I have moved away from my regular column about position this month to a topic very near and dear to so many riders’ (and their parents’) heart…
that of finding the right horse.
In a perfect world, I think all kids should be on school masters until they are at least 13-15 years old. Now there is probably not enough school masters out there to go around but don’t go upgrading them to a 16 hand, “quiet” 5 year old thoroughbred until they are:
1) Very experienced and confident
2) Have a more experienced person/parent/instructor to help them
3) You get some unbiased help assessing to look at the new horse
Most parents want to help their children to succeed by buying the right horse…something with potential to take the child forward. School masters can cost some serious money, but for good reason, I believe that the value that parents put on their child’s success should be less important than the value parents put on their child’s safety and confidence. A good horse is an investment while one that knocks the riders confidence irreparably is such a liability.
So many kids (and less experienced adults for that matter) fall in love with a cheap ex-racehorse that is supposedly quiet, finished racing and could do anything. Many of them have finished racing for a good reason. A horse that was genuinely too slow can be OK, but many have soundness problems and temperament issues left over from their racing days. Thoroughbreds are also bred with a stronger fight and flight instinct than ponies and other breeds, so they are not the sort of horse to ever build confidence on…that must be there already.
Consider buying an older horse; anything up to 20-25 if they are the right horse. Between 12-15, kids grow so much they often outgrow them in this time frame anyway. These school masters are often so reliable and safe that the opportunity to build confidence in this period is invaluable, even if you never sell the horse on after you have finished with him.
For our 12-15 year old child again, I would suggest that buying a horse with the right temperament (or “heart” and “attitude”) is much more important than buying one with talent and ability.
Many of the best horses aren’t bought through an advert; they often don’t get that far. The best way to find that ideal next horse is to put tabs on when you see it out and about well before the current owner is even considering selling it.
Finally, for goodness sake, get independent advice to find the right horse and professional help to get to know it. The step up is not like taking the training wheels off a child’s bike. It’s more like going from training wheels to a racing bike or a motorbike.
So my guidelines for finding the right horse are:-
Pay good money for a genuine school master
Beware of the quiet ex-racehorse
Get professional help
Look for heart and reliability rather than talent and potential
Look for it at pony clubs and competitions rather than in an advert
Don’t discount the right horse on it’s age