Horse Shopping 101
I am getting an increasing number of inquiries from people looking for a new horse. So it is with no small amount of forethought that we did a Horse Master episode featuring a young woman looking to find her dream horse. She also happens to be a riding instructor and in that role she finds herself looking at horses for others as well—either a horse for a client or a school horse for the program where she is employed and the episode is about the horse buying process. (Tip: Visit http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/ to see a clip of Shop ‘Til You Drop or http://shopping.juliegoodnight.com to purchase a DVD of the episode.)
I love shopping for horses—one significant reason behind the sale horse side of my business. I just love the hunt for a good horse and I love finding the perfect owner for that horse as well. In this case, the buyer is looking for an all-around horse that she can do just about anything on—trail, arena, pleasure—but she also has a hankering for cowhorse events. Whatever your desires, it is first and foremost important that you decide what your goals are because it is critical that the horse matches those goals, particularly when it comes to cowhorse disciplines. Not just any horse is suited for that.
Next, it is important that you spend some time thinking about how much money you can spend and that you have an appreciation for how much horse that will buy you (consider looking at a few horses above your limit so you have a realistic frame of reference). You should stretch your limits here as much as possible, keeping in mind the old axiom—the purchase price is the cheapest amount of money you will spend on your horse. You can always BUY training cheaper than you can put it on a horse, so don’t get sucked into the mistake so many people make in buying a young, green horse. His board, health maintenance, farrier, etc., will far exceed the purchase price in a short time so spend as much as you can up front to get the best trained horse you can (but only if the horse is worth it).
I wish I had a dollar for all the people I have met that made the mistake of buying a young, green horse. I’d be retired by now. Some survive this mistake and eventually end up with a decent horse; some don’t. You know the saying: green plus green equals black and blue. But even if you are not a novice rider and you have the capability to train a horse, do you really want to spend your precious time at that? Do you really want months and even years to elapse before you can attain your goals? Or do you want to begin enjoying your horse tomorrow at a level that you’ve dreamed of? I wonder how many of you have bought a green horse and regretted it and how many of you have had success with that youngster?
Currently we are in a buyer’s market, thanks to the recession and the glut of unwanted horses. While the economy has not greatly affected the high-end horse market, it has impacted the mid and low range horse market. The horse you would have paid $10,000 for a few years ago, you may now get for $7500—so it’s a great time to parlay your money into more horse, no matter what price range you are in.
In the end, you should spend your money on training and temperament. Conformation follows closely as a must-have because it has a bearing on performance, soundness and longevity. For my sales program, I rarely look at a horse under 10 years old to buy. I try to find those “cream puff” horses that are safe, solid and fun to own and ride. To have the experience, training and seasoning they need to be a solid, “bomb proof” kind of horse, they need some age on them. No matter how well trained that 4 year old is, he cannot have the life-experience he needs to be a sure bet. It’s amazing how quickly training can be un-done in a young horse, or any horse for that matter. I get emails on a daily basis from someone who bought a horse that seemed very well trained when they looked at it (or they took the word of the seller that he was well trained) and a month later the horse has major problems. Have you had this experience? I cannot always fault the seller because any horse can become untrained quickly with mishandling—here’s where temperament comes in.
Depending on your goals and pursuits, breeding (pedigree and type) can also be a big factor. If your ultimate goal includes endurance racing in the Tevis Cup, you’d be well advised to stay away from draft horses. The more specific and more demanding your riding goals, the more important breeding and training is. The frustration of an unsuitable horse and/or a poorly trained horse trying to do something he’s not ready for or capable of is real for both horse and rider. We do horses a huge disservice trying to make them into something they are incapable of or asking more of them than their training allows.
If you are currently in the market for a new equine partner, where are you looking? Where have you found the greatest success? Word of mouth? Classified ads? Internet? Trainers? Has it been frustrating and impossible or easy and successful? How many near-perfect horses flunked the pre-purchase vet exam before you found the right horse? Was the horse you bought everything you thought he’d be or did you find holes in him after you got to know him? It is certainly not an exact science and to some extent, being in the right place at the right time is priceless, when it comes to finding the perfect horse. The best horses don’t stay on the market for long. But the more you know, the easier the buying process is to navigate.
If you’re in the market for a new horse this spring—good luck! And there’s even more advice on my new Buyer’s Guide. Search for “buyers” on the search page.
Until next time,
Question: I have a green horse that frequently trips with hind feet as he does not have proper headset or collection. How do you go about helping a green horse become balanced and collected with proper headset?
The barn owner where I board has done some training for me but tends to rely on running martingale to teach a horse the proper headset. I do not necessarily subscribe to this because as soon as you remove the artificial aids, you are back to where you started. What do you advocate to achieve collection and headset? What is the proper use of artificial aids? Are there certain types of bits you advocate?
I hope you come my way soon as I am anxious to attend one of your clinics! Of the many I have attended at Equine Affaire and elsewhere, hands down, I have gotten the most out of yours! Although I am far from expert, attending your clinics and listening to your tapes has made a huge difference in my riding and confidence aboard my young horse.
