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WSI Foal Evaluations

Tom Reed

Every foal registered by the Warmblood Studbook of Ireland is evaluated as part of our ongoing process of evaluating the progeny of stallions and mares breeding within the studbook. In this essay we present our philosophy and methodology for foal evaluations.
The first thing to consider is that any inspection or evaluation of a foal (and, indeed, a horse of any age) is a snap-shot, one moment in time,.and may not be a true indicator of the quality of the foal. Therefore the result may be biased. But it is important to remember that the potential bias is not symmetric: There is a ceiling in place on how well a foal can present itself (it cannot be better than what it is truly physically capable of being, even on its very best day) while there is no practicable limit (barring death or unconsciousness!) on how poorly a foal can present itself. So a “normal” or average foal may look a little better than it truly is on a particular day but it more likely that a normal or even extraordinary foal may be unimpressive, or even very unimpressive, on a particular day due to illness, fatigue, over excitement, fear of new surroundings, etc. So the bottom line is that while a very special foal may look normal or unimpressive on a given day it is very very unlikely that a low-quality foal will look extraordinary on a given day. Consequently we always hope to see foals more than once (although this is often not possible) so a more valid and reliable assessment can be made of their true qualities.
What do we look for in foals? The ten variables we assess are:

While we certainly evaluate conformation characteristics, we recognize that physical features are (approximately) normally distributed in any large population and foals within +/- 2 standard deviations of the mean are what are mostly seen. (In a normal distribution 95% of the observations are within +/- 2 standard deviations of the mean.) And the conformation of these foals is almost always good enough to do the job in sport. It is the outlier conformation trait on the negative side of the distribution -- for example, the significantly rotated leg, the foal with significant back at the knee conformation, or the one with a very weak back that will take extraordinary time and effort to build up through proper flatwork -- that causes us true concern.
What we do focus on a great deal is the athleticism of the foal. Is the foal active? Does it like to move and is it full of energy? When it moves does it seem stiff or is it elastic like a rubber band or bungee cord? Does it use its hind legs very well and come under itself? If we pop it over a small cross-pole with its mother, as we almost aways do (except in the case when this would not be in the welfare of the foal or its dam), what kind of technique does the foal exhibit? We particularly like to see the foal kick its hind legs up and over the jump.
We also assess the foal’s “mind”, although this does not form part of the formal written evaluation. Is this a nervous foal that is abnormally stuck to the side of its mother all the time (taking into account the foal’s age)? Does the foal “attack” the jump and show enthusiasm and confidence or does it jump very reluctantly? We especially like to see foals that lead their mothers through the jump chute as if in a race to see who is going to get to those cross-poles first!