Picking an Equine Partner: An Interview with the Millars
We sat down with professional riders and trainers Kelly Soleau-Millar and Jonathon Millar of Millar Brooke Farm South to find out what they look for in a new prospect.
What do you typically look for when horse shopping?
Kelly: I typically love mares!!! However it’s not a deal breaker if it’s a gelding. I look for horses with scope, that are careful, have good technique, and most importantly a great attitude! They must be willing and want to work with you.
Jonathan: For sure I am looking for things like power, technique, scope, rideability, sort of all of those physical qualities that you want. Those things may not be quite there yet with some horses, but you should be able to feel or see a little bit of that, at least. Definitely attitude is so important! Horses who have done enough and are very consistent, so even if on their worst day you have four faults, you can feel like you can work up from there towards success.
Can you talk about the sport’s evolution and how that impacts the type of horse you are shopping for?
Kelly: The sport today requires a cat like horse that is quick footed and agile. We refer to them as modern horses who are fast, careful, brave and scopey. That wasn’t necessarily the case years ago. You needed power and scope, but weren’t so concerned with them being the quickest or the most careful. You needed a brave powerful horse. Now the time allowed is very difficult to make and the jumps are getting more and more careful. What we used to be looking for compared to now is very different.
Jonathan: Years ago you had your power jumper to jump big jumps and then you had your speed horse to do the speed classes and basically now it is all the same horse that you are looking for. Rideability is so important. There are more connected lines and options and numbers between the jumps then there ever has been. I think that is the way the sport is going, towards a more careful time allowed and very technical courses. Another thing is the horse’s concentration has to be very good in order to stay with you and stay on their job and not lose their focus. Another thing we see is smaller rings, as well. We used to have big grass areas and lots of room between the jumps. Even down on the grass field (Equestrian Village, Wellington) the last couple of weeks and even though it’s a big field, the jumps keep coming quickly in how they are set.
Is there a particular age range that you tend to look at when shopping?
Jonathan: I think it is hard to find very, very good horses, so you have to be pretty open-minded about that. I like young horses, so I don’t mind developing them, but it does take a while. In an ideal world, probably not younger than six. Usually at that point they have some mileage, you can see much more out of a six or a seven-year-old and you get a better idea. Then you have a little bit of time with them before you actually have to do something and you can get to know them without being in such a hurry right away to get them into the big classes right away. You can kind of make the younger horses your own horse as you develop them and then when you get there, you are ready to go!
Kelly: I think between six and eight is the ideal time to buy them. In certain situations we would love to buy them a little bit older, but they are hard to come by.
What are the characteristics in your current horses that you love?
Kelly: Cache (Cacharel) is a very sassy mare and I love it. She is an unbelievably talented horse with unlimited power and scope but for sure is very opinionated, and only does things on her own terms. Some days that can be super frustrating but she has the biggest heart and believes that she can do anything and with those qualities she makes me believe the same!
Jonathan: Daveau is pretty straightforward. One thing he has always been since I got him as a six, coming seven-year-old, was very, very consistent in the ring. He tends to jump a lot of clear rounds. A bad day for him is four faults, so from that viewpoint he is all business when he goes in the ring. Sometimes it’s a little hard to get him to concentrate at home, but he is really all business in the show ring. I think from that regard, consistency is huge. He will try no matter what, so that is a great feeling to have knowing that some of the more difficult jumps you don’t have to worry about so much. You can just ride the track, ride the plan and get him to where he needs to be. He can be a bit of a handful on the ground sometimes, but generally he is very straightforward.
Is there any advice that either of you would give someone who is looking to find their perfect partner to go in the ring with?
Jonathan: Right off the bat, suitability is important and the partnership. Do you feel like you are really getting to know the horse after one or two rides? Can you see the partnership coming along quite quickly? The way things with horses go, it is not always easy. Obviously, if you start off with a partnership that works well, it works much better. I think those are the most important things. Also, it is always better to have a horse that is a bit overqualified for what you want from them. If you want to jump the 1.20m classes, you should have a horse who can at least jump 1.30m. Lastly, braveness is really important. Inevitably you are going to make mistakes and often as a young rider, your horse is your best teacher. If they have the experience and the braveness to handle the mistakes that you might make, it is going to make things a lot easier.
Kelly: Partnership!! When you get on the horse, you can tell right away whether you are comfortable or not, and whether they are willing and want to work with you. You don’t want to feel like you are forcing something. That is really important when you are looking for horses, that it feels like a natural fit right from the first time you sit on them.
Photo credits: Emma Miller at Phelps Media Group