What To Look For In A Young Performance Horse Prospect: Part 2
- September 2, 2014
- Jessie Salter
In our first segment of this series we talked about bloodlines and breed history. Today, we will talk about conformation and disposition. We know that champions come in all shapes and sizes and they all have different dispositions or quirks, which takes me back to the statement that, the horse is only as good as it’s rider.
Conformation preference my vary depending on what discipline you have planned for this horse. For me, height is not a huge factor as long as the animal is of a strong athletic build with good bone. However a team roping header may want a larger framed horse for turning big, hard running steers. I like my horse to have a nice wide stance and way of travel, meaning when they go to reach around with their front end they can easily cover ground. I also like to see low hocks and a horse that really reaches up with their hind legs when they move out. The power and speed come from that area. Other than those specifics, you want to look for a horse that is conformationaly correct. Not all champions are, but if you are starting out from scratch it’s best to not have any chips stacked against you from the get go. Straight clean legs, good feet, nice slope to the hip and shoulder etc. Ideally a nice short back and long underline are good to have. I also like a horse that breaks naturally at the poll and has a big bright eye and large nostrils.
Every person has a specific look they are after, and a lot of that depends on what the future plans are for this horse. It’s always a good idea to take someone with experience in your discipline along for a second set of eyes. Take your time and watch this horse travel and play with his buddies. You can see a lot of their natural ability when they are in a setting like that.
You can also learn a lot about the horse’s disposition in this setting. Are they dominate and aggressive? Or maybe they are at the bottom of the pecking order and constantly picked on. Maybe they are somewhere right in the middle. This is where experience and personal preference come into play. I like my horses confident and gritty, and a lot of times (not always) those horses are more aggressive in the herd. They can sometimes be a little more difficult to train as well, so they obviously aren’t for everyone; at least in the beginning. Most of the time I would recommend going for one that seems to stay out of trouble. He or she holds their ground, but they aren’t out looking for a fight. They are smart and take care of themselves, but they don’t get bullied.
Once you’ve picked out the one you like, get a halter on them and go test them out a bit. Load them in the trailer, take them in the barn, touch them all over. Are they light and sensitive or are they pushing and pulling you? Do they confidently follow you in and out of anywhere with little coaxing? Or maybe they are constantly refusing? So much of this can change as you work with and educate your prospect. However, if I have a choice starting out I’ll pick the horse that is naturally light on the halter and quicker to respond to my reactions and requests. Not out of complete fear, but because they are sensitive to the touch and like to move their feet. I also like the horse that is confident, and after a little work will load in the trailer, and follow me in the new or dark barn. Yes, it’s a lot, especially if you are buying a horse that has little handling. But, I’m going to tell you that doesn’t matter. Some will just “get it” easier than others if you are handling the situation properly.
With so so so many horses out there to choice from, take your time and find the one that fits your training style and your plan. Know your training limits, and advantages, and keep those in mind when picking the disposition for you. If you don’t feel confident picking your prospect, take along someone that has a record of nicely trained horses, that knows you well enough to pick one that fits your program.
About Jessie Salter
Horses have been a part of my life since I can remember. Riding with my Dad as a youngster was what I lived for. There was nothing better than working cows, or racing my dad across an alfalfa field. It seems I never grew out...