Written by Alex Bowyer
Horses are like no other purchase. They are our friends, our listeners, and most certainly our teachers. That very factor can be what causes us to disregard our lists of what we want in a horse and choose a horse that we think needs our help instead, or a horse that is much too young for us but has the kindest eyes. We imagine our future with them, and we always imagine it perfectly. We’ve helped them through their behavioural issues, trained them up and watched them become our best friends.
Whilst the start of this story is the same for many people, the end is often very different. If you’ve been around horse owners, chances are you know a good few who have had to part with a horse at some point after nothing turned out the way they had imagined, a heartbreaking decision to have to make. That is why the following advice is vital for ensuring that you never have to. Not just for you, but for the horse, too – they deserve to go to the right home just as much as you deserve to have the right equine partner by your side.
Age, Temperament and Training
Although we may need to be flexible in our search for a horse, this should never be in the way of age, temperament or training, but rather in things like coat colour, gender and breed. The relevance of breed in your horse choice will be discussed further in the article. If you’re a first-time horse owner, remember that your first horse does not need to be your dream breed or coat colour. Your first horse should give you the confidence needed to carry on with horses. You will have full responsibility for them, and you want to feel ready to take this on.
Later down the line, you can absolutely look for your dream breed/colour, but right now, look for your dream teacher (their breed/colour will probably become a favourite for you, as well).
Think about why you want to buy a horse. In most cases, it is to have a friend that you enjoy being around and doing things with, whether this is general riding, competing, groundwork, etc. You may be in the position where you are looking for a horse to train, but if you are not actively seeking it, you should not purchase a horse in need of training. Why? because the real reasons you wanted the horse to be in your life will be put to the side, and the stress of training will likely take over.
We don’t know what any given horse’s reaction to the different parts of training will be until it’s been completed, which is why you need to be enthusiastic, want to do it, and have experience in it if you are buying an untrained horse. You might buy a horse who has been a broodmare all of her life because she is your favourite coat colour and has the most gentle nature, with the intention of taking her on rides out, and then find out that she panics and needs a lot of reassurance and training to gain confidence on them.
A large amount of four year olds come onto the market seeming to be very docile, and when you’ve been struggling to find the right horse and one fits in with your dream coat colour, it can be very tempting to compromise on age. If this is the case, you will need to consider whether you are willing to continue training and build up their confidence, because even the most experienced youngstock are still young in mind and will need to be guided.
Temperament is something that can change depending on how the horse is treated. For instance, a horse that is known to buck and rear may change its behaviour completely once given proper access to pasture and other horses. However, this is not always an easy fix and you would need to be very willing to put lots of time and effort into working through it with them. If you do not think about riding or handling a challenging horse on the daily and feel confident about it, you should not consider buying one.
What if a horse needs my help?
If you are finding it difficult to pass up on a horse that doesn’t fit your ideal age, temperament and training for any reason, consider if you are really the best person for the horse, from their point of view. Even if it is a horse that you want to help – if you are not equipped to give them the training that they need, are you really helping them? It is an admirable thing to want to help an animal, but you can do this instead by learning about horses further, building your own confidence around them, speaking up for them, and researching horse charities.
Of course, there are situations where you may feel you are a horse’s only chance. However, you should only consider taking on one of these horses if that truly is the case, and get in contact with as many horse rescue shelters as possible before making a decision, as well as other horse people who might be ready to take on a project. Horse rescue shelters may offer you support on how to handle the horse, and help you to rehome it, if they cannot take it on themselves at that time.
Does a horse’s breed affect behaviour/health?
Some breeds are known for having particular ways of thinking. For example, people often associate Thoroughbreds and Arabians as being highly strung. Whilst it is true that Arabians are the border collies of the horse world in the way of their intelligent minds and vast energy supplies, it consistently depends on the individual horse to whether they are reactive, or not. Horse sellers often put their horses’ behavioural vices (such as bucking, bolting, rearing) down to being a ‘typical Arabian,’ but this term often actually refers to an unhappy Arabian. Unhappy horses are either not getting access to things that they need (proper exercise, correctly fitting tack, health, enrichment like jolly balls, an engaging pasture set up), is in fear/not understanding rider cues, or is getting pushed past their boundaries. Still, a horse that is behaving like this might take a long time to reach a stage of relaxation and may always be more energetic than other horses, regardless of breed.
Regardless, there are countless examples of Thoroughbreds and Arabians who have very relaxed natures, and they should not be disregarded on the assumption that all of them will act in a certain way. Just as breeds like American Quarter Horses are known for being calm, but many exist that do not fit this mould.
In the way of health, though, breed certainly plays a part. Horses like Thoroughbreds may be more injury prone due to their early starts on the track (Thoroughbreds often begin training at the age of two), whereas this can be less likely in Arabians, as they are bred for endurance, which means stamina and health are emphasized. It is possible for any horse breed to injure themselves often, or acquire serious injuries, and is also very much so a result of their diet and environment, but buying a breed that is naturally hardier may give you an advantage when it comes to health.
Do horse sellers lie and/or drug horses?
Many horses sellers are honest, and well respected. However, some can be dishonest, sometimes to the extent of drugging horses to make them docile, and we might disregard the warning signs of this due to falling in love with a certain horse. This is another compromise that you should not make. They may seem like your dream horse at that moment, but they could turn out to be any way at all. The probability of them needing extensive financial commitment in the way of vet care or training is greatly increased if you have the suspicion that a seller has not been truthful. The best way to avoid this is by taking your instructor along with you to view the horse/paying a professional to accompany you, or taking videos of the horse to show to your instructor afterwards.
Your Horse Could Be Right Around The Corner
Horses bring so much to our lives, and dishonest sellers and the temptation to buy an unsuitable horse does not mean that you are not going to get find your dream horse. Instead, keep the pointers above in mind when searching, and above all else, take your time.