It’s nice to have a pretty horse.  But pretty is as pretty does.

When you’re looking for a horse, look for good conformation, because good conformation often indicates soundness.  But color, markings, and conformation attributes that have nothing to do with performance — like small ears or a Roman nose — have no bearing on whether or not a horse will be suitable for you or whether you’ll be happy with the horse you buy.

It wasn’t all that long ago that horses of color may have been discriminated against in the hunter ring and in dressage tests.  Appaloosas, paints, piebalds and skewbalds were all considered to lack the elegance of the classic bay or grey.  The great sire Art Deco has had a lot to do with turning that around, to the point where today, there may be preference but there is very little prejudice.

And just because you have a dream about a beautiful bay horse while you’re horse shopping, don’t take it to be a cosmic sign from the universe or a communication from God that you’re supposed to limit your horse search to bays.  You can also forget about those crazy chestnuts.  Crazy comes in every color.  Blessedly, it doesn’t come very often (although bad training does).

Don’t discount a horse because he’s the wrong breed either.  That Haflinger might be a perfect trade-up from your Holsteiner, the Thoroughbred from your Quarter Horse, the Friesian from your Belgian Warmblood.  Or vice versa.

Jimmy Wofford says, “If I had to pick one thing that I had to hang my hat on, I would want the horse that I was going to buy to have a face that I would enjoy seeing poked over the stall webbing every morning waiting for breakfast.”  Now, it’s important to realize that Jimmy is speaking in the first person.  He’s not telling us that a horse’s face is the most important criteria when buying a horse, he’s telling us it matters to him.  I suspect a lot of that has to do with is the fact that Jimmy, and every top eventer, wants a horse with “the look of eagles.”

It’s not important to everyone (in fact, most lower level riders need a horse with the look of eagles like they need a leaking roof).  While I normally defer to anything Jimmy has to say, I think he’s missed the point here, even for eventers.  I think you’ll be really happy to see the face of the horse that’s your best ride ever, no matter what that face looks like, when you go out to feed in the morning.

Sure, you want a horse that appeals to you.  But what’s more appealing than performance?  Why did Rita Hayworth fall in love with Orson Welles?

If you want a pasture potato, definitely put looks at the top of your list.  If you want to ride, put them on the bottom.

While you’re horse shopping, make sure you look at the whole horse, in motion, before you discount any horse because of its looks.  You say you can’t stand a dished face or a Roman nose or a grey or an eye with sclera showing? What if one of those attributes belonged to the sweetest, soundest, most well-trained and talented horse you’d ever met and whom you were lucky enough to own?  Bet you’d feel differently.

He agrees with me. Thank you, photographer Ernst Vikne

I’ve seen people buy horses whose looks they fell in love with, and who ended up detesting the horse that was perennially unsound, bad tempered or difficult to train.  It’s amazing how quickly physical attractiveness wears out its welcome when everything else that matters is missing.  It’s as true of horses as it is of prom queens.

Aberali with Kathy Kusner aboard

Kathy Kusner might have been able to turn the dirty stopper Aberali around, but Nelson Pessoa and the Italian Olympic Team were only too happy to get rid of him, despite his good looks and athletic ability.

The horse that is my soul mate has grease spots.  That’s what my vet calls them.  I’ve never seen them on another horse.  He’s a chestnut, and it looks as if he spends his life working under cars in a garage without the benefit of Fels Naptha.

I can take or leave the grease spots, but I have to admit that there are a few things I really don’t care for in a horse, which I also admit have nothing to do with quality.  I don’t like a blue eye and I don’t like a bald face.  But I wouldn’t hesitate to look at a horse with those attributes if there were other things I did like, and I’d never cross a horse off my list after looking at a picture and seeing a bald face.

They say “no hoof, no horse,” but even that truism has exceptions.  The best mover I ever owned had some of the world’s most terrible feet.  If I had discounted him for his feet, I never would have seen him move, and I never would have known how talented he was.

Remember that it’s the horse who performs well for you, who has character, who is sound, who is generous of heart and who has a good mind, that you want.  And those horses come in every shape, size, sex and color. Sometimes, they even have a blue eye, a bald face or bad feet.