power from behind. You can hear the footfall of the handler along side that of the horse, indicating that this horse is nice and light on her feet.”

“Overall, she is a superbly correct individual with great paces,” Ryan concluded. “She should be a very sound horse based on excellent conformation. Personally, I’d like a dash more Thoroughbred blood.”

This 5-year-old Holsteiner mare is Hennessy’s Honor (Contratto x Our Ballad), owned and bred by Brett Anderson. Hennessy’s sire, Contratto, is by Contendro I, who is by Contender, one of the world’s leading show jumping sires.

“Hennessy is the first horse that I have bred, broke, and trained,” Anderson said. “Growing up I always dreamed of having a super nice horse but never had the funds to make it a reality. So, I said to myself, I’ll have to make one of my own. I found myself six months pregnant looking for a broodmare. Hennessy’s dam was free to a good home on the internet. I liked her bloodlines so I commandeered my best friend, Melissa Mignon, to help me drive up to Prescott [Arizona] to pick her up. I was just in time to participate in the annual American Holsteiner Stallion Auction, and I was able to get a great price on an up-and-coming Stallion, Contratto.”

“I have taken a slower approach to her training, not wanting to jump her very high before she has finished developing,” Anderson continued. “My focus has been on taking to her to as many local shows as possible to get her used to traveling and showing in a low-key atmosphere. We have participated in the USEA Future Event Horse Program every year and I had the opportunity to attend the FEH West Coast Championships when she was a yearling.”

Like most eventers, 2020 threw a wrench in Anderson’s plan to take Hennessy to her first event. “We are hopeful to possibly hit up a couple of recognized shows this fall, but may decide to hit the show circuit with a gusto in 2021.”

Anderson praised the USEA Future Event Horse Program and the positive start it gave Hennessy to traveling to events. “I think the program is a fantastic way to allow horses to participate in the sport while they are young and still growing,” she said. “It gives the owners the opportunity to assess if their horses have the right conformation, movement, and temperament for eventing without pushing them too fast too soon.”

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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