by Lesley Stevenson
There are 3 types of horses: those who can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner, those who are worried about what’s around the next corner, and those who don’t think about what’s around the next corner, and are surprised every time! A good event horse is usually the first one - curious and brave, with a good work ethic. There are of course many other attributes that make up a good event horse, but those are the ones who really come to love the sport.
It’s also supremely important that the horse be soundly built with good feet, as eventers often perform on difficult, uneven ground. The old saying “no foot = no horse” is true for all horses, but is especially true for eventers. There is nothing more frustrating than putting time and training into a horse, only to have it go lame.
A forgiving nature means they don’t get upset or rattled when their rider makes mistakes, and is of utmost importance when ridden by an amateur. They should be able to “take a joke”, and be able to cover for their riders, by thinking for themselves whenever necessary to get them both out of trouble.
Good natural uphill balance in the horse is a huge asset. The horse with natural balance will be much easier to ride, and much safer. The rider can just focus on the job at hand, instead of trying to constantly trying to rebalance their horse. Rhythm will come more naturally, which will make the jumping rounds more even and smooth. Most horses with natural uphill balance can jump well from any takeoff spot, as long as the rider doesn’t get in the way.
Ridability and trainability are also important. Very difficult horses should be left to the professionals. A horse that is ridable is simply one who wants to please, and has a natural tendency to obey rather than fight. A horse can actually be too submissive to be a good event horse, however. Those that are extremely submissive often are the ones that are insecure, and are the ones that are worried about what is around the next corner. You want a horse that has a nice balance between a strong independent nature and a horse that wants to please. Trainability is ridability plus intelligence.
There is an interesting old horseman’s theory on how to tell how trainable a horse will be, and I actually find that it is amazingly quite accurate. If you stand in front of a horse and press downward on the bridge of his nose (as if you were pushing his head closer to his chest), and he easily lets his nose fall towards his chest, he is very submissive, but might be a bit timid. Sometimes those horses make better dressage horses than eventers. If he pushes your hand away by aggressively pushing his nose outward, he is a dominant, strong personality, and might be on the difficult side to train. However, that is often the personality that makes for a good upper level eventer. Somewhere in the middle is often the best for the amateur rider. This is of course just a theory, and won’t be accurate in all horses.
The above qualities of bravery, soundness, ridablity, trainability, a good work ethic, a forgiving nature, and a natural uphill balance make for an event horse that is nice to ride. But there are a few more qualities that make for a winning event horse. The horse that is going to win events obviously has to be good at all three phases. In addition to being trainable for dressage, he is a good mover that is capable of winning the dressage test. And in addition to being brave on cross country, he also has to be a careful jumper, to be good in the show jumping. A wise old horseman once said that “a good jumper is a delicate mix of chicken and bravery. Too chicken and he won’t go, too brave and he just knocks everything down, he doesn’t care”. The very best event horses actually seem to understand the difference between the different tests being asked in cross country verses stadium. And are as brave as a tiger on cross country, and then are very careful in stadium. This type of horse is difficult to find! Most fall one way or the other, either a little too brave, or a little timid. To be successful, those horses need to have trainers who know how to cultivate the timid horse’s bravery, and the overly brave horse’s carefulness.
Eventers come in all shapes and sizes. Almost any sound horse can compete in the sport at the lower levels. But these are the qualities to look for if looking for a prospect, as they are what make for a truly great event horse.