Choosing the right horse power for the job

Would you be driving a Volvo around a Formula One track?

Or buy a Ferrari as a family car?

There are horses for courses and aren’t we lucky we live in a country where we have so much quality, variety and access to great horses. The question that I often ask is, what is the difference between the horse you want and the horse you need?

As a parent you will be only too aware of what horse your child wants, but is that also the horse they need?

All too often riders pick the wrong horse for their needs and for their dreams.

We would never consider training a Shetland pony to be an A Grade (1.50m jump height) showjumping horse, nor attempt to turn a Clydesdale (heavy carriage type horse) into a racehorse. So why do we buy a five-year-old Thoroughbred for a ten-year-old child just so that they can ‘grow up together’—or a three-year-old Warmblood for a beginner rider who still needs to find their balance? It just doesn’t make sense.

I know I run the risk of making myself unpopular but stick with me and I will explain why I have this view. 

I speak from experience. When I was growing up in Germany, my parents—non-horsey and far too trusting in my old riding coach—bought me, a very inexperienced fourteen-year-old rider, a four-year-old Warmblood. Although he was a very talented showjumper, he was a real handful and incredibly good at bucking—especially when he worked out that this was the easiest way to get me off. My parents thought I just needed to learn to ‘hang on’ and my coach was very happy to book me in for riding lessons three times per week, plus extra tuition and help at competitions—all which came with a hefty price tag.

In the end I did learn to ‘hang on’—a survival training that created a lot of bad habits that took years of hard work to get rid of.

My point is—there’s an easier way.

Buying a horse?

First, write down a profile of the rider. If this is your child let them write it down then let someone else check it (their instructor, you as the parent or another horsey friend)

  • The goals the rider wants to achieve
  • The riders riding ability (what they can cope with and what they can’t)
  • The riders experience and how much they can train a horse and how much they rely on the horse training them
  • The riders availability to spend time with the horse, riding and handling
  • The riders ability to have regular lessons. Is that once per week or once every few months?
  • The riders support network and how much knowledge and experience is in the support network.

Be realistic about the above criteria and you will buy a horse who fits into your life as it is right now—not what it might be in five years. Your child may not be riding in five years if you get it wrong!

So, what is the right horse?

If your child is a beginner rider, you want to get a reliable horse with lots of experience. Most of these horses are older, 14+. However, you may find the odd horse at a younger age that seems an exception. You want a horse that has been ridden by a beginner rider and has proven itself to be sensible. Just remember—if a horse seems very quiet and goes kindly with a professional, very experienced rider, chances are it’s the rider who makes the horse look quiet, rather than the horse being quiet!  

I have seen many a horse that has been ridden by a fearless teenager and then bought for a nervous, younger rider. Too often, within weeks the horse turns into a raging lunatic through no fault of its own. It’s just that the circumstances have changed. Teenagers tend to jump on a horse and go for a gallop around the paddock before they go into the arena to do dressage. Nervous, younger riders tend to walk around the arena for ten minutes before attempting to trot. Since we all love our horses too much, most people over-feed and under-work their beloved friends and that can have an impact on the horse’s behaviour. Horses are like kids, if you give them lots of sugar, you’ll have trouble getting them to sit still, whereas if you let them run and play you have a better chance to control their behaviour.   

Different breeds of horses

Breeding is another factor. Thoroughbreds are higher-maintenance than crossbreeds and let’s face it: you don’t need to be sitting on a Warmblood to ride a dressage test.

Remember, an instructor is only as good as the rider/horse combination. As much as we would like to, we can’t perform miracles!

It is a good idea to learn about what types of horses are bred for what purpose. We will have more on this topic soon.

What to do when your existing horse is not right for you.

Life is about choices. Finding an expert to advise you on what it is you need is a great first step.

If your horse misbehaves, find someone who can help you re-train the horse AND the rider. There are many good coaches and riders that specialise in schooling, educating and re-training horses. Make sure, however, that the re-training includes the rider, as they are the one riding the horse when it comes home. You want to know exactly what was done along the way.

If your child is nervous and has lost confidence, find a coach who specialises in mindset coaching. I have worked with dozens of riders who have rung me as a last resort and regained their confidence after only a few lessons. We need to acknowledge the importance of mindset coaching much more and not be afraid of asking for help. Mindset coaching applies for all levels of rider, from beginner to advanced and is not only for those who have lost confidence.

Now, I know all riders love their horses, but there comes a time where you have to ask yourself the question: “Is the horse the best horse for me/my child at this time?”

If your child has continuous issues with their horse you have to ask yourself these questions. It’s never easy but necessary.

Remember that there are always options.

You might consider leasing your child’s horse out for a while—to a more experienced rider, to be educated and taken out and about—while buying or leasing a more suitable horse for your child to get more confidence.

If you don’t like the idea of leasing your horse out, you could pay someone to school your horse two or three times per week.

Remember that safety is a main priority. The safety for your child, the horse and for yourself. Horses are big animals and even though, most are very kind and gentle, however they can also be strong and powerful.

Having the right horse is important so your child can be safe while they are learning and having fun.