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How to Choose Your First Event Horse

Jul 17, 2008
To have a safe and enjoyable eventing experience, you need the right horse for the job. It starts with choosing the right horse to partner with for entry level eventing. If you already own a horse, these guidelines will help you decide whether he's a good fit for the sport. Your first event horse doesn't need to score a 10 at the trot in his dressage test or gallop forever. He needs to be fun to ride and able to carry you safely and comfortably around your first few entry-level events, both in and out of the ring. Don't worry about winning at this stage; just learn the sport and see if you really like it.

On the ground, your horse must have great manners. Your mare or gelding needs to be able to cross-tie, stand politely for the vet and farrier, load easily and tack up without problems. A horse that's unpredictable to work around in his stall, kicks or rears, is unacceptable. Under saddle your horse needs to be fairly athletic and have a reasonable aptitude for the three stages --dressage, cross country and stadium jumping -- that make eventing such a unique challenge.

Dressage: In addition to three good gaits if your horse takes both leads, steers well, accepts the bit well and maintains a consistent head and neck position with the front of his face just ahead of the vertical, he has the basic ingredients you need for entry-level dressage tests.

Walk: The horse ought to be able to track up--that is, his hind foot should step ahead of the footprint of the forefoot on the same side--and have a steady, rhythmic 1-2-3-4 pace with no obvious irregularities.

Trot: This gait needs to be a cadenced 1-2, 1-2 rhythm that covers the ground easily. When you ride him, he should be willing to maintain the trot with a minimal amount of pressure from your lower leg and heel.

Canter: It needs to be a regular, clocklike three-beat stride. The horse should be able to hold himself in a canter with just a little lower leg.

Cross-country: This phase takes place in the countryside; something new for riders who've never ridden outside a ring before. Make sure your horse is safe and sensible in the open. If you're trying out an event prospect for purchase, be sure to take him out for a trot and canter along trails, through the woods, around open fields, across rolling terrain and (if possible) through a stream. Likewise if your horse hasn't been out in the open alot, do the same with him.

The horse you choose doesn't need to be super fit like a racehorse, but he does need to be conditioned enough to be able to slow-canter about a mile, walk for a few minutes, and then do the same again without being stressed.

Show jumping: At entry level jumping, you're more interested in riding a safe jumper than a clean jumper, so the elements you'll look for in jumping form are the things that most affect safety over fences. When you ride him over jumps, you're looking for regularity of pace. You want to be able to canter up to a small fence, jump it, and then canter away at the same speed. A horse who consistently falls behind your leg, or one who's always trying to rush through the bridle, isn't the best choice at this level.

If your current horse has good gaits and is a safe jumper, you'll probably be able to get started in the sport with him. His dressage may be a work in progress for a while; but as it improves, you'll also experience a payback in the other phases.

If you're shopping for your first event horse, where should you look? A young racetrack reject is not a suitable candidate; and if you're just learning the sport, don't take on a green horse. A better prospect is the experienced, older eventing horse that's out of a job because his rider has gone off to college. His vet bills may be higher, but he has a lot to teach you. Quarter Horses and older Warmbloods who've been around the block are also good choices for entry level eventing.

If you like the challenges eventing offers, after 18 months or so you'll be ready to decide whether to keep your horse or sell him. If you both take to eventing, perhaps you'll stay together and continue refining your skills. As always, talk with your trainer about this decision and what options you have.
About the Author
Edna X Wilson is a writer for www.HorseClicks.com, popular classifieds of horses for sale, horse property and trailers for sale.
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