Oct 03, 2020

Conformation Critique with Chris Ryan: Hero Quest

By Jessica Duffy - USEA Staff
Photo courtesy of Anastasia Keyser.

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 is a good quality sort and a well-grown yearling,” Ryan began his assessment of this yearling Thoroughbred/Appaloosa cross gelding. “A lovely big ear – a sign of honesty!”

Moving on to the head and neck, Ryan observed, “He has a good light connections head-to-neck and neck-to-shoulder, although he might be set a little low. His shoulder is set a little straight, which can influence the length of stride. He’s going to come up in his withers one to two inches, which should give him a good topline. He’s quite short coupled. I wonder is his Thoroughbred percentage is – more sprinter-bred than distance? Both can do the job, though I’d have a preference for more of the distance-type Thoroughbred. This article is about conformation though, not my personal preferences! He has good depth and a good length of rein.”

Looking to the yearling’s legs, Ryan said, “He has a good forearm and second thigh. His pasterns are a little upright and he’s a fraction back of the knee. That optimal 45-degree angle of the pastern is to best accommodate the absorption of the shockwave at footfall coming up through the pastern, fetlock, shin, and knee and dissipates through a well-shaped shoulder. Imperfect angles can lead to a degree of jarring. That optimal angle of pastern also leads to the ideal suspension, which leads to a very comfortable ride in all gaits. The front joints here look a little rounded and the anterior aspect of the off-fore is catching my eye. He has a strong hindquarter which should give him plenty of power. He has plenty of foot to grow into! Some Thoroughbred and Thoroughbred crosses can lack in this department.”

Observing his gaits, Ryan said, “He’s nicely straight and correct at the walk, although I’d like to see a little more swing and overtrack in his step. He has been beautifully produced – light in the hand and responsive. Horses who are allowed to ‘drag’ behind their handler will nearly always go behind the rider’s leg. This fellow seems beautifully chilled and yet responsive. He’s nice and light and active at the trot. His shoulder angle slightly inhibits a lengthier stride, but there’s plenty to like.”

“A well-produced quality sort,” Ryan concluded. “I’d love to see him again as a 3-year-old!”

Now in his 2-year-old year, this Thoroughbred/Appaloosa cross gelding is Hero Quest, aka “Hobbs,” owned by his breeder, Dr. Anastasia Keyser. His sire, Hands of a Hero, is an Appaloosa, and his dam, Hypertext, is a Thoroughbred. “The sire is a half-brother to the horse I currently ride, so I am very familiar with that line,” Keyser said. “I grew up riding Appaloosas and really enjoy their temperament, athleticism, and sturdiness. By crossing with a Thoroughbred, I am looking at producing quality Appaloosa Sport Horses and hopefully great eventers!”

“He’s currently 16.2 hands and likely to top out at 17.2 hands,” Keyser described Hobbs. “I have primarily been focused on letting him grow along with teaching him good basics and groundwork. He’s a big, goofy horse – the barn clown that likes to get into everything – who has been a bit slower to mature mentally, so I haven’t been in a rush with him. I wanted to do a couple of Future Event Horse shows this year, but due to COVID-19 and my location in Arizona, he might not make it to any in-hand shows this year. I am hoping he will become a good eventer and will start him under saddle this fall.”

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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