In a lot of ways, looking at a horse to purchase is a little like going to a job interview, only you’re the one asking the questions. You know what kind of horse you’re looking for, so you are essentially seeking a good, qualified ’employee’ to handle the job you set for it. Whether that job is trail riding or Olymp[ic level competition, you still (or should) have a set of minimum basic requirements in mind that you need to “ask” of that horse. If the horse fails to meet those minimums, you should pass.
Even if you are looking for a training project, you still should have some idea of what you can handle or cannot. If you want the horse to at least know how to lead, then a rank 3 year old that’s never been handled doesn’t meet the minimum requirements.
My minimum requirements are fairly simple. I’m not looking for an upper level show horse. I’m looking for an easy going horse that I can take to a handful of fun, small, one day shows and do jumping courses with, at the level I’m at now – which is 2’6″ -2’9″. While I would like a horse that I could theoretically do 3′ or even a little higher on here and there, I have no asperations what so ever of competing at that level.
So, my minimum basic job requirements include the horse must be mentally and physically sound, have proper conformation, and be broke at least on the flat at all 3 gaits. Even if not fine tuned on the flat, that’s fine. Whether or not it knows how to jump is no concern to me. I’d prefer to buy an 11 year old horse that’s never been jumped, verses a 5 year old that’s showing 3’…. as my “physically and mentally sound” requirement might not be met by a young horse that’s been pushed too hard. But an older horse that hasn’t done too much of anything should be sound.
So let’s review the horse I looked at today.
Firstly, I have to give the person handling his sale the gold star of the year for communication skills and responses. This woman was awesome. Answered all my questions quickly, promptly, precisely, and I truly feel, honestly. Thank you for that.
On to the horse:
Physically, I checked him over to see how he picked up all 4 feet, and flexed his joints and felt around for swollen areas, touchy areas, joints that didn’t bend. He had none of those things and was basically a solid, strong horse. His feet have cracks in them, but I think it’s something proper trimming and a little vitamins could resolve in a few months. No puffy joints or hints of bowed tendons, no nothing, not even a hint of discomfort across his back, nothing. Solid like a rock. He does have a parrot mouth – his bottom jaw doesn’t meet his top one, so his teeth have a pinky-finger sized gap between them. This could prove to be a problem later down the road for chewing his food, as the teeth won’t wear properly. It wasn’t a bad overbit, and regular dental care could avert issues. Speaking of dentristy, I’m not sure this horse has had his teeth properly floated recently. I stuck my hand way back there to feel his teeth and there were sharp points everywhere, I almost cut my finger on one. No wolf teeth, so that’s good.
Mentally, this was absolutely beyond a doubt the quietest, sweetest, most gentle and kind horse I’ve ever met. 18 years of being around horses of every make and model and age, I have NEVER met a horse with such outstanding manners as this animal. He was so sweet, so gentle, and so very very very peaceful to be around, I couldn’t get enough of it. What a truly truly sensible horse. He was not the least bit spooky in the arena, even while snow was falling off the roof. He was a little looky – wanting to see what the horses in the pasture were doing, from his view from the indoor arena, but his attention was easily caught back. Very very very very excellent brain on that horse.
So, he passes the physically sound minimum requirements pretty well, with some slight concern over the parrot mouth conformation, which I thought I saw in the pictures I was emailed, but wasn’t sure if it was just a bad angle. He passes the mentally sound requirement with absolutely brilliant flying colors. If 1 was crazy and 10 was quiet, this horse is at least a 20. Seriously. I would really really really love a horse with this mentality. Truly.
So, on to the riding portion. A young girl rides him in some western tack and he walks and trots well around the arena for her. She has to chase him up into a canter, using a crop for assistance and the canter is fast and unbalanced. They said they’ve been working on his canter this week, he’s only just been started back into riding since having off from November on.
Switch tack out to my English gear and get on him. He walks off nicely, doesn’t really know how to come down and greet the bit, but after some playing, he sort of started to. I ask for the trot and he takes 1/2 a step and stops. I ask again and he stops 2 steps away. I ask again and he stops after another step. The seller says he’s never been ridden English so maybe he’s confused by why I’m posting. Ok, that makes sense – he’s a western trail horse, right? So I sit my trot and get him moving fairly well. After a few laps around sitting, he actually starts stretching his head down and taking some rein from me. I start to post and with a little encouragement he does move forward. He changes directions on a figure 8, does some circles, but does stop a few more times in moments of confusion.
I walk and sit up in a halfseat and he stops. I sit, can’t get him to walk, he starts backing up. I kick him hard and he goes forward, I halfseat again and he… stops. After some encouragement I get him to walk again, but I just stay seated. He is clearly not used to having his rider move positions in the saddle.
After a walk I resume trotting and with enough leg and encouragement, am able to keep him going a bit more. Then I try for the canter, and the horse has simply no clue at all what I want from him. The seller suggested me to use the crop, but by this point I’ve already deemed that he is just too unfamiliar with the most basic of riding cues to really be for me. He does not understand that leg means go, he stops when he wants and it takes a hard hard hard leg to get the big lug moving again.
He was a terribly sweet and kind horse, but he just doesn’t understand, and for 11 years old, he’s entirely too green for something I want to tackle. Spending the next 3 months teaching him how to respond to cues is not exactly something I want to do.
So my minimum basic requirements of the horse being able to walk, trot, and canter undersaddle without major incident were not met.
Really, he is a super sweet horse and with someone that wants to work with him a little he would make a super English horse – he’s very comfortable at the trot and really has nice, even and large movement. Or, he’d be a super duper world class trail horse. But for as nice and quiet and gentle as he was, he didn’t meet all of my criteria, so he didn’t get the job.
Maybe the next one will.