Anyone who knew how to consistently buy a winner would be a millionaire by now! But there are a series of boxes to tick that give the best chance of a good outcome. Firstly, look at conformation – does the horse look fit to jump, event or wow a dressage judge? For dressage, look for longer pasterns for extravagance, sloping shoulders for range of movement, a wide chest for lung capacity, not too long in the back – the longer it is the more difficult to collect. One of the most important things though, is the feet – no matter what the horse is destined for. As the old adage goes, ‘no foot, no horse’, so even feet with a good amount of heel and all equal sizes and shapes is a must.
Secondly, consider attitude – how is he in the stable? You want him to be relaxed, with no box walking or running to the back. Confident enough to meet you but not mow you down as you go in. Before tacking up, ask to see him walked out in-hand to assess how he reacts to different surroundings. Even unridden youngsters give an idea of their attitude to new surroundings – are they spooky, chilled or bargy?
Once you’ve seen him be walked and trotted up, ask to see him under saddle with his usual rider. Never offer to get on first as you don’t know how a horse will react. If the owner says it’ll be fine, be firm and ask them to ride first. If they refuse or say there’s no one to ride him, it’s time to walk away.
As the horse is being been ridden, assess his way of going and how suitable you feel he is for your needs. If he’s young, mostly observe his walk and canter. Ignore the rider especially if they look like they’re interfering too much – you have to make your own judgement. Bear in mind that we all ride very differently and, therefore, you may press very different buttons and gel with the horse more than the current rider. So unless there’s a safety issue, sit on and have a play. Assess each gait, the horse’s reaction and then compare these to what you are after.
Probably the most important trait to look for is attitude – does he want to do it? You can buy the biggest moving horse out there but if he decides he doesn’t want to do it, those paces mean nothing. A horse with three good or average paces and a trainable attitude means you have a good place to start and with training you and that horse can do anything. Don’t forget Valegro wasn’t born trotting or cantering like he does now, he had three very correct gaits and the rest is expert training and a good brain.
For the competitive amateur, buying British has lots to offer. The practicalities of buying are easier – you can try the horse more than once if you like him and in different situations too, such as hacking. You can also see him in action at an event, which will tell you a lot about his temperament and manners. It’s easier to attend the vetting if the horse is local and a reputable breeder will want you to do well and will be happy to stay in touch and offer help if needed – again, easier to do if you’re in the same country.
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