My novice friend bought a five year old horse

This is a story of why novice riders shouldn’t buy young horses. My friend in the story is a character formed from years of my own and other people’s experiences.

The story starts with my friend learning to ride, who has made the exciting yet daunting decision to buy her first horse. When she was looking for a horse to buy, a horse that’ll teach her the basics and can have fun with, I advised against buying a horse below the age of eight. I even said in a tongue ‘n cheek voice, “If you buy yourself a young horse, it is likely I’ll end up buying the horse from you for half the price you paid!”

My hope was that my cheeky statement would be a deterrent. Novice riders ideally want the horse to have some life experience and a solid understanding of the basics.

Four weeks later, my friend went horse shopping

And returned with a five year-old, Irish Sports Horse, recently imported from Ireland.

As a cynical optimist, I remained open-minded. Temperament isn’t just life experience, a large proportion of temperament is down to breeding and the horse’s personality. There are plenty of young horses you can stick a novice rider on, and numerous success stories of inexperienced riders buying young horses. But, from a probability standpoint, there is a higher chance of success on an older horse versus a younger horse.

Anyway, my friend is now the proud new owner of a five year-old gelding recently imported from Ireland. Like most young horses who cross the Irish Sea, he had attended cross-country training (with some very nice photos to prove it), and of course, hunted. To what degree and what it looked like, no-one knows. What if the horse went hunting, threw the jockey off and ran home? The statement is still correct, but not the ideal Irish hunter you had dreamed of!

A young horse with a superb temperament

As a novice rider who bought a young horse, my friend knew it was a gamble. But, his temperament was to die for which is why she made the purchase. When viewing the horse, there were kids playing on the yard, dogs running around, and the horse was chilled; he didn’t put a foot wrong when being handled or hacked out. That is good news I thought; maybe my friend got lucky.

Temperament doesn’t equal easy to ride

With the horse now at our yard, it becomes apparent he doesn’t have the desired flat work for a novice to learn how to ride. Even with riding lessons, the horse didn’t understand what response my friend wanted when the correct aids were applied. I offered to have a sit on him, then reality shifted from poor flatwork to zero flatwork. It was like having two buttons as my aids, stop and go, even steering was a challenge!

However, with a good temperament, a young horse can learn the basics in a relatively short period of time. I offered to help bring on her horse. We focussed on teaching him the simple stuff; having a contact doesn’t mean stop, leg aids don’t only mean forward, and improve the steering, so rather than trying to steer the Titanic, it feels more like turning a car with power steering.

After a couple of weeks, his schooling starts to show small incremental improvements each time he is trained. A nice feeling, and once a horse understands what you are asking from them, the result is a happier horse. Things were looking good.

With his ridden education progressing nicely, on the ground he started to come out of his shell as he relaxed into his new yard. Perhaps he was a little shell shocked at the start? After all, being imported from Ireland, living at one new yard for a couple of weeks and then moving to another new yard, is bound to be a little daunting for a young horse. The rock solid temperament started to fray round the edges.

The young horse started showing his age

Firstly, he started planting in the field when being brought in, especially when other horses were still out having fun; he didn’t want to go in his stable. Not a major event, just a young horse being a young horse. But when you are inexperienced with horses, small little disagreements turn into large scale arguments.

Next up, it was clear he doesn’t like having his feet picked up and picked out. When tied up, if you held one of his feet up he would lean back and down, to a point where it looked like he would fall over. Not ideal when he is a chunky 16.2hh and she is 5ft 2”.

Another couple of weeks go by, and now he is a little head shy when putting on a head collar or bridle. Again, nothing major and with some patience he will grow out of it. But, it is another example of an issue novice riders ideally don’t want to experience.

Confidence comes before nearly falling off

Training young horses rarely goes perfectly for long, and my overconfidence was about to be reined in.

It happened when I was riding with a lightweight waterproof jacket that I had never worn before. This was a massive mistake and one I will never repeat. It was windy and because the jacket I was wearing was lightweight and with a hood, it started making a noise which upset the horse. His whole behaviour changed and he looked and felt terrified. Immediately I knew I needed to dismount and take my jacket off. However, the problem was getting off the horse! He was trying to run away from the noise my jacket was making and couldn’t because I was wearing it. Luckily, I managed to dismount safely, took off my scary jacket, and we had a pleasant schooling experience that ended on a good note.

Now my friend has a young horse who requires a ridden education, education on the ground, and desensitisation training. Individually one of those areas as a novice rider and horsey person would be a daunting challenge. Luckily, she is not alone. Myself and others are providing help with the riding and desensitization, and he is improving.

But, a horse’s temperament can only be taught or manufactured to a point, and the rest is personality. Is he always going to be a jumpy horse? When he’s worried, is it 0 to 100mph straight away with no warning signal? Is he ever going to be suitable for a novice rider to learn how to ride? The downside of buying a young horse is that you won’t know the answers until it is too late. That is why older, experienced horses are a better option for novice riders; there are more answered questions.

But, we are going to persevere

As easy as it sounds to send a horse back or sell a horse you have recently bought, in reality there is an emotional attachment that makes the most logical option null and void. The more time and financial commitment you put towards the horse, the greater the emotional attachment and the harder it is to make what is probably the best option for both horse and rider.

To wrap up

Novice or experienced, most horsey people have bought horses that turned out not suitable; I am one of them. I bought a horse and within the first four weeks it was clear he wasn’t right for me. Instead of selling, I decided to persevere. I am now four years in and still not achieving what I want with my horse, but I love him and have found a way to make it work.

Have you had to make the decision to persevere or sell, what did you decide?