May 19, 2023

Conformation Critique with Chris Ryan: Nottingham IPH

Photo courtesy of Patricia "Peaches" Schaefer

Have you ever wanted to look through the judge’s eyes and see what they see when evaluating a horse's conformation? Now is your chance! Using only a photo and information on age and breed, legendary horseman and past USEA Young Event Horse Championship judge Chris Ryan is sharing his insights into equine conformation in our Conformation Critique article series.

First Impression

Nottingham IPH has refinement. He possesses a nice fine tail hair and coat and an interesting shape. He is a little in two parts—what’s in front of the shoulder and what’s behind. I’d prefer to see his near fore forwards by 6"-8” and hind feet the same apart as the front to achieve an ‘open stance.'

The camera angle should be square to the girth. His stance in this photo suggests a rather straight shoulder and a straight hind leg. Interestingly, a straight shoulder often accompanies a straight hind leg. There must be a reason, but I don’t know it!


He has a long length of rein and nice light head-to-neck and neck-to-shoulder connections, which I like for freedom of airway and scope. The neck is quite well set to the shoulder. We can see a well-rounded ribcage and enough depth. I get the impression that he can come up more through his withers as he matures; he’s only rising 4 years.

A horse matures from his feet up. From about 18 months old, a horse’s forearm is normally fully grown and they just come up through their hind quarters and lastly the withers. There’s a useful measurement from the cap of the elbow to where the suspensory ligament goes into the top of the fetlock joint. This measurement equals the length from the cap of the elbow to the top of the withers (not vertical but over the shoulder) in a mature horse. I use a lead rein or piece of string. I find it very accurate in forecasting the potential height of a youngster (I should make a video showing how). But, back to business.

I like his rounded quarters. Nottingham IPH has good short cannons with good bone. The feet look a good shape as far as I can see on the surface. When viewing a horse as a potential purchase, I like to see them on a hard, core surface. It also shows how light and regular they are on their feet by my sight and hearing.


This young horse has a good swing to the walk and is nicely correct. I like to see a good swing to the tail when walking away from me. That tells me there’s a length of stride and good use of the hips and back end (which equals engine power). The shoulder doesn’t look straight in movement, and I see a good length of stride with good back end engagement. At the trot, I see lovely elevation and rhythm, and he is nicely straight. He’s going to have some fancy moves.

Overall Assessment

Might lack some refinement for upper-level eventing, but this is a well-balanced youngster with some nice elevation. He looks to have a good temperament and has been well-handled and produced, such important foundations even in hand. I find that a horse who moves well in hand goes easily in front of the leg when ridden. It all comes down to training!

Interested in submitting your horse to be critiqued? Send your high-resolution conformation photos and video to Meagan DeLisle 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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