This guide is about the stuff that happens (or would be good if it happened) in your head before you go and browse the classifieds. Even before you know what colour of the horse you might want. Let’s be real – most first time owners have colour preferences and why not. After all, when we buy that first horse it does feel like buying a dream and not many dream in monochrome.
The notes in this post come from my own experiences of owning and loaning horses, my observations of thousands of riders I personally came across, my training beliefs and coaching philosophy so they might very well not be what you are after. But just in case you are about to buy your first horse and you don’t have a trusted trainer next to you or an unbiased advisor to call, let’s chat 🙂
Pour yourself some beverage first, we might be here for a moment…
First batch of questions: what’s your favourite way to feel alive? Are you adrenaline seeker or a cosy seeker? Maybe both? When do you feel alive? When challenged or when safely relaxed in front of a fire? On your own or with a group of friends?
Knowing yourself well is the first step to getting close to buying the right horse. Majority of amateur, ambitious riders don’t just want to go out and win. They want a friend, a companion, a partner in the “crime”. Sometimes we come across horses we can’t get on well with just to fall in love with them. It happens. But let’s not to be too romantic here – it’s hard enough to get up at 5am to ride and practice for the show or event before school/work with someone who you look forward to seeing and dancing with. It becomes an unbelievable chore with a horse you have no common tune with.
Matching your character with the horse’s temperament well means that everyday training becomes addictive, fulfilling and brings dimension to life that non-horsey people really do not understand.
Riding is an emotional experience. You will take it personally if your horse looks at you in other than loving way. Even if now you think this an unreasonable element, you won’t later. If you really are an ambitious rider, your training partner’s (the horse that is) disapproval of you, your skills, your aspirations will be quite an issue in your life.
That is why, a first horse for an aspiring amateur rider should be a well formed adult, one with well established needs and wants that most first time buyers can identify.
The why is important because of a heartbreaking truth i.e. many ambitious riders can and do progress their riding skills. The first horse is always very special. If you buy a horse to grow old with and only do what that horse is capable of, that’s beautifully noble and let’s you be less obsessed with the right choice.
If you are buying your first horse so he/she can go with you in your chosen direction for a while progressing as you go, you have a more difficult choices to make. You might want to look for a horse that is educated beyond your current skill level, with a brain that has capacity for patience with your inexperience and yet with body that has the mileage at your chosen field, possibly even purpose bred for the sport you want to find your challenges in.
A semi-professional or professional rider can buy and sell many horses to find the right one. As a first time buyer you are highly likely to fall in love with a completely unsuitable horse that loves doing what you are bored of or scared of and you won’t have the heart to sell the horse on. Pick wisely while you can.
If you are unsure about your temperament, character and why you want to buy a horse, give it a moment or two, get those described and then start searching. Take one for loan. Be aware of cute 😉
Now, second batch of questions to ask oneself before buying that first horse, batch that comes down to one – what type of horse you sit best on? A deep chested, short backed horse? A leggy, narrow backed horse? One that moves big? One that moves small and smooth? Be honest here because a one-horse-rider that you are likely to become once you buy one, relies on staying body healthy…Spinal and pelvic and joint micro-injuries are an unspoken issue among riders…we don’t all have suppleness and core strength to “safely” ride big moving warmbloods. If you have a desk job and hate exercising other than riding, choosing the right built of a horse is important.
Go for an uphill built horse regardless other aspects. Educate yourself with several good books as to what areas of the horse to look at to determine how sound it might be in a few years time of not-so-great-riding. Don’t trust 2-3-5 stage vettings. No vet will tell you that if you buy a horse with weak loins, slightly strained sacroiliac joint and dodgy feet, your riding skills will make the horse lame in 6 months. Yes, let’s be honest here, many first time horses endure our “polishing of skills” and do get spoiled/broken before we get good enough to help them. Pick the one with good feet (educate yourself on that – sorry for repetition but it’s vital), strong back and big ears (ok, the last one is just personal preference 😉
Many amateur riders buy horses from yards they already know. Then they stay to livery (board for my American readers) on that same yard. Pick the place wisely and make sure there are like minded people around you. This is probably one of the most important elements of horse ownership that you will come across. As an ambitious, amateur rider you will enjoy being around people who understand your drive, who won’t belittle your attempts at getting better and better, who will cheer you on and who you can cheer on. You want to know what level of motivational spirit you need around you to get on with things and what makes you go lazy and too cosy.
Finally, to close this little overview, leave some money for further training. There is nothing more depressing, disheartening and frustrating than wanting to progress and educate oneself and having no means left to do so. Even the most carefully chosen horse stabled at best suited place won’t make up for a an unfulfilled drive to be challenged that every aspiring rider has inside them.
Please share your advice, notes, experiences in the comments 🙂 Do you agree with mine? Disagree?
All the best,