"The conformation evaluation of potential event horses at different venues around Ireland highlighted the prevalence of some unfavourable conformation traits as identified by elite riders," says Soraya.
"These included straight shoulders, back-at-the-knee conformation, sickle hock conformation, long back conformation, weak loin areas, rectangular structure and a lack of impulsion in trot.
"In order for the Irish Sport Horse to remain at the top of the world eventing rankings, these traits need to be eliminated.
"As longevity is of utmost importance in eventing to reach the highest level, any conformation traits that contribute to early breakdown and that will not withstand the high demands placed on the musculoskeletal system will have to be monitored," she says.
"Active selection for desirable traits needs to be included in selection procedures and breeding objectives."
The conformation of 422 horses was compared to the "ideal conformation", as outlined by top event riders. The following are the main results of the comparison:
- Top event riders look for a medium to higher wither height and all the FEHL horses studied conformed to this.
- Riders look for a sloping shoulder but there was a high prevalence of straight (upright) shoulders, which carry a higher risk of lameness.
- Almost 20pc of the horses were back at the knee, even though riders are looking for horses that are straight or even slightly forward at the knee.
Back-at-the-knee is the most serious conformational fault of the forelimb because it will not withstand the pressures of eventing long term.
- Most horses had the medium to short pastern length that riders look for.
- Almost one-third of horses were light of bone, even though medium to strong bone is most desirable in an event horse.
- Riders prefer a horse with a square to medium shape overall, however one-third of the horses studied were slightly rectangular or rectangular in shape.
This follows recent trends in breeding, led by Continental studbooks that aim to breed a rectangular horse for show-jumping and dressage.
However, the rectangular shape is not favourable for eventing because shorter body forms are associated with a strong, more durable structure.
- Riders look for a long stride length in walk and straight movement. In general, the FEHL horses displayed a good length of stride at walk but 30pc of them displayed deviation at walk (10pc toe in, 20pc toe out).
- Some 75pc of riders prefer average to slightly long strides at trot and canter, with slightly powerful to powerful impulsion but one quarter of the horses studied were lacking impulsion and displayed short stride lengths at trot. The canter was not assessed in the FEHL horses.
Soraya believes that monitoring unfavourable traits in young event horses is critical for the future production of top-class eventing horses.
"There is a relatively high prevalence of some unfavourable conformation traits for eventing," she says.
"These include straight shoulders, back-at-the-knee conformation, sickle hocks, long backs, weak loins and rectangular structure.
"Monitoring these unfavourable traits will be imperative going forward in order to keep producing top-quality animals for the sport and reduce their prevalence in the population," she claims.
"The introduction of sires and broodmares from other studbooks with breeding aims to breed rectangular structures may not be of advantage considering short frames and backs are desired in the sport of eventing.
"In order to achieve an improvement in conformation traits towards the ideal, conformation needs to be assessed and information made available on which sires have favourable traits to work towards the ideal event horse," she concludes.