Choosing the Right Horse


Although Katie had her heart set on a mature paint mare, there was something about the big three-year-old bay gelding that touched her heart. That night, as she pondered the situation, she asked herself numerous questions about what was really important. When she awoke next morning, she knew the gelding was the perfect horse for her and quickly picked up the phone to make the arrangements.

As social mammals, both horses and humans seek to have friends and belong to groups. The relationships we share with our horses can last a lifetime and in many cases have more meaning than those we form with other humans. But finding the “perfect” horse is not always simple. After 25 years of collecting data on successful horse-human relationships, several factors that contribute to success have become obvious. Your answers to the following questions will help ensure a good match for a long-term relationship by identifying criteria by which to evaluate yourself and the horse you are seeking.

1. Why do you want a horse?

Identify your reasons for seeking an equine partner. Do you want a horse that can “do” certain things? One that is fully or partially trained? A friend with a good attitude but little training?

Although inexperienced people are usually not recommended to get a “green” horse, sometimes learning together can be a wonderful experience for both. If your top priority is a meaningful relationship with another creature, and you have a good understanding of equine behavior, are efficient at defining your space, and assertive enough to give clear social guidelines, then training your own horse may be the best option. However, if you are more interested in socializing at the barn or being competitive in a defined discipline, and do not want to invest a lot of time in the relationship, then finding a horse already trained may be best.

2. Why would a horse “want” you?

Are you interesting or fun to be around? What qualities and amenities can you provide? Can you supply a safe expansive place with shelter, good food and water as well as friends to keep the horse company? Can you meet or exceed his basic needs?

Loving horses is sometimes not enough. They want people who can make them feel safe. Horses enjoy being around people who are interesting, entertaining and can protect them if some unsafe situation occurs.

3. What type of temperaments do you get along best with?

Do you feel comfortable with creatures that think for themselves and are confident about their actions? Or do you prefer shy, gentle beings that depend on others for guidance? Think about your own personality and how others would describe you. Because both horses and humans are social mammals, we match up best with similar temperaments. In other words, “like attracts like”. Quiet, calm people can certainly have a positive effect on “hot” horses, helping to settle them down, but for long-term friendship, a calm horse gets along well with the same type of person. Although pairing a high energy person with a high energy horse may not be the safest combination, these matches usually do well too, especially if they are competitors.

4. How comfortable are you around horses?

Are you ever intimidated or afraid? What situation would make you feel unsafe, if any?

If you feel unsafe around horses, the best match is usually a horse that likes to take care of people and is very confident of her own ability. It always surprises me when a horse that has been donated to a handicap riding program because of bad behavior ends up as the “best horse”. Why does this happen? Because the horse was smart and confident and didn’t tolerate bad trainers who tried to make her do something she did not want to do. The same horse excelled at being able to take care of humans who value her intelligence.

Just because a horse has more training, this does not necessarily make him a better partner for a novice. Often, horses are trained to be “bomb proof” so as not to react to scary stimuli. But they can be time bombs waiting to happen. They will not look people in the eye and have turned their awareness inward in an attempt to not show fear. They continue to hide their fear until something comes along that tips them over the edge – and then, without warning, they explode.

5. What qualities are you seeking in the horse – conformation, gait, breed, color, education, experience?

Prioritize these qualities from most to least important. You may not be able to find the perfect horse to meet your budget, so highlighting the top three qualities is helpful.

6. What physical limitations can you accept?

There are no perfect horses, just as there are no perfect people. Physical handicaps can be the result of poor conformation, injury and/or stress, lack of proper conditioning, poor rider balance or bad training. Be careful not to take on a horse with too many problems, but don’t overlook a good horse who just needs some extra care. Work with your veterinarian to evaluate the candidate’s physical condition in light of what you want to do with the horse. A horse used for light trail riding could be a good, sound partner for many years, but may not be suitable for intensive cross-country jumping.

Depending on why you want a horse in your life, physical restrictions may or may not be an issue. If you are interested in doing healing or equine therapy and rehabilitation, then an injured race horse with a bowed tendon and a great attitude might be the perfect one for you to learn with and still have a sound partner to ride after therapy.

Many conditions can be treated, but such things as wobbles, heart conditions, tumors and other serious conditions may make the horse unsafe for riding. Again, clearly identifying why you want a horse in your life can help you select the right one.

Picking the “right horse” is like picking the right spouse. The difference is you have the opportunity to influence and help a horse improve through your understanding of equine culture, and your ability to become a better human being, thus providing a firm foundation for friendship. You are picking a social partner who could end up being your best friend for life.

The law of attraction
For over 12 years, I brokered Sport Horses in California. Here is a case that went against the “norm”.

A young girl’s parents and trainer indicated they were looking for an experienced hunter/jumper that could do the junior division. I showed them several nicely-“made” horses that the trainer liked, but the young girl had no interest. Then I showed them Willy, a big black Swedish Warm Blood who was only three years old and not broke at all. Something told me there was a connection.

The girl fell in love with Willy and I volunteered to help her “start” him as he had a nice quiet disposition. Our first lesson to teach Willy how to “lead” and “lunge” was to take place the following week. As I drove into the barn, I was slightly surprised to see the young girl sitting bareback on her new horse. Both were relaxed and happy. Neither knew enough to be concerned about a green horse and an inexperienced young girl. But since horses are such energetic and emotional creatures, and the temperaments of both girl and horse were “laid back” and calm, they just seemed to “click”.

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