Someone asked me about foal conformation a while ago but I completely forgot until my post last week about inspections. So, for a fun Wednesday exercise, I’m going to put myself and Presto out there and give my complete and honest opinion (as unbiased as possible anyway) of what I think of him so far (not on an emotional level, cuz y’all already know where I stand on that one), as an event prospect. Plus, hey, I think it’s good to strive to see both the good and the not-so-good in our horses, it’s what helps us learn. Fair warning, your opinion may vary. I’m not a judge. I have no actual qualifications or credentials. I’ve just seen a lot of babies grow up and am really fascinated by this stuff. This is only my very humble opinion, from seeing him on a regular basis as he’s grown and developed so far.
The old adage with horses is “3 days, 3 months, 3 years”… the idea being that those ages are the ones that give you the best idea of what the horse will look like when it’s mature. For me personally that’s been true most of the time, but not always. Some are beautiful from day 1 and never have a bad day, others are pretty awkward for a really long time. Just kind of depends on the horse. Their bodies can do some seriously freaking weird shit along the way, just like human teenagers. So we’re gonna look at what we’ve got so far with Presto, and in 4 or 5 years hopefully we’ll find out if I was right. Just to have some kind of structure, let’s use the FEH judging sheet as our guideline.
Type is a fun one. It’s the thing that more than one judge (including Marilyn Payne) has said is THE most important thing when judging an event horse in hand, yet it’s also the thing that you’ll find the least information (and definitely least specific information) about. So what exactly is an “event horse” type? Could be anything really, I’m sure we can all spit out examples on opposite ends of the spectrum, from draft cross Covert Rights to diminutive pony cross Teddy O’Conner. But, for the sake of averages, let’s throw out the outliers and exceptions and look for what we see the most often at the upper levels. That’s generally a horse that is leggy, not too compact in length, has good length of neck, and isn’t too heavy. A horse that has an elegant, “sporty” appearance, that looks athletic and like it will be able to really cover the ground. Not so light as to be fragile, but not so heavy as to pound the ground or be unable to gallop efficiently.
To me this is Presto’s strongest area that I’ve seen from him so far. IMO he really looks like a baby event horse (honestly he looks a ton like his sire Mighty Magic to me), with a more rangey, elegant type and a nice length of leg. As far as the “shows the appearance of refining blood” part of the judging criteria – he’s 74% and I think he looks it.
This one is really a lot harder to judge with a foal, but I’ll give you my impressions of what I’ve observed so far with him over time. The FEH criteria have two separate sections under conformation, one for frame and one for legs/feet. Frame is looking for the general skeletal conformation of the horse, proportions, natural strength of topline, etc. Legs and feet… should be obvious. Straight legs, clean joints, good bone, feet of appropriate size, correct angles, etc.
For “frame”, I think Presto has some strengths and some weaknesses. I like his head (although that has no actual importance IMO), and I think his neck is of good length. His shoulder is probably another one of his best qualities. I think topline is fine, at least so far, but he could have a better/stronger loin connection. He might end up being a touch long – hard to say for sure yet. I think saddle position will be good, but again I think it’s too early to really say. If you draw a triangle connecting his point of hip, point of buttock, and point of stifle, you get a pretty equilateral triangle – typical of an event horse. His point of stifle is below sheath level, indicating good stride length and possibly better jumping ability. It could be a bit lower. His LS gap and point of hip alignment are correct.
On to the legs! This one is also really hard with foals, especially if they haven’t sprouted outward in the chest yet, because many will look like they toe out at this stage. Presto’s left front is beautiful, but the right front has a bit of an outward deviation below the knee (pretty similar to Henry’s, ironically). It has improved tremendously in the past couple months since he’s gotten healthier, and I think it will continue to improve, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that deviation never goes away completely. I think it’s quite minor, though, so while I’d have to mark him down for it, it doesn’t bother me a lot at this point.
As far as his “pillar of support”, following the groove of his foreleg draw an imaginary straight line vertically. At the top it emerges well in front of the withers (indicating he won’t be inclined to be heavy on the forehand) and at the bottom it falls just behind his heel. It should fall either through the heel or slightly behind the heel to avoid being overly prone to soft tissue injuries.
I think the hind legs are good, if perhaps a touch straight, but he’s still in such a narrow phase that it’s hard to get an idea of how anything back there will end up. Overall right this second he looks really long in the pastern, but I’m going to call that a growth thing, since this is the first time he’s looked like that so far in his life.
FEH only judges the walk and the trot, so I’m going to stray from their scoresheet a little here and include canter and gallop. For w/t/c they’re really looking for something very close to a dressage horse – good elasticity, freedom of shoulder, uphill, active hind leg, etc. For gallop they want something very groundcovering and efficient and light across the ground. It’s extraordinarily difficult to find those two things existing in the same animal, but hey we’re talking gold standards here.
To be honest I’ve had a really hard time judging Presto’s gaits so far. He is the type of foal that either stands still or gallops, with very little in between. I’ve hardly seen any trot, and most of it was just a few petering steps as he’s coming back down from canter to walk. I think he’s got some suspension there, but I’ve seen pretty much nothing else. If I had to judge his walk and trot based on what I’ve seen so far, he wouldn’t have super high scores. Maybe someday he’ll actually show me those gaits.
I’ve seen a lot of canter and gallop, though! His gallop is pretty good, although if I’m being picky it could cover a bit more ground. Kid is freaking fast, though, and he just skips across the pasture, light as a feather and nicely balanced. The canter has varied all the way from “I swear I didn’t breed a hunter” to “omg WOW”, depending on when I happen to see it. I think when he’s butt high it gets more downhill and flat, and right now he’s definitely butt high.
Either way, he is probably not going to win the dressage by merit of his gaits alone, unless he’s hiding something he just hasn’t shown me yet. His mother is a big elastic mover, so I’m hoping that this continues to develop in him.
Let’s throw out the “behavior” part of the score sheet criteria, since it doesn’t really apply to this particular scenario. Aside from that we’re basically just looking at overall development, and “does it look like something that can be an upper level event horse”?
Development wise, I’d say he’s fairly close to average for his age. The fact that he’s basically caught up to Liam, height-wise, despite all of his troubles is kind of miraculous. He’s still got a ways to go in the width and substance department though. Some days he looks quite filled out and lovely, other days he looks like a puny weed.
As far as potential, I kinda look at him and think more like 2* horse than 4*, but a) that’s what I want to see, b) I’m strongly of the opinion that a lot of what makes the difference between a real superstar horse vs a nice mid-level one are things we can’t see… heart, desire, courage. And of course scope, which I have absolutely no way to measure right now. Those are all big question marks and will be for a long time. I did not set out to create a 4* horse, so that’s not what I personally am looking for. Regardless of level, I do look at him and see event horse.
So there you have it, my attempt to be as fair and objective about my own foal as I can possibly be. All I really know for sure is that I’m excited to see what he turns into.
Edited to add sources of conformation assessment information, by request! Highly recommend purchasing Judy Wardrope’s ebook, which can be found here: http://www.jwequine.com/books-by-judy-wardrope/equine-conformation-for-olympic-disciplines/
Or check out some of her free online articles (with very brief basic overviews of conformation for each sport) here: http://www.jwequine.com/article-library/