BY LAUREN MAULDIN
I love looking at warmblood hunters. They’re fat, dappled, athletic. A lot of them look like they were absolutely made for the job, like slowly cantering over beautiful hedges is what comes most naturally to them. It’s a joy to watch.
But I don’t love riding warmbloods as much as I like looking at them. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve certainly had the privilege to ride some good ones, but I’ve also known many that were completely beyond my ability. Maybe they cracked their back over the jump more than my flabby adult amateur body could handle. Maybe they had a bit of an attitude. Maybe they were lazier than all get out. It doesn’t matter the reason. We weren’t a great fit.
When I started shopping for a hunter, I knew my budget would limit me. In a sport that advantages the wealthy, I am aware that I have my work cut out for me when selecting the best quality horse I can afford. In order to get something that can be competitive, I needed to think outside the box. And one of my first thoughts was—buy a Thoroughbred.
If you do any amount of window shopping, it won’t take you long to notice how many people won’t even consider a Thoroughbred hunter. No Thoroughbreds or Warmbloods only is at the top of many ISO ads. When I started diving into what I could afford, I realized that my budget could buy a Thoroughbred with a show record around 2’6″. It could afford quality green horses doing courses with a change, and a lot of those horses were really cute!
When I looked at warmbloods in the same price range, I found problems. They needed a confident rider, or had large holes in their training. Some amateurs can handle that, but I’m not one of them. Since my plan was to have the horse for its (hopefully long) career, I wasn’t willing to shop for an older horse stepping down. There are a lot of lameness issues that are too significant for me to consider buying with a horse needing maintenance, which ruled out some. While I won’t say it would have been impossible for me to find a warmblood hunter that I could afford, I will say they were not plentiful.
But the Thoroughbreds! There were so many great Thoroughbreds. Young and fancy. Experienced and kind. It was a buffet of options, and I decided to commit a hunter faux paus—exclude warmbloods from my search.
This decision was met with some reservation. You’ll never be competitive at the A level more than one person told me. Look, warmbloods can make excellent hunters for all of the reasons listed above. I don’t expect to take an OTTB to Devon or WEF and win in the pro divisions against animals that have been bred solely to produce movement and jump for hundreds of years.
However, I know that there’s more to horse showing than a fancy trot. I have watched the beautiful, stunning warmbloods in the hunter ring and I’ve seen them miss changes, kick out, and stop. I know that no matter how nice your horse is, me and my fellow adult amateurs often make oftentimes comic goofs. The nicest horse in the world isn’t going to save you if you jump an oxer backwards. The hunter ring is about creating a complete picture, not a single jump. A willing, happy horse that’s working with me as my partner is a key part of that picture. For me at least, that horse is usually a Thoroughbred.
It takes an educated horseman to spot a good one. Unlike warmbloods, the American Thoroughbred is not bred for its trot or jump. They’re bred for speed, especially when you’re shopping for inexpensive projects off the track like I was. And I’ll be honest, as much as I like the breed I have to admit there is a lot of junk out there. I saw many, many horses that I’m sure will be great for someone, but that someone doesn’t have goals of doing well in the hunter ring.
Looking at countless videos of Thoroughbreds jogging by the track or flatting after a few months off has taught me so much about evaluating horses. By discussing videos with educated people, I’ve learned what a downhill canter looks like and what’s true, good movement instead of something that initially seems flashy. I feel more confident about my eye and ability to critique horses after looking through so many Thoroughbreds for sale.
I hope this hard effort will pay off with the new horse I just purchased, an unraced OTTB with a big step and a quiet way of going. His lineage is full of Kentucky Derby and Breeder’s Cup Classic winners, but to me he looks a lot more like a natural hunter.
Only time will tell. There are a hundred factors, as they are with a young horse of any breed, but when I finally get him into the show ring I’m going to be worried about staying on course and keep a proper pace to my canter—not what the warmbloods are doing.
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