Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Good Trail Horses

by Laura Crum

Recently I’ve had a few folks ask me how I happened to pick out Henry and Sunny, the two horses my son and I use for trail riding, and how someone else could select a similar horse. Usually they say, “I want one like that.” Or “I want to enjoy that kind of trail riding—how do I get a horse like that?” What they admire, of course, is our two horses’ “bombproof” quality—how they will go anywhere calmly and quietly. This is what I selected these horses for. So, I thought I’d write a post on this subject.

First off, I did select Henry and Sunny very purposefully to fill this need. I wanted two absolutely reliable trail horses for my son and myself. And I was willing to forgive a lot of things if the horses could do this job. In Sunny’s case, particularly, there was quite a bit to forgive. So, my first piece of advice would be to keep the goal in mind when selecting a horse. In my experience, horses who are excellent, bombproof trail horses are not usually superstars at some demanding arena event. My best team roping horse, Flanigan, was a great trail horse, but he could spook—and make some mighty big jumps. He was a real athlete. And he was very cold-backed. In those days it didn’t bother me. But its best to remember that the very sensitivity, responsiveness, and athletic ability that make a horse a good performer in the arena are traits that may weigh against the ability to go quietly and reliably down the trail.

What is a good trail horse? This will differ from rider to rider. I wanted horses that would walk quietly (no jigging—including on the way home and on solo rides) and were virtually spook proof. I wanted horses that could deal with anything—traffic, mud, surf, strange horses charging by, barking dogs, wild animals, public situations…etc, without turning a hair. I wanted to make trail riding as safe and relaxing as possible for myself and my son. I wanted horses who would stay relaxed themselves at all times and were willing. I wanted zero problems on the trail. The horses needed to be experienced and sure footed enough outside not to put us at risk by stumbling or falling or panicking when faced with a steep hill or any other sort of trail obstacle. You get the picture. I wanted bombproof trail horses.

I definitely wanted to buy horses I’d “known” for some time, if at all possible. I wanted to be sure that neither horse had ever dumped a rider—that both really were experienced and reliable on the trail. I wanted to be sure they were sound. It is very hard to be sure of such things if you haven’t known the horse awhile. I’d known Henry for over ten years and Sunny for three years when I bought them. So I knew what I was getting. I highly recommend this approach, though I know it isn’t always possible.

Both Henry and Sunny were over ten years old when I bought them (Henry was 19). I recommend choosing a horse in the double digits if you want a reliable trail horse. It just makes sense. There are eight and nine year old horses that are just as reliable, but they’re less common. I personally would not select a horse for this job that was less than eight. I also recommend a horse that has done a lot of work outside. In Henry’s case it was more ranch work than trail rides, but he was surefooted and experienced outside the pen. I recommend looking for a horse who has been a reliable “babysitter” at his last home. Henry’s previous owner was an 80 year old man. Sunny had been a trail horse for beginning riders for several years (and yes, he had some bad habits—but he had never dumped a rider). Both horses had established their reliability “outside”.

I trail rode them both before I bought them and made sure that they walked quietly solo or with others, both home and back. Herdbound or barn sour horses are very hard to cure—though any horse will have better and worse days in this respect. Still, the basic tendency to walk quietly needs to be an entrenched habit, or you do not have a “bombproof” trail horse of the kind I was looking for.

Are these horses easy to find? No. And again, you will probably have to forgive some characteristics that others might call faults. Sunny and Henry, for instance, are basically lazy horses. This is, in part, what makes them good, reliable trail horses. They are happy to walk on the trail. They can both be a bit frustrating in the arena, due to the lack of “go”. Spurs would pretty much cure this, but I don’t choose to ride with spurs these days, nor do I choose to put them on my 10 yr old son. The reasons for this are several—if you’re interested, ask me in the comments. My point here is that the horses can be reluctant to move out in the arena to a degree some would find objectionable. I don’t mind because I know that this is partly why they walk so quietly on the trail. I like their relaxed attitude.

