I have always been horse crazy. My parents finally gave in to my badgering when I was about 8 years old, and bought me a horse. I think they were hoping I would grow out of it. But here I am at 40 and still as horse crazy as ever. It really is a sickness.
Now I have a daughter of my own. And while I can’t say she is as rabidly horse crazy as I was, she does love horses.
She didn’t have any trouble getting her own horse, having her very own horse-crazy momma. But finding the RIGHT horse is certainly a challenge. Even with all my years of horse experience, it is still a nail-biting experience, searching for the “right one.”
So what DO you look for? I have a few pointers to share that I hope will help in your search for the right partner for your little cowboy or cowgirl to love.
The first thing to consider is whether or not you can truly afford to feed and care for a horse. Horses need much more than just love, grass and water. They don’t require grain if you have enough grass and if the horse is able to keep good body condition without supplementation. However, they do need regular hoof care, vaccinations, worming, and myriad other health-care expenses. There are also other things to buy such as bridles, halters, ropes, saddles and saddle blankets, brushes, fly sprays, etc, etc. So please take this into consideration before buying a horse.
Another big question to answer is what you want the horse to be used for. Are you planning to show the horse? Do you want to ride trails?
Do you just want something around the farm for the child to love on? How often and how hard will the horse be ridden? What level of rider is the horse being purchased for?
Just because someone describes the horse they are selling as “kid broke” or “bomb proof,” it does not mean it is.
First and foremost, ANY horse is capable of unseating and seriously injuring its rider, whether it is well-trained or not. Horses can stumble and fall, they tend to spook at things (sometimes invisible things), and accidents can happen at any time.
Aside from that, a truly “kid-broke” horse should be gentle, easy to catch, soft in the mouth, forgiving (not getting upset when the rider gives mixed cues), and it should stop and turn easily.
A plus is that the horse will neck rein. This makes it very handy because the beginner rider can steer the horse with one hand while keeping the other on the saddle horn for confidence and to help hold on.
Do not buy a young horse for a beginner rider. The thought that “they can grow up and learn together” is a bad idea. It does not matter if the horse is the sweetest, most gentle creature on the face of the Earth, nothing good usually comes from a green horse being owned by a green rider. Unless you are purchasing a colt or filly to train under professional guidance, look for a more seasoned horse. Sending the youngster to a trainer will most likely not result in a beginner broke horse, either. Horses that are truly beginner friendly are usually ones who have had many, many miles put on them.
It is also a good idea to ride the horse before you buy it. It is so tempting to buy a horse online, sight-unseen, and trust the seller’s description of its abilities. I say this from first-hand experience. More than once I have gone to look at a horse with every intent to purchase it – after hearing the description by the seller – only to return home with an empty trailer.
If you do not have much horse experience, I highly recommend taking someone along with you who does. They can give an unbiased opinion that is hopefully divorced from any emotional feelings about the purchase. They can also ride the horse for you and tell if the horse will truly fit the need you have.
Take the child for whom you are purchasing the horse along, and have them ride the horse before you buy. Children make funny noises (like squealing), move around a lot, and feel different to a horse. It’s best to know how the two interact together, as some horses react differently to different riders.
It is a good idea to have a variety of “scary” things to test a horse’s reactions as well. A plastic shopping bag, something that rattles, a tarp, a bell, and even siren sounds you can download onto your phone are examples. See how the horse reacts to sudden movements, loud and strange sounds, and quick movements on its back. See if the horse will ride without a saddle and without other horses, too.
Realize that horses act differently in different situations. For example, a horse that is accustomed to arena riding may freak out completely when taken on a trail ride. Another thing that is nice to know is what the horse has been used for in the past so you can be ready for behavioral changes that may occur. My daughter’s horse, Choctaw, is so calm and easy-going that I can shoot a gun off his back. But, he was apparently a barrel racer in his former life and will kick into that mode when barrels are put out!
If you are looking for a horse for a small child, do not assume the best choice is a pony. Smaller does not always equal easier to handle. Ponies often are quite ornery and can be very challenging and stubborn. This is certainly not to say that a pony is never a good choice. Some ponies are absolutely wonderful, loving creatures. However, also consider that your child will grow and a small pony will quickly become too small. Larger ponies may be a better choice, as your child can utilize them longer. My first horse was a POA (Pony of the Americas), which is a very popular youth horse. I only mention this to make the point that just because a horse is smaller, it is not always better.
In my opinion, stallions should never be used as a beginner mount. Now, in saying this, I’m sure there will be people who have stallions who are gentle and trustworthy riding partners. However, most experienced horse people will agree with my statement in general.
Always have the horse’s health and physical soundness checked by a veterinarian prior to purchase. Sad to say, but there are many unscrupulous people out there, and it is better to have the horse examined to eliminate potential expense and heartbreak later.
Don’t overlook the value of an older horse.
My daughter’s horse is around 28 years old. We have had him just a couple of years, and he most likely will not be around a whole lot longer despite our best efforts. But in those two years, Choctaw has safely carried my little girl on trail rides, endured ribbons, bows and braids, and calmly accepted all of her (and her friends’) squirming, squealing and bouncing along the way.
The last thing I would mention is that if you have a horse-crazy kid and you are not certain that buying them a horse is the best thing, have them volunteer some time at a reputable horse rescue. They can gain some valuable experience, get their horse fix, and help out a worthy cause. Who knows, while working at a rescue that perfect companion might come along and you can give a deserving horse a great home!