When I was just three years old, I received the best birthday gift a little girl could dream of – a beautiful palomino Shetland pony thought to be around four, Dude. Dude and I were best friends. He taught me how to ride, how to care for something else and most importantly, what I was passionate about. Over the four years that Dude was my riding pony, and over the 18 years that I have owned him, this pony has shown me everything.
I was more fortunate than most to grow up in a horse-obsessed family. My dad used to ride and my mom owned horses her whole life and passed her knowledge onto me.
Without their experience and thoughtfulness, purchasing a young horse for a young child could have gone terribly wrong. Purchasing a horse is not something that can be done in a spur of the moment way. Research, time and energy needs to be spent, first determining if now is the right time to buy a horse, and secondly, if you are able to handle and care for a horse in the way it needs. There is a saying in the industry: “The cheapest part about owning a horse is buying it.”
There are many factors that come into play when making the decision to purchase a horse. Why do I need a horse? What will I do with a horse? Do I have the land to house a horse? Or is there a place nearby I can keep the horse at? How will I be able to afford all the expenses that come from owning horse? And finally, do I have enough knowledge to choose the right horse?
For many first time owners without a background in horses, this can be very daunting to navigate. Finding an equine professional with experience in choosing horses for clients can be helpful. CHA.horse is an online resource that provides a registry of certified riding instructors across the U.S. These professionals can provide insight when choosing a horse.
When looking for the first family-friendly horse, one of the first things to consider is what will the horse be doing? If it is going to be for a young child who just wants to hop on occasionally, a small pony would probably do the trick. Other stock type breeds such as Quarter Horses or Paint Horses are great for all around riding and can work for the whole family.
This is also the time when we consider the age of the horse, their height, breed and level. The younger the child, the older the horse. There’s a fond idea that a horse and child should grow up together – it’s very wrong. Young children need older horses that have been there, done that and know how to take care of their rider. The lesser experienced riders will have older horses who may be retired from their intensive careers and are able to go slow to take care of new riders.
Height and size of the horse will depend on the rider as well. The older and bigger the rider, the bigger the horse. For smaller children, a pony (under 14.3 hands) would be suitable until the child is advanced enough to move to a larger pony or horse.
The horse’s temperament is debatably the most important thing to consider when looking at horses. Temperament is measured on a scale, with a 1 ranking being very calm and docile, ideal for beginners, and a 10 ranking being a horse that is considered to be very hot or wild. How the horse behaves on the ground, under saddle, in the stall, its age and its level of training all play a role in determining how behaved a horse is. For many people, the lower the ranking a horse has, the better. Especially for beginners, children or families, having a horse that falls within the 1 – 4 range is ideal.
Working with and discussing this with a professional horseperson will help when determining where a horse fits on this scale. Keep in mind that each person has a different interpretation of where a horse fits so these are only estimated behaviors and the best way to learn a horse’s behavior is to meet it and talk in depth with its owners.
When I was three and first got Dude, he was perfect for me. Although he was also supposedly young, he had been very well trained and had a quiet disposition for me to learn on. Also, at only 10 hands, he held me comfortably until I was six and ready to move on to a larger pony.
“Conformation” is the term used to assess how a horse is built. Ideally, the horse will be evenly balance, have straight legs, look healthy and have good quality of movement. Consult a professional, or even a vet, as they will be able to identify any potential problems such as lameness or illness that the horse may have or develop.
Similar to how there is a scale to measure the horse’s temperament, there is a body condition score to assess body condition. On this scale, 1 is poor, or extremely emaciated, a 9 is extremely obese. Neither end of this spectrum is good, so typically a horse that is between 4 – 6 on this scale is ideal. Having a vet check over the horse before committing to buying is always a good idea.
There are many places to buy horses from: private sales, websites, both in person and online auctions or adoption agencies. Some things to keep in mind are look at many horses to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t, watch other people ride the horse first and don’t be afraid to say no if it is not the right one.
Buying a horse is exciting and many people, both kids and adults, dream of the day they have a horse to call their own. Just keep in mind that although a long process, taking your time to be thorough and thoughtful when looking at every horse will result in you owning the best possible horse that’s suited for you.
by Emily Carey