On the other hand, neither horse is a “dude” horse. In other words, an ill broke plug who has never done anything but pack dudes down the trail. Such horses exist, of course, and some people think that buying that kind of a horse is the way to get a bombproof trail horse. I disagree. I recommend buying a horse that is “broke”. Both Henry and Sunny were competitive team roping horses. In order for them to do this, someone with some skill had to teach them to obey even when the pressure is on. Such a horse stands a far better chance of being reliable in a bind than a horse who is quiet only because he is lazy and dull. When something does scare your horse (and it inevitably will), a broke horse will stop when you tell him to, even under pressure. An ill broke horse is perfectly capable of an out of control bolt—even with an experienced rider. One thing that distinguishes Henry and Sunny from a "dead-sided" dude horse is that both horses walk down the trail with their ears pricked alertly, looking at everything.

I have had great luck buying ex-team roping horses who are quiet minded and have been ridden a lot outside. Soundness is an issue. You can’t enjoy trail riding if your horse isn’t sound enough to go. What can I say? Soundness is the bane of all good older horses. You do the best you can to choose a sound horse. Fortunately light trail riding is doable for horses with minor arthritic issues, which most older team roping horses (and I would venture to say performance horses of any kind) do have.

If I went out today to buy another trail horse, these are the criteria I would use. Hopefully a horse I’d “known” awhile (at least peripherally), in the double digits, sound, quiet minded and a bit lazy, had lots of experience outside, hopefully had been a babysitter for others, had never dumped a rider, was reasonably well broke. That about covers it. I like geldings, so I’d look for a gelding. I’d ride the horse outside as much as possible before I bought it. I’d have to like the “feel” he gave me on the trail. I’d forgive other faults, as I said. No horse will be perfect in all respects. The horse needs to be “safe” outside. He doesn’t need to be a star at anything else. (I realize other folks will have different needs—many want a horse to do an arena “event” or two and also be a good trail horse.)

What I wouldn’t care about: Looks, color, breed or confirmation—as long as the horse had no obvious predisposition to a problem. I have known many somewhat crooked legged horses to stay sound into their thirties. I’m not critical when it comes to straight shoulders and the like. If the horse is sound and has been sound, I am willing to forgive a lot of confirmation flaws. I have also known plenty of horses with excellent confirmation to have soundness issues. I think the fact that the horse has been a sound horse all his life is the best prediction. That said, horses with little feet and light bone turn me off. I am very attracted to horses with good bone and decent sized feet that are not low in the heels. And having said I don’t care about color, I will admit that like everyone else I have colors I prefer—and I think this does influence me quite a bit, despite my inclination to think it shouldn’t. I find Sunny’s bright gold color very appealing and he makes me smile every time I look at him and that’s worth something. But I never cared for sorrel horses, and having owned wonderful, reliable Henry (who is a bright copper red sorrel) for three years, I am now a huge fan of a good red horse, so I think this works both ways.

Linda’s post yesterday mentioned withers and a good walk, and I think most of us would agree these are nice traits. But my horse Sunny has low withers and a slow walk, and I picked him anyway. Henry is not a particularly fast walker, so the two horses go about the same speed and both walk out willingly on the trail. They just don’t have a fast pace, and that’s OK for me. Again, I think you have to accept some trade offs, and I really prioritized the solid, bombproof trail horse quality over anything else. Other riders might prioritize the fast walk and accept a little less reliability.

I think you should always buy a horse that looks “right” to you. This is a hard thing to define, and maybe this sort of insight only comes over time, but I’ll put it this way. Whether buying a bombproof trail horse, or a potential star at some event, once you’ve determined the horse is suitable, look at him and ask yourself, is this what I want to see in my corral (or stall). If the answer is not a solid yes, its worth thinking about. At this point in my career, I always listen to that little intuitive voice.

What I would be very leery of: A horse that for whatever reason had been turned out and not ridden for some time previously (this would include broodmares and horses that had been turned out to be healed up from something). Such a horse is an “unknown”, whatever its prior experience. A horse with a known health problem would cause me to think hard. I’ve been there, done that, and it can be expensive and very sad.

