Cross Country with Jim Wofford: Horses for Courses

If you are going to go eventing, you are going to need a horse. It will really help your enjoyment of the sport if your horse is suitable, so you want to choose him with care. As I’ll explain, however, what’s suitable for you is a moving target that is dependent on your abilities and aspirations.

Some things to keep in mind when beginning your search for a new horse:

• Eventing is a risk sport, which makes his jumping ability of paramount importance.

• Eventing is a combined sport, which means your new horse will need to be able to do more than one thing well.

At Entry Level
When it comes to matching riders with horses, there is nothing cuter than a young girl with her first pony. She has braces and pigtails, while her 14.2-hand strawberry roan —“Ol’ Strawberry”—has two blue eyes and a nasty buck after a good fence. Tack up this pair in hot-pink everything, including the pom-pom on her helmet, and the picture is complete. Grumpy traditionalists like me may complain in the background about “excess bling,” but Patty Ponycrazy does not care. She loves her pony, and Ol’ Strawberry knows when to jump and more importantly—considering Patty’s fearless attitude toward jumping—when to stop. My point? This horse is suitable for this rider right now.

So much for Patty, at least for the moment. How about the horse who’s suitable not only for eventing, but for you? It makes a difference, for instance, if you are 5-foot-2 or 6-foot-2, and within reason you should choose accordingly. I say “within reason” because a 5-foot-2 rider might be more comfortable on a large pony, but that pony might have trouble galloping on the 12-foot stride universally used by course designers for show jumping and cross-country courses. On the other hand, tall riders can fall into a “bigger is better” mindset and wind up with an 18-hand horse who is broken-winded and broken down. As a general rule, the bigger the horse, the harder it will be to maintain his soundness. However, horse selection is an art, not a science, and experienced horsemen usually want to see the individual horse before they determine the suitability.

Obviously, size matters, but we need to consider other attributes—personality, for example. If you want to jump but you are slightly timid, then a horse with an aggressive attitude probably will carry you in safety and comfort. The other side of this coin is that if you are an aggressive, confident rider, you may do better on a horse with a slightly suspicious attitude toward obstacles of all shapes and sizes.

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