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.
Chris Ryan observed that this 3-year-old Thoroughbred gelding is “well-grown and has good refinement to match his Thoroughbred status. Has a stronger constitution than some which can stand to him. The ‘open stance’ shown here shows him to best effect. A picture paints a thousand words, as we know. It’s a bit like a model looking to impress, or it should be, as that first impression is so important. Go to the Goresbridge Go for Gold event horse sale website – the still photos are expertly taken. It’s useful to have the horse like this one, stood on hard core so we can examine his feet. He’s in his winter coat which can mislead your eye a little.”
“I find this horse’s head-to-neck connection a fraction strong and the neck-to-shoulder set a little low,” Ryan observed. “This can be inclined to put him on the forehand. He has a good shoulder with a good enough angle and good depth. He’s up a little behind as yet and should come up another inch or thereabouts, which will help him. He has a very good back end, second thigh, and hock to propel him forwards and hopefully elevate at jump.”
Looking to this youngster’s legs, Ryan said, “He’s fractionally back of the knee but nothing to worry about. He has good bone and tight joints, and good correct angle to pasterns. His feet might be a little flat and lack a little heel, which is a common trait in the Thoroughbred.”
“He’s showing a lovely rhythm at the trot but he carries himself very heavy on the front end,” Ryan observed of the submitted video. “He’s back in his summer clothes and I can see a raise in his back just behind the saddle. And there’s also a depression in front of his withers. I know on the lunge we like to have them work long and low at times to strengthen the muscle over their loins. I’m trying, in fairness, to imagine how he’d look when trotting in-hand. He needs to readjust his balance to put more weight on his back end, otherwise all that good power from behind just puts him into the ground. He’s obviously going to need to do this as he approaches his fence.”
“I’d like to have this horse more engaged at the walk. He’s well able to show more walk than we see here – he’s barely ambling along. He does look to have a very placid nature, but sometimes these horses can be very different when they really engage and participate!”
Comparing the video of the lunge line to the under saddle video, Ryan said, “The ridden video shows the handler has done a super job. The horse is very calm and retains his lovely rhythm at the trot and is actually a little better balanced on a light contact and under saddle and rider than when lunged. The head on shot shows he is nicely correct and straight, as we thought.”
This 3-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred is Karnak. Karnak raced under the Jockey Club name Pure Quill and is by Munnings and out of Social Amber, by War Front. His owner, Molly Manninen, adopted Karnak through the New Vocations Racehorse Adoption Program.
“I have done quite a bit of groundwork with him including obstacles, tricks, and jumping, am working on moving forward freely under saddle, and am introducing him to trail riding,” Manninen shared. “So far he has not been fazed by anything I’ve throw at him – tarps, puddles, children, dogs, crazy weather, riding bareback, etc.”
Of his personality, Manninen said, “He's the most chill and pokey 3-year-old racehorse you'll ever meet. He's a sweet boy who tries really hard, but he's a bit of an internalizer and a wimp (we have to blanket him if it's chilly at all). I live in a pretty rural area without lots of opportunity to show, but I'm hoping he likes jumping and dressage so that I can work him towards low level eventing.”
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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If a horse doesn’t have a proven eventing record, those interested in finding their next eventing partner must use other criteria to evaluate a horse’s potential in the sport. Understanding and appraising a horse’s conformation can be a way to look into a crystal ball for that horse’s future suitability for eventing.