I would avoid any horse that is not a fully “made” horse. This is a matter of judgement on the horseman’s part, so I can’t really advise you how to make that call. But experienced horses in the double digits are pretty much made horses de facto—whether for better or worse. If you want to teach a horse to be a good trail horse, younger horses can be fine, but I am not talking about a training project here. I’m talking about relaxing rides through the woods with a child.

I’d take my time, and I’d be willing to spend up to $5000 (in my part of the world). I would not be turned off by a horse that fit my criteria and was in his late teens. If he had been sound all his life there’s a good chance he’ll stay sound. And if he stayed sound through his late twenties (very possible) there’s ten lovely, peaceful riding years. As opposed to miserable struggle (potentially) with a younger horse that is not “bombproof”. I know what I’d rather have.

Ok. There’s my thoughts for those who want a horse like Sunny and Henry. Any insights from you guys?


Shanster said...

That all sounds very practical and many of the same ideas I have in my mind when we are ready for another horse.

This is the type of horse I want... that I could put my neice on or friends that don't know much and I won't have to worry. I will also go so far as to say smaller. Don't think I'd go very big... maybe, if everything else was there. But I'm sure liking the looks of those 15hh stout guys - similar to my oldie but goodie at home who is retired.

I had to smile at your forgiveness of conformational faults. Know someone with a very nice Holstiener mare - campaigning her for $25K - premium status at approvals - drool over her gaits and beauty...just started under saddle. But, the mare's hock swelled with daily riding, big lesion found and she's 4.

This same person wrinkled her nose at our red gelding - his front legs are a little over at the knee and he turns out a bit in front - even for his non-ideal conformation - he remains sound at 8 and I can ride 'im!

Laura Crum said...

Shanster--Yep--I didn't go into the size thing, cause I figured maybe it was just my issue, but I don't intend to buy anything over 14.3 ever again. I'm short (5'2) and middle aged and getting stout and I always mount from the ground. I just find anything taller too hard to get on. Let alone I just feel more comfortable on these smaller horses.

And as for the confirmation thing, I could go on and on. My horse Burt had "windswept" front legs, one toed in and the other toed out. Needless to say they swung out and in pretty wildly at the trot. And he did pop a few splints. But he stayed sound to the day he died--in his late thirties. And Sunny is a bit pigeon toed, and, like most older team roping horses, has a touch of bone spavin in his hocks, but he trots sound and has packed me on hundreds of trail rides without a bobble. Henry, on the other hand, has excellent confirmation--nothing wrong with that for sure--especially if you can get it along with a good--minded, well broke horse. Henry has been worth every penny.

When it comes to this finding a horse thing--here's an example. My friend Wally bought a black horse that he is going to re-sell. The horse is said to be eight or nine, is sound, has very good confirmation, and we've known him "peripherally" for years. Seen him around at the ropings, seen little kids ride him. Everyone we know agrees he's gentle and sound. He has some faults as a team roping horse (basically he's lazy), but he has nice gaits in the arena and seems really broke. If I didn't have all the horses I need, I'd try this horse in a heartbeat. But I do have all the horses I need (I keep repeating this to myself). Still, this is an example of how I get good horses. I keep my ears open when one with potential comes up for sale.

Anonymous said...

I just bought a horse primarily for trail riding, and my criteria overlapped with yours to some degree. I wasn't able to buy a horse I knew but wanted one where I really knew the history and had a seller that I believed to be trustworthy. I went younger (my range was 4 to 10 years) since I'm willing to do some finishing and can deal with a horse that isn't fully trained - no kids to worry about just me. I did care a fair amount about confirmation - I've bought a number of horses with obvious conformation issues and paid the price with repeated unsoundness. Good feet and legs are really important to me, but most important is a good mind - I don't care if the horse spooks, but when he does, what does he do? A little bit of lazy isn't bad either, as you say, although for me I'd like a little bit of go too. And I bought a sorrel - I've never in my life had one - always preferred bays - but every time I see him my face gets a big grin on it. I've had him for about a month - after a long hard search - and he gets better with every ride.

Laura Crum said...

Kate--I read some of your search for Pie on your blog, and it sounds like you picked a really nice horse. My criteria are a bit different, as you point out. I wanted really solid horses, and did not want to deal with any anxiety or spooking issues in a horse--even the very minor ones you've had to deal with with Pie (I'm basing this on what you said on your blog). I think Pie sounds great, but for my use, the horse needed to be even more solid and experienced. I wanted first to be able to keep virtually all my attention on my child and also for both of us to be as safe and relaxed as possible, and given that trail riding is inherently a bit dangerous, I really sought that bombproof quality in our horses. I also value how peaceful I am riding Sunny through the woods on solo rides--I am just looking at the scenery and not concerned at all with how the horse will respond to stuff. Its a new experience for me, who rode mostly much hotter horses and I find it very enjoyable. So, yeah, everybody's criteria here is going to be different.

On the soundness thing, I hear you about horses going lame, and good conformation is a real plus. I've just known lots of not so perfect looking horses that stayed sound and perfect looking ones that didn't, so it colors my perecptions.

And yeah, I never owned a sorrel before either, and would have told you I didn't care for that color, but Henry's bright red coat has such a coppery glow in the sunshine and the sight of this cheerful red horse with his white striped face striding steadily along just makes me grin. So now I like red horses (!)

Laura Crum said...

You know, I was thinking about it, and I want to add that what I mean by a bombproof trail horse is a whole step beyond a calm, gentle willing horse on the trail. To give an example, yesterday I had to give my son a lead across a very muddy place (yes, just like in Winnie the Pooh). We are talking deep mud that came up to the horse's knees. It looked very boggy, though because I had ridden through here in other years, I knew the bottom was good and it was more sloppy than boggy. Even so, a great many good horses would have been reluctant to cross this. Sunny gave it a look, but it only took one thump on his sides and with a heavy sigh he waded in. He walked calmly through the mud, not hurrying, not scrambling, including in the places where he sank in more deeply. Henry followed gamely. The crossing was about twenty feet wide and both horses trudged quietly through the deep muck without turning a hair. Its not that mud is the ultimate challenge--its just an example of how things that would be at least a minor issue with many horses are a non-issue with these horses. That's the trait I was after.

Susan said...

The way a horse becomes a good trail horse is if it is ridden out on trails. You can't expect a horse, even one that appears to be bomb proof, to be reliable outside an arena if it's never been outside (like me when I go to a big city).

When I was a kid, our horses were excellent on trails and such because that was where we rode mostly. In fact they were easily bored in arenas.

I think climbing hills and crossing streams puts a better foundation on a horse than loping circles and learning intricate maneuvers. That stuff can come later. Of course I'm talking about your average horse, not the performance ones, most of whom I feel sorry for.

I think a lot of lameness comes from repetitive motion, same as humans. If a horse has mainly been roped of for twenty years, expect that some part of it is going to be worn out, like grocery store cashiers with carpal tunnel in their wrists.

I believe the best way to prevent lameness is to allow the horse to travel naturally as much as possible, i.e. riding out as opposed to repetitive arena work. And of course not overdoing it is important.

I didn't realize until recently that good trail horses were hard to come by because riding out has always been something I do, but if a horse knows it can trust it's rider, it can become a good trail horse. Of course I'm not talking about horses who have been traumatized by scary situations.

Don't even get me started on spurs. They have their place, but if I had my way, I'd rip them off most riders I see and not let them have them back until they learned how to ride.

Laura Crum said...

