Yesterday I went to look at a completely different type of horse- an unstarted three year old warmblood gelding.
Looking at babies varies from looking at horses under saddle. It requires channeling your inner tween, in that you have to look past the horsey equivalent of pubescent pimples and gangly legs and envision the future Brad Pitt within, but also be very adult about the process, in this case stuffing the “ermahgerd baby poneh” response temporarily into your back pocket.
When looking at youngstock, brain still reigns king. A tractable disposition is everything to me, and so its even more important to see those ground manners and basic abilities- being caught from a field, lead around, cross tied, picking up feet, etc. In addition to this, I also want to see how the baby reacts to new and different stimuli. Yesterday, we used body clippers. I’m watching carefully to see what the horse’s instinct is- is it turn and flee? stomp this dangerous buzzing beastie to death and human be damned? or stand still but do its best dragon impersonation? Especially because I want to compete at new venues, and event, a bit of bravery, or at least sensibility, is key.
Besides all these little but important tests, it’s also helpful to see them move. Sweet and smart and sensible is nice, but there are plenty of other scores in the collective section besides “Submission”. So getting the baby out and trotting, watching them walk, and seeing their canter is all going to indicate whether or not a young horse is a suitable prospect for any sporthorse goals. The trot should have active hocks, the canter should have a reaching hind leg, and the walk should be 4 beat and true. Moving like a junkyard robot is probably not the best attribute for your future dressage horse.
The last thing to consider, and this applies to looking at any horse, is your gut. As silly and sentimental as it sounds, I put a lot of stock in this. When I look at a horse, does my heart go trip-a-trap? Do I feel in my gut that this is a good match? If I’m going to pull out my checkbook, being a bit twitterpated is a must- goodness knows there will be plenty of good and bad days ahead as you learn and grow together, so always best to start from a place of love and gushy good feelings.
Overall, the process of horse shopping is a balance of emotion and logic. Not unlike dating, you’re looking for a longtime partner that you will invest your blood, sweat, and tears (not to mention a hella lot of money) into, so you do your best to choose the right one.