Chris Ryan presenting to the FEH Symposium attendees. USEA/Leslie Mintz Photo.
Our friends at Event Clinics took some time to interview Chris Ryan, legendary horseman and one of the two judges of the 2017 USEA Future Event Horse (FEH) Championships. In this two-part interview, Chris Ryan talks about his training philosophy, what he looks for in a young event prospect, and gives advice to young riders and trainers on how to better themselves for the betterment of the sport. The USEA Future Event Horse Championships will be held next week, with the FEH West Coast Championships taking place at Twin Rivers Ranch in Paso Robles, California on Thursday, September 21 and the FEH East Coast Championships taking place at Loch Moy Farm in Adamstown, Maryland on Saturday and Sunday, September 23-24. Check back next week for part two of the interview!
Event Clinics: Can you describe your overall training philosophy?
Chris Ryan: Through 15 years in the racing industry and then the next 30 riding and producing young horses, mainly for eventing, and hunting the Scarteen Hounds, I have come to some conclusions (which have kept me in good stead!) and thus have formed my training philosophy.
- “Healthy in, healthy out.” A well-balanced ration with plenty of paddock time following on from the concept that ‘We are what we eat!’ This leads to high immunity levels and to a horse which is in good condition for training.
- “Happy in, happy out.” A content horse with good management will give good performance at every level.
- “A horse will only retain information he has learnt in an easy state of mind.” This is self-explanatory. Sometimes we must wait for the penny to drop by repeating an exercise until the horse understands the question. A lot of the horse’s resistance can come from not understanding the question. I like to halt after a fence to allow the horse to analyze what has just happened. They need ‘down time’ to reflect.
- “Leg on means the horse must go forward.” Without acceptance of this aid we are compromised from the start. When my leg goes on, the horse must go forward. I want him going forward and also thinking for himself (ears forward), and I want him going forward, thinking for himself, and also listening to me.
- “The back end of the horse keeps my head on my shoulders.” A horse’s first reaction, when unbalanced, is to position his hind leg under him, both when working on the flat and, most importantly, when jumping. A young horse really finds his jump when he finds his hind leg. It is like a revelation to him. We jump our youngsters over small banks on a rope and watching them work it out is fascinating. They must learn to be really light and tight in front and then well-engaged behind.
Chris Ryan taking notes on a horse participating in the FEH Jump Chute Clinic at Loch Moy Farm. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.
EC: What do you look for when evaluating a young horse for a client?
CR: First and foremost, the horse’s temperament has got to be geared to the client. I want the client’s first thought when they get up in the morning is to be that they want to get on this horse.
The RDS (Royal Dublin Horse Show) Young Event Horse, Connemara, and Irish Draught Horse qualifiers just took place. A lot of the horses at this event are having their first public outing, and some are traveling near the margins of their comfort zone. Here you can judge the ‘inside’ of the horse, and see their ‘soul laid bare’. You see a lot of traditional Irish breeds of the Irish horse at this event: the Connemara and the Irish Draught and the cross to Thoroughbred. When evaluating these young Irish horses, I look to see:
- Honesty of effort. Even the less talented try their hardest. You can see it in their eye and their bearing. Amazing quality of effort. When asked a question, their first reaction is, ‘Sure, why not? Let’s give it a good shot.’
- Intensity of purpose. They give it 100 percent of concentration and forward going. They learn to lock on to their fence and enjoy the challenge.
- Toughness of resolve. They dig deep when the going gets tough. Even when they fault, they are still thinking and going forward. You can see this in the way they position their ears. If their ears are forward they are thinking forward, going forward. The opposite also stands.
- The genetics and the model and type are important. Conformation is a massive consideration, because conformation leads to soundness. It takes a lot of time and money to bring a horse up through the grades, and when he gets there he must be able to stay there for a long time. Look at Flexible, jumping Grand Prix 1.60 meters at the age of 18, or Lenamore winning the Burghley CCI4* at the age of 18. This is soundness, physical and mental.
About Chris Ryan
Chris Ryan comes from one of the most storied families in Ireland. Following in his father’s footsteps, Chris 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, Chris 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, Chris 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, 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. Blending all this experience with an instinct for what is required and the genetics to operate at the highest level gives us an insight into what has kept Ireland at the top of the world eventing rankings for 21 of the 23 years they have been in existence.
About Event Clinics
Event Clinics Inc. was launched in May 2015 to enable riders to easily find and register for clinics with the world’s top riders, as well as premier schooling opportunities. Use of Premier Registrar Service platform reduces a rider’s discovery, registration, and payment effort from an hour or days to less than two minutes. Organizers have instant access to registration details, documents, and funds. The EC Instant Pay feature enables up to five custom recipients to receive payment for each registration. With unique proprietary software and a scalable database, the Event Clinics system is able to support thousands of rider registration transactions annually with associated document storage. To learn more about Event Clinics, visit their website.