Susan--You have some good points, most of which I totally agree with. Good trail horses like Sunny and Henry are hard to find around here--I don't know about other places. Not all horses will make this kind of trail horse, even if given a lot of riding "outside" by a good rider. It has a lot to do with the basic disposition of the horse. For instance the horse I used when I worked on commercial cattle ranches, Burt, was an energetic lively horse who liked to go. He was completely safe and gentle and pretty bold. I gathered on him in some tough spots--in the rocks, at the end of a twelve hour day, in the snow, in the howling wind, in the rain and name it we did it. He was always willing, he never dumped me or anyone else, and I was really grateful to him. I kept him until he died in his late thirties. But you could forget about teaching him a flat-footed walk. He was never out of control, but jigging was his middle name. I don't think it was something you could change on this particular horse. Anyway, this is part of the point of my post. If you want to enjoy the kind of quiet, relaxed trail riding that I blog about, you need to select the right horse for the job. They aren't all capable of being bombproof trail horses.

Also, Susan, I want to say that I appreciated your post on grass fed beef on your blog and tried (but failed) to post a comment. You asked for input and since I raise my own beef I thought I'd add that I have my steers killed as they graze on my place by the ranch killer and do not put them through the trama of being hauled to a place where they are "processed". How the steers die is important to me and I try to make sure it is painless and stress free.

And thank you again for your input on crossing a busy road successfully on horseback (a comment on a preevious blog post). Your comment that we could cross safely every time and that I should visualize this, really helped me a lot.

kippen64 said...

It was interesting to read your criteria for a trail riding horse. My tastes are so different. I do like a horse with a good walk and sound but that's all we have in common. Give me a Thoroughbred any day of the week. A well fed and fit Thoroughbred. I'm only 46, the super quiet proven trail horse can wait until I get older.

Laura Crum said...

kippen64--You raise some good points. There are lots of riders in the world my age and older (I'm 53) who want to ride a livelier horse on the trails. Lots of better riders than me, bolder, more competent...etc. I wrote this post to address something very specific. So many people write (or tell me in my 'real life") of their fear issues when it comes to trail riding. They are afraid to go out on the trail, or they don't enjoy it because they are so anxious. When I bought Henry and Sunny, I was buying them for the specific purpose of giving my son a safe, relaxed, happy experience on the trails--and I needed a bomproof horse myself to provide this. However, I discovered just how relaxing it is to cruise through the woods on a really reliable horse--its a very different experience to being slightly worried all the time over how your horse is going to behave today. I found I really enjoyed it. And when I read various blog posts about anxiety and fears, or even worse, bad wrecks, I often think these folks would be wise to consider whether they might not enjoy their horse life more with a solid horse. They'd certainly be safer--which is a big issue for me as I get older.

So, for those who don't suffer from anxiety issues riding on the trail--this post is not for you. For those, who, like me, have a need or desire for relaxing safe rides outside, with or without a child, this is the way I found a couple of horses that provide this experience--in spades.

horsegenes said...

I agree with both Laura and Susan that the best way to get that bombproof trail horse is to trail ride as much as possile and that the horses dispostion plays a major role. But so does the riders dispostion. If you are a nervous or anxious rider and maybe a little fearful on the trail that will show in your horses. You could have the most awesome trail horse such as Sunny or Henry and put a nervous nelly on them and they might not be as bombproof or as willing to move out through different obstacles. In my own situation, I spent the first 4 years I owned my paint horse trail riding. He was great. He moves out, he didn't jig, he would go where ever you pointed him willingly. I put him into training for reining when he was 8 and the trail riding got less and less. Now at 11 he really isn't as good of a trail horse as he was. He still goes where you point him, he walks out nicely going out but if he knows that you are heading home, he will go into a turbo walk and get pushy in the bridle. If he doesn't know where he is going he is fine. And all of a sudden - he is scared to death of LLamas. He blows, whirls, every muscle just goes into overdrive when he sees a LLama. They never used to bother him. I guess what I am getting at is that trail riding is pretty much like any other discipline, you have to keep a horse tuned to do the job. With trail riding it may be more of a mental thing than a physcial thing.

When I trail ride, I try to make it as relaxing as possible for me and for my horse. Trail riding for me is a time to just take in some nice scenery, smells, see some wildlife, and be thankful that I was born with a love of horses.

kippen64 said...

