Uri Burstein: Scouting For Success

Uri Burstein: Scouting For Success
It’s no secret that buying and selling horses is no longer limited to filling stalls in a barn and waiting for the client to drive through the front gate. Around the world, top horses are sought out with ever-increasing intensity—from the rail at training shows, via a text message or a hastily made video clip, and through a network of professionals with a very good eye.

A good eye has more than one meaning in this industry—a good eye for a horse is just as essential as a good eye for a distance. In equestrian sport, where the next big thing can slip right through your fingers, having a good eye is not just a good skill—it’s an absolute necessity.

The demand for the next great horse keeps Uri Burstein’s eye sharp. As a horse scout, his office is wherever that superstar might be found. It’s at sale barns and shed rows all over Europe. It’s behind the wheel of his car as he networks from the road. And it’s ringside at competitions big and small. In the space between seller, trainer, and rider, Burstein is the ubiquitous thread that brings all parties together.

“If you’re selling horses, then you are committed to selling whatever you have; you’re going to try and sell the horse you bought or produced,” he says. “That makes sense, of course; there’s nothing wrong with it. But a horse scout has the benefit of going everywhere. I’m not in the business of selling horses; my market is analyzing horses for my clients. I’m as much a part of their team as the vet. This gives the buyer a much greater advantage.”

On the Ground
It puts Burstein on the ground at shows, in the saddle trying horses, and constantly on the phone. The client base on the other end of the line trusts his ability to analyze the horse in front of him and determine whether it will be the best match for them.

Burstein first spotted Dynamo, the chestnut gelding with whom Kent Farrington memorably won the Grand Prix at Mar-A-Lago, Palm Beach in 2013, from ringside in Italy. Dynamo was purchased by Farrington’s student and fellow grand prix rider Meagan Nusz, who then campaigned with great success through her first international win and first senior Nations Cup appearance. This year, Christine McCrea took over the ride.

Unquestionably, Dynamo was a find, but what most people would never know was how the horse reached Nusz, via a video that caught Farrington’s eye, sent by Burstein.

Uri noticed that there was something special about Dynamo while watching him go round a 1.40m class at a CSI2* in Italy. He saw a certain greatness in his quality, visible to the eye, and was so impressed that he decided to try the horse right there in the warm up arena.

“You could see how special he was, but the ride was just unbelievable,” Burstein says, remembering getting that first feel of the horse’s incredible potential. “I had that trial videoed and sent it off from ringside, I was that sure about him. That video reached Kent and he very quickly snatched Dynamo up.”

And the rest, like so many successful matches, is history.

Burstein also maintains a close relationship with Canadian Olympic silver medalist Mac Cone, who relies heavily on Uri to scout for him and his students. In recent years, he has helped Mac find some of his best horses, including Unanimous and Gasper van den Doorn.

Uri also scouted the great hunter Kennzo which Molly Ashe-Cawley rode to multiple USHJA wins. Burstein also found for Molly the talented mare Cocq a Doodle in Europe, who is now winning with Andrew Ramsey aboard.

One of his more recent finds was Leslie Burr-Howard’s exciting stallion Quadam, who was recently a big winner at Spruce Meadows. Leslie has great confidence in Uri’s eye, and in his integrity, and is quite eager to recommend Burstein as a top showjumping equine talent scout.

Trusted Pair of Eyes
Howard has a unique connection with Burstein; the Olympic gold and silver medalist has known Burstein since he was a junior rider. In fact, she trained him a bit in Europe around 20 years ago.

These days, Howard is one of the living legends of the sport, and Burstein is her trusted pair of eyes in Europe. She is among his regular clientele that depends on him to be their eyes on the ground. Every buying trip she makes is prefaced by having Uri assess countless horses for her and then advise her on the select few that he feels confident might be a perfect match for her or her students.

“It’s impossible to see every horse, and these days, there’s such a small percentage of good horses available compared to the number of people looking for horses,” says Howard, who runs a busy training operation from the USA while maintaining her own thriving grand prix career.

“You really have to have a good set of eyes everywhere,” she says. “Someone who has ridden and competed themselves and has a good feel for the animal. They need to assess the good and the bad; the horse’s style, agility, quickness or lack of quickness. All of those qualities that go into making a match to the rider.”

