FEH Clinic Recap

I’m gonna stand on my rickety little soapbox for a minute here and preface this post with this: regardless of whether you’re a breeder or not and regardless of whether you own a young horse or not, learning how to evaluate a horse’s potential for a future career is a skill that every horseman needs. It will make you look at your horses (and any potential future horses) in a completely different way. If you ever get the chance to attend any kind of sporthorse conformation/young horse evaluation clinic – take it!


I had so much fun at Marilyn Payne’s Young Event Horse (4 and 5yos under saddle) judging clinic last fall that when I saw a Future Event Horse (yearlings through 3yos judged in hand) clinic being advertised up in Dallas, I jumped on it immediately. Baby Horse might not even be here yet, but two of my favorite things are breeding and eventing, so it’s only natural that anything FEH/YEH is right up my alley.

The clinician was Eileen Pritchard-Bryan, a breeder and well-known eventing/FEH/YEH judge and steward. We started on Saturday morning with a lecture on conformation and what traits you’re looking for in an event horse (vs dressage horse or jumper). There was a whole lot of technical stuff with angles and dots and lines that would take a million years to cover thoroughly, so here are just some of my notes:

  • The lumbosacral gap should be no more than 1-2″ behind the point of hip.
  • “Pillar of support” – when drawing a straight line down the groove of the forearm, the line should come out ahead of the withers on top (for lightness of forehand) and go through or just behind the heel on bottom (too close to toe: foot injuries, too far behind heel: soft tissue injuries).
  • Lower stifle = better gallop and more jumping ability.
  • The lower the point of elbow, the better (more clearance from the rib cage for galloping).
  • Point of shoulder to point of elbow should be barely less than 90 degrees.
  • Neck should be longer than the hind 1/3.
  • Back at the knee = deal killer
  • Toeing out is better than toeing in

A lot of the sporthorse conformation stuff isn’t new to me, having been around the breeding industry, but there were a few subtleties pertaining specifically to eventing that I found very interesting. I spent a lot of time that evening looking at pics of different eventing and jumper stallions (and pics of Henry, of course).

After the conformation lecture we talked a bit about the FEH classes in particular, proper turnout, tack, apparel, etc. Then the participants went and got their babies and got to practice in-hand presentation. I have some notes about that part too:

  • For FEH, the walk is most important because mirrors the quality of the canter. You want lots of swing through the back, groundcover, overstep, and straightness.
  • The tack and handler should be subtle. Basic bit and bridle (2yo and 3yo), no full cheeks. Khakis, collared shirt, gloves, appropriate shoes, helmet on handler. Riding attire is ok. Leather halter on yearlings with leather or dark colored lead.
  • To reposition horse while standing up for confo: if you need to move a hind leg, take one step forward, if you need to move a front leg, move one step back.
  • Always be aware of where the judge is and reposition yourself and the horse in relation as necessary.
  • It is very important to move STRAIGHT away on the first and last leg of the triangle (a wiggling horse can sometimes make the horse look like it has a movement defect that it actually doesn’t).
  • Practice practice practice at home so the horse learns what to expect. Always be patient and take your time.
  • Just like dressage, the judge can only score what they see on that particular day. Given how quickly young horses change, this can lead to a variance in scores depending on the time of year and stage of growth.
the triangle

I think until you actually do this stuff, it seems fairly simple. You just stand there, then walk, then trot, then stand there again right? Hahahahaha. No. There’s SO much more to it. Presenting horses in hand really WELL is an art form and requires a lot of showmanship, practice, training, and knowledge. Even just a tiny tweak in how a horse is standing or how they hold their head or how straight you can get their body in the trot can make a BIG difference in the impression the horse gives to the judge. I learned a lot of this nuance last summer at Coco when we were practicing our jog-ups, but Eileen had additional useful suggestions, especially when it came to dealing with the short attention spans and sometimes overexuberant behavior of the babies.

this yearling filly was very well-behaved

In the afternoon we also got to see a 4yo do his YEH dressage test and discuss it as a group, then we chatted a lot about breeding and eventing over wine and then even more over dinner. Eileen and I have similar taste when it comes to bloodlines and stallions, so it was fun to talk to her (and the other clinic participants, of course).

I also heard that there’s a new 4yo FEH class, for those who wish to move at a slower pace with their young horses. The 4yo FEH has an in-hand conformation portion followed by a group under saddle portion (cantering separately). I thought this was a BRILLIANT addition, great for horses that are a bit less mature or just not ready to be jumping courses yet. So the 4yos get to choose between FEH and YEH.

Sunday was shorter, with a “mock show”. Everyone got to apply what they learned the day before and present their horses to Eileen for judging, complete with score sheets. It was fun to stand there and hear her comments about each horse and see what her scores were and why. Definitely gives me A LOT of insight into FEH and will help me decide whether or not I want to pursue those classes with my own horse. And if we DO, now I have an excellent idea of exactly what they’re looking for and how best to prepare Baby Horse for those competitions.

