There are a lot of people out there with a mission to ‘save a horse.’  Heartstrings pull when they encounter one suffering from poor early experiences with people, a bad attitude, health issues, soundness problems or a free price tag. Do people cause many of these problems? Yes. Is it worth the emotional, financial and time drains associated with trying to bring back an equine with lots of issues? Sometimes it is, but usually not for your average amateur seeking an enjoyable partnership.

conditioning a horse after time off is easier on the trails
Start with a good temperament and you’ll be able to do a lot more with your horse.

Of course, there’s a tremendous feel-good rush that comes from being able to reach or heal a horse that no one else can. But the fact is, there are so many great horses out there with the temperament, attitude and experience ready to make your riding or pet time awesome from the start. That giddy initial response at finding a free horse or rescuing one no one else wants can quickly turn to regret as you start factoring the years, headaches, heartaches and money on that ‘what if’ that doesn’t come around.

Great horses aren’t so hard to find

I featured Midge in this recent blog post offering smart ideas on starting a horse back under saddle after a long time off  – and played the parent with the ‘as I say not as I do’ message that revealed some of the things we did wrong bringing her back, but got away with anyway. Some horses just have the temperament, physical attributes and gutsy nature to handle dumb things people do. Others don’t.

Dixie’s one who would do anything you asked –and hurt herself trying. In fact, the lengths she’d go to please during her racing career were incredible. We were aware of the physical pain this mare endured while she kept winning before we bought her. A long recovery time was part of the plan. Even with that, there was also the possibility she’d never be right, but she’d always have a job as a mom if riding sound wasn’t in her future.

Dixie was started back in training the same day as Midge. Midge had seven years off, but has always been tough as nails, naturally fit, game for anything and quick to handle unreasonable demands while staying sound of mind and body. Midge jumped back into training and was ready for all gaits almost immediately. She was jumping within a month.

Sweet, delicate Dixie had a four year hiatus from a rider on her back. After the first ride, we realized she needed some chiropractic help. The good news is the vet, the chiropractor and the trainer came to consensus that this mare is going to be fine. It’s just going to take a little bit of time to build her up to canter and jumping. With adjustments, walk/trot time on the hills of the trails and short rides, she quickly was sound at the trot in the arena, which wasn’t the case the first time we tried. There’s no rush with this obliging gal willing to serve even when she’s suffering. Her body’s adjusting in its own time. It’s a wonderful experience to see her appreciate an accommodating program that has her relishing training time.

Thoroughbreds tend to get a bad (and undeserved) reputation. Both these gals hail as kid-safe examples of this breed. Each had good reason to turn sour, mean and dangerous. But they didn’t.

Midge was hated by the grooms at the track because she’d get so excited about training she’d dig a deep hole in her stall as she waited for her turn. Of course the easy answer would have been to schedule her time out earlier in the day, but because she wasn’t very talented, her slot was toward the end of the morning. You can probably imagine how she was treated.

Dixie made six figures running for cheap money in her less than three year racing career. She’d come back sore, and go try with equal zeal the next time. Most horses enduring this kind of pain would have quit, resisted or worse. I’ve seen how vicious horses can get when forced to perform through such agony. Many develop an extreme distrust and dislike for humans. Not Dixie. She’s a born pleaser and will always try her hardest to keep the people in her life happy and safe. It’s amazing to watch this resilient soul continue to be so kind and easy about riding requests – and so pleasant to be around.

Knowing as much as I do about the history of these two mares (and hundreds more horses encountered over the years), I’ve come to believe temperament is more born than learned. Both these mares had every excuse to turn difficult and dangerous. But they didn’t. Even after lots of time off and happy new careers as moms, both jumped right into riding activities with the same kind, willing, cooperative and easy attitude shown in the past as though they were ridden yesterday. