Is this a horse well suited temperamentally towards my current riding level, and for the job I have in mind? Notice how I put extra emphasis on current riding level. If your goal is a horse you can move up on, then keep in mind that you will be taking the existing difficulties of moving up to the next division and adding a green horse to the mix. It is far wiser to move up on a horse than has been there and is confident when you are uncertain. It doesn’t take much more than a few too many missed spots to “fry” and otherwise wonderful young horse. In fact, unless you have extensive mileage both with green horses AND in the discipline you are planning to train the horse in, then we strongly recommend keeping the horse in a program with an experienced trainer.
Let’s assume you’re experienced, or are planning on keeping the horse with an experienced trainer. Now we need to determine what temperament is best suited not only for you, but for the job you have in mind.
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!
It is hard to evaluate a young horse’s temperament in general, but even harder so if you’re not used to the flighty tendencies of young horses. They didn’t just evolve long legs to run away from scary things; they also come with a tendency towards flight and caution! So don’t take it personally if the foal in question takes one look at you, snorts, and considers running in the opposite direction! Listen to what the breeder has to say about the horse, because they will have a better feel of that horse’s disposition relative to his peers. 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. On that subject, meeting the dam and siblings can be beneficial, as can watching them undersaddle – if you are so lucky to run across them at a horse show or in a video on YouTube.