When considering acquiring a young horse, you must look past the cuteness – consider the risks, benefits, and what you are looking for in an equine partner for the years to come.
Young horses have a certain appeal for many people. Naturally there is the “cute” factor, when they are in the range of up to three months or so. And there’s the anticipation of their undiscovered potential, of molding and developing a young horse into adult horses and performers.
If you’re thinking of purchasing a youngster, what should you consider, and what should you look for?
Pros vs. Cons
Purchasing and developing a young horse can be an extremely fun and rewarding endeavor. It often allows people to attain a caliber of horse they might not otherwise be able to have when purchasing an older, developed animal. Youngsters are typically “unspoiled” and you can develop them the way you want to. But buying young nevertheless comes with considerations that need to be seriously thought through. equine wellness
• The cost of raising a young horse can easily add up to what you might have spent on an older developed horse, depending on his breed, quality and discipline. A few years of boarding, veterinary, farrier and other costs are going to build up before your horse is even old enough to throw a leg over.
• Once your horse reaches the age to be started under saddle, you are going to incur training costs unless you’re capable of starting him on your own.
• You need to have the patience to develop your young horse properly and slowly. This can be hard for some people when they have a promising youngster on their hands!
• There is a bit more risk involved when investing so much in an “unknown”, or a horse that is not yet developed. You may have purchased him to be your next Grand Prix jumper, but you really have no idea how well he’s going to fit into that career until you get him going under saddle. Be prepared to accept that your horse might not develop into what you hoped for or wanted. There’s also the risk that your youngster may suffer a career ending injury before he even reaches an age when he can be started under saddle. Young horses can be rambunctious and high energy, and can hurt themselves just playing with their friends. Any horse can do this, of course, but it can be a bit more devastating at such a young age when you haven’t had a chance to get the horse going yet.
Your horse is going to mature and change physically, but his personality is going to remain largely the same, beyond growing up, developing life experiences, and learning how to handle different scenarios. So what do you like in a horse? Do you prefer the playful gregarious type? The sensitive horse? The “old soul”? Look for a horse whose personality resonates well with your own – chances are, things will develop positively from then on as he grows up.
Pretty is as Pretty Does
When it comes to evaluating physical structure and conformation, what you look for is going to depend on the discipline(s) that you hope to participate in with the horse. Take someone with you who knows the breed and/or disciplines you are interested in – their eye and insight will come in handy, as evaluating young horses can be pretty tough.
Regardless of any discipline, there are some basic conformational flaws to beware of that would affect future soundness and ride-ability. Again, it’s invaluable to have someone with you who understands young horses and what you are looking for. I cannot stress this enough. This “impartial” third party can help prevent you from purchasing something based solely on the cute factor!
There’s an old saying about young horses: “three days, three months, three years.” Essentially, it means that if you look at where the horse is at physically when he’s three days old, three months old, and three years old, you are going to get a decent picture of what kind of horse you have on your hands. Young horses are tough to evaluate because they go through so many awkward and often unattractive stages. But if your youngster is fairly proportionate at those three stages, he should remain fairly proportionate once mature.
Height is another gamble. There are all kinds of ways people try to predict height, from equations and leg measurements to looking at the parents and other offspring. In reality, your horse is going to grow as much as he is going to grow, and it’s going to depend as much on his upbringing and care as his breeding and lineage.
You are taking a gamble when acquiring a young horse, so it’s highly recommended that you give him a thorough pre-purchase veterinary exam. If you can find a veterinarian who specializes in horses of your breed or discipline, that’s even better. This vet check will point out any areas of weakness that might make you rethink your purchase.
Even if everything checks out okay, having the full report on hand for future reference can be handy. You will have a baseline of blood work and x-rays (if you choose to do these) should something happen down the road that you need to reference or track during your horse’s development.
When all goes well, acquiring a new youngster can be fun and exciting. Watching your horse grow up and develop, anticipating your hopes and dreams and seeing them come to fruition over time, can all be very rewarding. As long as you proceed with good sense and preparation, you’ll enjoy your youngster for years to come!
Isabella Edwards is an equine enthusiast and avid competitor living in Ontario, Canada. She and her mare compete at the provincial level in both dressage and hunter/jumper.