Well before you get the bit between your teeth, make sure you have a long think about the kind of horse you’re after. It’s easy to spend a great deal of money on a show jumping horse, which may look as though it’s been been well trained. But then six months later find, actually, it wasn’t really the star show jumping horse you expected.
Before you even consider looking at horses, not only think about your ‘ideal’ showjumping horse, but your budget too. What can you comfortably afford? This way you won’t waste your time or the sellers, being shown show jumping horses that aren’t suitable. Ask yourself, what are your aims with your riding? What role does this horse have in achieving those aims? What sort of rider are you? Do you need something a bit forgiving if you make a mistake? Are you looking to take a talented youngster and develop it (you have to be able to ride a jump), or have a more experienced horse teach you a bit more? What sort of breeding are you looking for? Are you looking to buy privately or from a dealer/professional? Do you have a vet that you are able to talk to?
As a professional rider you can produce a horse that will feel great when you try it. A younger horse needs confidence and initially it will jump because it’s naive and genuine. Indeed, often, a young horse will over jump to compensate for poor riding, giving the rider the impression of a super scopy horse.
There will come a point in this scenario where the horse just gives up or starts to take advantage of a less experienced rider. You do need to consider your ability. The more technically correct a horse in its jumping, the more it will jump through its body and open up over a fence. To ride this well you need to be able to maintain your balance over your leg, and keep an independent seat over the fence, so that you don’t squash the horse’s back over the fence, and compromise your horse’s technique. Often this results in the horse going faster at the fence and jumping flatter. Riders then often put a bigger bit into the horse’s mouth to control the speed. But you can imagine the dilemma going on in the horses mind? A careful horse with a middle of the road technique may be more appropriate for your level. If you do take on a horse with exceptional jumping technique make sure you get your training right. The horse has to learn to jump the fence that is there. Horses that over jump will jump longer into combinations or related distances, and effectively run out of room.
You could see a horse at a show that looks fantastic over individual fences, but when it comes to the treble it will appear to sneak through it. The horse’s response is to shut down its jump, start drifting to make room, or simply stop. A confusing process for all concerned, and one that isn’t solved by being aggressive with the horse.
So what are your options?
*Buy a young show jumping horse and develop it
Depending on your skill set this can involve buying an unbroken three year old or a newly started four or five year old. The idea here is to buy a talented show jumping horse, and produce it to higher levels of competition. This is a great way of getting a good horse which you can then develop, which won’t be as expensive as it would be, had you bought it further down the line. The risk? You will never know for sure how it is going to turn out and it may not finish the way you want. Again, you have to be clear about why you are buying this horse and re-evaluate this as you and the horse progress. Always think ‘what else can this horse do’, if it isn’t going to be what I want it to be? With this scenario you want to have the skills to be able to educate your horse, as it effectively knows nothing about what you want it to do. If you are unsure about your ability, then make sure you are able to work closely with someone who has the experience. Horses at this stage are learning, so they will test boundaries and the training you put in place. If you have weaknesses in your skills then they will find them and learn to exploit them. Having said that, this is a very satisfying path to go down, as the ability of your horse is a direct reflection of the work you do with it. And when it goes well it’s down to you!
*Choose a started show jumping horse that has attained a certain level
Many people looking to buy a show jumping horse will want to see that it has done something that shows its potential. If you are producing horses professionally you know that a horse that has been and done something, however green it is, is worth more money and will create more interest. Show jumping horses sold on potential are often more expensive and there is an art in producing horses for this market. Basically, you are packaging someone’s dream and showing them that this horse is the one to help achieve that. Having been out and competed, the seller makes the horse’s potential more obvious to you. A good rider can get a horse around a track. A young horse will jump out of innocence, but whether you can maintain that development, well that’s something you have to ask yourself? The advantage? Someone else has done a lot of the hard stuff for you, and you, as the purchaser, have a degree of evidence as to what the horse is capable of. The trivial things like making sure it will go on the truck, that it has some idea of what it is like at a show, that it has been in a collecting ring, are all things that in this case the horse has at least seen.
