You've got your reasons for having your eye on horse weanlings right about now and wanting to evaluate them.
Maybe you're a breeder, as I am, with a built-in interest in knowing how to assess what you've raised. Or, you could be a potential buyer, eager to bring home a young horse you can raise and train as your "forever" partner. Perhaps you're in the market for a show prospect, with intent to resell at some point. Maybe you just enjoy challenging yourself to improve your eye for horses.
The trouble is, a lot of people can't look at a baby and see anything but cute. This occurs with buyers and breeders alike, at all levels of the weanling market. If this is where you are, I'm here to offer a hand.
In the breeding/training business I operate with my husband, Roger, I deal with weanlings virtually every day. Not only do we breed, raise, train and sell our own, we also work with our customers' weanlings, and consult with them on buying and selling. And, because we run a training program designed to give these young horses a great head start on basic skills (learn more at YearlingHeadStart.com), I also get plenty of hands-on, eyes-on experience at finding out how those adorable babies turn out as they mature. This gives me a body of knowledge you can draw on.
To protect yourself from falling for cuteness (or any other single trait, like coat color or a temptingly low price), establish some initial objectives. These will be your touchstones, helping you to stay objective as you look at your own stock, or someone else's. Ask yourself these questions:
Strictly personal, or otherwise? Are you trying to find a horse you'll keep as a personal partner for the rest of his life, with no plans to ever compete or breed him? Or, are you looking for a prospect you'll eventually show, breed, and possibly resell?
When buying or retaining a weanling strictly for your own purposes, you get more leeway to suit yourself than you do in the other circumstance. You don't have to be as fussy about pedigree, for instance, or about some of the other factors that add show, breeding or resale value. (More on that later.)
What's your goal, and at what level? I think it's safe to say that everyone who's looking at weanlings wants to end up with one who'll grow up to be a healthy, balanced, correct and good-tempered individual. But beyond that, many points of evaluation depend on the goal you have in mind for the horse, and at what level.
For example, you wouldn't look for the same things in a Western pleasure prospect as you would in a barrel or roping prospect. And you don't necessarily have to be as insistent on eye appeal or quality of movement in a 4-H project weanling as you do in one you'll aim at world-class competition or profitable resale.
What level is your eye? If you intend to shop unassisted, particularly for a show prospect, the level of your eye--in other words, the level of horses and competition you're used to seeing--needs to match or exceed the level of your goal.
Suppose your goal is to compete in one of next year's yearling longe-line futurities at a major show. If you've only known the weanlings in your neighbor's pasture, chances are, you won't know what to seek, or how to recognize it, in a competitive longe-line prospect. If you've never been to your breed or sport's biggest show, yet want a weanling who could compete there some day, your eye and goal are out of sync. In cases like these, I recommend you get experienced first-hand help.
Let's say you've established your core objectives and have done some preliminary shopping based on that foundation. You've come to me with a list of the weanlings who have caught your eye. (Or, you may want my help in evaluating what you've raised.) Where would we go from here?
My first consideration for each candidate would be, "What does he look like on paper?" To the degree that your budget will allow, you want the close-up relatives on a pedigree to have proven aptitude and ability in whatever it is you want the weanling to be able to do.
Not only does this boost your odds of getting the kind of horse you want, it also contributes to a horse's resale value--critical, if resale is part of your overall plan. The higher you rank resale as a goal, and the higher the competitive level, the more particular you have to be.