–Looking for a Natural Headset
Thank you so much for your kind words, but it is your desire for excellence that accounts for the progress you have made. I work very hard to make horsemanship understandable to people and since 99% of all horse problems are rider or handler induced, if we can train and educate people, the horses will do just fine.
Headset and collection are big lofty subjects. First let me say that there is a big difference between headset and collection and they are not necessarily related. A horse might have a “proper” headset but not be collected. Headset refers to placing your horse’s head at a certain level and position, according to the judge’s expectations of the discipline for which you are training. Collection refers to the rounded frame of the horse, when the horse elevates his back and brings his hindquarters up underneath his body in order to have more power and athleticism; it is a natural behavior of the horse and is known as ‘prideful’ behavior. Collection is natural for the horse (although difficult); headset is something that is artificially imposed by the rider.
My Goodnight’s Principles of Riding DVD series will help you understand collection a bit more. Check out Refinement and Collection. In it I address refining your rein aids and leg aids, what collection is and is not, how to use the aids to achieve collection (especially your seat and legs) and how to teach your horse to hold himself in a collected frame once you have asked. I am not a big fan of artificial aids. If you use artificial aids, it is important to know why you are using it, how to use it correctly and to have a plan to get away from the aid so that it does not become a crutch. The running martingale is one of the most commonly misused artificial aids; it is commonly thought to be a device to lower the horse’s head, but that is incorrect. It is actually a training device that prevents the horse’s head from getting dangerously high; it is a fail-safe device that when properly adjusted (with the rings all the way to the horse’s throat) prevent the mouth from getting above the withers. Once the horse’s mouth is above the withers, you no longer have control.
If you try to use the running martingale to lower the horse’s head, it is adjusted way too short and the rings put pressure down on the reins when the head and rider’s hands are in a normal position, breaking the straight line between rider’s elbow and horse’s mouth. This not only puts the horse very heavy on the forehand and stiffens his neck, but it also interferes with the direct line of communication between the rider’s hands and the horse’s mouth. Since the pressure is totally different with the device and without, the horse never learns the correct response to bit pressure and so you become dependent on the device.
Before a horse can collect, he must know how to respond properly to pressure on his mouth. He must know how to give to rein pressure, both laterally and vertically. As he rounds his back and comes into a collected frame, stretching his neck at the withers and lifting in his back, his poll will drop down and his nose will come in, brining his face toward vertical. This is known as vertical flexion. Lateral flexion always precedes vertical flexion and I like to teach the horse both from the ground first.
Lateral flexion is taught by simply sliding your hand down the rein toward the horse’s mouth (about halfway to his head) then slowly and gently picking up and locking your hand behind the pommel (make sure the outside rein is totally slack). You can do this from the ground or saddle. It is important to brace your hand against the pommel so that you do not pull more when the horse gives (instead or releasing) and so that he can not pull your hand forward if he resists (getting his own release). You release as soon as the horse flexes enough to put slack in the rein. Like everything in training, the timing of the release is the critical factor in how long it takes the horse to figure out what you want him to do; the sooner the release comes, the better. For optimal results, you have to release the horse within a half second of the correct response. Every time he releases the pressure off his mouth, drop the rein down on his neck immediately and praise him; then ask again. Work on one side repeatedly, and then work on the other. When your horse softly flexes to the side every time you pick up the rein (slowly and gently so that he has the chance to flex before the pressure on his mouth comes), he is ready to move onto vertical flexion.
I do like to use a bitting device known as the elbow pull for teaching the horse vertical flexion and conditioning him to hold himself in a collected frame from the ground. You can find out more in the DVD Bit Basics & Goodnight’s Bitting System. The value of the elbow-pull is that it is self-correcting, meaning that your timing and response (or lack thereof) is taken out of the equation. When the horse comes into the correct frame, he automatically gets a release of pressure. This also teaches him self-carriage. In my opinion, I do not like the horse to become reliant on contact to hold him in a frame; although many English riders prefer the horse to rely on contact. The other beauty of the elbow-pull is that it mimics exactly what the horse will feel from the rider, so once you are up in the saddle and you use your aids correctly to ask the horse to round his frame, he knows what to do. You should use a snaffle bridle for this type of training. Once a horse is fully trained, you can certainly ask him to collect with a curb bridle on, but he will be responding more to your seat and legs. Most of our finished Western horses work best in a curb (sometimes referred to as a ‘bridle horse’), but we occasionally take them back to the snaffle to work on certain exercises like bending, flexion and collection. These are complex, advanced issues we are talking about and there is a lot of foundational work that precedes these abilities, both on the part of the horse and rider. The additional info on my website’s “Training Library” will help fill in some of the gaps
Good luck to you!
–Julie Goodnight, Clinician and Trainer
Question: Hi Julie,
I just purchased your audio CD, Building Confidence with Horses, and listened to it while driving to work. Your principles make perfect sense, I now need to work though them and practice them until I feel more confident with my mare.