It was a superb and very useful clinic! I would highly recommend something like this to ANY sporthorse breeder, owner, or rider. Totally worth the audit!

37 thoughts on “FEH Clinic Recap

  1. For all that sometimes 4-H gets a not-so-great reputation in terms of producing quality equestrians sometimes, showmanship was one thing I really learned through the program. I don’t participate in any in-hand classes anymore, but some of the things you mentioned here took me back to my 4-H Showmanship days!

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    1. My thoughts exactly!! 👍🏻 4-H is my only experience thus far with showing in hand, and I’m SO glad I got to do it. Really helps your horsemanship skills!

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  2. I think that pattern is the exact one we use for Hunter in Hand at Appaloosa shows. I’ve seen many a young app get a little frisky trotting that big pyramid and startling their handlers. It really is harder than it seems.

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  3. This is a super interesting read as I’ve been at all the FEH east coast qualifiers and championships the past three years grooming and photographing. It’s been super fun to watch them grow up… although less fun braiding yearling-three year olds *insert eye roll* I love watching them judge it’s always super interesting

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  4. i’d definitely like to learn more about evaluating horses – especially with regard to conformation and little things to look for. and anything involved in learning how to better present a horse is pretty interesting to me too. sounds like a fascinating clinic!

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  5. I love the addition of a FEH class for 4 year olds. My coming 3 yo will in no way be ready for the YEH next year as his brain and body are so very very slow to mature. Having an option for horses like him will be great.

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  6. Why a triangle? Why not a traditional circle (albeit a large one and not for long)? Especially for yearlings to three year olds? On the one hand I can see where short lines might benefit baby horse short attention spans, but if you are truly trying to judge movement then I would think you would get a better view on a circle. But clearly, I know nothing. Just wondering.

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    1. To see the correctness of the gaits. On the first leg of the triangle they’re looking at how the hind legs travel (not too far apart or too close together), with the horse traveling on a straight trajectory away from the judge. On the far (profile) side of the triangle, they’re looking at the rhythm, purity, and general quality of the gait. On the last leg of the triangle, coming on a straight line back toward the judge, they’re looking for the correctness of the movement up front (no winging, paddling, etc). To see purity and correctness, it’s much easier if the horse is traveling straight.

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  7. What I learned about showing horses in hand, I learned the hard way. I used to show our Haflingers in hand and also had to get a couple of the Irish horses ready for inspection. That stuff is NOT easy.

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  8. So interesting to read about this, I bet it was a really great time to actually be there. Thanks for sharing with us!
    Also, who is that Jaguar Mail?! So handsome… I’ll take 2 please!

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    1. Jaguar Mail is an Olympic showjumper, 80%+ thoroughbred blood by Hand in Glove xx. Proving to be an excellent eventing and jumper sire! Hilltop brokers his frozen in the US. He was my other choice for Sadie, but ultimately thought MM was a better fit for her.

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        1. he’s not actually very huntery in motion or over a fence lol. He’s known for his unorthodox jumping style (which you can kind understand if you look at the angles in his shoulders).

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          1. Well, I guess that’s good. I don’t have to go find a mare to knock up then 😉
            Now that you point that out, I see what you mean. I get too focused on the pretty neck… THIS IS WHY I DON’T BREED!

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  9. Very interesting and informative I would like to share this on Facebook as I have some eventer friends who might like to see it. Do you have a “share” button and I’m just too clueless to see it?

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  10. I’m DYING OF CURIOSITY — what determines these patterns? Or who? How do we know that the forearm groove should be placed just so to allow for the best soundness? Is there data analysis and evaluation with positive and negative controls (such that there could be)? WHO IS DOING THESE STUDIES AND CAN I HELP?! Honestly, it is all amazingly fascinating and I just want to know more!

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    1. Judy Wardrope did a TON of research over decades to come up with her series on conformation. Others have done similar, both as individuals and as warmblood registries. There are several sporthorse conformation books out there. Probably the most thorough (with a shit ton of pictures and examples) is Judy’s which you can buy as a downloadable PDF on her website for $60. Totally worth it as a resource. http://www.jwequine.com/books-by-judy-wardrope/equine-conformation-for-olympic-disciplines/

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  11. It would be great to hit up a clinic on conformation. I did horse judging in FFA when I was in high school but I don’t think we were taught well and didn’t get much face time with horses.
    If I could find a Spanish horse conformation class on the west coast I would be there in a heartbeat!

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  12. Id kill to find some young horse clinics. I feel like there is just never enough to learn about breeding and young horses. Ironic, I was skimming Warmbloods Today and there was an article mentioning the pillar of support

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