Have you seen an ad on Facebook like this?
I do almost daily. I'm in dozens of equine "sale" groups on Facebook and these ads make me cringe. Now, I fully believe in having standards when horse shopping but there are a few things people need to understand when it comes to buying a horse.
1. AVOID shopping for color. The color of the horse should be the last thing you consider when shopping. Color doesn't play any role in the training or personality of a good horse. Color is simply a bonus. INSTEAD consider the soundness. A lame horse comes with many associated veterinary costs and can eventually lead to the horse not being rideable. If you are paying upwards of mid-four figures, get a vet check.
2. You get what you pay for. If you are looking for BROKE and KID-SAFE horses, realize the amount of time, training, and the cost it takes for a horse to become ready for novice riders is extensive. In just one year of ownership, the following is a vague estimate of the costs of training/owning these kinds of horses, based off my own experience.
Now these costs can vary per producer, but maybe this will help you understand the five-figure price tags on these kinds of horses. Now you may think that you've seen people advertise those "unicorns" for much less, but this is where I will heed my warning to you. Not everyone who claims to be a horse trainer, should be training horses. Do your research. Try before you buy. If you get bad vibes, listen to your gut. There are a lot of "horse traders" out there and they can give us trainers who put in the time to actually train a horse, a bad rap. Ask your seller for proof of purchase, to see how long they've owned the horse. Any reputable trainer will have a Bill of Sale from when they purchased, unless they bred and raised the horse. In that case, ask for photos or to see the papers/mare/etc... If it feels fishy, it probably is.
3. Age doesn't reflect training/sound minds. I'll be the first to tell you, I've rode 2 and 3 year-olds more broke than many 10+ year olds. Every horse is different and some learn faster than others and some are naturally better minded than others, and of course training plays a huge role in this too. A good trainer/seller will not just tell you how good the horse is, but also its flaws. Horses are still animals with their own personalities and flaws, just like us. When I sell a horse, I make sure I tell my clients where their holes are. I never sell them as BOMB PROOF, because if a bomb goes off, they're going to react. What I can tell you though, is how they will react, because I taught them that. I teach my horses to react reasonably. If a seller tells you that the horse has no flaws, they're lying. They all have them. Even the horses that sell in the five-figures. Don't let the idea of a young horse turn you away until you tried them.
They're all still animals, anything can happen, but with a good one, the chances are just much lower.
4. Don't overlook a good mare. This personally grinds my gears. I actually prefer a mare over a gelding any day, and so do many trainers. I've produced amazing mares that had some of the most sound minds and best work ethics, better than most of the geldings I've owned. So what... they can get grumpy when their in heat. That doesn't mean they don't still mind or perform. They may get pissed off, but what do I know, I guess I'm just a woman that can relate...
At least give them the same consideration you do a gelding.
5. Be specific about what you need. An amazing trail horse may not be able to handle the show pen and visa-versa. All-Around type horses are out there, but when you're a jack of all trades, you're also generally a master at none. I try to expose my horses to a variety of disciplines, but that doesn't mean they love them all. Don't try to force a horse into fitting your needs, find a horse that already loves what you want them to do. Your relationship with them will be so much better. As a trainer/seller, I will be the first to tell you if I don't think my horse is a good fit for you. Heed my advice. I know them better than you do. I've spent time with them and I know what they like. I've seen people buy horses that they thought would fit their needs despite the seller or another trainer say otherwise, and guesss what... they ended up realizing the same thing later. We're professionals, we've been around the block. We know what you need or want better than you usually do.
Don't let this discourage you in your shopping. I started out with those "crappy" horses that honestly weren't very safe or broke. I still learned a few things, but not as fast and much of what I learned with those horses had to be re-learned later in life. We also ended up buying around 4 horses within the $3000 range (approx. $12000 total) and it wasn't until we spent a bit more ($6000 in 2006?) for the right horse that I was able to get learn more. Then I reached a point where I needed to upgrade again and we bought a mare with the training I needed ($10,000 in 2010) and this was a game changer. I want to save you the trouble of wasting your time with horses that aren't trained well enough but may be within that budget you set. I want to see you get along with your horses and build your confidence.
Can you really put a $3000 price tag on safety of your kids? Maybe five-figures is out of your budget now, but if you start saving right now, you can afford one later. Think of it like saving for your dream car, and in the meantime pay for the things that matter, like riding lessons. Save your money for that "luxury" horse and you'll thank me later.
Have you ever heard someone say, "I don't believe in groundwork."? Yeah... me too. But here's why I do.
I've seen it. In fact, I have two horses in my program right now that have some pretty big issues and they were caused, you guessed it, on the ground...
I see two major issues when it comes to ground work... a lack of it or groundwork done poorly.
A lack of groundwork.
This is probably the MOST COMMON issue when I get a horse in. Someone didn't take the time out of their day to give their horse any sort of positive attention outside of the work they were needed for.
One of my current horses has this issue and let me tell you, it's been really tough to build back his trust and show him that being pulled out of his pen doesn't always suck. Not to mention, he is extremely nervous about being cinched up and will even pull back. We have been able to improve this issue in the last 3 months, but it's not gone yet.
Groundwork done poorly.
This one is less common, but probably more detrimental to the horse and harder to fix. This one comes in a couple forms.
The first being that the owner did work with their horse, but they let the horse more so work them. This horse is pushy and will likely try to run their owners over often. This is commonly seen in horses that were extremely spoiled by green riders.
The second form of this is the worst form. This is when an owner/trainer pushes the horse too hard without many releases and takes away the option of flight, leaving their "fight" as the only response. I have a horse in my program that is like this now. It was unknown to me when I purchased him, but it didn't take long for me to figure out that this horse has most likely been roped and choked down on multiple occasions. Now, we've used a rope in a round pen before, but there is an art to it, and choking one down is not necessary or recommended. In fact, this has been one of the toughest horses to gain trust from and after 2 months, we are still not quite there. This horse has had to build back his confidence in people. I was told he was spooky when I bought him, but this is one of the least "spooky" horses I own... He isn't scared of his environment, he's scared of people. This horse is a thinker and has the memory of an elephant. We can fix this (to an extent), but it's going to take a lot of time and patience and this could have been avoidable.
So what kind of groundwork do I do?
Listen, I want to get to riding as soon as possible, but I've learned to incorporate groundwork into my everyday routine, even on my most broke horses.
I lunge my horses, but with purpose. I don't believe in long loungelines and mindless lounging. This isn't teaching your horse to give to pressure and seek releases. This is just an opportunity for them to play or screw around. I stand with my feet planted and move my horses forward by putting pressure on their shoulders (no their hips). Then to stop them, I move my eye pressure to in front of them. If they miss the cue because their not paying attention, I give it a few steps and then sternly correct them and change their direction. I don't make them do multiple laps in one direction before changing direction because this normally just encourages mindless running. I change their direction frequently and make sure that my horses are tuned into me. When I feel like they're paying attention and ready to go to work, I stop them with my eye pressure and then back my body up and draw them in to me. I am their "lead mare". I push and then I release and then they start to follow me and look to me for guidance. This will then translate to our work riding. Giving my horses an opportunity to move around a bit before and after their saddled, gives them time to think through their feelings and prepare for the day.
I spend time with my horses outside of riding. I fully believe in the power of braiding manes. What I mean by this is that I believe grooming time, can be so good for a horse's mind. This builds the bond between horse and rider and the bonus, a gorgeous, long mane. Sometimes, I'll just go out to their pasture and sit. Yes, in the dirt. I watch them and generally they'll even come and say hello. When they follow me in from the pasture, I'll even reward them with some grain. This way, they're associating me with good things and they look forward to my presence. However you choose to spend time with your horse, make every second of it count.
Horses are always learning and it can take months to build their trust but only seconds to lose it.
I've been around the horse industry since I was young, and I've learned a lot over the years. I'm just here to share my experiences and hope to improve the industry one client at a time.