How to Find Your Next Show Jumper: A Professional Scout's Guide by Uri Burstein

Credit : Franck Papelard

Tuesday 04 April - 15h10 | Uri Burstein

How to Find Your Next Show Jumper: A Professional Scout's Guide by Uri Burstein

Finding your next show jumper is a challenging task, especially for the amateur rider. We asked Uri Burstein, a leading authority in equine talent scouting, how to find the right horse for you. His guidance is based on many years of experience analyzing and matching horses for top international show jumpers. 

I am often asked how I, as a professional sport horse scout, manage the process of finding Grand Prix horses for elite equestrians. While top riders usually have the advantage of working with an equine talent scout, most student or amateur riders could use a scout's guide to lead the way in finding their next show jumper. This guide distills many years of personal experience and knowledge into a series of stages and filters to help you--whether you’re a serious amateur or a seasoned pro--to find, test and purchase your next competition horse. I’ve written this basic outline of the scouting process especially for non-professional riders doing their own scouting, with the help of their trainer and vet, excluding the more in-depth analyses that I perform when scouting for professional equestrians at the highest levels of the sport.

The right horse for you is the one that has the physical and mental abilities to perform well at the level that you are aiming for AND that fits your personal riding style. A successful show jumping pair is one where horse and rider are suitably matched in order to achieve the greatest potential of each athlete in partnership with one another. This is why a solid scouting method is at least as important as your budget when it comes to finding your next show jumper--and will save you tremendous difficulties and disappointments, as well as costs.  

Your trainer plays a crucial role in your scouting success, whether you are working with a professional scout or doing the legwork yourself. The trainer knows you, the rider, and will be the one developing the ongoing partnership between you and your new jumper. Without your trainer’s input regarding the match between you and any horse that you want to try, you could find yourself saddled with “the wrong horse” for you--one not suited to fulfill the role of your athletic partner--causing heartache and frustration for both you and the animal. 

three initial parameters to define

three initial parameters to define - How to Find Your Next Show Jumper: A Professional Scout's Guide by Uri Burstein

The next step is to start collecting information on horses that fit your profile

Your scouting journey begins with the decision to purchase a horse according to three initial parameters.
Assuming you’re certain of your actual need and ability to buy a new horse, consult with professionals you trust to get a clear answer to these three questions:

1. What kind of horse am I looking for?
Define its age, sex, size, character, performance history, and the athletic potential needed to meet your goals. Know which things you consider significant plusses or minuses, especially those that would be a "deal breaker".

2. Where and how will I make my search?
The profile you’ve defined will help determine where to search. Certain characteristics are affected by bloodline, which can vary greatly in different countries. The horse's international, or indoor/outdoor, show experience might be significant to you. Many factors play a role in determining where and how you should go “shopping”. If your search will lead you to a market far removed from your location, for instance an American scouting in Europe, you will need trustworthy local contacts there to assist you. However, If you decide to look "in your own backyard”, then you and your trainer should be able to manage the process without the help of an expert scout.

3. What is my budget for the entire process?
Be honest with yourself and make a realistic budget. Just as chasing after horses you can't afford would be a waste of time, so would looking at lesser quality horses if your budget allows you to purchase a better one.
Whether you are working with a scout or doing your own research with your trainer, there are specific stages that act as a series of "filters" in the scouting process. Successful sport horse scouting is a methodical and dynamic progression through these filters, which become more stringent as you go, thereby eliminating unsuitable horses as you go. While it's true that a bit of luck never hurts, finding the right horse depends less on luck and more on following a proven method with consistent effort.
The next step is to start collecting information on horses that fit your profile.
Watch competitions, solicit videos and analyze them as thoroughly as possible, taking meticulous notes on each horse. These notes can also filter out horses during the screening process and will be of great help when the time comes to actually test ride potential matches. Research bloodlines; they can be a very valuable source of information.

Obtain the horse's show results--you’ll be surprised how much you can learn about its past performance from them. Also, find out all you can about both the horse and the seller from your local network of contacts. This might save you some regret later on and possibly filter out a few horses at one time.
In stage 1 you decided to buy a new show jumper, determined its desired profile, where to search, and your budget. 
In stage 2 you gathered and thoroughly analyzed information on potential matches. 
These were the first 2 filters in the process.
In stage 3, you will go meet those horses that passed preliminary screening.

