“Correct movement is not the same as scopey or extravagant movement,” said Susan Graham White, who has years of experience judging international event horses as well as future event horses. White, a USEF ‘S’ Eventing Judge, a Level 3 FEI Eventing Judge, and the Co-Chair of the USEA Future Event Horse (FEH) Committee, explains correct and flashy movement in event horses. “Correct [movement] is the structural and inherent base that should be looked for in any event horse, if it is to be a successful triathlete. ‘Flashy’ should be a positive comment that implies good coordination of body and scopey movement.”
A horse’s movement affects their soundness, longevity, and level of success as an event horse – and a horse with correct movement is key. “Correct movement usually refers to the flight of travel of the horse’s legs while it is moving. It also broadly means the correct sequence of footfalls in each gait, i.e. a four-beat walk, a three-beat canter, [and a] two-beat trot. It is desirable to have the horse travel in a way that it will not interfere with itself, or put undue strain on parts of the anatomy. So, if a horse wings, paddles (in front), or twists (behind) it will have some effect on long term soundness. How much effect depends on the degree of deviation and, of course, on training factors. A horse can be a correct mover and still have average gaits. [But] gaits can improve with good training!”
Flashy movement can certainly attract attention, but is every flashy mover a correct mover? White explained, “the term ‘flashy’ mover has been used loosely in the equestrian world and can have different interpretations in various disciplines. Sometimes a sport horse is described with ‘flashy’ movement because it throws the front legs out in an extreme way in the trot. While it is a good thing for a horse to have a free shoulder and be able to reach with the front legs, for the movement to be correct it should be equally supported behind. Otherwise there can be the appearance of the horse ‘flicking’ its front feet. Some of this can be influenced by training techniques and some from a less than uphill conformation.”
“A horse can be both correct and flashy. In the modern sport horse this quality movement comes from solid conformation, correct gaits, and good training. A prime example [of both a correct mover and flashy mover] would be the Oldenburg mare, RF Scandalous.” RF Scandalous (Carry Gold x Richardia) is a 15-year-old Oldenburg mare ridden by Marilyn Little, owned by Raylyn Farms, and bred by Horst Buhrmann. The Oldenburg mare has earned top finishes in five-star events including a 4th place finish at Luhmuhlen CCI5*-L in 2017 and a 3rd place finish at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event in 2018. She also has over 18 wins to her USEA record which includes the individual gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games.
From proven five-star event horses to yearlings, movement is judged at every level of eventing. In a FEH competition, the yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are judged in-hand at the walk and trot. The FEH 4-year-olds are judged under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter. So, how do FEH judges judge correct movement in young horses? “We want to see that the walk is a clear four-beat walk and that the horse naturally wants to use its topline, show freedom through the shoulder, and cover ground. We’re looking for a horse that wants to have a longer walk because we believe the walk translates biomechanically to the canter.”
In the trot, “we’re looking for a clear two-beat trot. We’re looking for the horse to show scope with a natural balance and uphill tendency. We don’t want a high knee action, and we would rather see horses that move out rather than upward in front. Although, we still want a good use of the hind end to lift them off the ground.”
The overall type of horse that a FEH judge is looking for is a “tri-athletic type, which is a refined horse, with enough speed and endurance to do the upper levels and enough scope in its movement to show the extended and medium paces. If you were looking for a dressage type, you would look for a horse that is a lofty mover that would be able to piaffe and passage but, that’s not the kind of movement that lends itself to a big, ground-covering gallop. The tri-athletic type has to sit somewhere in between a sport horse type and dressage type of horse.”
For further details on horse movement and FEH judging, please watch this video.
The USEA introduced the Future Event Horse Program in 2007 in response to the popularity of the already established USEA Young Event Horse Program. Where the YEH program assesses 4- and 5-year-old prospective event horses based on their performance, the FEH program evaluates yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds for their potential for the sport based on conformation and type. Yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are presented in-hand while 4-year-olds are presented under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack and evaluated on their conformation. Divisions are separated by year and gender. At the Championships, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are also required to demonstrate their potential over fences in an additional free-jump division. Click here to learn more about the Future Event Horse Program.
The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, Parker Equine Insurance, SmartPak, Standlee Hay Company, C4 Belts, Etalon Diagnostics, and Guardian Horse Bedding for sponsoring the Future Event Horse Program.
All the major contenders passed the eventing final horse inspection at the Tokyo Olympics and will carry on to contest the show jumping phase in a few hours’ time.
The ground jury (Nick Burton, GBR, Christina Klingspor, SWE, and the U.S.A.’s Jane Hamlin) and vets only failed to accept one horse - Fantastic Frieda, ridden by Poland’s Joanna Pawlak, who had completed the cross-country in 41st place with a refusal and 25.2 time-faults.
The FEI has announced that the Swiss horse Jet Set, ridden by Robin Godel has had to be euthanized after pulling up extremely lame on the Sea Forest Cross Country Course during Equestrian Eventing at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on August 1, 2021.
In 2002, at the age of 15, I was at my Aunt and Uncle’s farm in Maine while Tremaine Cooper was there building some cross-country jumps. I helped him build a trakehner, not realizing that this day would set the course for my future. A few weeks later he called asking if I could help him at Millbrook Horse Trials. From there I helped Tremaine during most of my school vacations and throughout the summers. After graduating high school I kept at it never looking back. I lived the gypsy lifestyle for about six years going from coast to coast and event to event. In 2013 my wife Kathryn and I settled down in Lexington, Kentucky. These days I spend roughly 60-75 percent of my time on the road preparing events or building private schooling areas. I’ve had the privilege of being involved with some really great events around the states and have cultivated many friendships all over the country. In 2019 I was asked to be a part of Team Evans Olympic cross-country building crew. As I write this I am on my third trip to Tokyo. Here’s a day in Tokyo . . .
The British team cemented their gold medal position at the Tokyo Olympics with three magnificent cross-country performances, all clear inside the time. Added to that, their first rider, Oliver Townend, holds pole position individually after the dressage leader, Germany’s Michael Jung, picked up 11 penalties for triggering a frangible device.