Buying the ideal… sport horse

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    No matter what discipline he is destined for, a competition horse is first and foremost an athlete. For this reason, they are often referred to as sport horses.

    Olympic three-day event rider Karen Dixon, from County Durham, describes the competition horse as an animal who is “brave and lion-hearted, honest, cool-headed and athletic. Above all, he is bursting with talent and enthusiasm.”

    Dressage trainer Debby Lush, from Partridge Green, Sussex, adds: “The competition horse is the obvious choice for a confident rider, who has high aspirations and the desire to push on and fulfil his or her competition goals.”

    Talent for the discipline

    If you are looking for a dressage horse for sale, he should move well and have the ability to do lateral work. If you are looking for a show jumper for sale, he should have a good technique over fences, with a brave yet careful jump.

    Watch the vendor ride the horse first and ask to see him put through all the movements or over all the types of jumps that the vendor claims he can do. If he seems reluctant, or doesn’t have a clue as to what is being asked of him, he may not have the talent the vendor claims.

    However, Karen Dixon warns against discounting a horse simply because of a lack of schooling. “Perhaps the owner isn’t experienced enough and has let some things slip,” she says. “If you have the confidence and know-how, you may be able to bring him on yourself.”


    As a competition rider, you’re going to be going to lots of different places with different stables and arenas. A good competition horse will display a willingness to adjust. Your life will be much easier if your horse doesn’t make objections every time you leave your yard.

    “You should be able to load him, and tie him to the side of the lorry without worrying that he’s going to pull back and run off,” says Karen.

    To check the horse’s comfort levels, ask to take him to another venue for a test ride, perhaps your own yard.

    “This is a great way to find out how adaptable the horse is, but the vendor may not always consent, particularly if there are a number of people scheduled to look at the horse,” says Debby Lush.

    Others in the competition community may know the horse. Ask your trainer, or other people in your area, whether they’ve noticed the horse at a competition and find out what their observations were.


    Even if the horse is already trained to a certain level, as a competition rider you’re going to want to put your own stamp on him, whether it be to improve his way of going, move him up a level or introduce new jumping challenges.

    Make sure you try out your own riding style on the horse, even if he’s trained to someone else’s. Does he handle the change easily, or do the new requests make him anxious?

    “He’s got to be willing to learn and change to your system of riding,” explains Debby.


    Some of the best horse and rider partnerships in the world are the result of a first-class match, so quiz the vendor on the horse’s personality.

    “I like my horses to be naughty but nice, because I’m naughty but nice,” says Karen with a laugh. “If the horse suits a rider’s personality, they’ll get on better in competition.”

    If you have a burning desire to achieve, then try to find an outgoing horse that likes to go, rather than a timid horse who looks to you for confidence.

    Be prepared to search far and wide to find your new partner, especially if you are looking for an advanced horse. There are horse dealers who specialise in importing competition horses from the continent. Ask a trainer, instructor or fellow competitor to recommend one.

    Competitions are also a good place to spot horses. If you see one you like, ask the rider whether he’s for sale. If the horse has already done a fair amount of competing, check out his competition record.

    “This is easy to do if the horse is affiliated,” says Debby. “Just contact the relevant organisation, such as British Dressage or the BSJA. If the horse isn’t affiliated, ask to see photographs, test sheets or rosettes.”

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