Not Every Horse is an Upper Level Horse (and that’s ok)

If you’ve owned baby horses, or green horses, or maybe a horse that turned out to be less than ideal for it’s intended purpose, and you’re anything like me, at some point you will find yourself looking at said horse and assessing just what it’s niche might be in life. Is it destined to be the lower level packer that takes kid after kid around their first Novice? Is it a possible 1*-2*-3* horse for a good amateur or young rider? Is it a big time talent, a possible 4*-5* horse for a pro? Or maybe it would it be better in the dressage ring, or happier as a hunter or a jumper? I’ve done this with pretty much all of my horses (sometimes more than once, we know how things can change), since I’ve definitely never gone out shopping for a “made” one with a very specific purpose in mind.

Definitely looks like an eventer to me.

With Presto things are obviously a bit different. I’m not just assessing the horse in front of me, he was BRED for a specific purpose, and he’s being raised with that specific purpose in mind. He’s been mine since conception, and he was carefully planned. I do still constantly assess him, of course… are we on track for what I want him to be? Am I teaching him the things he needs now to make his (and my) job easier later? Does it look like he will fulfill that purpose? Until he’s under saddle, there’s only so much I’ll be able to tell.

I bred him to be an amateur-friendly eventer, something I can keep and raise and ride myself. One that isn’t tough in the head, can take a joke, has enough scope to get me out of trouble, has a knack for XC, a good work ethic, and perhaps is a bit more naturally inclined to the dressage work than my current mount (Henry you are the light of my life, but good lord you have been and continue to be A PIECE OF FREAKING WORK). Presto wasn’t meant to be a top upper level horse. I wanted something that could happily bop around Prelim, maybe Intermediate as an extreme reach goal, and be a fun horse for me to raise and enjoy.

cutest ball of fuzz I’ve ever seen

Taking him to the Future Event Horse classes (and maybe later on the Young Event Horse classes, if that’s something that seems to be a good fit for him) is kind of interesting. On one hand, the whole purpose of the FEH and YEH programs is to look for horses that they feel like have legit upper level potential. Advanced horses, 4* horses, 5* horses. Mine is not that. He wasn’t intended to be that. So will it hurt my feelings if the judges don’t think that he’s going to be that horse? Of course not. I don’t think he is either. That was never my intention when I bred him.

I was having this conversation with someone a few weeks ago and they said “aw, but Presto is nice!”. I agree. I’m not saying he isn’t nice. I’m saying he’s not an elite horse, and I’m ok with that, because he wasn’t meant to be. A horse can still be really nice without being the next superstar.


I think it’s important, especially if you’re going to own and show babies, to still be able to evaluate your horses as objectively as possible, so you’re able to choose the path that’s most suitable for them. For me, Presto has been perfect so far. He’s smart, he’s quiet, he’s easy, he moves well enough but not SO well that I won’t be able to ride him, and – from what I’ve been able to see to this point – has good enough instincts at the jumps to suit what I intended him to be. I mean, I do cry a little at the string test that says he will be 17h, but other than that, he ticks all the boxes. Will he love the sport enough to really be an eventer? Time will tell. Right now I’m very pleased with him. But is he the type of horse that the Future and Young Horse classes are really meant for? Not really, no. He is destined for life as an amateur horse.

At this point, we do the FEH classes for exposure. He could get that elsewhere, sure, but I like the program and want to support it, so that’s my choice. He gets to go to events and get miles and see some atmosphere. For horses like him (NOT top upper level prospects) that’s exactly what those classes are meant to offer. I know that going in. If he does well, great, if he doesn’t… oh well. He gets to go stand in the ring, trot around a little, and learn to behave himself – that in itself is a win at this stage.

