Written by: Dave Briggs

Some of the country’s top horse people offer advice on what to look for at the sales.

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Finding a winner at a yearling sale isn’t easy. Some of the most successful people in the game give one piece of advice for picking out a great horse.

Forced to select just one thing that’s crucial about picking out a champion at a yearling sale, some of Canada’s most successful horsepeople were happy to dole out some sage advice.

Reade Baker

“Sound and athletic. That’s all you need. End of story. They have to be built to be sound down the road and be athletic. You just see them walk and anybody can see it. They can fall into the fallacy we came up with as kids. If you come up with Quarter Horses, you’re looking for one with a great, big rear end on them. If you come up with riding horses, dressage or jumping horses, you’re looking for this great big thick thing. If you go in the Olympics you want somebody that’s athletic. Same thing here. You make enough mistakes you’ll learn, especially when it’s your own money.”

Nick Gonzalez

“With me, I’ve been doing this for so long, that I’m set in my ways. I have a picture in my mind of what I’m looking for. The one thing I always do when I’m at the sales, is ask myself, ‘What will they look like a year from now?’ In the end, it comes down to what satisfies you personally.”

Roger Attfield

“It’s pedigree. I like a pedigree that I know. I like a running pedigree. I don’t like buying a horse that the first three dams have done hardly anything or the dam hasn’t done anything. I’ve never done well with one of those. It helps if you know the family, but it has to be a running family. You see so many pedigrees and there’s one there that’s done something and the rest are unraced, unraced, or a non-winner of $5,000. You’re really going against the odds then.”

Josie Carroll

“Stick with your first impression. Usually, if they don’t hit me when they walk out in front of me and I talk myself into it, it doesn’t work as well. When something grabs your eye, you’re going to go through the elimination process, but it’s very hard to go back to one that didn’t grab you.”

Mark Casse

“If you wanted to say one little thing, being able to overlook minor flaws is a good one… I think too much emphasis is always put on the conformation. I have a little saying, ‘As long as you can only say a little, then don’t worry about it.’ So, if a horse does this a little, or does that a little, don’t worry too much about it. I don’t care whether they’re big, tall, short, as long as they look, to me, athletic. I’ll deal with the conformation, as long as it’s not bad… I’ve bought a lot of horses for less than $10,000 that made half-a-million or more, but they’re athletes. What’s an athlete? Especially after 34 years, I guess maybe I have a memory bank and I go back and say, ‘Oh, I remember that.’ One advantage I have over a lot of people is I’ve seen so many horses that I know breeding-wise what it’s supposed to look like.”

Mac Benson

“A good eye. You want an eye that’s kind. You want an eye that’s big — just a good eye. It’s worked for me over the years. Of course, they have to have a lot else to go with it. It’s something you can’t sit down and define, but the eyes are the window to the soul.

Sue Leslie

“How they flex at the knee. If they don’t flex well through the knee, I don’t particularly like them because they don’t stay sound.”

Richard Lister

“Get the best guy in the world to look at the horse. I don’t care how focused you are and how much you understand what a horse looks like, you get an old-time horseman and he can tell you everything.”

Paul Attard

“I think the best thing you can do is follow your heart. You can look at all the paper you want, but you’re buying the horse in front of you, not what their family has done. I think if you see a horse that really catches your eye, I think you should follow them.”

Scott Fairlie

“Pedigree. That’s why you want to buy them. If you’re looking for something to be early, you’d be looking for a horse more speed orientated. If you’re looking for something for the Queen’s Plate, you want some distance pedigree. Pedigree’s a big thing.”

Mike De Paulo

“You need a nice, well-balanced horse. I think you need a nice hind end. That’s where the engine is at.”

Glenn Sikura

“Find an athlete. The walk. The proportion of the animal won’t usually belie the walk. Just find something that gets out there and looks the part.”