Looking Into the Future

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Whether buying or selling a weanling, it is extremely important to critically evaluate the animal. Many people have difficulty getting past the “cute factor” that all babies seem to possess. Key on the weanling’s strengths to make your efforts worthwhile. Do your homework, and don’t be afraid to seek out the advice of a professional to guide you if necessary.

How can you judge an adorable little foal objectively, and just what should you be looking for?

What To Evaluate

Virginia Hood of JG Appaloosa Sport Horses in Biglerville, Pa., has been raising top-notch Appaloosas for more than 30 years. “When I was younger all babies were cute, but I’ve gotten very picky over the years and now look much more critically,” she says. “I don’t feel that you can judge them fairly before they are a couple of months old. After that, it isn’t hard. They either have straight legs or they don’t, a straight shoulder or not, a long or short back.”

What if the foal is cow-hocked, as so many babies are? “When babies are born, their hind feet are very pointed, and a lot of breeders don’t get those feet trimmed right away. If they aren’t trimmed, then the legs are forced to grow cow-hocked. So seeing a foal that is a little cow-hocked doesn’t bother me. It won’t win in the conformation classes but I think you will have a better performance horse.”

For the front legs, Hood is not concerned if the legs toe out a little. “Their legs are too long,” she continues, “and they are trying to get to the ground so they are constantly trying to reach down and are spreading out those front legs. They are going to be wearing off the inside of the hoof. So unless you are really keeping up on the trimming, they will toe out a little. But,” she cautions, “if you have a baby that toes in, you have a problem and it isn’t something that they are going to grow out of.”

Other things to consider in a weanling? “If you are buying for a client, then you have to look at what they want,” says Belle Hufferd of Triumph Stables in Roanoke, Ind. Triumph Stables is synonymous with exhibiting top-quality Morgan weanlings at the most prestigious breed events in the country, and Belle and her husband John are constantly evaluating youngsters for clients. Hufferd believes that a weanling cannot be judged on one or two criteria, but rather on several factors that enter into the final decision. In addition to the client’s needs, Hufferd takes into consideration the gaits, temperament, conformation, pedigree and attitude or heart.

When evaluating a weanling’s movement, John Hufferd looks first for a laid-back shoulder. “I can usually tell if they will be high- or low-headed, but there is still a little bit of margin of error. I want to see a cadenced trot, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be animated.” Of course, how a horse moves will greatly depend on its breed and discipline. Hood wants to see the horse move naturally: “Watch them walking when their head is down and they are relaxed. See if they are overtracking or not; the good ones will overtrack. For me, however, the canter is more important than the trot. If you’re going to show hunters, the canter has to have scope, you’ve got to be able to make the distances, and it has to be balanced enough to get over the fences. If you intend to show dressage, then you need a good balanced canter or you’re not going to get the lead changes.”

Spend a little time with a weanling and you’ll soon have a good indication of its temperament. Is it nervous or spooky coming out of the stall? Does it stand quietly for grooming, or fuss and paw?

“How can you judge an adorable little foal objectively?”

Handling the weanling in the barn is a good idea, but you should also watch him in a pasture, advises Hood. “If a youngster is a momma’s boy, always by its mother’s side, then it will not make a good event horse. Then you may notice one that is never with the mother and is instead always into trouble; that’s the one you want for an event horse. You’ve got one that won’t go near a mud puddle and another that is playing in it. The one playing in the mud puddle is the one that will go right in the trailer or see a jump course and want to go over all the jumps. You can tell so much from watching them.”

Parental Influence

Advice from those interviewed is to not overlook the influence parents play in determining the characteristics of the weanling. Also, don’t make the common mistake of only considering the sire; the dam is just as important. Notes Hood, “I would never consider a weanling if I couldn’t see both of the parents. That is the most important thing in evaluating a weanling. If the parents can’t do it, then the foal won’t be able to do it.” What if the parents are not on the premises? “Don’t go by pictures,” warns Hood, “as I’ve seen really nice pictures of horses that I don’t care for. But you can go by the reputation of the parents.”

Where To Sell/Buy

For such a risky venture as purchasing an unproven youngster, take the time to research the parents as well as the breeder and her reputation.

When selling, John Hufferd has found that the Internet has a lot of “tire kickers” and he hasn’t found a lot of serious buyers for higher-priced horses on the web.

His advice? “Networking with a professional. Having a professional help you is huge. I’m not saying an amateur can’t sell a horse, but then again, I’m selling all day long. I don’t come home from work at 6 p.m. and then think about selling my horses.

“If you don’t have a trainer, then I would suggest getting connected with one. It is always harder for a trainer to sell a horse that isn’t at his barn. The horse is not around so the trainer may forget about him, and also, as a trainer, you don’t get to know their personalities.”

The Odd-Colored Foal

Every breeding program occasionally produces foals that don’t quite fit into their plans: the paint breeder who gets a solid foal, the dressage enthusiast who finds herself with a weanling more suitable to the Western ranks. How do you effectively market these animals?

Rather than trying to sell that foal within the confines of your breed or division, our experts suggest looking to the larger, outside horse world. Hood notes that she has no problems selling her solid-colored foals to the open hunter and dressage enthusiasts. “Many hunter people,” she notes, “don’t like colored horses so we don’t have a problem. The first foal we sold last year was a solid—to a top hunter rider who saw him and bought him.”

Likewise, the Hufferds, who are known for their high-stepping horses, often find themselves with a weanling that doesn’t quite fit that mold. “Actually, we probably sell more hunters than high-headed horses,” notes John. “They come in and go out of here like crazy. How do we sell them so quickly? Networking! We get on the phone and call people who want those types of horses. We do little ads, we do big ads, but the main thing we do is get on the phone and hustle.”