How I Came to Love the Unconventional Event Horse: SKYELER VOSS
BioStar Sponsored Event rider and trainer Skyeler Voss has worked with horses of all backgrounds and skill levels in her career — and she’s learned a thing or two about what makes a great event horse because of it. Read on to hear what unconventional traits Skyeler looks for and values in an eventing partner…
When you begin shopping for a young horse, where are the first places you look? Racetrack? Breeders?
Throughout my Eventing career I have experienced and owned all different types, breeds, shapes, and sizes of event horses. Unlike many other sports, the event horse has to be incredibly diverse in their capabilities which opens the door to a wide variety of options when selecting the perfect partner.
At Morningside Eventing we primarily source off the track thoroughbreds but have also worked closely with Richard Sheane, of Cooley Sport Horses, in Ireland. While we have very specific qualities we look for in a prospect, the people we buy from and the trust and relationships we have built with them, are just as important to us as the horses themselves.
The thoroughbred market is saturated with horses being repurposed directly off the track. It can be a very difficult world to navigate, and horses go incredibly fast. My Advanced horse “Argyle” was talent spotted by my longtime friend Lainey Ashker’s mom in California. Valerie Ashker is someone I have known since I was very young, and she has watched me ride my whole career. When she called and told me there was a horse that would suit my style of riding and had all the qualities she valued in a 5* prospect, I had to listen and trust in the person rather than knowing the horse. Argyle was a 5yr still racing on the California tracks, but Val had been watching him and scouting him for over a year. He had the build, the gallop, and the movement to be what she considered a top athlete in our sport. She claimed him for me after his winning race, loaded him up, and sent him straight to Virginia. This was a huge gamble but with good people in your corner, great horses can be found in the most unexpected places.
On the complete opposite end of the Event horse spectrum is my Irish Connemara X, Cooley Caliber. I was lucky to meet Richard Sheane and his incredible team at Cooley Sport horses when I bought my then 4yr, Calib. This horse search was more of the traditional kind, where we were able to evaluate, free jump, ride, and cross country the young Irish prospects. Cooley Caliber was an incredibly successful young horse in America competing through the 2* level before he broke his knee in a very freak accident. Due to his incredible temperament and athletic ability, he has transitioned into an FEI dressage horse with hopes of competing at the top levels of his new sport. My purchase of Calib has led to an amazing relationship with Cooley and the purchase of 12 young Irish prospects for our Morningside clients and students. The relationship and trust we have with Cooley has made all the horse searches and matches incredibly successful over the years. This again shows that the people are as much a part in the horse search success as the actual equine athletes.
When you are looking for an event horse prospect, what are the main things you are looking for?
Whether it is a racehorse or an import, we prioritize the temperament, build, movement, and athletic ability over a fence. It is so important that the horse has the desire to work and the brain to be trainable. When evaluating the movement, we focus on the walk and the canter, as the trot can often be developed with strength and training. It is very important for us to see the horse “free jump” if possible. We want to see their natural instincts over a fence and evaluate their bravery, footwork, lightness off the ground, and ability to do the job.
With three phases to keep in mind, which phase do you find you prioritize when shopping for a new horse? Movement? Tidiness over fences? Or the cattiness to get around XC?
My personal preferences have certainly evolved and changed over the years, as has the modern-day sport of Eventing. I competed for so long in the old “long format” version of Three-Day Eventing, which included the intense endurance phases of roads and tracks, steeplechase, and cross country. Back in those days, an athletic thoroughbred who would run fast and jump high could win. The modern-day sport, with the shorter cross-country tests, requires more sophistication as far as movement, ride-ability, and scope in dressage and show jumping. My personal preference is still the
lightness and gallop of a thoroughbred, but we put so much more value now on their ability to jump cleanly around a show jump and possess the necessary freedom and movement to be successful on the flat.
How big of a factor does personality play into your decision on if you want to work with a horse or not? Are there certain characteristics you enjoy working with or that you find make great event horses?
My own experiences with tricky personalities have made me put way more weight on temperament and trainability. This is sometimes hard to evaluate in a thoroughbred directly off the track, but over the years we have met great people who know our program and help us source the right characters. I have found that the quirky types may suit me as a professional for the upper levels, but we place so much importance on matching the right client personality with a horse that best meets their goals and
When I was young, I valued the most athletic and fancy prospect, but over the years I have learned that the most successful partnerships come from the ones you just love to ride. The personality of horse and rider have to make sense together, and above all the horse has to have the love and desire for the job.
I know you focus a lot on groundwork in your program, do you find that you prefer un-started prospects so you can give them the start you desire in an event horse? Or are you okay with ones started by other trainers?
With off the track thoroughbreds being our biggest Morningside market we often find ourselves starting from scratch. We work with some great thoroughbred sources who do the initial evaluations and free jumping but that is usually all the sport horse type work these racing athletes have when they come to us. In these cases the ground work is always where we start, giving them the opportunity to learn the job on their own accord.
When we buy from Cooley, Richard and his team also prioritize the roping over fences but do have incredible riders who give the young horses the best possible starts. With such a wide variety of clients at Morningside, we do find ourselves buying outside of our normal sources, and we start each horse the same. Groundwork and fundamentals in the training scale and process are useful no matter what the horse’s history and level. To us it does not matter if they have been started or are old campaigners, they always benefit from a program’s consistency in the long run.
When your students decide to shop for a young prospect, what advice do you give them?
You have to love to ride whatever you are buying. Success in this sport is only as strong as the bond between horse and rider. I want to see my clients smile when they ride and be excited to have that horse in their life.