I ’m not your average buyer,” says amateur Grand Prix rider Alice Tarjan. She knows what she’s doing and has an eye for horses with potential, whether they come from Europe or the U.S. “I’ll buy them wherever I find them,” she noted. “It’s easier to find them over there [Europe], but if I buy them here,” Tarjan pointed out, “I don’t have to import them.”
What does she look for in a foal when she makes a purchase? She likes candidates who are soft in their backs, but not those who point their toes.
“I want them to go like hackneys: I want their knees up to their eyeballs,” Tarjan said. “That’s a sign they may be good in piaffe and passage. You look for a lot of scope,” she said, referring to their stride. “They’re not scopey to me when they have no shoulder.”
But there are exceptions to that rule—she cited German Olympian Isabell Werth’s mount, Don Johnson, and British Olympian Carl Hester’s ride, Nip Tuck, who was third in the 2017 FEI World Cup Finals.
“They’re products of super riding. We’re talking about the best riders in the world. They can get on horses who are not terribly inspirational and be competitive,” Tarjan commented.
When buying a young horse, she advises, “If you have a choice, you want one with scopier gaits.” The horse needs to be “a good type” and the question to be asked is, “Can you make him competitive?” The way the horse is built is crucial, which is why having one who is uphill means he can be trained effectively.
As an example of why conformation matters, she explained, “You could train a warmblood to go fast, but he’s not going to go as fast as a Thoroughbred,” which is bred for speed. For dressage, “You want a horse with self-carriage, who goes along with uphill and scopey gaits.”
She cautioned that what she does won’t apply to every prospective owner who dreams of training her own horse. “I’m a different buyer than your average Adult Amateur. I can ride a difficult horse, and I’m not buying one to be my best friend, my one-and-only horse who I have to love. If it doesn’t work out, I can sell him after making him a better horse and then find the next one.”
At the same time, since she’s not a professional, Tarjan notes she has an advantage. “When you have clients, you have to keep the clients happy and do what the owners want. That’s not going to get you to be as competitive as you should be. I can ride the way I want.”
She doesn’t overdramatize what she needs to have her horses do. “They just have to go around the sandbox. The sandbox is pretty much the same no matter where you put it. Maybe there’s different stuff going on outside it. But if they go in the ring and concentrate on you, then you’re golden.”