Dear Miss Julie Goodnight,
I am a Wounded Warrior at Ft. Leonard Wood, MO, and have sustained spinal injuries in Iraq. I have had surgeries and now am left using a cane due to nerve damage in my legs. I have waited 15 years to have a horse of my own. I was recently given a quarter horse that is about 7yrs old. I was told he would be a great therapy horse. He was abused, and prefers women. He is a lover, but has a very suborn side and is very spooky. I can saddle him without issue and lead him with a saddle on, but once in the pen and I’m on him he won’t budge. He has thrown my sister off while I was leading him with her on him. I was hoping to teach him voice commands, but am now a little leery. I cannot afford a professional trainer at this time due to my disability. Am I biting off more than I can chew? I don’t want to give someone else his problems.
Thank you for your time,
Dear SGT Barbara,
First, let me join all my readers in thanking your for your courageous and selfless service to our country and acknowledge the personal sacrifices you have made for others, both in Iraq and here at home.
Secondly, let me go on record as saying that horses can be a powerful tool in healing—not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well and I am so glad to hear that you are started down this path. But given your circumstances, I think it is critical that you start down this road with a safe and reliable horse. You cannot afford another injury at this time—who among us can? Furthermore, you deserve to have a horse that will help you heal and grow stronger, not take away your confidence and possibly cause you to get hurt.
This horse has some serious issues that probably need to be addressed by a professional trainer. My guess is that his problems are not insurmountable for someone more qualified, but it does not sound like an appropriate horse for you at this time. Who knows what led him to this state but the fact that he was given to you could be a red flag. It is true that there is no such thing as a free horse and yes, you should always look a gift horse in the mouth.
Believe it or not, the purchase price on any horse is the least amount of money you will spend—their upkeep and maintenance is where the real expense lays. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that you have a horse that you are not equipped to deal with and moving forward—it is the best decision for both you and the horse. No horse is worth getting hurt over and besides, this horse will be better off in more capable hands.
If possible, I would try to return this horse to the person that gave it to you. If that will not work, I would suggest contacting a horse rescue group for assistance in finding this horse a more appropriate home. Just because you are not in a situation to deal with this horse, does not mean that there are others out there that can’t. As long as you are honest and up front about the horse, you are not passing the buck but simply doing the right and sensible thing for your own personal safety and for the good of the horse.
You deserve a horse that is safe and steady and that you can start enjoying and progressing with right away—you’ve spent a long time waiting for this and you need it—but you want to start out right. These days, with the unprecedented glut of unwanted horses, I am confident that there are plenty of horses out there that would better suit your needs. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that right now, there are people reading this article that have a suitable horse for you that they would be thrilled to see put to such good use. If so, perhaps they could contact me and I could put them in touch with you.
I’d like to see you with an older horse, say 16 or over, that has “been there, done that.” Even a horse in his 20s will have a lot of usefulness left in him and the value of that life experience is huge. You know exactly what you’re getting with a horse of that age. They are set in their ways and generally there are no big surprises.
Whatever horse comes your way, you should evaluate him as if you were paying $10,000 for him, even if he is free. Have a trainer or a very experienced friend ride the horse and give you their opinion before you make a decision. Have a vet examine the horse to make sure he is sound and healthy. As you’ve seen already, just because a horse is free or low cost, doesn’t mean it’s a good deal if it costs you a fortune in training and vet bills; not to mention the cost of one trip to the emergency room.
Perhaps you can put it out on the Internet and at websites like dreamhorse.com that you are looking for a horse to help you recover from the wounds you sustained in Iraq. I feel confident that there are lots of people with more suitable horses that would love to help you.
Again, thank you for your selfless service and I hope that you find the horse of your dreams to help you grow strong again.
All the best,
–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer