by Laura Crum
There are some horse blogs that I follow in random ways—just checking in from time to time out of curiosity. For whatever reason, I didn’t become “addicted” to the blog—maybe the blogger’s way of working with/thinking about horses is just too different from mine, maybe I left a comment or two and got no response, maybe I don’t care for the writing style…whatever. To be frank, the biggest reason is usually that I get the sense the person is headed for a trainwreck with her horse, and I know perfectly well that she doesn’t want my advice, and I can’t stand to watch. So I don’t keep track of the blog in the way that I do the bloggers I have really connected with. But I will look at these other blogs from time to time—just out of curiosity. And almost inevitably there eventually comes the result that I expected.
The horse dumps the rider, and/or the horse’s behavior gets worse and worse, the rider becomes afraid of the horse. Sometimes the owner/rider gets hurt, sometimes she is just unhappy. The horse is either sold or put into training. Sometimes the professional training works, sometimes it doesn’t solve the problem. But it is ALWAYS the case that the owner realizes that her initial “I’ve found just the right horse and I’m going to have so much fun,” assessment was a little off. And the sad thing is that many experienced horsemen could have accurately predicted this result from the get go.
I know, I know, I’ve said this before, but I will say it one more time in the hopes that it will help someone to have a happier life with horses. Unless you have had a good deal of experience training horses, or you plan to work for several years with a trainer, don’t choose a green horse—unless, that is, that you are prepared for some risk of life and limb, and willing to persevere through this. By green horse I mean a horse less than eight years old, or a horse that has had less than four years of steady, competent riding—doing the thing that you intend to do with the horse. If you do choose a green horse, just be very sure you are up for some drama. Because no matter how mellow that young horse seems when you first get him, there is a 90% chance (really, seriously) that you will be dealing with some very exciting/scary moments with the horse in the years to come. If you’re up for that, Ok then.
What I have seen over and over again, is the only mildly experienced horseperson—has ridden quite a bit, but has not trained very many horses, if any—chooses a pleasant four-year-old (or three year old, or six year old…you get my drift). And the usual pattern goes like this: first six months go well, next six months not quite as well, between a year and two years the horse has developed some serious problems. He dumps rider, or scares rider, he consistently is difficult for rider/owner to deal with. And then we get to the send-to-the-trainer and/or sell point.
The most constant feature of this story is that rider/owner has a huge list of reasons why things have gone this way. Horse has health/soreness/emotional problems, horse has had to move barns, owner hasn’t had enough time to spend with horse…etc. It is very rare for the owner to actually realize that she should not have chosen a young/green horse. And yet this is the usual problem spelled out in simple terms. And it’s common as dirt.
I myself have trained many, many young horses. My two retired horses, Gunner and Plumber, were trained exclusively by me and became very competitive in their events and never once dumped me. I know the game. But after taking several years off from riding in my forties, I’m perfectly aware that now, in my fifties, my skills are similar to those not-that-experienced horse people I’m talking about. The difference is that I know better than to pick a young/green horse to ride these days. I choose those solid older horses that I would recommend to less experienced horsemen. And it has worked out quite nicely for me. No drama, no dumping, no fear…just a pleasant life with horses.
Those of you who are young and willing to take your lumps (or older and willing to take your lumps, for that matter), I get it. More power to you. I have watched some of you turn around very difficult green horses through sheer persistence (via the internet), and make good partners out of them, and I applaud you. I was once in your camp, but I’m not any more. However to the very many of you (me included) who don’t want those “scary” or frustrating moments with a horse, I have one thing to say to you. Quit buying young/green horses. You’ll be a lot happier.
(As always, I welcome dissenting opinions. I learn a lot from people who disagree with me.)