I have in the past on many occasions, climbed aboard a horse that I knew nothing about. The reasons are multitudinous but the most common reasons were; I’ve ridden horses that have been problematic for the owner and I have been asked to put it through its paces. I have ridden horses that have already been bought and the owner has asked me to be the first to ride it. Or I have gone along with a potential buyer to try out a horse for them.
Firstly, there is no way on Heaven and Earth the average rider can know a horse after 30 minutes in the saddle. Going into the arena and completing walk, trot and canter on both reigns, and maybe popping over a small jump will not tell anyone much of this horse’s history or level of training. The horse could be absolutely perfect in the school yet tomorrow it may stand on a plastic bottle and throw its rider. The small things can get a person hurt because they just didn’t consider them. People concentrate on whether the horse is good in traffic, if it jumps well, loads, has competed etc. all the big things.
I was grooming a very quiet, well -schooled horse once and it stood on a plastic curry comb. It shouldn’t be physically possible for a horse to complete a 360o somersault but this one did, almost breaking my arm in the process. A horse can be brilliant on the road until one day it comes across a mattress that has been dumped in the verge. But we can’t possibly prepare our horses to be unresponsive to every household item, or just about any possible object on the entire planet, can we? Not technically, but we can certainly strive for the correct response by exposing them to as much as possible while teaching them they can trust us to decide whether a mattress is an alligator in disguise or not.
I am of the opinion a potential buyer should not get on a horse that is unknown to them. When booking a viewing the last thing you need to see is someone already on the horse and riding it in the arena. They haven’t seen it caught and led from the field. If it was boxed then they haven’t seen what it was like when the handler approached it. They haven’t seen the behaviour when groomed, tacked up, and mounted. The buyer hasn’t seen anything that might give them clues to the horse’s character, training or history. Even if the seller allows someone to catch the horse, lead, tack-up, mount and ride the horse, will this person be experienced enough to recognise the signals and understand what type of horse they are dealing with?
I have a 100 memories in my head of people purchasing an inappropriate horse that will not suit the lifestyle or ability of the rider. An off the track Thoroughbred will not suit a happy-hacker, and you may think pointing this out is unnecessary and surely I made it up. No, it happens.
These are my options when my mare retires to secure myself an appropriate horse, bearing in mind I’m not going to ride an animal that is unknown to me;
- I buy a 2 or 3 year old only on the understanding it has had minimal handling. By starting with a blank canvass, I reduce the possibility there are any hidden surprises that may lurk in this horse’s history. I also buy from a reputable breeder that has maintained the health of the animal.
- I buy a horse that is already known to me, that I have seen ridden/handled in many situations and environments for a long time by someone I trust.
- I pay a reputable professional horseman to find me a horse with a good temperament which has been handled/ridden correctly, and one that would suit my lifestyle.
- I find an appropriate horse myself but have it on loan with a view to buy, I then do 4 weeks of groundwork before deciding this animal is suitable.
- I don’t own a horse, I loan one or share a horse with someone that understands how to communicate with a horse correctly.
These are the only appropriate options open to me that I feel are necessary to protect my well-being, physically and mentally. This is from a person that would once climb on anything. The reason for doing so was ignorance. Having the ability to ride is 1% of good horsemanship, if you consider that most of the time we spend around these animals is actually from the ground. Having the ability to sit bucks, rears, spins etc. just means someone has a good seat but that’s all it means. Having the ability to understand why this behaviour is occurring, and having the patience and knowledge to resolve such issues… that is good horsemanship.
Look at the options above and consider them. Don’t ask someone like the ‘past me’ to try a horse out for you, it’s a mistake. That pony I rode for someone was fine, one week later their child couldn’t sit a buck and broke her arm. That Thoroughbred I rode was good as gold in the school, the next day it reared and the owner was hurt.
I have many of these memories and unfortunately riding a horse once or twice didn’t help any of these people, mainly because all I could do was ride. I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to tell them anything useful about this horse.
If I had possessed the skills back then, then the very last thing I should have done…was put my foot in that stirrup.