What makes a 4 star horse? - blog by Ros Canter, European Gold medalist in Eventing, ranked 2nd in the FEI rankings


What makes a 4 star horse?

When I was younger I thought that top level horses would have similar traits and characteristics, for example a huge stride, lean bodies, and ability for the dressage, and we would go out looking for these things, which most of the time left us with complicated characters that although had all the potential, never quite materialised in to being the 4 star prospects they were advertised as.

Cue the arrival of Zenshera. I went to Holland for some work experience and having ridden him every day, I was persuaded that for a small sum he could be mine to do a few BE100’s on and then sell as a nice amateurs horse. He had done some show jumping but they gave up when he knocked 4 down on every occasion and had then been broken to harness as the stud owner enjoyed carriage driving. He had a terrible head tip, and was strong to jump but also had a lovely enthusiastic temperament, splashed though puddles and anything he came across, and jumped an Irish bank in one when ix c schooled him!

Rosalind Canter Zenshera Alby

Having got him home, he proceeded to attack life at 100 miles an hour which often meant a tense dressage test, poles down sj, but he always jumped easily clear xc. In the early days we did a chase me Charlie at home, and Alfie won by literally popping over 1.65m. So instead of selling him, I kept him for the winter and the next year he started to get better and better.

So here are Alfie’s star qualities:

  • He loves life and is always looking on the bright side
  • He has complete belief in his ability to jump
  • At the age of 14 he still has the enthusiasm of a young horse but has now learnt to listen too!
  • He can have an uncomfortable jump but bounce back and jump the next even better without losing confidence
  • He is kind and honest
Rosalind Canter Badminton 2018 photo by Daydream Equine Art

When Allstar B first arrived on our yard, my first thought was, how am I ever going to ride something as big as him! Then when i first rode him I thought that I would never get him round a dressage test. He was 8 years old, but lazy and on his forehand, with a 4 time canter. And then I jumped him, and I knew I had to find a way of making him enjoy his flatwork because jumping big jumps was so easy for him.  The key to Alby has been to get him sensitive to my aids so that he doesn’t feel like I am nagging at him. He is a more complex character than Alfie because he is lazy but also quite sensitive to change, and the fact that he is so big and powerful, and I am so little takes some careful management.

Here are Alby’s star qualities:

  • He is one of the most tolerant horses I have ever ridden. He isn’t always enthusiastic but he always says “ok”
  • He has a massive powerful stride which means he is made for course like Badminton and Burghley
  • He is very careful but also brave
  • He gets better and better with age as he learns to manage his big frame
  • He is desperate to please.

As you can see these 2 boys are both brave, but their biggest qualities are that they want to do the job, and are very accepting of being trained. Neither would have been the most talented of young horses, or indeed look like your typical 4 star horse. Alby is 17hh and looks like a chunky hunter in the winter, where Alfie is a petite 15.2hh warmblood. They have definitely both changed my perception of what to look for when buying a horse, and I am extremely proud of them both for what they have achieved.


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