My not-so-secret formula for buying youngsters – What’s yours?

Kermit and Rambo at the Bromont International.


My not-so-secret formula for buying youngsters – What’s yours?

My first two horses, which my parents bought me, were purchased solely because they were pretty. My family’s purchase was an utterly clueless one, however, these first horses gave me my riding foundation. Over the last seven years my taste in horse has become more focused. I know what I want and I have been fortunate enough to be able to acquire three 5-year-old horses to buy, train and compete:

  • Evil Munchkin (aka Rambo) –15.2hh Holsteiner gelding. He had been broke for less than a year and at the time was show jumping in 3 ft classes. I fell in love with him because of his impressive free jumping video. His movement was interesting and his jump was to die for. Very early into my tryout ride, I was sold. We competed at the CCI2* level before I sold him to junior rider, Hayley Rosenberg. At the 2016 NAJYRC, Rambo and Haley finished silver individually in the CCI1*. Rambo and I took the exact same honours in 2011!
  • Devil Munchkin (aka Kermit) – 16.1hh KWPN gelding. He had 1.20 meter show jumping experience but had not evented when I first tried him. His movement was nothing to write home about….but WOW he could jump. After I tried him him and while I was convincing my parents that he was the one, his sellers made this video and then my parents were on board. In 2015, as a 7-year-old, he completed two CCI2*s with me and in 2016, he was 3rd at the Wellington Eventing Showcase with Dan Jocelyn (NZL). I now compete at the Advanced level on him.
Kermit competing at his first CCI2* at 2015 Bromont.

Kermit competing at his first CCI2* at 2015 Bromont.


  • FE Party Munchkin (aka Sylvester) –16.3hh Holsteiner gelding. I was pretty much sold by the impressive video of him schooling massive fences. He had no Eventing experience and I did not care. Of course, I tried him out to ensure that he felt as good to jump as he looked. He felt incredible and I had to have himHe competed at his first CCI1* as a 7-year-old.
FE Party Munchkin and me completing our first CCI1* at Ocala.

FE Party Munchkin and me completing our first CCI1* at Ocala in April.



Looking at these three young horses, they all seem very different. However, they have one major thing in common – they are scopey and careful jumpers. My priority when buying a youngster is simple, “Can it jump?”

There is nothing that I hate more than knocking a rail down. The sound of a rail thudding on the ground gives me nightmares.

I know that I need a horse that has the ability to put in a good dressage test and who is bold on cross-country and so far I have found that if they can jump easily, I can put together a confident Eventing horse.

To assess whether a horse is a potential eventer for me, I also consider:

  • Movement – The horse has to be a decent mover. I do not want a horse with a two-beat walk or one that paddles. It has to have three correct gaits. I do not lust after horses that look like they were born to passage. I believe that with diligent training a horse can be taught dressage well enough to score competitively. Michael Jung’s four-star winning mare, Fishcerrocana FST is not a spectacular mover but is well trained, which is why she excels.
  • Attitude – I prefer a horse that can deal with a bit of pressure especially if it is not the best mover. You will have to practice your dressage consistently on a horse that is not overly talented and you do not want one that is going to sour. The young horses I have tried, did not have any dressage training. So I would ask them gently to rein back and leg yield to see how they react. If a horse is not comfortable about being asked these things, I will second-guess making the purchase. I do not care if a horse is borderline feral at times. All of the youngsters I have purchased have been notorious for either bucking, bolting, rearing, etc. I think it comes with the territory of working with youngsters. If a horse is a bit more unpredictable than average, it does not phase me. Sure I might hit the dirt, but I keep climbing back on and they eventually mellow out.
  • Breeding – I do not look at a horse’s breeding. My theory is if it runs like a Thoroughbred it might as well be a Thoroughbred. I know many top riders are concerned about the percentage of Thoroughbred blood in eventers. I have looked at the statistics (“Does Thoroughbred blood in four-star horses matter? Stats trump opinion; here are the facts.“) and I feel that breeding is not a proven way to assess whether a horse will make a top eventer or not. Breeding has no influence on my decision.
  • Gallop – It is tough to assess a young horse’s gallop when trying it out. I find if a horse can jump a line set on a long distance with ease, it will be able to develop a sufficient gallop to make time. Evil Munchkin had a very short-strided canter and therefore his gallop did not cover much ground. I was able to get him fit enough to perform at three-days and ride him economically so we still made time. However, with my next two purchases I made my life easier by buying horses with nice ground covering canters.
  • Love – It has to be love at first ride. I know this sounds corny. If you don’t like riding the horse when you try it out, it is not likely because it is not trained. If you do not LOVE the feel of what you are sitting on, don’t buy it. I truly love riding my horses and this makes it easier for me to train them. Riding my horses never feels like a chore because they feel awesome to me.

I have never produced a four-star horse; maybe what I look for in horses will limit my career in the long run. I love the horses that I get to ride on a daily basis. Choosing horses is a very personal thing. It is like picking friends and lovers; not everyone is meant for everyone.

Be discriminating when buying a young horse and always stick to your ‘gut instincts’. I might love a horse that will always jump a clean round but you might want one that is guaranteed to lead after dressage and your day will not be ruined by taking down a rail. Know what your goals are and what you can live with.

This recipe for picking a young horse has been working well for me and my goals so far. What do you look for when shopping for a young horse? Send an email to

Scroll for more top stories on Eventing Connect