Hi Laura,

I liked your post enough to read the whole thing and just thought it was interesting to think that although we are both horse people, our needs are so different.

Laura Crum said...

kippen64--I hope you didn't think I was responding negatively to your comment. I thought you had a very good point. Lots of riders don't need or want a trail horse like mine. In my younger years, I would pretty much have scoffed at such a horse (though I might secretively have enjoyed riding him). I am totally in agreement that many people don't need a bomproof trail horse. So, I appreciate your input. Again, I'm just addressing those who do want relaxing stress free rides on a gentle horse. I have had a lot of folks, in my real life and on the blogs, mention that they envy me these trail rides that I enjoy so much, and wish they could do the same. Some of them have horses but are afraid to ride "outside". So I am trying to explain how I got two horses that would do this. I have nothing but admiration for folks who prefer to ride a fit TB. More power to you.

Kel--I can second that about needing to trail ride regularly to keep a horse tuned to it. My Plumber was a good trail horse in his youth--I rode him outside a lot. Then he spent almost ten years as an arena horse. when I tried to return him to trail riding he had a lot of anxiety issues. He also showed discomfort going down steep hills. Since he's been nothing but a good horse and I love him, I didn't push him to go back to trail riding at 20 years old, but bought Sunny, who is better suited to the job I wanted to do. But yes, Plumber did lose his relaxed trail horse attitude during his long break.

Laura Crum said...

kel--I think you could put anyone, no matter how nervous, on Sunny or Henry, and if the rider would obey instructions when it came to not pulling on the reins and not squeezing with their legs, and if they had someone to give them a lead, either of my two horses would pack them without a quiver. Sunny and Henry are both very confident horses--they are willing to try to dominate a beginner (in mild ways), but neither could be easily rattled. I don't think a nervous rider would make them nervous--they're just too solid minded for that. They know their way around outside, and would merely ignore their anxious passenger. But this is just my presumption. Neither my son or I are particularly nervous on trail rides--my son because he has had virtually zero scary horse problems, and me because I trust the horses and know the trails. So, I suppose I'm just guessing (and procrastinating about getting down to working on my book--responding to comments is much more fun).

Anonymous said...

Hey Laura: I totally agree with your comments on finding that very elusive quality trail horse. I bought a brood mare as a potential trail horse and what a mistake that was. OIE!!! The gentlemen I bought her from only had her about 6 months and rode often by himself. I didn't even see other horses at the farm. He said she was great on the trails and roads and ofter he rode making phone calls and drinking coffee. He was also 6'4" and 290 lbs. This mare is a QH and around 14.2 hands. Being rather green at the buying process, especially doing it by myself. I thought she was wonderful. In the paddock my five year old could ride her just great!!

I brought her home and she was very resistant to going off the property by herself. She didn't want to leave my gelding behind. We also have a small pony that we are free leasing and Lady treats her like her own and is very difficult to ride when the pony is not with us. I also have had her feet done properly and although her knees are a mess she is moving more freely through her shoulders and canters quite willingly now. So she not only feels better but she acts like a loony on the trail. She is spooking now too.

I now know that quiet doesn't mean safe or bombproof. Lady's feet were so bruised that she could hardly trot let alone canter. I think the size of the other rider also made it hard for her to move. Now that she is feeling good and part of a herd she is a totally different horse. She has attitude and it's not always good.

Still my kids can ride her in the paddock and she is safe. But I have still not found that safe trail horse. Your article sure helped clarify a lot of things though.

I can't stress enough though that along with conformation goes good feet. Both the pony and mare were so badly bruised and sore on their feet that they "appeared" quiet and gentle. Now that their feet are doing so much better they have distinctly different personalities!!!

It's an expensive way to learn a lesson that's for sure.

I don't think I would even consider a horse if I couldn't take it on a trial basis. Both to see how it goes with my other horses and how it goes with me on the trails I ride.

Just some random thoughts from someone who learned some hard lessons.

