An old English proverb says that “the eyes are the window to the soul,” and Hawaiian horseman Lester Buckley puts the expression to work every time he evaluates a horse.
“Horses’ eyes are built pretty much the same, except the pigmentation varies,” says Buckley. “It is the tissue around the eye that expresses the emotions, like the frame on a picture. The bridge of the [horse’s] nose and the tissue around the eye are indicators of its attitude and the refinement in the horse’s bloodline; therefore, they indicate what kind of leader or rider the horse needs.”
With more than 45 years of experience starting colts—including working on the King Ranch in Texas and the Parker Ranch in Hawaii—Buckley has seen his fair share of horses. The first impression he gets from a horse usually tells him what kind of rider that horse will need to be successful at its job, whether on the ranch or in the show arena.
“There are two [types] of horses that need a seasoned rider. The first is highly insecure but talented, and it needs to be ‘held together’ by the rider,” he says. “The other is highly confident and talented, and it needs a confident and skilled leader because it will take advantage of situations. For different reasons, those kinds of horses need strong leadership.
“The non-complicated horses can handle a rider that isn’t as strong a leader, but kind of points the horse in the right direction and then lets the horse go from there. Most people need the soft, easy horse that isn’t going to challenge the rider.”
Here, Buckley sorts horses into four personality types based on the clues he sees in their eyes.
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