he mostly behaved

At this point I doubt that he will be the right type of horse for the YEH classes. Mostly because I think he’ll be a big dopey horse that is slow to develop and not necessarily quick to figure out his feet, and I have no intention of rushing him through that part. But also because those programs are meant for and designed for future upper level horses, and that’s not what mine is meant to be. If, when he’s 4, we find that the YEH class (basically BN) is a good fit for where he’s at in his life, we’ll do them to get some experience. If not, maybe we’ll do the 4yo FEH class (just a basic w/t/c) instead. Or neither, if neither option is right for him at that point. It doesn’t mean the programs are bad, or that the horse is bad, it just means that those classes aren’t HIS path. It’s my responsibility as his person to be able to recognize that. If I don’t see him for what he is and what he’s meant to be, and take that into consideration, I won’t be able to make the right decisions for him.

and if one more of you h/j people say he’s a hunter, I’m sending you a glitterbomb in the mail

Horses with top tier talent are few and far between. They’re awesome and exciting and fun to watch, but are they suitable for most people? Probably not. Most of us need something far more average, less sharp, easier to stay with, and easier to own. Most horses are not upper level horses… and that’s ok. If they were, there wouldn’t be much left over for us mere mortals to ride. I don’t think it’s an insult to a horse to say that it isn’t the second coming of FischerRocana – not all of us need or want that horse. If the horse suits my needs and does his job perfectly, it’s better than a 5* horse to me.

22 thoughts on “Not Every Horse is an Upper Level Horse (and that’s ok)

  1. I think you bred an exceedingly USEFUL type. He seems athletic enough to fulfill most ammy goals (3’6″ anything should be within his comfort zone), but he is sensible enough for an ammy to actually enjoy owning him. I think sometimes people get so hung-up on a horses athletic ability that they forget that it is just as (actually, I would argue more) important for the horse to have a good brain.

    After all, a pro ride type horse is rarely able to lope around a starter course in its early 20s for a kid or timid adult. Sensible horses always have a job, and that’s (in my opinion) what keeps them safe.


  2. Well said. A horse topping out at the mid levels or even the lower levels isn’t a bad thing in itself. Lots of people are happy bopping around and just having a great time, without aiming for high level goals. Those people are the lifeblood of pretty much every equine discipline. It’s better to be honest and fair in your evaluations, rather than pushing a horse towards a goal that’s not achievable for it.

    I think the corollary is that not every rider is an upper level rider, and that’s ok too. I’m definitely not meant for the upper levels, and I have no interest in risking myself or my horse to fulfill a fantasy. Be honest and fair with yourself and your horse, and you’ll be happy.


  3. Well said – I think it is important to remember this in all disciplines and all levels. I think it is hard sometimes for ammys to assess their horse/skills/goals and sell and move on to another if needed. I’m seeing that right now with a friend of mine – she is trying to get her QH to the level to ride at breed shows, but I just don’t think he has the chops for it.


  4. This was a really fascinating post. I do want to add that what I found most interesting about watching (and eavesdropping on the judges) during the YEH at Fair Hill was just how many of the horse competing in the YEH don’t have upper level potential and that’s OK. There is a Safe Harbor Award presented each year to the consistently exhibits the most graceful and rider friendly performance throughout the competition. The horse that won this past year, all the judges wanted to take home even though they had doubts he’d make it to the upper levels. But, they all thought he’d be perfect for any job they wanted him to do. Anyway, I don’t know what my point is here, but… I need to stop reading work emails while trying to comment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I think this all the time, especially when I was horse shopping. I hate how much ‘talented enough for a pro’ is thrown around in sale ads. I don’t need a horse that’s got the hops to run around a 3* because frankly, a lot of those horses have a screw loose! There are a lot of horses underneath that level that can go prelim or even intermediate and maybe they’re not going to be area champions but they’re going to DO it.

    Right now I’m figuring out what Spicy ‘wants’ to be. I think he might be a little too spooky to power around an XC course. And that’s fine, because there are sooooo many other things I want to accomplish in my riding life.


