What This Kentucky Derby Winner Looks for in Horses

What This Kentucky Derby Winner Looks for in Horses

A horsewoman applies D. Wayne Lukas’ advice to show horses – and it works.

Lainie DeBoer and DGS Dont Tell Tales won junior working hunter and junior hunter hack at the 2018 AQHA World Show (Credit: Journal)

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By AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lainie DeBoer 

Years ago, I watched an interview with racehorse trainer D. Wayne Lukas as he described his method for picking out winning horses. I instantly was intrigued and I immediately applied it to my thinking process when looking at hunter prospects. His philosophy is: They have to have a face like a princess, walk like a hooker and have a butt like a fry cook. In all my years, and more than 50 world championships later, this has been my no-fail method for selecting a hunter prospect. So how does a famous racehorse trainer’s eye for a good horse apply to a working hunter?

Face like a princess. A beautiful horse can steal a lot of blue ribbons. Who doesn’t love looking at a pretty horse? Beyond beauty, I think an important attribute when showing is a horse that shows expression. When an attractive horse steps in the ring and has great expression, it immediately gains the attention of the judge. Not only do our hunters have to be athletic, they have to show their interest in the jumps. A pretty face with a great expression will tell a judge a lot about the horse. 

Walks like a hooker. This makes so many people laugh when they hear it, but it is so important. When a horse has the freedom through their shoulders and neck, they swing their front leg forward and reach for the ground out in front of them. I like to describe it as a loose athleticism when they walk. For jumping, our horses need to be elastic with their front end. Then you couple that with a swagger behind, which I would describe as a hind end that over tracks the front end, you have an incredible combination. The racehorse Zenyatta, who has an over-the-top hooker walk, really took it to another level, but it showed what an incredible athlete she was. (Zenyatta (TB) became the first female to win the Grade I Breeders Cup Classic and the first horse ever to win two different Breeder’s Cup Races. She also set and broke a plethora of race records.) 

Butt like a fry cook. Who doesn’t want a big strong hind end for any discipline? For jumping, all our push comes from behind to get across the jumps. We are looking for a nice, round and balanced hind end that drives all the power forward, much like a racehorse. It is the engine that drives the force. You never know what you can apply to your own training program to help you succeed. I think you always have to listen to successful trainers in the industry no matter what discipline, and learn from their success. I am so grateful to D. Wayne Lukas for sharing that golden nugget of wisdom. It has certainly helped me build the stable of champions that I have had over the 20-plus years of showing in AQHA.

About the Experts

AQHA Professional Horsewoman Lainie DeBoer of Forest Lake, Minnesota, is an AQHA director and an AQHA restricted judge. She also serves on the AQHA Animal Welfare Commission and the Show, Professional Horseman’s and Amateur Committee. She has won multiple AQHA and Congress champion titles and coached a number of amateur exhibitors to world titles.

With roots deeply embedded in Quarter Horse racing, trainer D. Wayne Lukas crossed into Thoroughbred racing in the late 1970s. He’s saddled four Kentucky Derby winners, six Preakness winners and four Belmont Stakes winners. In 2013, he surpassed Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons for the most Triple Crown race victories with 14. D. Wayne was also the first trainer to condition the earners of $100 million. Despite his success with distance horses, the American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer says sprinters will always be near and dear to his heart. 

“My absolute fondest memories, without a doubt, are of my days with Quarter Horses in the Southwest,” he says. “Goliad, Sunland Park, Ruidoso – those were great times; nothing like ’em.”