Finding Mr Right
Before I write about how Kit and I are getting along with our training, I thought it was important to write about how I came to find my ‘Mr Right’. Searching for “The Right Horse’ is a little like searching for the man of your dreams, you may have to kiss a lot of frogs along the way before you find your prince. Trying new horses is a bit like speed dating without the glass of wine. There is so much to try and take in, to assess in such a short space of time that it can be a dizzying experience even if, unlike speed dating, you have the age, experience and breeding of your potential partner prior to meeting them!
The journey of finding my new horse was made all the more complicated by the fact that I couldn’t see the horses I was trying... this meant that the initial stages of selection were down to the expert eyes who could. Thankfully I had a trusted and true pair of eyes in my old trainer and dear friend, Louise Carlen who, unfortunately for me, now lives in the States. Although this meant she was geographically too far away to help out on the ground, she was fantastic at sourcing horses in Europe, through her contacts, and then casting a beady eye over the films of any potentials from afar. Before beginning our search, in order to narrow the field a little, we decided to limit our interest to horses over the age of 8 and under the age of 12. This was to ensure that the horses we tried were mature enough to have been competed at PSG or Higher and were young enough to have a good few years left of optimum performance. Louise’s best piece of advice to me which I will always hold dear is, ‘Buy a horse you can ride, not a horse you would LIKE to be able to ride.’ So with those wise words in my mind, our search began.
Not being able to travel with us, Louise had sent a list of things that we should look out for. My Mum, who knows very little about horses, religiously noted down all these questions in a little gold note book that was dutifully whipped out at every yard we visited alongside her fountain pen with which she scribbled her observations and answers to Louise’s questions. On first glance, Mum was quite flummoxed by a couple of them, the first being, ‘Does the horse have tongue issues?’ Poor Mum wasn’t quite sure what on earth this meant and how it might manifest itself.... the second being, ‘Is the curb chain very tight’ I had to explain to a perplexed Mum that this was not a hair ornament but something worn if the horse was in a double bridle and that it implied it might be quite strong. It was going to be an interesting journey!
Some things I would really suggest when trying a new dressage horse are:
1. Always ask to try the horse in a simple snaffle. A double bridle, like a good black evening dress, can hide a multitude of sins.
2. If you like the horse in a snaffle, try him in a double second time..
3. If possible try to be there when the horse is being tacked up, prior to riding, so as to get a feel of stable manners.
4. Ask general questions about the horse’s routine, turnout, hacking and loading etc.
5. First visit, ask the owner or seller to warm the horse up for you. This gives you a chance to film and to get a sense of the horse’s warm - up needs without the pressure of sitting up.
6. When you do sit up, never be shy to ask questions e.g.tips on the horse’s foibles and character (like us they are all different.)
7. Keep it simple. First try get a feel for the horse in its three paces. You don’t need to be riding world class movements, simply feel how flexible, responsive and steady the horse is in it’s three gaits and transitions.
I will let you know how I got on in applying these tips in my European wide search for Kit - my Mr Right….