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.
“What a stunning photo of a stunning individual,” was Chris Ryan’s first remark when assessing this 2-year-old Thoroughbred gelding. “He typifies the refinement the Thoroughbred brings to the table. Look at the fine outlines. Look at the jugular groove and those beautifully light connections. He reminds me of one of the greatest steeplechasers, Tingle Creek (an American bred by Goose Creek, a half-brother to the dam of the great Mill Reef). He won 23 races, beating his own track record at Sandown Park for the third time at 12 years of age. He had the most flamboyant style of jumping, often standing off outside the wings. He never fell in his life. He was an absolute athlete. I was fortunate to be in his yard for the last three years of his racing career.”
“Back to work! This horse has a beautiful head, eye, and ear,” Ryan observed. “I love his light head-to-neck connection, allowing for an ease of airflow, and especially his neck-to-shoulder connection, which should give him a superb balance. I just want to sit on him, shorten my irons, bridge my reins and drop my hands and let that looseness of frame show me the gallop he promises.”
“He has a super shoulder and raised withers. He falls away a little behind the saddle, but the necessary depth is there for excellent heart and lung function. He has light and well-shaped hindquarters.”
“His hind limbs and hocks are a little light, but he has a good front leg, forearm, and flat knee. All tight and defined. His cannons are a little long but a good fit for him. He’s like a Formula One race car – streamlined and carrying no extras to weigh him down. His pasterns seem close to the optimum 45-degree angle and feet seem generous for a Thoroughbred.”
Turning to the provided video footage, Ryan said, “He has good ground cover and overtrack which comes from his loose and scopey frame. He should develop a little more elevation as he matures and works from behind. We don’t get to see a head-on video to check for correctness (straightness) in his gait, but from side on he looks good.
“My overall impression is one of an athlete, one who can really gallop,” Ryan concluded. “The jump obviously remains to be seen. I love his outlook. Actually, I love just about all of him – he shows the best traits of the Thoroughbred.”
Those who were in attendance at the 2020 USEA Future Event Horse East Coast Championships will recognize this youngster as Luprian (Union Rags x Winter View), the 3-year-old Colt Reserve Champion and winner of the Thoroughbred Incentive Program award. “Taco,” as he is known in the barn, is an off-the-track Thoroughbred (OTTB) gelding owned by Julie Pate and bred by George Strawbridge Jr. in Kentucky.
“Luprian raced one time at the end of February 2020,” shared Pate. “He finished seventh – he wasn't really into racing – and then unseated his jockey post-race. Oops! It's pretty funny watching the race replay. They show the winners, and then a horse trotting around riderless. So, Luprian retired from racing that day. His sire is Union Rags, who won the Belmont in 2012, and his dam is Winter View out of Thunder Gulch, who won the Belmont in 1995. Luprian was bred for distance racing, but he just wasn't that into it.”
Pate purchased Luprian right before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the eventing world in March, and she explained that she let him take the spring to grow up a bit and do some retraining on the ground and on the lunge line. “In July, I took him to Champagne Run at the Kentukcy Horse Park as a non-compete. He had so much fun hanging out and didn't really seem phased by all the action.”
In September, Pate took him to compete in the FEH class at the Five Points Horse Trials at the Carolina Horse Park where he finished third, just 0.35 points behind the winner and qualified for the FEH Championships. At the Championships, Luprian was the highest placed Thoroughbred, was Reserve Champion in the 3-year-old colt division, and finished sixth overall for the 3-year-olds.
“It's difficult knowing we're at a disadvantage because he's competing against horses that were mostly all purpose-bred for eventing greatness,” Pate said. “He's just an OTTB trying to find a second career. He was bred for racing, but he's just special.”
“He has a great attitude, he's super friendly, and he loves everybody,” Pate described. “When I bought him, I was told he's a ‘window licker’ and I can't disagree. He's derpy and goofy. He has the nickname ‘Sharky’ at the barn. I put front shoes on him, and the next day, they were both gone. Such a toddler! He's definitely a special horse for the future. He's not even 3.5 years old yet, but I have no doubt he can gallop 11 minutes.”
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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