Developing a Good Eye for Young Horses

I’m reliably accurate at assessing horses from around 3 or 4 on up. I’d like to improve my eye for the real babies, though. For those who are good in this department, what helped you get there?

Following. Interested to see the responses. I’m okay w/ yearlings and two year olds to a degree. Foals and weanlings? Not a frickin’ clue.

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I can tell a good foal from a fugly foal. I can see the difference between Andy and WB babies, and the feral “wildies” that all come across my FB feed.

I don’t know that I could pick the best out of say 3 good enough WB or Andy foals. I do know that you can see the joint angles clearly and that you need to discount the wonderful floaty gaits of foals. They will end up moving more like their parents.

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Looking at many young horses in the “breed or body type” you want to own. Perhaps having a more knowledgeable friend, trainer, with you to point out the good and bad (or less good) points on individuals. Identify which points are crucial in how you want use that kind of horse. This trains your eyes to actually SEE what you are looking at.

As mentioned, parents are key to how a horse will finish at full maturity. Look at them if possible. A stallion should “mark” his get, in my opinion. Back years ago, a local well known QH stallion was known to put pretty heads, lots of muscling on his get. Unfortunately (in my opinion) he never did anything for the legs. Foals got the Dam’s legs, good or bad. Some moved like mixmasters! Stallion was heavily used, because “Legs are only 10 points in Halter! Better to go with the pretty heads, muscles, and sell them young.” Can’t tell you how many times I heard that!! If I like a stallion, I want to see him in his foals. Mare can also add her marks on the foal as well. It is always interesting to see the foal from two good animals!

But attending horse shows, visiting breeding farms if possible, is how you train your eyes.

We have rather high standards here when looking at horses because they are working animals. The parts not “perfect” we can live with, does not affect their performance abilities when they get used hard. For us, legs, big hooves (both deep and wide, no short toes), big over stride in all gaits, good bone, are where we start looking. Horse HAS to be able to move well to do his jobs. Even quite young horses can be evaluated on these points. We do not want to end up with anything built downhill. Since young horses go thru growth phases, look at the parents to see if they ended up downhill for your best picture of how young animal will finish.

We tend to use the old 1/3 measuring system in evaluating for build, head, neck, front end to to point of elbow, then from elbow thru barrel to loins, then loin to rear of rump. Are those sections pretty equal in lengths? Then the 50/50 for total height, where legs length equals body height above legs from the side, on a mature horse. Young horse with short body height may look perched up on his long legs, so this can be harder to evaluate. Can you look at the parents to see how they measure in those areas? Does a box around horse, using chest as front, with a level line from withers over top of rump, line in rear at the back of his rump, end up in an equal sided square? Or another shape like a rectangle? We do not want rectangles. These are old methods of evaluation, but horses who match this criteria, have been good athletes in our experiences.

Then you can get picky, short cannons, muscling, neck length for balance. We look at heads last, not much of a concern to us beyond wanting big eyes that see well. Teeth aligned to avoid parrot or monkey mouths, anything in there that makes bitting normally, into a problem.

I want them to look immature at young ages and up to 4-5yrs, not a great hulking young horse. Lots of early growth (usually from being fed too well), fat, on soft bones will cause problems later in life. Young bones are not designed to carry the fat animals wanted in juvenile halter class winners.


Read every book you can on the topic, read articles, search YouTube…join groups on Facebook where these things are discussed!

Looking forward to seeing the replies.

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I am not a real good judge but had worked with horses as a groom during college, when I wanted to buy a horse for the kids I looked at hundreds, but saw this one who just had the look of what I wanted even though she was only a long yearling at the time she just had an air about her that made her different.

We kept her all of her life, she was just an amazing horse

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You need to deal in volume to develop an eye. Breed inspections are usually free for spectators, and most are really informative. If they’re far from you, you can always check in with the organizer the week before to see how many foals they expect to have presented, to make sure it’s worth your while to drive.


I love this! Fugly foals.

I’m assuming that studying the baby photos of top horses of the target breed is useful, too? What do you look for if the parents are unknown? I understand that is not going to ever be a realistic situation for you, of course. Curious how you would go about it, though.

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Babies are tough. There’s a reason they say look at them at 3 days, 3 months, and 3 years. The rest can be sketchy because some parts seem to grow at different times. As a previous poster said, I have seen a lot of yearlings that looked like they would move a 10 go on to be meh movers. But a good canter is always a good canter. Same with jump. They can get better but if you have a yearling with stellar form through the chute, you have a great prospect.


Ditto to what everyone has said. I think it also helps if you can pick a handful of stallions you really like and then go through and thoroughly assess their foals along with their respective dams. This allows you to develop an eye for which stallions stamp their get and how. Many of the older stallions have enough video and photos out there of their offspring at young ages to be able to see these differences and then follow their offspring through their initial careers. I have a breed of choice that isn’t all that plentiful yet I can go through 3-4 generations of photos and videos that have given me a very good idea of consistency with respect to certain bloodlines and which ones I prefer to be crossed. I can access both USDF and breed data to give me and idea on performance as well as records and videos of offspring through their early performance careers. I think more of a challenge is predicting work ethic and disposition but that too is something you can develop a feel for by researching trends and then meeting the individuals. Having been a breeder who also handles, backs and trains the majority of what I’ve produced (a number were sold before backing) and having received feedback from my buyers, disposition and work ethic have been easier to predict on tried and true pairings as well as simply being able to assess the foal on the ground. As everyone says, though, breeding is still a gamble because there will always be a bit of Russian roulette to consider and then there is the development period of young minds that you don’t always have full control over no matter the best laid plans.