This stage is far more complex than simply getting on the horse and jumping a few jumps…several things need to be addressed before ever sitting in the saddle. Your trials must be planned and executed properly for the best possible outcome. Think about the following questions in advance:

  • What tack do you want to have available for the trial?
  • Where will the trial take place- in the horse's own yard or at another venue?
  • What are the environmental and weather conditions for the trial?
  • What was the horse's exercise and show routine over the previous week?
Ideally, you’ll arrive at the stables where the horse is kept for this first meeting. From the moment you enter the facility, detect all the relevant details you can: check out the horse’s box, observe it standing and walking on a hard, level surface in good lighting, etc. Take note of all your findings, both positive and negative.
When first looking the horse over, keep in mind that while there may be an "ideal" conformation for a show jumper, in reality very few horses are perfectly built. Know which imperfections will prove problematic and which are less concerning. In general, any type of imbalance, disproportion in the body, asymmetry in the horse’s build or movement, incorrect shoeing, poor dental health, sensitivity upon palpation, etc. will alert you to significant issues.  Many active sport horses will have imperfections; you must know which of these can be dealt with and which are "deal breakers". Be prepared to accept that some horses may not even pass the pre-riding inspection. My pre-trial findings have sometimes ruled a horse out on the spot, leaving no need to continue on to a ridden trial.
Now it’s time for the 4th filter in your scouting adventure, the first riding trial.

You should be present while the horse is tacked for the trial. Pay close attention to its behavior during handling. Is the tack appropriate for the trial you have planned? Conducting a trial in unsuitable tack is a waste of time.  You will often hear that the horse is “always ridden in this tack”, whether it’s suited to them or not. Many horses in dealer’s or breeding yards share a saddle and/or bridle with other horses. Perhaps during your previous video analysis, you thought of a change of tack you’d like to try on the horse, such as a change in bit, martingale, spurs, etc. Bits are a matter of personal preference and must be appropriate for both the horse and the rider.

I recommend that you always request the horse first be warmed up and take a few jumps under its usual rider before you get on. This not only allows you and your professional team an opportunity to observe the horse's movement, but, more importantly, it’s a safety precaution. If the horse is unquiet, dangerous, or has any other issues, it’s best to find out before you mount the horse…never compromise when it comes to your safety! Use proper riding equipment and conduct the trial in a safe environment.
Plan a personalized trial in advance. For instance, a 5-year-old horse with little show experience requires a different trial than that of an older, more experienced horse. The same is true of trying a horse currently showing vs. one coming out of a resting period. Incorporate specific exercises, jumps or lines you think relevant based on your video analysis or the show results. It doesn’t make sense to design the exact same exercises for every horse; specifically tailor each trial to suit the animal in order to get the best test for your time.
I include short breaks in my trials. This allows the horse time to rest and get used to the feel of you as a rider, while also allowing you to think about, adjust, and process the trial's progress. You have only a small window of time to analyze your prospect and reach a final conclusion, so use it wisely. Consult frequently with your professional team and decide together what should be tried next.
While you do want to make the most of this trial, you also don't want to overdo it. Remember, this is your first meeting with this new horse, so take things easy. If you like him, you will have a second trial. Definitely video the trial ride to use in your final analysis and decision making.

In stage 3, you physically examined the horse on site to rule out any conditions prohibiting continuing with the trial.
In stage 4, you tested the horse in a ridden trial with the tack and exercises planned according to your prior research.
Many horses whose video, show results and breeding interested you up to this point will prove to be unsuitable for your needs or riding style. This is to be expected--most horses you try won't make it to the 5th filter, which is the second ridden trial, often because they simply aren’t the right match for you personally. Again, this is why it's so important to have your trainer present at the trial to give an opinion regarding the suitability of the match, not just on the horse itself.
If you’ve made it this far, then it’s time to set up the second ridden trial, the 5th filter in the scouting process. 

The second riding trial usually takes place the following day, but can be postponed if circumstances require. This second trial gives you another, and most likely the final, opportunity to discover new things about the horse under saddle, so don’t just repeat the first trial. Plan and execute it in such a way that you end it knowing where you stand--”ask” of him whatever questions still remain unanswered. Also, take this second chance to fine tune your tack choices.
If possible, conduct the second trial in a different location from the first. This may be less critical for a mature show jumper who has competed in countless arenas, but it is certainly significant for a younger, less experienced horse, or one whose bloodline requires testing his ability to stay calm and focused in unfamiliar surroundings.


GETTING AN OBJECTIVE VET CHECK - How to Find Your Next Show Jumper: A Professional Scout's Guide by Uri Burstein

The 6th and final filter is a thorough and professional check by an objective vet.
Ideally, your personal vet will perform this check, if possible; otherwise, find a local vet that will be objectiveNever agree to a check done by the seller's vet, or accept outdated results. The blood tests ordered, x-ray angles, and medical equipment used must all be according to your own vet's instructions; make no compromise here.
You should receive a full written veterinary report signed by the vet and a high quality set of x-rays. Forward these to your vet for inspection. While many active show jumping horses will have critical notes in this report, not all are of significant concern, while others will be definite "deal breakers". Let your own vet advise you as to whether or not the horse's condition recommends purchase.
If the horse successfully passes the vet check, all that remains are the formalities concerning payment and change of ownership, and preparing the horse for the journey to his new home and future success with you.

I hope this scout’s guide will help you avoid some common mistakes and identify hidden potential as you scout for your next show jumper. Remember, the right horse for you is the one best matched to you as its rider--the two of you must perform as an athletic partnership in order to achieve show jumping success together.
Good luck and happy scouting!

The author of this article is an expert equestrian show jumping talent scout.

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