A 3′ hunter’s primary job is to look cute and get around a course successfully. He doesn’t have to be mind-blowingly athletic, but he probably does need to be able to ‘take a joke’ without taking off or getting his brain fried. If mom’s lower leg slips over the jump and jabs him, he shouldn’t take off like he’s fresh out of the bucking chute. Similarly, if she misses a spot to the oxer off the long diagonal approach, he shouldn’t start worrying and question whether he should jump it next time. Even better if he can eventually start picking the spots out for himself!
On the other hand, a Grand Prix prospect is expected to get around a course fast and clean. This means he needs to be athletic, careful, and sensitive to the rider’s aids. Hot and catty around the turns? So much the better. If you put our amateur rider from the 3′ hunter on this guy, he’s alot more likely the shoot forward at a slipped lower leg or start stopping after a few badly blown spots. There are riders that like each of these rides; some like a responsive horse and can’t stand a dull, slow one, and some just want something quiet and safe. Be honest with yourself about where on this scale you land!
A 3’6″ hunter, or hunter derby prospect, should fall somewhere in between the two. Often, extra scope translates roughly to more knee movement, perhaps because of less dressage lines and more jumping lines in the horse. So maybe the horse doesn’t move a 10, but he moves an 8 and with plenty of elasticity. If you blow a spot every now and then, he’ll forgive you – but if you’re moving up to the 3’6″, then your eye and leg are well developed enough that he shouldn’t need to be a deadhead or a babysitter. So, maybe he is smart, sensitive, or agile enough that you could go do the 3’6″ jumpers if you wanted to – but his preferred speed is hunter. But your ace in the hole is that he needs to jump, and jump well at that. He should be a bit looky, but have enough scope that he can stare hard at it and still clear it with ease. So, if you genuinely want a 3’6″ hunter, then pick out the scopey youngster whose pedigree is full of jumper bloodlines. This means passing over the horse that moves a 10, but doesn’t have any close relatives jumping over 1.20 m.
Also between 3′ hunter and Grand Prix jumper is your Junior Jumper – a horse that is going to spend his career jumping 1.20 m to 1.40 m, probably with an amateur. That amateur, however, is one of those ammies that makes an exception for all ammies; they can see a spot, make adjustments on course to fix a shitty spot, and actually remember a course with 14 jumps in it. So you’re way past bombproof horse and into smarter, more sensitive, and more keen for the jumps. Ideally it’s a horse that is adjustable on course and doesn’t need spots picked out with precision, so that you can fix the spot even if you don’t start your adjustment until two strides out. But here is where you get some wiggle room, because you can opt for big, tall, powerful and long-strided or agile, catty, and bold to win the jump-off.
When you go to shop for a young prospect, listen to what the breeder has to say about the horse, because they will have a better feel of that horse’s disposition and potential relative to his peers and dam. In addition, they will have the insight of knowing the dam’s disposition, the dispositions of your horse’s siblings, and the reputation of his sire. Even more insightful is an evaluation of the horse’s close relatives. Can you see the dam and siblings in person? What did the sire, dam sire, and grandsires do in their sport careers? Was any of it with an amateur? What has the mareline done itself in the way of sport, and what kinds of horses has it produced? How are they built, what are their temperaments like? Breeders should be forthcoming about these stats, but in case they are not, the information can be widely found on the internet. Check out our Resources page for some of our favorite bloodlines researching websites.