The Chronicle of the Horse published a fantastic article by Kristin Carpenter titled, “The Pitfalls of Potential.” Kristin explains the double-edged sword of potential; why we are drawn to the mystical quality, but how it isn’t always what it seems. When evaluating horses, she says you can’t get around two things: character and soundness. All the talent in the world cannot overcome a poor work ethic or a physical weakness. I urge you to click over to COTH for the whole piece, it’s a great read!
Potential. It is a word that inspires our hopes, fills our dreams, and encourages us to get up each morning and try to be better. But potential is a double-edged sword: it lies.
It makes promises that often go unfulfilled, and can lead to poor decision-making and costly long-term investment. No one would ever become great without pursuing potential, but a necessary life lesson is that potential is an empty promise without the other oh-so-important building blocks of success—hard work, determination and desire.
All too often we ignore the red flags of flaws because we are mesmerized by all the bells and whistles that potential promises. Even at advanced, an athletic animal is perfectly capable of clearing the height. What makes an advanced horse is less its potential to jump those tracks, but instead its character, work ethic, and soundness. And those are things we cannot change with training, no matter how hard we might try.
At any level, a good event horse has character and a desire to do the job. If doing a four-star were as easy as having the potential to do a four-star, all of our top riders would have an army of top horses. If you check in their barns, many have the most incredibly moving, scopiest jumping prelim and intermediate horses you have ever seen.