In "The Right One" (September '08 Horse & Rider), I cover several key points worth knowing whenever you're evaluating a weanling. I base the info on the many years of experience I've gained as a breeder, trainer and exhibitor of young horses. Here, I'll share answers to some of the questions I'm often asked when helping others pick out a weanling to buy, or when assisting them in evaluating the weanlings they've raised.
When's the optimal time to buy a weanling?
Whenever your checkbook's fattest! While there certainly are deals to be had on weanlings, depending on where and how hard you shop, it generally doesn't pay to make your choice based mostly on lowest price. A quality weanling will have cost his breeder some money just to get on the ground, and you'll give yourself more choices to pick from if you aren't trying to buy from a picked-over bank account.
That said, there's an old horseman's saying about how a horse comes closest to resembling his mature-age look at 30 days, 3 months, and 3 years of age. This is a good rule of thumb. At 30 days and 3 months, most weanlings are at a balanced growth stage, which takes some of the guesswork out of picturing what they'll look like as adults.
Now that I've weaned my mare's foal, he's got a real case of "the uglies." Is this normal--and will he outgrow it?
It's typical for a weanling to go through a rough patch shortly after weaning. His system has a lot of adjusting to do, which can show up in his overall appearance. He may also be shedding his baby hair at this point, making him appear as though he's molting. But take heart--this is usually the worst he'll ever look, and he will indeed grow out of it.
I'm looking at a weanling whose head seems big for the rest of his body. It's also a bit common-looking. His breeder assures me he'll grow into it. Is this true?
No. When a weanling starts out with a bad head, it won't get better. If anything, it may look even worse as he matures. If it's important to you to end up with a horse who has a good head, buy one that has a good head to start with.
What's the best way to tell how big a weanling will be once he's fully grown?
Look at his parents and at as many siblings as you can. Except in cases of severe nutritional deficiencies that cause growth to be stunted, a horse's mature size is dictated largely by genetics. I wouldn't expect a 17-hand horse to have had a 14-hand sire and dam, and vice versa.
I've found a weanling I really like, but he shows signs of having growth-related problems in his leg joints. Should I take a chance on him and buy him anyway?
Maybe--if you have help or know what you're doing when it comes to feeding a weanling like this. But for the average person, my answer is no.
When you start out with a weanling who has joint problems, there's no guarantee that they'll resolve enough for you to end up with a normal, sound adult horse. You're really better off to save yourself the potential heartbreak and to let that weanling stay someone else's problem.
To learn more about Robin's work with young horses, visit her website, YearlingHeadStart.com.