Our flight back from Florida last night didn’t get in til like midnight, so I’m moving a little slow this morning, but better late than never?
Yesterday was the Future Event Horse side of the YEH/FEH symposium, with yearlings through 4 year olds, looking at them on the line and (for the older horses) under saddle and in the freejump chute.
We kicked off the day by talking about judging conformation, and what to look for. Holly Simenson, the North American director of the German Oldenburg Verband, joined Championship judges Robin Walker and Peter Gray for input on this part. She wasn’t such a fan of using the triangle to present the horses, saying that in her experience it’s too easy for the horse to get crooked, which in turn can make it look like they have irregularities or imperfections in their movement. She prefers showing the horse in hand against the rail of the ring, keeping the horse straighter. But… our FEH format uses the triangle, so that’s what we used.
The first demo horse of the day was a lovely full TB yearling colt. All of the judges mentioned how difficult it was to judge yearlings, which I think everyone can agree with. Holly noted that in her experience, the prettiest yearlings often end up being the plainest and least athletic adult horses. She also said that for event horses especially, athleticism is the quality that is of the utmost importance. Robin and Holly both agreed that since they can be so darn ugly at that age, and change so quickly, what they really look for in the yearlings is a good type and ground covering gaits. In this case good type means something that looks more like a TB, and ground cover means one that has a lot of reach underneath the body with the hind legs and easily covers a lot of ground in the paces. They want to see that the horse “walks with it’s body” – ie the back is supple enough to allow the horse’s entire topline to move as it walks.
They also want to see that the horse has correct limb conformation. Holly stressed to the breeders that if a foal has a some kind of deviation, it’s important to address it as soon as possible. If you fix these issues before 6 months of age, the bones in the lower leg will align correctly and it won’t be a problem. However, if you wait until after that age, the alignment will not change, and any changes you try to make to get the limbs to look straighter will only put them under more stress.
From there we saw some 2 year olds and some 3 year olds, both colts and fillies, from a wide variety of bloodlines. We discussed each horse’s conformation and gaits as a group, and the judges gave their thoughts on how they would score them. Robin cautioned the judges not to get too nitpicky, and reminded everyone that just like with the YEH judging, what they’re really scoring with the gaits are whatever the best moments are that the horse offers, and to remember that they’re looking for horses that look like eventers.
Which led to more discussion about just how important it is for the horses to be properly prepared, and for the handlers to be educated on how to best present their horses. You could have a superb quality horse, but if it’s such an idiot that the judge can’t see any good moments of movement, or if you don’t know what you’re doing and fail to show the horse to it’s potential, then the judges have no choice but to score what they saw. So, prepare your horse, learn how to present it in hand well, and everyone will have a better and more successful experience. Robin especially was very passionate about that part. A couple of the horses were quite poorly behaved and presented, so I can easily see how frustrating it would be as a judge for that to happen in a class. They looked like nice horses, but we couldn’t get an accurate idea of just how nice they might be.
After that we moved on to a mock 4yo FEH class, so basically a w/t/c flat class. This is judged much the same way, where they’re looking for the horse’s absolute best moments and scoring those. One thing that was common here is that the riders did not generally show their horses well at the walk… the judges want to see one that is really MOVING and marching and swinging through it’s back. They don’t care if you do it in your jump saddle or dressage saddle, or if the horse is all that solid in the connection yet – they just want to see the best possible gaits you can show on that day. Ground covering, supple, and forward, with an active hind end.
From there we went over to the freejump chute. First Robin covered the specs for the chute and the distances, and then talked about the equipment he uses (gloves, helmet, a short rope). Safety was of utmost importance here, as he wants to make sure that the horses are safe, confident, and have a good experience. Again he stressed the importance of working on this enough at home so that the horses know what to expect in the jump chute, have learned how to go through it properly, and are confident about what’s being asked. If the horse isn’t prepared, the judges aren’t going to be able to see the horse’s best efforts, and it’s unfair to the horse to show up somewhere and have to do something it’s never done. A lack of preparation for any of this stuff seemed to be a big sticking point for Robin throughout the day.
Matthias Hollberg, a GP showjumper, helped run the freejumping side of things. He noted right off the bat that not every horse that freejumps well will jump well under saddle, and some that just seem ok in the freejumping will jump better under saddle, but almost all who freejump really poorly will also jump poorly under saddle. It’s a good indicator, but not necessarily a be-all-end-all way to gauge talent.
They were looking for horses with safe forelimb technique, a good use of the body through the air, and an intelligence about how it went through the chute or learned from any mistakes. If the horse hit a jump, they wanted to see it come back through and be more careful. If he ran through and went past the distance, they wanted to see him come in the next time and slow himself down a bit, not just keep making the same mistakes. There were a few good horses, and a few bad ones, some who had never been freejumped, and some who had. Again, it was a good variety of experience and quality. Mattias urged the judges to watch the horse’s withers as they came through the chute – he wanted to see the horse raise its withers and round its topline over the fence, not just move its legs and stay flat/stiff in it’s back in the air.
I also have to mention that I was really impressed throughout both days with how well-prepared, well-handled, and well-presented Matt Bryner’s horses were. Super professional and mindful of the horses, and clearly someone who does the work at home to make sure they are successful at the shows. In a country where we generally have a lack of good young horse producers, he was a standout to me in this crowd.
It was a really educational day, and as a FEH participant and someone who brings up young horses, I got a lot of good tips for how to better prepare and show my horse. Definitely worth a long day sitting on the bleachers! I would recommend these educational symposiums to anyone from breeders to young horse owners to riders. This is a lot of the basic education that we’re missing in this country, and to be able to go get a crash course, see lots of nice horses, and hear from such a variety of professionals in one place is a really fantastic opportunity.