The Qualities of a Good Performance Horse

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What Makes a Top Prospect?

By Kim Roe


What is a performance horse and what makes him different from any other horse?

Performance horses are horses that accomplish something and have the ability to perform with efficiency. These are the horses dreams are built around from the moment they are born. We often think of performance horses as show horses, but they certainly don’t have to be; ranch horses, carriage horses, draft horses, race horses, and trail horses qualify too.

In a top prospect, I look for the feeling that they give me when I ride them. Do they respond quickly and easily, do they feel balanced, do they try hard? When I look at them, I look to see how they use their hind legs. I want hind legs that push and that come under the horse and move quickly. I also look to see how they balance themselves naturally. Photo credit Betsy Jacobsen

Alyssa Pagon Pitts is a successful Grand Prix trainer and competitor. She has ridden and trained several national champions. Alyssa lives in Snohomish, WA.

Nearly all horse breeding over the centuries has had the goal of increasing performance. Horses of all breeds have been improved and molded to specific jobs.

But some horses excel in a job they weren’t bred for. Take Lakevale Toyman, a 13’3” hand pony in Australia owned by Jackie Wright. Wright purchased Tommy to be a companion to her other horse, but Tommy demonstrated his immense jumping talent and now he’s a favorite on the cross-country course, flying over giant jumps. Without Wright’s belief and trust in him, Tommy would still be in the field instead of wowing his fans with his demonstration of “heart”.

I look for a horse with a relaxed attitude and good memory. A top performance horse needs to certainly have abilities in the chosen discipline, but being trainable and quiet is even more important to me. Photo credit Tammy Reynolds

Craig Johnson, a Million Dollar Rider, has multiple NRHA championships and is a 17-time World Champion.

I look for a horse that is willing and sensitive to subtle communication and has a natural tendency for uphill movement and the desire to drive from behind. I like to have one that is naturally forward. Watching young horses in the pasture, it’s the one who spends more time in canter and executes lead changes naturally. I like them brave––the one who rearranges feed tubs, plays in the water, investigates everything. Not the one hanging back waiting to see what happens when the other ones try it. I like the ones who seek out humans for interaction. Not the ones who prefer to be alone. You can get lots of great middle of the road prospects which is truly what most people need. However, to get a top prospect you have to find that diamond in the rough that exhibits all those qualities. I like them to be confident enough to question me but not belligerent or unwilling enough to put either of us in danger. They have to have respect for me and self-preservation without a strong fight or flight instinct. Photo credit Lisa Harding

Tarrin Warren is a sought-after clinician and judge in Working Equitation from Milano, Texas. She has won championships and reserve championships in Working Equitation and Campdrafting on horses she bred, raised and trained.


Published July 2018 Issue

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