  6. I love your perspective on this-I share pretty much all of the same sentiments. I bred Piper with my goals and preferences in mind. I wanted a good brain and hopefully something to maybe do some prelims, be fun to do dressage on, and that would be a nice all around horse for me to enjoy. She is a lovely mover, and hopefully has her mom’s love of XC but we will see! I have taken her to FEH stuff as well just for that exposure and while she’s scored well for midwest scores, it’s not in the same league as those horses competing at championships-and that’s just fine with me!
    If she decides that she wants to be a dressage horse, so be it! She’s already proven to me that she’s fun to hack out even at 3.5, and we will just see if she wants to do the eventing job! But I’m not going to rush her to hit the 4yo milestones just because those upper level elite prospects are doing so. I love following your journey with Presto-it’s so nice seeing another adult ammy breeding and training a home bred. I get a ton of joy out of those milestones with Piper like you obviously do with Presto.


  7. Honestly this is the one thing in the dressage world I wish more people would embrace. Unlike eventing, it’s possible for an average type horse (averagely good, but not elite) to compete at the top level, to “go Grand Prix.” I wish more people bought horses with suitable brains and decent movement, rather than extravagant movement and psycho (er, I mean, professional) brains. Everyone’s life would be easier. Haha. Though, in my price range I’m pretty sure I’m always going to be stuck with the crazy ones. Lol!


  8. Well said!! I think people forget those top level horses in all disciplines are anamolies. Just like top human athletes are are anamolies…if it was so easy to make it to the top of any sport, we’d all be there!


  9. I like this post! I truly believe a horse should suit whatever discipline you’re gearing for and if not, find him a career in a discipline he loves. Upper level horses are few and far between, and I’m still stunned at the amount of people who think they NEED a 4* or 5* horse — most horses can get us around our adult ammy goals! I think presto is pretty special and will make a great spor thorse for you!


  10. Yesss, all of this! And honestly, sometimes when you do buy a more made horse with a specific use in mind, you still have to reevaluate. I bought Jamp to do the A/O jumpers. He hated being in that ring. So he became an equitation horse. Sometimes our path changes.
    I know next to nothing of event horses other than what I’ve learned from you really. But you’re doing a fantastic job of raising Presto to be a safe, smart, and useful horse. I don’t see any reason he won’t follow the path you hope for. He really looks scopey to me and he has such a wonderful brain. And you know, if things don’t work out, you can always send him to me. Happy to show him in the equitation ring… (See, I didn’t say hunter! Don’t glitter bomb me!)


  11. I love this!! my OTTB certainly isnt going to be a top hunter (but he is rather fancy in dressage!) We show local shows and thats really all i want..maybe a random B rated hunter show here and there if we get really good. But i love working with him, he has a good brain that learns and trys his heart out. I wouldnt “trade up” for the world–im quite happy with what i have! Thanks for sharing this!!


  12. I love this. So true and so many people simply aren’t realistic about the horse they need or should want.

    Also dying about hunter knees 😂 Why does everyone think a nice horse has to be a hunter?!


  13. I agree wholeheartedly 🙂 while Cinna might be a tad hotter than the average ammys cup of tea (dramatic Spanish mares, amirite?), she’s still far from a pro ride, and even farther from anything someone would look at for an upper level prospect. But she IS what I bred for — something with nice enough gaits that we can dabble in dressage but good enough in the brain department that I could start her myself and still have fun trail riding and whatever else I feel like doing. Same with Ruby, although I bought her instead of breeding her. And it helps that they’re both on the photogenic side to make up for me 🤣🤣


  14. Couldn’t agree more. What is disappointing about selling this type of progeny is that people aren’t willing to recognise they don’t need the next Fischer Rocana in young horse form.

    They want one that moves like Totilas, jumps like Big Star and XC’s like Sam despite not being able to actually ride that.

    The amount of really beautiful young horses in Australia right now is lovely, but I look at a lot of the young dressage horses bred for big movement that will win a young dressage horse class and wonder how many people can actually ride that? Because I feel like these horses are outweighing the skill of available riders heavily.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. “Talented enough for a pro” is enough to make me close an ad without reading anything else, for realz. I much prefer my horse with no objectively standout skills or breeding, because he’s suited for and enjoys the things we do as a team.

    Liked by 1 person

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