Head vs. Heart
What do you expect when buying a new horse?
Picture this… You have spent months looking for the perfect horse. You have scoured the country and tried a few… finally you found him! A beautiful 16hh Grey Gelding who does everything you want him to. The day has come that he has arrived at your yard, you’ve told everyone about him and you post the pictures on Facebook of him arriving but suddenly the pressure is on… now everyone wants to see what you and your new horse are capable of. But there is no rush! They can wait! You are excited and want to show off your new toy, but take your time to get to know him first. Take it slow.
I often see new horses who have been taken out of their ‘comfort zone’ and plunged into a new environment and expected to ‘get on with it’, with little regard for the upheaval changing yards and owners can be for some horses. I know it can be frustrating if you have been out and bought a new horse for the start of the season… of course you want to crack on and get out competing, see what sort of team you are going to make. You’re well aware has been jumping BE Novice with his previous owner… you are just as good a rider (if not better) so he can jump that with you right? But what you may have forgotten is that he may have been with the previous owner for years, they may have known each other inside out. When you get a new horse you need to establish a connection/bond with him. You can learn so much about each other if the first few days if you take the time. I find that plenty of groundwork in between rides helps strengthen your bond with your horse whilst exercising him at the same time. I will often advise someone who has just bought a new horse, to work him from the ground for a few days, start to earn their trust, so that when they get on-board, the horse has had time to begin to work out their new environment, he has ventured out to their new arena with rider on foot, checked out the scary stuff and learnt that their rider is their leader and someone they can trust to follow.
A lot of people are worried that they must get on the horse the first day it arrives otherwise it will turn into some fire-breathing dragon who will bronk across the yard in the first few strides… There is no right or wrong way, some people like to leave their horse to settle a few days before riding, some people like to hop on and hack out the same day. It is all personal choice, but my main advice would be:
- Don’t be pressured into a situation you are not comfortable with by people who think they know better, you know what is best for you! There is nothing worse than getting on a new horse with nerves through the roof.
- If the horse looks unsettled, leave them a day or two, let them settle a bit.
- If the horse looks chilled and you want to ride straight away, just make sure someone is around to keep an eye on you.
- Be sensible, don’t expect the horse to jump around a course of fences on their second day.
A lot of problems people have with new horses stems from the fact they are treated like machines with no emotions. If you can do a few days valuable ground work with new horse either before you get on board or around the riding, you are setting yourself up for much more relaxed start with your new horse, the horse will be starting to learn your body language and respond to your voice, so when you do get on you have certain level of trust already developing.
I have seen numerous cases over the years of people wanting to return horses after owning them for a few weeks as the horse has put a foot wrong and is now the seller is being accused of ‘mis-selling’ the horse. But what people fail to understand is that a horse can take months to settle into a new environment. You can try them several times in different situations but they still have the consistency of having the ‘owner’ nearby, someone they already trust, they have more than likely travelled in their lorry, under their ‘normal’ circumstances and go home to their own stable or you ride them in an arena they already know. Then you take them away from everything that is ‘comfortable’, everything they know. You introduce them to a new stable, yard, field, new horses, a new horse box, new feed, new forage, different bedding possibly, and you are different… you are not the person they have learnt to trust, you are a stranger. Horses can often take months to settle in and I think a lot of people lose out on perfectly good horses because they haven’t given them enough time to settle in. Don’t get me wrong, there are some dodgy old sellers out there too, who would sell a lame donkey as a registered Show Jumper if they thought they could get away with it, but my point is that we are often too hasty in making a decision on whether the horse is actually ‘not as sold’ or just adapting to his new regime and surroundings.
One thing I have picked up on a lot recently is the ENERGY of a yard… All yards have a sort of energy, my yard seems to have a calming energy and all my horses are usually fairly quiet and content in their boxes. Most horses seem to settle into my yard rather quickly, despite there being no definitive routine. But some yards have a high energy or even a negative, you sometimes see a lot of agitated horses or people rushing around. This can make a massive difference to a horse when they move yards. Again this all depends on what suits your horse, just because it has come from a small, quiet yard, doesn’t mean a big, busy yard won’t suit him.
You have to remember… Some horses are cheeky and will try you out, you can have hacked out at the previous owners’ and he wasn’t scared of tractors but the second time you hack him out at home you meet a tractor and suddenly he poo’s his pants and tries to run the other way… this doesn’t necessarily mean he is actually scared of them, they often just ‘test out’ a new jockey, see what they can get away with, but once you have gained his respect and trust you will hopefully find these issues start to disappear.
When training your horse remember The 3 C’s….
Calm – Remain calm when working with your horse. They react to your emotions, if you are scared or stressed this transmits to your horse and he will do the same.
Consistent – Consistency is important when training horses. You horse cannot possibly understand what you are asking if you are not consistent. If one day you are allowing him to push into your ‘personal space’ and the next he is being told off for doing so, how is he meant to learn what is right and what is wrong? Every time you are in contact with your horse you are teaching them.
Clear – Give clear instructions, you may need to employ the help of a good instructor to help you with getting the basic instructions correct.
Tips when buying a new horse
View the horse several times in different situations at different venues and at different times of the day.
See the horse ridden first. Just to be on the safe side and nice to watch them from the ground too.
Take a trusted trainer/instructor with you. They may pick up on things you may have missed or may hop on-board and give you their honest opinion of how he rides.
Take a trusted and experienced friend with you. They can often be the voice of reason.
Take your hat and body protector. Always better to be safe than sorry, you are riding a horse you have never sat on before.
Make a list of questions to ask the seller. You will never be able to remember everything so make a list. Is he good for the farrier? Does he have any vices? Is he good to clip? Etc…
Watch the horse be caught and groomed etc… Make sure you see the horse do it’s dad to day routine, you don’t want to end up with a horse you can’t catch!
Don’t let the seller pressure you. A genuine seller will give you time to try the horse a few times before committing to buying, don’t let them pressure with the “I’ve got 2 more people interested in him” line. If that’s the case then so be it, you need to make sure he is right for you.
Have the horse vetted: At least a 2 stage vetting but in an ideal world a 5 stage vetting is the best option as the vet will take bloods. This is useful in the unfortunate situation that the horse does turn out to be unsuitable you can either prove or rule out the possibility that the horse was on bute or sedative at the time of trying. I always advise that you try the horse a couple of times (distance dependant) and if you decide you like it and want to proceed with buying, agree a price with the seller subject to the horse passing a vetting and arrange to try it again at the time of the vetting.
When a new horse arrives I like to give them an MOT…. I have a very good team of people which I trust to be honest with me! A few key things to check when the newby arrives:
Equine Sport Massage Therapist – Debbie Wise at Wise Owl Equine. Even though the horse has been vetted, it is nice for your ‘back person’ to run their hands over your new horse, so you have a good judge of the physical state of the horse initially.
Saddle fitter – Catherine Morris at Breather Saddle Fitting. Never underestimate the importance of a well-fitting saddle. You may need to buy a saddle for the horse or if you had a saddle included as part of the sale I would strongly advise you get it checked.
Trainer/Instructor – A good pair of eyes on the ground is key when starting with a new horse.
Bitting – A minefield I know, but you will ride differently to the person who owned the horse before, so the same bit may not be suitable. An awful lot of people tend to ‘over-bit’ horses and sometimes less really can be more.
If you do a good MOT when the horse first arrives you have a clean sheet to start with. You are giving yourself and the new horse the best possible chance.
Buying a horse can be nerve-wracking and emotional but most importantly it should be exciting and fun! Be sensible, don’t get pressured into anything and choose a horse that is right for you!
Happy horse hunting!
West Barn Equine