With the dark evenings and crisp, cold mornings can only mean one thing. Winter has arrived and the eventing season has ended for another year. Many event horses have their annual holiday and eventer’s turn their attention to next year’s season with perhaps a little holiday in between. End of season balls and dinners are the highlight of the winter months with awards to the brave and the talented. However, credit where credit is due which is not only down to the rider but to these fantastic and stoic event horses that compete in this ultimate testing sport.
So what do you look for when buying an event horse and what are the priorities needed to find a horse that can stand up to this sport? Is it all down to having “an eye for a good horse?” A popular way to search for an event horse these days is through the internet which gives you a much wider scope for your search and choice of horse. However, good old fashioned word of mouth can always land you the ideal horse that you need. Here are five top tips to look out for when negotiating around these adverts:
The horse needs to be up to the job and it also needs to have good jumping ability. Jumping is in two of the three disciplines when eventing, so it is vital to have a horse than can cope with the technical skills required in the cross country and show jumping phases. However, some horses that are brilliant jumpers can be less supple in dressage movements. The dressage score ideally needs to be a decent mark to work on into the cross country, so an event horse must be able to produce a good dressage test also.
This is a crucial and important factor when buying an event horse. “Good Conformation” can mean different things to different equestrian riders. What it means to anybody buying a horse to compete with “is the horse’s body and characteristics suitable for the job?” The most important attribute is soundness. As the saying goes, no legs no horse. They have to have an athletic body with strong legs which is often found in Irish Sports Horses, Thoroughbred Crosses and even Warmbloods. Although size is not important, you tend to see smaller horses on event courses these days as smaller strides and fast manoeuvrability can get the rider out of trouble fast! However bigger framed horses can deal with the technicalities of the sport well so size is a personal preference of the rider. Overall the horse needs to have an athletic quality to cope with all aspects of eventing.
An event horse needs to have good movement in all gaits from walk to gallop. The horse should be able to show a good swing in walk which is needed in the dressage test as well as a big over track. Trotting needs to have a good rhythm and cover the ground well with fluidity. The canter needs to be balanced together with the ability to change the striding quickly and efficiently on a cross country course. The gallop in an event horse needs to be effortless without being sluggish but on the other hand, not too strong. Galloping needs training and most horses don’t tend to get this form of exercise on a regular basis.
For some riders, this is the most important factor in an event horse. They need to be intelligent and quick to adapt to situations of the sport and work together with the rider. An astute horse is quick to learn but it must also be respectful of its training. A horse with attitude protesting of what the rider is asking them in all three phases of eventing, will no doubt end up at the bottom of the leader board! However, they do need to be strong, brave and fearless in order to succeed at the sport with the rider matching these qualities too.
As mentioned earlier, popular breeds of horse used for eventing tend to be Sport Horses and Thoroughbreds. There are other more adaptable breeds coming through on the eventing scene with Warmbloods being used, as well as cross breeding with Hanovarians. Some horses breeding can be unknown like Zara Phillips famous Toy Town who is only described as a chestnut gelding but proved to be an excellent eventer giving her the ticket to being Eventing World Champion. Be open minded about the breed and yes having “ a good eye for a horse” can sometimes produce an excellent horse for the sport. That stunning all-rounder that can handle the job, with honesty and the right attitude – is probably the event horse for you!
Written by Samantha Hobden