Whether purchasing your own horse from the sales or buying shares through a syndicate, there are a number of confirmation traits to look for if you dream of having a successful horse with minimal injury issues. Some of these points should be considered when betting on horses too.
The more horses you look at over the years, whether at the stables or races or out in the field, the more you will learn so it’s worth training your eye as much as possible (plus it’s quite good fun comparing notes with fellow racing enthusiasts!)
This is one of the first places to look when purchasing a horse. A sire that has produced lots of Stakes winners is obviously very appealing, but the more successful and fashionable he is, the more his offspring will cost. Some sires produce speedy sorts, some produce more progressive offspring, some produce stayers. Remember to think about the type of horse you want.
It is also very important to look at the Dam’s side of the breeding too, how many of her previous offspring are winners? How many never made it to a racecourse (which would indicate injury issues?) If she has produced lots winners then that is a massive plus. As the late Sir Henry Cecil always said to us “All Sires are excellent horses, but I feel 75% of the breeding comes from the Dam’s side.”
2. Bone Structure
The horse’s bone structure needs to be in proportion and it’s good practice to look at a horse from every angle. “Plenty of bone” is a term often used when buying horses and means the right amount of bone for its size. e.g. If you have a big heavy horse that has thin, weak leg bones avoid it all costs.
For example, when looking at a horse from the front, the leg bone should travel down in a straight line from chest, to knee, to hoof. If not in line, the horse’s leg is called ‘offset’ e.g. if after the knee the cannon bone is not line the extra pressure put on the knee would be a concern.) We also look at the space between the top of the horse’s front legs and chest – plenty of room is essential for that rapidly beating heart!
When looking at a horse from the side, it’s important to look at the knee position which almost needs to be slightly over the hoof. Behind the hoof, then the horse is deemed ‘back at knee’ and this can cause extra strain on the knees especially in jumpers. Personally, John and I also dislike ‘long or slack pasterns’ (the bone from hoof to fetlock) as this can cause stress on the fetlock.
It is also a good idea to feel the horse’s legs for any bumps or splints, or even worse any heat.
Good feet structure is a plus as this indicates the horse is able to carry its own weight efficiently. Some horse’s feet turn out (or in) slightly or dish in circles in walk and trot. Again this would indicate extra pressure on joints which is not ideal for any athlete. It also increases the risk of horse’s knocking into themselves when galloping.
3. Muscle Tone
All of the power from a racehorse comes from its back legs and quarters so we always look for a decent amount of muscle and strength here. Muscle definition across a horse’s shoulders also contributes to strength although this is not always built up when buying yearlings. Forearm muscle however, is something a horse has or doesn’t have, but is desirable especially with jumpers and something we look for.
The neck, back and hip need to be of equal length in order for a horse to look well proportioned. All horses come in different shapes and sizes but one that is in proportion with itself tends to be relatively balanced. Younger horses are normally slightly higher up in their withers or quarters but this is because there is more growing to come. Some even say horses aren’t fully grown into themselves until they are 5-years old so expect to see some developments in your 2-year old.
5. Coat of the horse
A horse that has a gleaming shiny coat are the ones you need to look out for. It is an important feature that usually indicates the horse’s wellbeing. If they look well in their coat then it tends to be a sign that the horse itself is feeling very well, a bit like us!
However it is important to remember that a gleaming, flashing sort is obviously well prepared for the sale and likely to attract plenty of interest from buyers! If looking to purchase value (which we often are) something that looks like it needs a little TLC is sometimes considered, as we have our paddocks at Beggars Barn available them to recharge, gain weight and mature. Indeed this is where Gary Moore often does very well too, spoiling new horses, adapting to their needs, and consequently improving them.
The way a horse moves is something every buyer must look for. You will often hear phrases like “a sctratchy stride” or “covering the ground with ease” and these indicate a lot about a horse later on down the line. A good racehorse should move well no matter what the pace may be, although most will move better in some paces than others. Horses with lengthy strides tend to perform best as they are able to cover more ground. However this is not always essential, especially if they are particularly speedy! For example our fastest horse, Marmalady, has one of the shortest strides in the yard but her legs move fast enough to make her a very decent 5 furlong sprinter!
At the sales, you are able to see horses in walk and trot only unless you attend a breeze up sale (click here for more information on breeze ups.) John & I look for big walks where the horse uses it’s whole body to move as this suggests they will do so in gallops too. We call it ‘a walk with a swagger’ and ideally their tail should swish right over their hocks. A horse must also ‘track up’ well which is where the back hoof comes over the mark left by its front foot. Some horses track up 2 feet its amazing!
If buying from the breeze-up sales (which has historically bought us a lot of success) we watch the horse’s movement in gallop, how effortlessly it covers the ground and also record it’s time. It’s important to listen to the horse’s wind too and note how hard the jockey was riding the horse (we do not feel over-prepped or over ridden breeze horses will last long.)
The calmer the horse, the better they tend to handle their racing due to their level of focus on the task in hand. You should be on the lookout for a horse that is well-natured, calm and relaxed yet alert as these sorts tend to be the ones who know what their job is about and aren’t burning off unnecessary energy. The other types of horses who are sweaty, pulling their lad/lass around, neighing etc are a sign particularly at the races that they are acting on either excitement or their nerves and it’s likely they have all ready ran their race before its even begun by wasting energy.
Some of the best racehorses are incredibly competitive – you can often tell when they want to do their best and can’t wait to get out on the track, look at our Fruity O’Rooney for example!
8. Overall looks
There is no horse with the “perfect form” however other key things we in particular like to look our for are bright eyes, big ears that are pointing forward more than back, big nostrils and a wide jaw. The large bright eyes tend to mean the horse is more alert and the big nostrils and jaw allow lots of oxygen into the lungs – a vital thing for an athletic body!