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Q: I am looking for a yearling reining horse. Aside from pedigree, what are the main things you look for in a yearling prospect? What are some qualities that let you know that the horse has a lot of potential? – Breece W.
A: When I’m evaluating a horse, the most important things I’m looking for are trainability and willingness. I want a horse with a great mind, meaning he’s willing to learn, and of course has great athletic ability. If I’m considering buying a yearling, I do groundwork exercises with him, focusing on Lunging for Respect Stage Two, an exercise in which I ask the horse to stop, roll over his hocks and go back the other direction. To me, when a horse is athletic and trainable, he’ll stop on his hindquarters, collect himself and do a 180-degree rollback. If I work a horse for the first time and he catches on very quickly, has a great willing attitude, tries really hard, makes few mistakes or seems keen to correct his mistakes, I’d feel comfortable buying him that day.
On the other hand, if the horse struggles to make that 180-degree turn, stumbles all the time, or drags me around on the halter and lead rope, that tells me he’s not really naturally talented. If that’s the case, I’m not going to purchase that particular horse.
However, just because a prospect doesn’t do terribly well the first time I work with him, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m not going to buy him. If the horse seems really athletic, but just uneducated, I’ll try to go back and work with him again later that afternoon or the next day. What I’m looking for is considerable improvement in the horse by the next session. If I see a lot of improvement in the second session, and the horse is within my price range, I might go ahead and take a gamble on him because he’s shown me that he’s willing to please and learns quickly.
Trying to spot potential in a young horse and then taking a gamble on him is half the fun of breeding and training performance horses. While there’s no sure way to determine what sort of athlete a young horse will develop into, I’ve found using Lunging for Respect is a great early indicator of a horse’s athletic ability and willingness to try.