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.
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.
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.
Excellent post! I never, ever wanted a gray/white horse, and definitely thought I would never buy a gelding (I’ve always had and preferred mares), but I have one now because he is everything else I was looking for. Sometimes I look at him out in the pasture, absolutely filthy and covered with mud and ground in green spots and think of the quote “A good horse is never a bad color.”
I’ve got my “pretty” horse who has loads of talent that I may never be able to coax out of her for any productive use. Even though I adore her I don’t want another horse like her. My next horse will be self confident above all else.
Though if I can get that in a chestnut I’ll be ecstatic.
For some reason I can’t stand paints but I like appaloosas. Go figure.
I like appaloosas too. And paints. And chestnuts as you know!
Well Brigand (my old field hunter) was everything I wanted in a horse, except his color. He was a chestnut with darker mane and tail, a strip and spot, and two white hind stockings. I would have preferred anything but chestnut. He was 6yrs old, 16.1 hands, very handsome, a Quarter/Appendix cross, and a jumper, all of which were on my list of must haves. But he was chestnut. ugh. Fortunately, I managed to overlook the color when I took him over a six fence jumping grid on an abandoned railroad track. He was all forward with his ears at attention, and never hit one rail. Four out of five=SOLD. He was the love of my life for 28yrs,
And then came Dini. I was looking to replace Brigand with a big, black and white tobiano gelding to trail ride. When I saw his incredible movement as a 2yr old, I fell in love. Dreams of dressage floated in my head. Here was a horse with so much potential. None of which has come to fruition. Despite his very affectionate personality, and a wonderful head on his shoulders, he turned out to be way too sensitive and challenging for someone my age. And the last 5 years have been an ongoing battle with a constant stream of health issues.
So I recommend a list with your must haves, come close enough to make you happy, then do a thorough vet exam (including spinal radiographs) and hope for the best.
Sometimes we just get lucky. Sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pick the wrong horse for us and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes, something wrong happens to the right horse. And every horse teaches us something.
Sometimes that’s the biggest gift of all, but it’s always one we pay for. The price, as you know, can be larger than what we want to pay, or ever thought we’d pay. And for all those reasons, I’m hoping I can help a few people think about things to think about when horse shopping.
Thanks for sharing your experience and advice with us.