Mar 23, 2022

Tips When Shopping for a Young Event Horse

By Claire Kelley - USEA Staff
USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo

The USEA Young Event Horse (YEH) Program and the USEA Future Event Horse (FEH) Program evaluates the potential of young horses aged 5 and under. The YEH program is eligible for 4- and 5-year-old horses and the FEH program is eligible for yearlings through 4-year-olds. Purchasing a young horse can be challenging but, three eventing professionals, who specialize in young horse training, provide advice when shopping for a young event horse.

Martin Douzant of The Frame Sport Horses said, “when trying a 4- or 5-year-old horse, each horse’s education level is going to differ. You can have a horse that has been in training for six months or two years as a 5-year-old. So, it’s not the age that matters but, their education level will depend on the length of their training. A horse that has been in training for two years is going to be more developed physically and mentally than a horse that has been in training for only six months.”

Martin Douzant and Frame Charleson at the 2020 YEH East Coast Championships. USEA/ Jessica Duffy photo

“To me, what’s most important to assess a young horse’s raw talent - their natural balance, how they move, and their shape over the jump. Under saddle, I check the natural balance by seeing their reaction when you drop the reins and lengthen the stride. You want to feel that they have a natural desire to go forward and if they maintain their balance. I also check their reaction when you retake the reins and ask them to come back. You want to feel like they listen to you and that they will be trainable.”

“You have to look into the future. What you see on the day you try a young horse is not going to be the same horse two years down the road. Too many people pass on nice horses because they are very critical of how the horse feels and looks on the day they try them. You have to trust the process and imagine what the horse will become in future years,” said Douzant.

“It’s not going to be perfect the first time you try a young horse,” said Kelty O’Donoghue who specializes in retraining young, off-the-track Thoroughbreds. “They are just babies, so you have to be very forgiving when trying them.”

Kelty O'Donoghue and Mr. Puff Higgins. Photo courtesy of Kelty O'Donoghue

“It’s important to look at their conformation, disposition, and quality of gaits. For horses under the age of four or horses who are still on the track, I typically don’t ride them before purchasing. But, you can see a lot from the ground. I’m able to assess their gates by watching them walk and trot in hand. I also pay attention to how they act in the stall, how they are to handle, their body language, and their general demeanor.”

For Tim Bourke, when importing a young horse, it’s all about trust. “With the pandemic, it’s really changed the way we’ve done business and our approach in buying and selling horses. We are buying a lot more off videos - by the time you get a video of the horse, and you book the flight, that horse is already sold. That’s how the market is working right now so, you have to trust in the people you are working with,” said Bourke.

USEA/ Meagan DeLisle photo.

Bourke, who has finished Champion or Reserve Champion at the USEA YEH Championships in 2016, 2018, 2020, and 2021, explained, “I’ve had a lot of luck in contacts and trusting the people I know quite well. I look for horses that have athletic ability, a good brain, is an attractive type, is structurally put together quite well, and one that has a good pre-purchase vetting. There are certain things in a pre-purchase that I will accept that are going to be non-consequential to the horse in the long term. If there is a chip on the outside of a joint that is non-effective and is quite easy to remove surgically - I’m not overly against something like that as I think you can use that as a bargaining tool when you are buying the horse. But I’m very clear about the horse having clean limbs, and that the horse is clinically sound. Because of the sport that we are in, I also check the windpipes so they all get scoped to make sure they have clear airways and that they can get oxygen easily into their body.”

“For me, a 4- or 5-year-old horse, you would not expect to see on the X-rays any arthritic changes, OCDs, cysts, or anything like that. You have to have a really good sports medicine vet in the U.S. who deals with horses in our sport and knows what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable.”

The Irish born professional who has built his business around importing horses from Ireland concluded, “what I’m trying to get across is that if you are interested in buying a horse overseas, I think you have to be aware that you don’t get caught up in the hype of something like an auction, and that you deal with people you know and trust.”

About the USEA Future Event Horse Program
The USEA introduced the Future Event Horse Program in 2007 in response to the popularity of the already established USEA Young Event Horse Program. Where the YEH program assesses 4- and 5-year-old prospective event horses based on their performance, the FEH program evaluates yearlings, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds for their potential for the sport based on conformation and type. Yearlings, 2-year-olds, and 3-year-olds are presented in-hand while 4-year-olds are presented under saddle at the walk, trot, and canter before being stripped of their tack and evaluated on their conformation. Divisions are separated by year and gender. At the Championships, 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds are also required to demonstrate their potential over fences in an additional free-jump division. Click here to learn more about the Future Event Horse Program.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, Parker Equine Insurance, SmartPak, Standlee Premium Products, Saratoga Horseworks, Capital Square, Kerrits, and The Jockey Club for sponsoring the Future Event Horse Program.

About the USEA Young Event Horse Program
The Young Event Horse (YEH) Program was first established in 2004 as an eventing talent search. Much like similar programs in Europe, the YEH program was designed to identify young horses aged four and five, that possess the talent and disposition to, with proper training, excel at the uppermost levels of the sport. The ultimate goal of the program is to distinguish horses with the potential to compete at the four- and five-star levels, but many fine horses that excel at the lower levels are also showcased by the program.

The YEH program provides an opportunity for breeders and owners to exhibit the potential of their young horses while encouraging the breeding and development of top event horses for the future. The program rewards horses who are educated and prepared in a correct and progressive manner. At qualifying events, youngsters complete a dressage test and a jumping/galloping/general impression phase. At Championships, young horses are also evaluated on their conformation in addition to the dressage test and jumping/galloping/general impression phase. Click here to learn more about the Young Event Horse Program.

The USEA would like to thank Bates Saddles, SmartPak, Standlee Premium Products, Parker Equine Insurance, Saratoga Horseworks, Capital Square, Kerrits, and The Jockey Club for sponsoring the Young Event Horse Program. Additionally, the USEA would like to thank The Dutta Corp., Title Sponsor of the Young Event Horse Championships.

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