5 Essential Tips Trying Out New Horse
You’ve created an impressive short-list of horse candidates. One of them will become your new horse and it’s simply a matter of trying them all out to find him.
But before you arrange to ride every single horse, check out these 5 tips. They’ll avoid a lot of wasted time and help you find your new horse safely.
1. Ask a Lot of Questions
Prior to dialing the seller’s number, write down questions to ask.
The horse’s advertisement should contain a lot of detail about him, but some information will be missing. And it doesn’t hurt to ask about something that’s in the ad to see if you get the same answer over the phone. For example, what is the horse’s height and age? You’d be surprised at how written ads and verbal answers vary.
Here are more questions to ask, where relevant
- How many years has he been with his present owner?
- Has he had more than one owner?
- What is the reason for selling him?
- What level of expertise is the horse’s current rider? Have the seller tell you this before volunteering your own riding ability. Don’t provide the seller with cues to say the horse will be perfect for you even if it’s not true.
- What is his temperament?
- How often is he ridden each week?
- When was he was last ridden? This is important to know!
- Is the horse on any medication? E.g. for arthritis or allergies.
- Is he being given any supplements? If so, what and why?
- How much does the horse weigh?
- Is he easy to catch?
- Is the horse accustomed to pasture board or is he usually stabled part of the day?
- How much turnout is he used to?
- Does he have any allergies?
- Can he be turned out on spring grass? Has he ever had laminitis?
- Does he behave well in cross-ties?
- Is he easy to clip?
- Does he behave well for the farrier? Does he wear shoes, or go barefoot?
- Does he load easily?
- Has he been to competitions? In what discipline and what level?
- Is he good on the trails by himself?
- Does he mind being at the back, front or middle when ridden out in company?
If you’re satisfied with the seller’s attitude over the phone and his responses, it’s time to make an appointment to see the horse.
2. Enlist the Help of an Experienced Horse Person
Taking a knowledgeable horse person with you is invaluable: her cool head will prevail in the event of your falling in love with the wrong horse.
Her presence will also encourage the seller to be more upfront about the animal for sale, in a subtle case of two against one.
The best person to take along with you is your instructor. Check that she’s available when you need her, and how much she charges.
Alternatively, take a trusted horse friend with you for the preliminary visit, and ask your trainer to come for the second look. Or take a video of the horse to show her. Whomever you take, ensure they have a good eye for the discipline you need the horse for.
3. Observe the Horse on the Ground
When you arrive, sellers often have the horse already tacked up. The reason for this might simply be to save time – but it could be more ominous.
Say that you want to watch the horse being caught and led in from the field. Good ground manners are vital to your safety around the horse.
Observe him in the cross-ties and how he behaves when being groomed. You may even want to brush him a little yourself to get acquainted.
If you and your horse friend/trainer feel comfortable about his behavior so far, watch him being tacked up and led to the riding arena.
4. Don’t Get on First
Never be the first to get on the horse. No matter how quiet he allegedly is, you must insist the owner ride him before you do. (If he refuses, walk away.)
With your friend/trainer, watch the horse’s gaits in both directions. Is he sound? Is he quiet and obedient? Does he exhibit the temperament you’re looking for? Does he have the movement you need for your riding discipline?
If you’re looking for a jumper, how is his approach and take-off? Is he calm before and after the jump?
Lastly, does the horse enjoy his work? Are his ears pricked forwards, or pinned back all the time? Does he swish his tail?
Only get on the horse if you feel comfortable. You’re not there to impress anyone with your riding ability, so don’t feel under pressure to get on him if your gut tells you he’s wrong for you. There’s no shame in saying: ‘No thanks, he’s not what I’m looking for.’
5. Ride the Horse in a New Environment
If after your ride you and your ground person feel good about this horse, it’s time for the next tryout phase.
He may have behaved well for you at his barn, but how is he in strange surroundings? The only way to find out is to ride him somewhere new.
Watch him load into the trailer. If he’s naughty, you’re better crossing him off your list, unless you’re willing to put a lot of work into re-training him. At least you’ll know what you’re dealing with!
Follow his trailer to watch how calmly he travels.
Observe how well he unloads and reacts to a new place.
It’s smart to have the seller ride him first again. If the horse also behaves well when you ride him, he’s a serious contender. Thank the seller very much for his time, as he’ll have now put a lot of effort into doing what you asked.
If you’re interested in buying him, say you want the horse vetted – by your vet, not his!
Now is the time to ask about trial periods if this is something you want and make sure both parties agree on their individual obligations in writing.
Trying out a new horse is very exciting. But our hearts have a tendency to rule our heads, and we can easily come home with the wrong animal. Remember, a bad horse costs just as much to buy and keep as a good one – and is much harder to get rid of!
Following these 5 tips will help you find your perfect horse, and keep your money firmly in the bank until you do.