In brief, two years ago, I purchased a 4 year old cross TN walker/Missouri Fox trotter. She stands 14.3, very smart and what a great personality – she loves people and thinks she’s just one of the girls sometimes. She is a bit girthy and has, over the past year, taken to trying to bite me, or anyone, as the girth is tightened. I now crosstie her which protects me but doesn’t remove the behavior.
Here’s my real issue, she’s great on the trail – a good leader however, she trips a lot. Perhaps it’s that she is not paying attention but I have developed a fear/anxiety of flying over her head with my feet caught in the stirrups. I sometimes awaken 4-5 times a night with that thought in my mind. I started lessons in the ring last week and she tripped 3 times – to her knees. I stayed on, but it not only affects my confidence on her but my back. I fear cantering her too because of it.
I should mention that I have always loved horses and she was my first purchase. She was my 50 year birthday gift to myself – far better than a red sports car. The barn saw the chance to sell a green horse to a green rider and I fell for it. I really love her and anticipate, by the time I retire – say 15 years or so, we should be just right for one another. In the meantime, I can’t stop the crazy thought of falling off her. I know that falling comes with the territory but yikes, I want to enjoy her. I have great support at the barn. I am so fortunate to be surrounded by good riders and friends.
Thanks for listening. If nothing else, it is cathartic writing out my thoughts. I hope to catch one of your clinics if you are ever in the Philadelphia area.
I suppose it is too late to caution you about the basic rule: green plus green equals black and blue. It sounds like you already realize the problems inherent in that combination, but the other issues I can address.
First off, if your horse is tripping regularly, talk to your vet and farrier about it. Your farrier may be able to square off her toes to help her feet break over sooner so that she trips less. Also make sure you are not contributing to the problem by interfering with your horse’s head too much (she uses her head to balance) or by being out of position on the horse with your weight too far forward. Any of these things might resolve the tripping problem.
The girthy-ness, or cinchiness, is another human-induced problem and there are several Q&As on my website about how it is caused and how to resolve it. However, you should know that girthing a cinchy horse when she is tied is very dangerous and may lead to a horse that pulls-back when tied. Always untie her before you cinch her. There is some info on my website about the danger of cross-ties too; having her cross-tied while you girth her is especially dangerous. Most horses think of cross ties as a gymnastic apparatus.
As for the fear, the real problem is you and your out-of-control negative thoughts. Listen to the audio on building confidence again and pay extra close attention to the section on general anxiety. The ‘what if’ scenario is simply mind pollution. General anxiety is something we do to ourselves. You cannot make the fear go away by constantly thinking about it; and you can control what you think about! You need to exert the mental discipline to think of something different; something more positive.
There are lots of good techniques for learning to exert this control: keeping your eyes focused and taking in information in your environment, singing a song, playing an imaginary video in your mind, picturing the perfect ride, talking with a friend as you ride. These techniques are all detailed in my book and audio CD on the subject of coping with fear of riding, Ride with Confidence! and Build Your Confidence with Horses.
Once you have learned to exert mental control and only think positive thoughts while you ride, you’ll begin to enjoy your horse a lot more. Keep the faith!
Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent. Backlinks are allowed.
Question Category: Building a Better Relationship
I own a green horse, she is a quarter horse. She has had ground work and has been ridden. But she doesn’t seem to respond well to turning. I am just learning about natural horsemanship and all about the ground work and riding. I have been reading a lot for about 6 months. Your site is the best that I have come across and I have searched many. The way you explain things is awesome; I am so excited about starting putting in to practice all that I am reading. My horse is very sweet gentle, I really want to train her myself, and she has had some training. My question is what tape’s should I start out with?
Thanks for your kind comments. It sounds like you are serious in your pursuit of excellence in horsemanship and I like that! I’ll make sure you are subscribed to my newsletter which has a Q&A column you would probably enjoy.
My ground work DVDs, Round Pen Reasoning and Lead Line Leadership, will be excellent for you a far as learning natural horsemanship. They will help you establish the kind of relationship with your horse in which you are the leader and she is the follower and she looks up to you as the captain of the ship. That kind of authority with the horse and the respect you gain from the ground will carry over to your riding as well. If you can only buy one of the groundwork dvds, Lead Line Leadership would be most beneficial for you, because it involves your routine, day-to-day handling of the horse and instilling good ground manners; Round Pen Reasoning is important too and it contains a lot about horse behavior and how the horse views your relationship.
My riding videos, Goodnight’s Principles of Riding, volumes 1 & 2, are all about improving your riding skills, with a very systematic process addressing your balance, position, moving fluidly and rhythmically with the horse, using your natural aids to control the horse and to communicate lightly and effectively with the horse what you want home to do– stop, go, turn. It starts with fundamentals and progresses to advanced concepts in equitation (the art of riding). My techniques are a unique blend of natural horsemanship and classical riding, with roots in dressage. If you ride your horse correctly, even an untrained horse will respond.
Good luck with your green horse. I hope you can find a good trainer/instructor to work with along the journey. I hope to see you (and maybe your horse) at a clinic someday 🙂
Copyright ©Julie Goodnight 2000. All Rights Reserved. No part of this website may be reproduced without owner’s express consent.