BY DEBORAH JANE NICHOLAS
#5 Do not overlook the veteran horse
Do not be deterred from buying a horse that is over 12, 15, 18 or even 20 years old. If the animal is fit there is no reason why such an age should matter. A 20 year old horse will hunt, show-jump, hack or even compete in dressage for example. Horse care has come on in leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades. They are afforded better dental, farrier and vet care, as well as improved feed and supplements, both of which can contain essential herbs and minerals to maintain good health. Most yards insist on fastidious worming programs, and flu and tetanus jabs. Manufacturers of equine consumables strive (and compete) to improve the quality of bedding in terms of reducing dust and maximising absorption. Frankly put, there has never been a better time to be a horse, and 20 could be seen as the new 10!
Equestrians for the most part are just stuck in the old school, traditional way of thinking that a horse is old at the age of 16. Ligament and tendon issues, back and joint problems, colic or even arthritis can occur at just about any age. Become a seasoned horse owner and you will soon discover it is nigh on impossible to plan too far into the future. The 4 year old, for example, may have a future in show-jumping, and has been bought for that purpose. Unfortunately the horse could pull a tendon out in the field tomorrow, or next week, its easily done. To be blunt, no-one knows exactly how long they have with any particular animal. Horses are moved from pillar to post amongst young equestrians especially, as children grow out of them. A 25 year old Shetland could be ideal for a 3 year old child, given its experience with children. The same could be said for a 22 year old horse that has retired from dressage but could now suit a happy hacker. It’s a mistake to overlook the veteran, many remain fit and healthy and still have a lot to give.
#6 Choose a temperament that matches your skill set
Regardless of the breed, horses can have different temperaments and personalities. Two subservient laid back parents will not guarantee that the foal will not possess very dominant characteristics. Horses with very dominant personalities will need an experienced rider and handler because these types are likely to have more challenging behaviour. Most people identify rearing, bucking, biting, kicking and bolting as a behavioural problem, when actually it’s the human lacking the skills to avoid, or resolve what is essentially natural behaviour. A horse that displays aggressive, evasive, even stubborn behaviour toward its human handler is doing so because it sees itself as more dominant, but it has to be the other way around.
Being more dominant than a horse is not to suggest unkindness or brutality. Clear instructions, and consistent knowledgeable training is showing the horse that you are the leader, and someone he can trust. Some horses don’t resist when you push its buttons, but many will. Even if you have to contact past owners, find out everything you can about the horse’s temperament because, unless you are an expert trainer, you could end up with a horse that becomes your leader.
#7 Find A Horse that matches your lifestyle
Some horses take up more time than others depending on the breed and its purpose. If you are a happy hacker the majority of the time, and only occasionally take part in the local shows, then grass livery could be more suitable. Moreover if an owner is working full time, raising children and has a busy social life, anything other than grass livery could be quite challenging in terms of time management. When time becomes an issue it may just be better to concentrate on riding without mucking out, bringing in/turning out twice a day, filling hay-nets and making up feeds. Paddock maintenance would still be necessary such as manure removal, cleaning of troughs, fixing fences and adding hay over winter. Although many yards include this maintenance in the price of grass livery.
Some breeds can be prone to laminitis, and gain weight easily leading to further health problems, yet with proper paddock management there are many issues that could be avoided. Grass livery isn’t exclusive to the native breeds either, as many horses will happily live out. Less hardy types and owners that intend to clip their horse in order to compete or hunt over winter usually require a stable. This could mean two visits a day, manual labour and less time for anything else going on in life. I have met my fair share of new owners that have found owning a horse disrupts their 25 year habit of eating dinner on their lap, while watching Coronation Street. Or complain that the farrier won’t as a rule work on a Sunday, just for their convenience. Owning a horse can be like taking on a part-time job without set hours. So give serious consideration to what type of horse you buy, its purpose and where and how you are going to keep it.