Laura Crum said...

Lyn (mommyrides)--Those are some excellent insights. I mean no disrespect when I say that if you can't tell whether a horse is sound (has sore feet or any other form of lameness) you REALLY should not go horse buying without a knowledgable helper. I've blogged about this in the past in a post I did about how to buy a bombproof horse, so I didn't mention it in this post. But Lyn points out that these two horses were actually quite footsore when she bought them, and, yes indeed, that will make a horse appear far more "quiet" than it may actually be. When I say look for a sound horse, I really mean it. If you can't tell if the horse is sound, have it vet checked, or better yet, take someone with you that can tell.

This also goes back to my point about buying a horse that you've known awhile (atleast peripherally). This is how you make sure a horse really is sound and gentle. A knowledgable helper may also be able to guide you to a horse he/she has known awhile--though watch out for anyone who is tying to sell you a horse or will make a commision on the sale. This can be problematic.

And Lyn, I totally agree with your last point. If at all possible, try to get the horse on a trial basis. My Sunny horse had some objectionable habits when I got him (I've blogged about this before so won't go into it here). I thought I could correct these habits but wasn't sure. I also valued the horse for his bombproof quality on the trail and thought he'd fit me. I offered the seller full price, on the condition I could have the horse for a six month trial period. She knew I was a responsible person, and agreed. Thus I had six months to work out whether Sunny suited me. By the end of that time he was well on the way to getting over his bad habits (which had been created, I believe, by the many beginners who rode him at his former home) and I knew we were a good match. I also knew he was sound. I had no doubts when I called the owner up and said the trial was over and the horse was mine.

Anonymous said...

No disrespect taken Laura. I should have taken someone more knowledgeable with me but I was new to the area, having moved from another country and I got completely caught up in finding a horse as opposed to finding the RIGHT horse. If there is someone out there who can learn from my mistakes than this post will have been totally worth it.

What I should have done is looked around, taken my time and found a reputable riding stable with a trainer that had in mind my interests and not a commission. I would have been more than willing to pay for their time and advice.

Like I said it's a tough lesson to learn. I'm fortunate in that the pony is a free lease and she can go home once my son out grows her but the mare is mine and now I have to face some difficult decisions with her.

Do you happen to remember the date of your other blog on buying a bombproof horse?

Laura Crum said...

Lyn--I'm sorry--I'm not very organized and that post was quite awhile ago--at least a year ago. I don't know exactly when. I didn't say anything too earth shaking--and a lot of what I said was repeated in this post. I would totally second what you just said in your comment--find a reputable trainer and offer to pay them for their time. Make it plain that you don't want to buy a horse they're making a commission on--if they can't grasp why you would say this or object to you saying this, they're not worth working with. If you can find someone to help you that just wants to be helpful, so much the better. Local horse vets can be very helpful--they often know just who might have the horse you need. My old horse vet put a lot of people together with just the horse they wanted--and he made no money on the deal--just goodwill and possibly a new veterinary client. If you are at all uncertain of a horse's soundness, a vet check can help a lot. I'd keep it to a minimum--just basic soundness, because the more elaborate sort of vet check can cost as much as what you're paying for a trail horse--and is not really an accurate prediction of much. However a good horse vet can tell if a horse is sound today. As for the rest, the best help is somebody who has known the horse awhile and has your best interests at heart. And I would still stand by the other points I made in this post--in the double digits, lots of experience outside, had been a successful "babysitter" for others. And yes, totally try to get the horse for a trial period first.

And one thing I would point out--its very tempting to buy a younger horse--if you can find one that seems right. The reasons are obvious. But something that's not so obvious, that I have encountered many, many times, is that the very well behaved, gentle four or five year old goes through a huge wake up process around six or seven, and suddenly seems like a much different and livelier horse. This is really common and something to be aware of. Usually by the time a horse is eight or nine, they've settled into "who they are". Just my experience. And I should add that I've worked almost exclusively with QH and QH type horses--other breeds may be different.