BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
#1 Don’t be swayed by pretty names and good looks
My first horse was a 14.2 hh strawberry roan mare called Princess. 8 year old girls in particular will immediately want to own a pony that is strawberry roan, and called Princess. The child’s parents may also assume such a beautiful pony with an angelic, virtuous name would be appropriate for a little girl. As it turns out pretty ponies with pretty names are not as virtuous as 8 year old children think. Over a period of 2 years I had to endure bucks, rears and bolts and all the associated injuries and terrifying experiences that occurred during such events.
Some people may assume this type of pony was completely inappropriate for a novice child. However I am cautious now, some 40 years later, when deciding if the pony was unsuitable. If anything the pony was a test of my passion, endurance and mettle. My parents had no clue about horses, and back then all horses were sold as seen. When a pony threw its rider, no one called the vet, dentist or saddle fitter. Right or wrong, it was a simpler time, and a child either learnt to sit a buck, or gave up riding.
#2 Do not take the advert at face value
It has to be said that adverts can be tricky to write for the seller, but most private sellers generally pad the advert out too much. By the time they have listed the 7 or 8 disciplines the animal has competed in, you are left wondering if the horse ever had time to sleep. Dealers, for the most part, can be more honest in that they will say the horse hunted last season, rather than is an experienced hunter. For some reason buyers like seeing the words has hunted. It may indicate the horse will perform well at cross country, be bombproof on hacks, and isn’t fazed by hounds or other horses. My horse hunted for many seasons, yet was a complete nut case, something the advert may fail to mention.
In the event you have bought the dream horse that is perfect in all ways, you may soon discover it was only perfect in all ways when it had an experienced jockey handling or riding it. The type of jockey that could tame one of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons while simultaneously performing root canal on themselves. None of these issues showed up when you went to view and ride the horse either. But give it time, and take advice. You can either embrace this opportunity to become as good as the last rider, or admit your skill set is lacking and find a more appropriate animal in terms of your riding ability. Either decision is fine and, after all, you have at least learnt not to take horse adverts at face value.
#3 Age means nothing
There exists a myth that when a horse reaches the golden age of 8 it spontaneously becomes sensible. Sensible must mean bombproof, experienced and wise – a trustworthy animal that has completed its training and now has a PhD in equine brilliance. However, there is no such thing as a horse that has completed its training. Training is something that continues throughout the life of a horse. Consideration must also be taken in exactly who has been training the horse for the last 8 years. One trainer, many trainers, one owner or numerous owners?
There are many, many horses out there that should have training restarted from scratch, because they have not been trained correctly in the first place. Owners are faced with evidence of this on a daily basis, but choose to ignore it. A horse may regularly duck out of a jump, boot the heck out of the trailer when travelling, be strong when leading to the field, or it tanks off with the rider at canter. Yet owners pass this off as the horse being quirky, or having a bad day. Forget age because it means nothing in terms of the quality of training the horse has had. It’s better to have a 4 year old that has been trained by a professional than an 8 year old that has not been trained properly, or even badly.
#4 Price also means nothing
Bluntly put, a horse is worth whatever a buyer is willing to pay for it. We are all aware, or have been, of the livery that has paid 12 grand in purchasing a show jumper. Yet the rider themselves is a novice and has never jumped more than 60 cm. The seller may have attached such a price to the horse because it has a proven track record and has won money. In other cases it’s because it was bred from parents that had success at show-jumping, even dressage or showing. The less experienced potential horse owner may assume it’s a good horse simply by the price tag alone.
While the breed of the horse may play a part in whether it will be more suited to a particular discipline, horses are not born ready-made. If the horse has already been trained to a good standard it is unlikely to stay this way without regular, and knowledgeable, training maintenance. If an owner does have the time and the resources to regularly train, then they stand the same chance of success buying a healthy animal of the same breed or type that cost 11 grand less.