I was asked the other day, “How do go about finding a cutting horse prospect of sorting horse prospect?” The topic brought to mind my many horse hunting trips, and has me thinking about what exactly DO I look for in a prospect?
Legs and feet. This is so important that I am going to say it again. Legs and feet. This is the foundation that your performance horse is standing on. These two things could determine if your horse is worth $500 or $50,000. Without a proper base, you simply can’t expect him to stand up to the rigors of performance horse training. I’ve seen some VERY nice cutting horses that were just too fine boned and ended up breaking down long before they were ready. The same goes for feet. You might have heard the old saying “no hoof, no horse?” Usually wives tales are off the mark, but this one hits it spot on. Without good feet, your horse will be more prone to all sorts of things such as abcesses, chips, and cracks. I prefer a horse to have good thick bones and a matching foot to go with it – if you’re going to spend all your time and money training one, you might as well set yourself up for success!
After you’ve determined that the colt has a proper foundation, start moving up the body. Is he proportionate when you break him into 3 parts? Imagine a line that comes down at the withers and another at the flank – are the three pieces equal? If so, your horse has balance! Some horses will have a fantastic hip but no chest, and some with have a big thick chest with no butt… I’m always looking for the holy grail of a matched set. The next piece to balance is the horses topline. Is he butt high? This isn’t always a deal breaker for me, as long as it’s not too extreme. You also have to take into account the horses age… horses tend to grow at the hip first, with their withers catching up later. If you’re horse is young (and by young I mean under 2-3 years old), he might just be in a growth spurt and will indeed level out. Going back to the topline in general, I prefer a defined wither that will hold a saddle, and a wide, strong back.
The next piece to evaluate is his head and neck. While you can’t ride pretty, it DOES cost the same to feed an ugly headed horse as it does a pretty one! I like a refined face with little ears, and for the gender to be prominant according to the horse. In horse judging competitions, you’ll hear lots of folks talk about the feminine head on a mare… they should just have that look about them. Long necked and short necked horses both have their good and bad traits, but no matter the length I like to see the neck tie in high at the horses shoulder.
Other things to look for in conformation include low set hocks (trust me, he’ll stop better!), thick muscling (the stronger they are, the more they’ll be able to handle in the training process!), and short pasterns that have an angle that matches the slope of the shoulder (a long sloping shoulder will make for a more comfortable stride!).
While I could go on and on about conformation, I have to talk about the mind as well. It doesn’t matter how pretty a horse is, if he doesn’t have the mind for the job you’re trying to get him to do, you might as well save your money. With cutters and sorters, I want an intelligent horse with a good work ethic. I’ve broke several colts that just didn’t want to move and would put more effort into fighting you than just doing their job. I like to give my colts the benefit of the doubt, but if they’re still fighting several weeks in, I have a policy of having a talk with the owner. One thing that I DON’T mind, is a horse that is scared of a cow. I feel that this will actually make a better cutter as they naturally have the respect for the cow and will usually train more easily to do the big moves that everyone loves in the cutting pen!
What Doesn’t Matter
Conformation and mind are the two things that matter the most when picking out your next prospect. What DOESN’T matter is color, length of mane and tail, and how much your horse chases your dog. While these things can be cool, a good horse is never a bad color, and how much your horse hates your dog does not a cutter make. A good horse can be purple with pink polka dots for all I care. He can have no mane and tail if he’ll cut a cow and make moves that allow you to forget that he’s hairless. Chasing your dog does not mean that he will want to chase a cow, and also does not mean that he’ll be easier to turn into a cutting or sorting horse.
There’s so many things that go into finding a good prospect, but hopefully you have a slightly better understanding of what to look for. If not, feel free to give me a call at 678-492-0440 and I would be happy to help you in finding a cutting horse prospect of your own!