How many of you have ever dreamt of bringing up your very own young horse? From adorable baby horse to Grand Prix extraordinaire!
And now you've decided to take the leap and go for it! Woo hoo! Now... what do you look for when buying a young dressage prospect?
Before you can find your perfect future partner, it's important that you decide what your goals are for your young horse.
A few things to consider...
Are you looking for a long term partner to develop over the course of many years (it can take up to ten years for even the most experienced pro to make a seasoned Grand Prix horse!) or are you looking for a shorter term project (perhaps to resell)?
What kind of rider are you? And you need to be very, very honest with yourself on this question... brutally honest. Your health and safety and the safety and success of your new young horse may very well depend on it. For example: That flashy young horse whose trot bounces to the moon may look absolutely gorgeous bounding around the pasture - but that same huge trot will be hell on your back when you try to sit it in a year or two.
Have you worked with young horses before? If you haven't, maybe skip the one that lights up like a firecracker at anything and everything. Remember... you want to enjoy the journey!
How much help will you have? Unless you've started babies before, you will need help. And truthfully, even those of us who have started babies before know there are parts of the process where we need help. Moral of the story - we all need help! Again, be very honest with yourself and your abilities. It's worth it to invest in a quality trainer to help get you and your youngster off on the right foot... errrrr... hoof!
Ready to start shopping? Great! What's on the young horse shopping list? What do you look for in a young dressage prospect?
There are two main things to consider when looking for a young horse - gaits and personality.
If you're looking for a competitive future dressage horse, there's no getting around the fact the horse needs to move well. But what exactly does that mean?
Balance - Balanced gaits are more important than flashy gaits.
A balanced horse...
Spends fairly equal time in both the trot and the canter. For example, it doesn't avoid cantering by trotting faster (and therefore, losing balance).
Is willing to turn both left and right. It doesn't go to great lengths to avoid turning or travelling in a certain direction.
Is willing to canter on both the left and right canter leads evenly.
Offers clean flying changes on its own.
Shows clear rhythm in all three gaits - especially in the walk and canter.
The horse's personality now will give you insight into what their trainability will be.
While you're watching them move, notice how they react to their environment.
If their owner chases them in the turnout to show off their movement, how does the horse react? Doe he flag his tail and turn into a fire-breathing dragon? If he does, how quickly does his personality return to the sweet, cuddly horse you saw back at the barn? Or does he act like he couldn't care less about the crazy people waving flags, sticks, whips, whatever in an effort to make him run?
How quickly the horse comes back "down" after something exciting happens is just as important as their reaction itself. A performance horse needs to be reactive to a certain degree if it's going to be successful. A "hot" reaction to a stimulus isn't a deal breaker in my book but the horse does need to be sensible. A sensible horse will chill out or calm down within a reasonable amount of time after a stimulus. Pay attention to how your future young horse reacts and processes things that happen in their environment.
About the horse's current level of training...
When we're talking about a young prospect (i.e. Younger than three years old and not yet started under saddle), I think of their current training level as a "what not to look for." I'm usually not all that concerned about it.
That being said, the less experience you have with young horses and the less help you'll have with your new young horse, the more training you'll want your young prospect to have.
Basic skills you can reasonably expect a young horse to know -
Knows how to lead
Knows how to tie and stand to be groomed.
Knows how to stand for the farrier to have his feet trimmed.
Skills your young horse may not know (especially if it's been allowed to grow up in a pasture-type situation) -
And in some situations, it may not even be that great at standing tied yet...
Buying a young horse is the start of an exciting journey - a terrifying yet incredibly rewarding journey! Do your homework, enlist appropriate help, proceed with caution, and take your time. And, most importantly without sounding too cheesy, have fun!!!