I was told by a lifelong breeder that part of it is instinctual. I am inclined to think that it is truly a volumes game. You see enough horses, you see a pattern that emerges of the better types. Some baby swans turn into adult ducks and some ugly ducklings do turn into swans. Having said that I think the 3 day, 3 month and 3 year rule applies. You will know almost immediately if a foal is quality, by day 3.


Sounds like I have my work cut out for me. I have a few ideas kicking around. However, the main priority is to find a buy-n-hold large for daughter’s final pony hunter. Probably a Welsh x TB if we shop here or maybe a German Riding Pony if I can scrape enough money together to import. I’m well-versed in what a quality adult TB & GRP look like. Not so much with Welsh. I need to start researching them.

@goodhors, Scrolling through the BLM’s online auction page of young mustangs last night, it dawned on me that I look for that “Golden Ratio” . Just didn’t realize that’s what I was doing until you described it upthread!

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There is a nice GRP stallion in Ontario too.

Someone hinted at it earlier, but I don’t really look too closely at the movement of foals - babies tend have much loftier and expressive movement than mature horses, so if movement is a big concern, I look for the conformational aspects that will lead to the type of movement I want.

The golden ratio that goodhors described is also what I use: the proportions of the skeleton are going to remain the same from birth to death. A horse with a long back isn’t going to shrink with maturity, a short + low neck set isn’t going to become more upright, etc. If you can look past “pretty”, “flashy”, basically ignore the flesh and learn to see the skeleton, you will be able to evaluate horses much more effectively, and not just babies.


Ohhhhh, that’s good to know! As an American, it is downright depressing how much cheaper really nice horses are in Canada & Europe. During our most recent search, it seemed every horse I liked was in Canada. I’m not adverse to taking a buying trip under ordinary circumstances. With Covid, it just wasn’t happening this time. :frowning:

There are quite a few really nice breeders here! Hopefully things settle down soon so cross market shopping can resume.

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I’ve purchased two weanlings and a yearling.

The yearling is now 12, he’s a hack winner and my A/O hunter. We’ve even done a couple Canadian Hunter Derbies.
He’s by Cabardino who consistently stamps his get. There were also two full siblings on property (2yo and weanling). The yearling who we purchased was obviously more athletic than the 2yo. Very similar to the weanling. The breeder was a large animal vet and helped point out some strengths and weaknesses among the three.
In the years since I’ve actually run into the two that we passed on, as well as another full sibling. All of them were nice. I ended up with the “nicest” of the bunch, but he’s also the least amateur friendly temperament wise. I have a beautiful framed photo of him bucking (I’m smiling) during a hunter trip :rofl:

The first weanling that we purchased was euthanized as a yearling. Recurring colics. Two full siblings competed up to 1.45m.

The second weanling that we purchased is now a 4yo. Hack winner. Jumps through the chute well. Haven’t done much jumping under saddle.
We had the advantage of seeing the stallion, dam, and two full siblings. Again, all nice horses. Extra advantage of having her inspection numbers and comments from RPSI/Zweibrucker.

Having pictures and video of horses as adults and those same horses as babies is a great way to learn.
Full siblings are very helpful.
Don’t forget about the dam. Don’t expect a good mover if she looks like a sewing machine. Don’t expect a GP jumper if she has terrible natural form.

And like others said. Don’t get pulled in by that lofty baby trot and cute face.


Just watched the Westphalian Association’s online Winter auction where 4 lovely ponies sold for between 5,000-12,5000 €. Might go cry into my cornflakes now. :confused: Although, all but one looked like it would probably end up a smidge too tall for American large pony hunters.

Eta: It was reassuring to have my eye somewhat validated by people who know a lot more than I do, though. I studied the pics & videos of each horse & found that I was fairly accurate in at least assessing if a horse was going to fall towards the top/middle/bottom of the prices for that auction. Thinking, “Oh, that one doesn’t use his back so effectively over the jump” and “He doesn’t have quite the elasticity at the trot as the others” feels weird – as an American I’d be happy to have any of those horses that fell onto the low end of the price spectrum. Still wouldn’t trust myself at a US auction but good to know I can at least see something.


It’s too hard with foals. Better to look at mom and dad and hope it takes after one or the other. Hannoverian inspection - really spectacular foal. Great mover and just an elegant colt. Mom was old fashioned - long body, plain head and short legs but baby must have taken after daddy.

Next year colt was back for the futurity as a yearling. Looked just like mom. Long back, short legs. Not the Adonis the year before. I don’t know how he turned out though. And I have seen the opposite - not really flashy foal but really lovely under saddle at 3.

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