*Pick a well established show jumping horse that has competed at a level beyond yours
The idea here is for someone else to have educated the horse, so that it knows how to respond to the questions you ask of it in the ring. This means you can concentrate on developing your skills, without having to worry about teaching your horse. This is a great option if the horse is coming back a level for the rider, as it will have extra ability up its sleeve, and will be able to cope with the mistakes you’ll make as a developing rider. If the horse has been well produced, with a good equestrian coach, this can be a very satisfying way to go and will give you a lot of confidence. From a purchasing point of view you have to ask why that horse is for sale? Has it had a problem that means it isn’t performing at the level it has been asked to? Is there something else you don’t know about? Often it’s an educated rider who says that a horse doesn’t have the ability to compete at the level they want, and is moving the horse on rather than give the horse a negative experience. This is an ideal situation, but not one many purchasers, or their advisors, tend to believe, in my experience.
In addition to the level of experience, you need to think about the horse itself? What are you looking for?
There are countless opinions on this. Ultimately you have to find a horse you’re happy with. As an experienced equestrian coach, I look for a well balanced horse, without any obvious conformational issues. I want to see a good quality canter and a nice open walk, more than a big floaty trot. If you consider show jumping to be a bigger canter stride, then this is very important. I also want to see an intelligent horse that thinks, so will watch how it reacts to its environment and challenges. The horse needs to be confident to learn and cope with pressure. In a lot of ways you are looking for a horse you have an empathy with. Feet are very important and something I will take a good look at. I consider things like… What’s the balance of the foot like? What type of feet are they? Can I anticipate any trouble down the line? The same with conforming. Are there any problems which can be anticipated?
The horse will be shown to you, and it is a lot to make a decision based on limited experience. Again, watch how the horse reacts to its environment. With unbroken horses I like to see them loose in the field and free jumping, so I can get an idea of their natural talent. I don’t need to see it jump six foot, but I want to know it makes a nice shape and can handle its body. With ridden horses I want to see a well balanced horse with good muscle in the right places. When it jumps, I want to see that it is happy to move through the neck and go through the back in the jumping process. I also want to see a horse that comes down to a fence and understands the question being asked of it, or is at least confident to trust the rider. If the horse doesn’t feel that it needs to protect itself, then it has been well produced.
When you ride the horse how does it react to you? Ask it a question… stop, go, and turn, and see how it reacts to those questions. If you feel you can have a conversation with the horse then that is a good start. When you ride down to a fence does it listen to you, or does it take over to jump? Do you like it? If you do, walk away and think, as you don’t want to make an impromptu decision, no matter how much you like it.
Be aware of the person selling the horse. This is an arduous task, and for those in the industry there are many stories of buyers wasting the seller’s time or being unrealistic in what they expect from the horse. Make sure you have a clear idea of what you’re after, and if you don’t like it that’s fine, but you don’t need to ride it for an hour to find out. Equally respect the effort they are putting in to sell the horse.
Do you buy privately or go to a dealer? A good thing about show jumping horse dealers, is you can often see many show jumping horses in a short period of time. With a good dealer you have a stronger agreement, and a right of exchange in many cases, so if it isn’t right you can take it back and try another horse. You won’t necessarily get your money back. With a private seller, you may be able to take the horse on trial. But if it isn’t what you want, then you may have to find another way of moving the horse on. Buying privately can involve a lot of travel to only see a couple of horses. In either case, know what you want and ask questions about how the exchange will work.
Potentially the most important people for you are your advisers. Someone you respect on the ground when you are riding, who can see things that you can’t. That person needs to understand you and what you want to get out of your horse. Usually this will be a specialist equestrian coach, but for sellers, coaches can be a nightmare too! Your vet is there to advise you on the suitability of the horse to perform the task that you want it to perform. I want to be able to have a logical conversation with my vet about a horse. I want to buy and work through any issues we see. To make the right decision you need good information, but that decision is never guaranteed.
To sum up… it can be a difficult and timely task finding and then buying your ‘ideal’ show jumping horse. Good information is key, so your research. As is a good support team, and clarity in your own mind as to what you are looking for. All of this helps in making the buying process easier! And we hope this guide to buying your showjumping horse has helped make life easier too!
Good luck! Warren.