How to Find Your All-Around Forever Horse
by Allison Trimble
The economic downturn saw many people moving away from the competitive show pen, but not out of horses. Commonly, buyers are now looking for one horse to be their partner in all things. I see a new trend in people who want to do a few schooling shows, play with cattle, try some obstacle or trail challenges, dabble in mounted shooting, and still go for a quiet trail ride with friends on the weekend. The buyer wants more than a backyard horse, but one who will be versatile enough to enjoy a multitude of experiences. Finding a horse to fit all needs can be challenging, but it is possible. Here are some things to consider when looking for that special horse.
Personality: The “best friend” horse must have a willing disposition and enjoy attention. When looking at potential horses, put as much emphasis on their disposition from the stall, to saddling, to being cooled out, as the riding time. Spend some time grooming the horse and just being near him. When the current owner handles and rides him, pay attention to his ears, eyes and tail. Does he seem to look forward to going to work? Does he enjoy attention? There are numerous factors that contribute to the attitude of a horse, but willingness carries over into riding and training.
Out of the Arena: This is a horse that the buyer will be spending a lot of non-riding time with. Essentials such as tying, trailering, shoeing, and bathing can make a horse less than enjoyable to own. Pay special attention to handling and ground disposition. Ask questions such as, “Does the horse tolerate close proximity to other horses?”
Soundness: This can be a tricky subject, but soundness is possibly even more important to the all-around buyer. In the performance world, management of some soundness issues are expected because we are dealing with an athlete. This is reasonable. The versatile horse is not typically under as heavy of a work load as a performance horse, but he must be able to handle long days under saddle, at clinics, or on the trail. That said, don’t rule out an amazing horse because he needs a little special care. Expected activity level will help you determine what is reasonable when it comes to soundness.
Age and Experience: Many people want to shop for a younger horse that can be a part of the family for years. This same buyer is unlikely to be a professional horse trainer. There is a delicate balance between finding a horse that has enough life experience to be safe and seasoned and has ample years left. Riding off into the sunset with a lifelong best friend is a beautiful thought. That said, I encourage people to think in 5 year blocks. There is no way to guarantee future health and soundness, for horses or humans. Life changes in an instant and none of us truly knows where we will be in the future. In my opinion, if a horse is of an age that he can handle his activity load for the next 5 years, then he is young enough. I will place my bet on experience, over potential every time. Be realistic.
In the Saddle: The versatile horse needs to have a good handle on steering, stopping, and all gaits. Steer clear of horses that need to be “ridden down,” and look for a horse that has what I call a “low idle” speed. I prefer one I have to kick over one I have to constantly slow down. How does the horse handle standing in the arena? Many activities require a lot of waiting. The horse that won’t just chill out on a loose rein becomes un-fun in a hurry. Also, a smooth gait is desirable. You don’t want to have to ice your joints after every ride.
Remember, you are shopping for a partner and are actually buying a relationship. Be very realistic about what you can, and cannot live with. When horse shopping, it is easy to lose track of that. Be patient and wait for that special, intangible connection with a horse. Some of my best partners have been the most unlikely candidates, but when it happens, there is no greater gift in the world.
Published January 2014 Issue