'I Put a Lot of Value in Intelligence': Erin Characklis' Crash Course on Finding and Developing Young Horses

'I Put a Lot of Value in Intelligence': Erin Characklis' Crash Course on Finding and Developing Young Horses

With every new encounter, a first impression is made – that gut feeling or thought that is nearly impossible to undo, and sets the tone for the future of the relationship. That feeling is no different for renowned horse broker, Erin Characklis, when it comes to discovering horses to develop into bright young stars.

American-born Erin made the move across the pond to follow her passion for horse sport over 20 years ago. Now permanently based in Europe, Erin has evolved her career from riding to making a name for herself producing young horses and turning potential into reality – a feat that only a rare few are able to consistently achieve. Erin is working to perfect her craft of spotting talent, developing well-rounded horses, and preparing them for the real world.

By keeping the focus on quality over quantity, Erin is getting her sourcing, brokering, and training formula down to a science. When it comes to learning how to discover, choose, develop, and place talented youngsters, there are few with a better perspective than Erin.

NF.insider: How did you get involved with horse brokering?
Erin Characklis:
I moved to Europe in 1993 and was just riding. I worked in quite a few stables for the first five years and then started a brokering business in the late 1990s. That was a really big industry with people would come over from the United States looking for equitation horses and nice, developed jumpers. In 2009, I really set my focus on specializing in the younger horses and really enjoy developing them. Although I still compete, it’s not for me, it’s for the horses to develop and bring them out so people can see them. It’s not about winning, it’s for the horse to get experience, have nice rounds, and to improve its jump. I’m really not sport-oriented, I’m much more interested in training and teaching the horses.

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NF.insider: Can you give us the crash course on what to look for when you're on the hunt for a prospect?

EC: It’s always a little bit different depending on where you see the horse. In most situations, it’s the first impression that is most important, whether it’s the attitude or something that stands out. When you’re trying to figure out if you want to buy the horse, the stride, jumping technique, range, scope – it’s what everyone looks for, it’s not a big mystery. I tend to follow my intuition a lot. I like to see horses that are intelligent and are capable of learning. A 30-minute trial is a small window of opportunity to really learn a lot about the horse, but you can tell if it has a good attitude towards the work or if it’s curious – I put a lot of value in [that type of] intelligence. The ones that are capable of learning usually do more with their potential.

NF.insider: How important are bloodlines in determining future success?
EC: I really like a good bloodline and ones that I’m familiar with make me comfortable. The good bloodlines that continually produce good horses make me more confident, but I wouldn’t shy away from buying a really talented horse that has unknown bloodlines. When I ask about a horse, I always ask about their bloodlines – it’s important to me, but not a deal breaker.

NF.insider: What does your personal process of finding, buying, and developing a young horse entail?

EC: I never have more than 10 horses in my stable at once. I only keep enough so that I can ride them all every day. To me, it’s about spending time with the horse – that’s what’s important to me, not trying to make a business out of quantity. I want to finish this horse and get it really consistent and self-confident before I really market it. I ride the horses in competitions and they’re always in the conversation – people know them and watch them develop.

I buy horses who are around four or five-years-old and only ones that I’ve seen under the rider. I don’t like to buy horses that I just see free-jumping. Once I buy the horse, I keep them at least two years.

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At the end of two years, I always feel this click and know the horse is ready to go into the world. You feel like they’re well-adjusted individuals and can take on any new situation that comes their way – that they’ll be accepted, they can behave themselves, and they have discipline. Then you know they’re ready to go to the next stable and that people will really appreciate them. It doesn’t mean that every horse [I sell] is a 1.60m horse, but they’re all well-adjusted and ready to go in their level. I always feel comfortable when I sell them because I know that in their next stable, they will be appreciated.

NF.insider: Of all the horses you’ve found and developed, which horse are you most proud of?
EC: One of the most prominent horses I developed was Bella Donna. She went to the Olympics as a nine-year-old [with Germany’s Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) and that was amazing. That was a big horse of my career. She went to a really good friend of mine so it was a great couple of years going to horse shows with them and going to the Olympics – it was a really exciting time.

Photos by Sportfot.