How to find the right showjumper for you?

Door: Quintin Maertens

The success of finding the right horse for you and your goals depends mainly on how honest you are with yourself. Think to yourself what do I really want from the horse, what are my goals and what are my capabilities at the moment? Be wise and buy a horse with a personality that suits your current riding skills. You don’t want to get in a jet fighter with the afterburner on full throttle when you’ve started ultra light flying a year ago. Why? Because you can’t control it. Things move too fast, you still need time to think about what to do next and before you know it, the moment has passed. Two things are possible in this situation: you are either an incredibly fast learner or you’re going to wreck the jet! So, if you’re looking at a prospect which suits the riding skills you’ll have next year, buy that one next year!

When you’re a competitive rider with years of experience in for example 130cm classes, go for the younger, frisky horse with the right attitude and all the capacities you could wish for. If you still want to work on your riding and arena experience go for an older, more experienced horse with a brave personality so that when you make a mistake the horse will help you out.

We now know what kind of horse would suit us but how can we tell which particular horse is the right one? One of the hardest things when buying horses is that they all look more or less the same. Most of us can tell the difference between a quarter horse and a thoroughbred, but to tell the difference between a dressage horse and a show jumper is much more difficult. Once they get moving you can make an educated guess but still, you’re easily fooled.

When buying a horse we should make use of all the information available. The first thing you need to assess is the exterior of the horse. Things like the looks of the horse, the right colour or a beautiful tail are all unimportant for the quality of the horse and the results you’re going to get competing it. Of course, it’s a bonus if you can show off with a pretty horse but this really should be at the bottom of the priority list. And it is difficult to rule out emotions and stay focused on practicalities when the most stunning horse is presented!

In the horse’s stature we should be looking for things we suspect to be a problem or an advantage for the job we want it to do. The first thing I look at is if it’s a vertically built horse or a horizontally built horse. * (pic. Of hor. And ver. Built horses.)

A vertically built horse will naturally carry its head in a higher position and will look a bit like it’s always moving uphill. This stature makes it easier for the horse to carry its own weight on its hind quarters, therefore it’s more likely to be a soft ride. A horizontally built horse might have more problems with carrying its own weight but, it will be easier for him to arch his back to achieve a good jumping technique. The distance his neck will have to travel to get it into the right position for the flight phase of the jump is smaller than that of the vertically built horse.

(Pic’s of jumping and head positions) The back of the horse should be long enough and athletically muscled. The back stores all the energy generated by the hind legs, the speed preceding the jump and releases this stored energy in the take off, hopefully with you still on it. The back is therefore an indicator of the power and scope of the horse.

Usually I don’t get into the physical health of the horse too much. We’ve got very good veterinarians in The Netherlands so I concentrate on my job and let them do theirs, however please make sure to use a fully qualified veterinarian for a complete veterinary check. A veterinary check before buying any kind of horse is a must, a show jumper can have the biggest capacities but if it’s not healthy, it’s useless! The thing I myself look at, next to a nice coat and a healthy appearance, are the legs of the horse. I check the legs for irregularities and signs of ailments. The left and the right hooves should be the same in size and angle. Poor hooves can be the cause of many problems, in health and riding.

When a prospect still complies with all the things you want and need, it’s time to get in the saddle and feel everything you’ve seen and heard. Try to get someone to ride before you get on so you can see for yourself how the horse looks being ridden and take a good look at his jumping technique. It’s crucial you always see and try the horse yourself so never, ever buy a horse unseen.

Once you’re on the horse go easy on him for the first couple of minutes, let him get used to you and try to get a feel for him. When you’re ready for jumping, try to work with the seller of the horse to determine what fences to jump. You should be allowed to test the horse properly but it should also stay fair to the horse and current owner, so try to keep an open conversation with the seller.

When you still like to buy the horse after trying him out, try to get some proof that the horse really was competing at the level the seller has told you. If possible try to get a video of the horse in competition. Jumping 1.30 m. fences at home or competing in 1.30 m. classes are two completely different things!

In buying horses you’re never completely sure what the future is going to bring for you and the horse. However, when you take everything you’ve just read about into account you know you can make a well considered and realistic decision. Bear in mind that, as with all things in life, scouting and buying horses is subject to the law of the learning curve. You’ll live and learn. Unfortunately the mistakes you’ll make when still new to the horse trading business can cost you a lot of money. Considering this paying an agent may seem costly but in the end working with the right agent will give you a much better chance of finding the right horse and keep you from making expensive mistakes.

Once you’ve found the horse you’ve been looking for and tackled all of the obstacles nothing stands in your way to enjoy show jumping and achieve your goals.