Question: I have just had two horses pass a vet check and now I’m more confused than ever as to which one to buy as a potential hunter. They are both geldings, 16.3HH, both 5 years old. The green horse has a good mind, great legs, and is gorgeous, but very, very green! He went over a small grid we set up, but he has very little of any training other than walk trot and halt. He has no papers. The other gelding is also 5 with lots of experience over fences, but he refuses, runs out and seems very sour of the whole thing. He seems hotter than the green horse. When he does jump, he’s amazing. He has Canadian WB papers. What would you do in this situation? How do I choose wisely?
Answer from April Reeves: A few more questions need answering before you bring all the facts in to make your decision.
I would look at the conformation and way of going on both horses. There will be something that will tip you one way or another. My gut instinct is to lean towards the green horse. If he is built properly, and moves long and low (daisy clipper) I would take a few more free jumps with him if the owners will let you.
You have to ask yourself these questions:
1. Am I able to train a young horse?
2. Am I able to re-school a sour horse?
3. Which horse do I bond with?
4. Which horse is more correct? (Watch the horse while working and standing – conformation)
5. Do you NEED papers? (Being geldings they are not breeding stock. There are no breed classes for them. Your goal is to show open hunter).
6. Is this horse a lifetime partner?
7. Form over fences; which horse is better?
The sour horse concerns me a bit. Being 5 is too young (in my books) to jump a horse that much. I start my babies over small fences at 5 and when they are 6-7 they take on height. I take on a horse for life, not instant money. If the horse was started at his 5th year, you KNOW he was pushed too far too fast, making him sour and anxious before he gained confidence. Once you scare a horse, it’s a long journey to recovery and retraining. His ‘hotter’ nature may be due to this.
You may have to push harder for more accurate training details. Maybe he doesn’t have that much jumping experience, and the owners are just telling you things they think YOU want to hear (embellish to sell). Is this the real reason for the horse’s refusals and run-outs? In order to really know this, you will need to ride the horse for 4-5 rides over short fences, grids and ground poles. See what the horse is like when schooled from the foundation. Since people are giving away good horses these days, the owners should accommodate you in this request.
Also, if this horse was started too early(3), you may find problems that will show up later in his life. Leg issues are not something that concern me as much as spine and back problems. Horses bones fuse from the ground up, and the spine and back are the last to finish growing. While we ride our horses hard at 4-6, the bones in the spine and neck are still growing longitudinally, while the leg bones have slowed or stopped. Our additional weight presses on this young horizontal spine, setting up the possibility of problems down the road. Legs, however, are columns, and are less susceptible to damage later in life. Knowing EXACTLY when and how much he has been jumped will help you to decide. For your sake, I hope the horse has next to no experience, and the owners are just pushing this horse to jump for the sale.
I tend to like to do the work myself as opposed to undoing and rebuilding someone else’s mess (although that does keep me busy). In hunters, I value the look of the horse, and tend to go for ‘pretty’ as often as possible. In the jumping divisions, it’s not necessary. If you have no need or desire to show breed classes, papers on a gelding become obsolete, other than being able to track his lineage. Try to dig for those papers if you can. It’s good for the breeder to know, if your horse becomes the next greatest show ring hunter.
Movement plays a big role in the hunter. One of these horses will show better movement than the other. If you are unable to determine this, find a well-known trainer and ask them to watch the horse. Or take videos of them both and send them to me. I also look at photos.
It’s an art to get the truth from sellers. Often the stories are embellished to get the sale. You need to ask them for complete honesty, and be honest in what you are looking for. When they know you are not looking for a seasoned 5 year old, they may come clean with their horse’s real abilities.
The rest is up to you. Which horse do you LIKE? Spend more time with them; go back and visit them both several times. You have the luxury of time right now so take it.