Choosing Your Horse

BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS

The deal was done, money was exchanged, hands were shaken and Charlie was loaded onto the trailer. The family had done their homework on finding an appropriate pony for their child, in size, temperament, training and experience. On the face of it, it was an ideal match. The dealer was well known, certainly in England, probably in Britain, maybe even overseas. Therefore a  well known horse-dealer is unlikely to destroy their reputation by selling a dangerous pony to a child. So in this case, it was certain there had been no shenanigans in selling a dangerous, unsound, insane or unhealthy animal by a greedy and  unethical  seller that had bought the horse just 2 days before from a knackers yard.

Yet in just six months this pony had thrown the child so many times that it was considered too perilous for the child to continue riding, not without risking serious injury. If after 40 years of riding and one day I fell, breaking my neck, it could be considered a freak accident. Yet if I was bucked off on a weekly basis some might suggest it was inevitable. So it is understandable that the parents decided to send this pony back to the dealer.

So did the dealer sell a dangerous animal?

People are generally very careful when buying a horse because it is a large investment in terms of money and time, and many would still consider it as a luxury ‘item’. Owners strive to find the correct horse to compete, show, drive or even to safely hack with. Many people try the horse out first, maybe once or even several times. Some may even have the horse on loan for a short time. In most cases the animal is examined by a vet to ensure the horse is in good physical health. Most dealers also strive to find people the appropriate horse, and if someone isn’t asking questions pertaining to riding ability, experience and the type of work the horse will be used for, then the potential owner should go elsewhere. Although in my experience most dealers do ask these types of questions.  Yet after every precaution has been taken, every questioned asked, the horse has been vetted and ridden, the horse could still become the absolute opposite of perfect. If the horse was deemed perfect after being ridden, vetted, and owned for the last few months, then no, the dealer did not sell a dangerous horse.

So what has gone wrong?

In Charlie’s case the dealer could not have known the yard they moved to limited the amount of turnout during winter. The dealer was totally unaware that on the days the owner did not ride the pony he could be stood in the stable for up 24 hours, for days in a row. Or that the amount of work or even exercise could be greatly diminished for up to 6 months. But it’s not just Charlie. For any horse or pony could start to respond to a lack of attention and training. Charlie could have been left out in a pasture and still responded in a way that made life difficult for the rider. When horses start to ‘play up’ many owners neglect to look at themselves for the answer. They look to the vet, saddle fitter, dentist and tack, and sadly when the problem isn’t getting fixed, the horse is labelled quirky, naughty, cheeky, or even dangerous. Many owners will in fact just accept the horse is cheeky and accept it without further thought. Yet how many things get ignored before the small problems become large ones?

The dealer would have been told the child can ride, had regular lessons, hacks, show jumps and competes in dressage. That sounds like a full on active life, and one which Charlie was suited to. But in reality the child was in school, went away on holiday frequently, had no idea how to train a horse, and would only occasionally take part in the local shows. Things can start to unravel when people take on board a horse that is totally unsuitable for them, or their lifestyle. Charlie would have been both mentally and physically unprepared to spend 3 days in a stable then on the 4th day be expected to do a course of jumps, or have an hour’s flatwork lesson. If I were to spend three days in bed and suddenly decide to go jogging it would probably be painful, and a shock to my system.

If bucking isn’t occurring because of pain then owners usually assume its caused by too much energy and excitement. Actually there are many reasons why a horse might buck. But in Charlie’s case it would have been because his training just wasn’t being maintained. No matter whether the horse is on grass livery or stabled livery, training should be maintained on a regular basis. To not train regularly then the horse will start to say No. Most owners lack the knowledge to deal with a horse that says No, they fail to see the No, do not know what caused it, or how to resolve it.

Tell the dealer the truth and tell yourself the truth. If in fact you want to ride once a week, or have the occasional lesson then consider using a trainer to ride the horse, sharing a horse, or just not owning a horse at all. But be honest in how much time you can personally commit to training. Even the most lazy, chilled out horse may resent being pulled from pasture after 3 weeks just to be hacked around the block. The words temperamental, moody, grumpy, a handful and quirky should be replaced with ‘I haven’t trained my horse enough or correctly’. Those dealers without crystal balls and the power to read minds can only ultimately go on what a person has told them.

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