Needless to say, grass does not grow under Burstein’s feet. When pressed he’ll admit that he sees the inside of his car more than his living room. There’s always a horse to watch and one to try, and in Europe especially, there is always somewhere to be. He saves clients like Howard from trekking throughout the continent to try dozens of horses that may not work out—by first going to try them himself.

With a strong North American client base, Burstein balances his time between his base of operations in Europe and being present at North American shows. “I often follow up with my clients at shows in the USA and Canada. For example, I made several trips this year to assist my good friend Eric Hasbrouck with a few horses I had scouted for him and his clients. It’s great to see how the riders are coming along with their horses and share in their successes.”

Uri can often be found in the warmup arena, manning a schooling fence, walking the course, or watching from the ingate as his scouted mounts jump with their new owners aboard. He keeps a low, unassuming profile, but his omnipresent black ball cap gives him away, if you know who you’re looking for. On a recent trip to New York, Burstein was there, watching Quadam’s every move and offering support and advice to Howard as she jumped her final fence and left the warmup arena.

A Part of the Puzzle
A native of Israel, Burstein developed an interest in horses as a young boy. His father was deeply involved with horses as well, and supported his son’s passion from the start. As soon as he was able, Burstein moved to Europe and began familiarizing himself with the barns and significant players in the industry. Gabriel Coumans was his mentor, coaching him as a young professional and opening his eyes to all aspects of the industry and to other possibilities beyond riding professionally. Those early connections are still very strong; Burstein continues to work alongside Coumans today and credits Gabriel, more than any other individual, with much of his development as well as his success as a professional horse scout.

Although one person can’t be everywhere at once, Burstein certainly gets closer than most. He’s on his clients’ side whether the horse works out or not, and that alone makes him a crucial part of the puzzle. His proven track record and genuine personal integrity make for a winning combination that keeps these top equestrian clients coming back for more.

“I can certainly go to Europe and call ten people and look at ten horses, but having someone like Uri and Gabriel involved, you know they’ve done their homework and they’re going to stand behind the horse,” Howard explains. “They are involved in the whole buying process, from having the eye and the feel to know if it will be the right horse for the client to work they do to research the horse’s record to find any hiccups in the horse’s past. It’s all part of the puzzle.”

“Especially in recent years, there’s been a lot more money pouring into the industry, and in a way that’s where my job gets trickier,” Burstein adds. “You have to be quicker, and analyze the horse as early as possible, because once it’s out there as a 9- or even 8-year-old and is jumping well, the value of the horse skyrockets. So being able to spot a talented horse at a younger age and forecast his future ability with a high degree of certainty is a skill that every show jumper needs and can really appreciate.

“People offering horses potentially suitable for my clients send video clips my way, and that’s essentially the talent pipeline,” Burstein details. “I then track down the animal’s existing results, gain information from vet checks where possible and just generally look into its overall history. After that comes the trial. I sit the horse, and take him around to try and listen to what he’s telling me about what he can and can’t do. Usually after that, I’ve got a good feel for which of my clients I think would be the most suitable rider to partner with that particular horse.”

“You’re not just looking for the best horse out there: you’re looking for the best fit.”

In that way, Burstein must also predict the future. Identifying the next 9-year-old superstar when it’s still a five or six year old is a true, rare skill, and one that this horse scout has worked hard to hone. The other half of the equation is giving the horse the best chance for a bright future—finding the right person to hold the reins is the real magic in the matchmaking.

“You’re not just looking for the best horse out there: you’re looking for the best fit, in my opinion,” Burstein says.

“I’m very fortunate in that my work is my passion. I enjoy the travel, performing the in depth analysis of the horses, riding the trials and just being there at the horse shows, looking for the next superstar,” he describes. “This year, I was sitting at Spruce Meadows watching the biggest class of the day and there were six horses that I had scouted jumping in that class. That was such an amazingly rewarding feeling, seeing them all together like that.”

This satisfaction of witnessing the show ring successes of the horse and rider matches made by Uri Burstein is the final puzzle piece that completes the picture of this horse scout’s life’s work—every winning horse and rider combination makes all the time spent on the road and in painstaking analysis worthwhile because it gives him just a little taste of happily ever after.

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