Your Guide to Buying a Champion
By Boyd Martin
Let’s face it, folks–the best fun you can ever have with horses…is winning! In this day and age, eventing has so many fantastic riders, it often comes down to who has the best horse. This is your guide to buying your next champion.
Love at First Sight
The first moment you see your future horse, or the first time you sit on him, you should know, right there, if this is THE ONE. If you have to convince yourself that this horse could, maybe, be okay – forget it. Let your instincts be your absolute guide. This horse should be on your mind, stopping you from sleeping at night, putting a permanent smile on your face at just the thought of him. You should be boring your friends with the possibilities of this new horse.
I never get too concerned about the size of the new horse. Just remember, the greatest eventer of all time was Charisma, just 15.2hh. I often find the smaller horses seem to think a lot sharper and stay a lot sounder. I suppose the only size I am worried about is the size of his ticker.
Again, don’t get too hung up on the age of your new horse. The majority of horses peak, in all disciplines, at the age of 16. If you are buying a green horse, and you were being a little bit picky, I suppose you would aim for under 10 years old. Again, similar to size, if it is the right horse, it is the right horse, regardless of its age.
Find out a detailed history of the horse’s training and experiences. Just be aware that if the horse is an ex-racehorse, it’s going to have more wear and tear on him than a purpose-bred horse. But, he has already learned in life how to gallop, be transported, and has been exposed to a lot of weird and wonderful places.
It’s fantastic when you can get hold of a horse that’s started his career with straight dressage, as he has been carefully educated and exposed to non-exciting competition.
Always be wary of buying a straight show jumping horse and then expecting him to be miraculously transformed into a dressage horse. There are always exceptions but more often than not, the basic dressage work is hard to establish.
In my opinion, stable vices should encourage you to buy the horse, as all the champions I’ve dealt with are real characters in this department! Windsuckers are always welcome!
Pedigree and Breeding
Fancy breeding is not an essential, but it is always interesting to check out the horse’s pedigree. The chances of the horse being a super mover or an amazing jumper are seriously improved by specialized breeding. If you are buying a dressage horse or a jumping horse, look for proven Warmblood lines. Eventers should search for Thoroughbreds or Thoroughbred/Warmblood crosses that can still gallop. And yes, there are always exceptions to this rule; for example, straight Warmblood eventing champions and awesome Thoroughbred dressage queens do exist.
Don’t let the price dictate whether you buy the horse or not. If it is a $500 horse and exactly what you’re after, go for it. When selecting your horse, it’s either the right horse or not–it doesn’t matter how much it is. If it is the right horse, always haggle as hard as you can with the seller and try to get out of paying full price for the horse. It is common practice in horse dealing to negotiate to a
lesser price. Think of it simply as a business deal, a little like buying a used car.
If you want to be very cautious that you are not getting ripped off, use a vet check. But, be aware that many vets are on their guard about being sued and will find something wrong with the horse. Try to find a vet who has some balls about him and will give you an off-the-record recommendation whether this
horse will be sound enough for the job. I would much rather buy a freakishly amazing horse with a funny-looking foot than an absolutely useless goat with perfect feet.
Do a background check of your horse’s performances. Contact the USEA or the USEF, or search the ‘net and find out his results and scores. Do some snooping around. Ring up contacts that may have some confidential knowledge about the horse that the seller is not disclosing. The result should give you an idea how the horse behaves outside the home paddock that you’ve just tried him in.
In my experiences, if you are buying a competition horse, try not to get too hung up on the thought of resale. If you have resale in mind, you are going to have to be more selective in the horse’s age, size and vetting report. The most important thing in selecting a winner is that the horse is incredibly talented. You need a horse that you can make the most awful mistakes on while on course and yet he still goes for you. He needs to be simple and straightforward to operate, so that he’s an absolute pleasure to train and compete.
Note: This is just a preview of an article by Boyd in the upcoming issue of Eventing USA magazine, the official publication of the US Eventing Association. Be sure to look for the article for more entertaining and educational tips from Boyd!