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 real blood individual,” Chris Ryan first observed of this 3-year-old Thoroughbred filly. “She has a lovely big eye and ear. The eye of the horse can tell so much. Vincent O’ Brian, the legendary racehorse trainer who discovered Northern Dancer, in his biography wrote that he spends a lot of his time at the yearling sales at Kentucky, etc., studying the horse’s eye.”
“She has good light connections, head-to-neck and neck-to-shoulder, although her neck is set on low, possibly putting her on the forehand in her natural balance,” continued Ryan in his assessment. “She has a nice light shoulder and good depth for heart and lung function and good length of rein.”
“Her limbs are light,” Ryan observed. “Fillies can be lighter-boned than colts/geldings. Her cannon bones are a fraction long and pasterns a fraction slack (less than 45 degrees) which can put extra loading on to the back of the knee. Her second thigh is a little long, putting her hocks a little out behind her. Some fillies can be extra-long in the back, adding to this, but not in this case. I see no joint windgalls present. Seeing them in a young horse indicates a stress which shouldn’t be there.”
“It’s great to have these walk and trot videos – it’s very helpful for this exercise,” Ryan commented. “We looked at over 150 3-year-olds recently for the Goresbridge Go for Gold event horse sale. They, too, would walk away and back to you and then the same in trot. The ones we like then school loose over a small fence. The selected horses are then videoed for online examination by our clients. It’s a real education. Go to the Go for Gold website, you’ll love it.”
In looking at this filly’s video, Ryan said, “This horse might toe out on the near fore. Turning in or out can lead to uneven stress to limbs, joints, and ligaments, leading to splints, etc. It is hard to see from this video. Some horses turn from the knee and some from the fetlock joint. If the handler has the horse’s head turned towards them it may give the impression of being turned out when in fact they are correct!”
“The video of this filly at the walk shows good ground cover and overtrack. Some fillies can be long in the back and leave their hind end unengaged. Not in this case. The trot shows that slight downhill build but is still light and active. That lightness on their feet is a huge aid to good soundness and longevity. I hate to see a horse thumping the ground and landing heavy. The real fancy trot concerns me as it puts extra loading on the joints and ligaments. It is no doubt easy to reward but I’d put more emphasis on the canter. The top producers say you can improve a trot but the horse is born with a canter! There is plenty enough trot in this individual to earn good points in their flatwork. The looseness/freedom in her shoulder allows for extension in all paces.”
Overall, Ryan said, “This filly is a lovely quality sort who can go up through the grades. I’d just keep an eye on those lower limbs.”
This 3-year-old Thoroughbred filly is TC Maleficent, aka “Molly,” by Brush Away and out of Raf’s Golden Girl. Molly is owned and bred by Kaitlin Schultz of Thunder Crest Performance Horses in Saugerties, New York.
“The sire was a stallion I sold for a customer a few years back,” Schultz shared. “He was a very amateur friendly ride that competed in the jumpers after a non-illustrious racing career. In my opinion, he was big, pretty, sound of body and mind, a good mover, and a careful jumper. The dam was bred for racing but was on the small side and given to me as a weanling. I developed her and showed her successfully as a hunter. She also was correct, sound of body and mind, plain but attractive. I was aiming for a versatile, quiet-minded, and correct foal to bring along for myself to hopefully event.”
“Molly was backed just before she turned 3, and then turned back out until the fall of her 3-year-old year, when we got her going a bit better under saddle,” Schultz explained. “We started her hunter pacing and lots of hacking over three months and then turned her back out for the winter to start her again as a 4-year-old this year.”
“She is a late bloomer for sure, and one that we kind of kept hidden in the back field to grow instead of showing,” Schultz continued. “She right now is still a hair under 15 hands and after a week ‘refresher’ has been being brought along by a small and size appropriate 13-year-old girl. Together they have hunter paced, done some cross-country schooling, and are showing locally. I plan to take the ride over to get her going ‘for real’ now that she’s getting a bit bigger and more mature in her size.”
“Her brain is impeccable and she has a very independent attitude that’s made bringing her along very simple,” Schultz concluded. “We’ve kept her program simple. I wish I had more exciting tales to tell, but some of these horses just need time to mature and grow, and she’s one of them!”
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.
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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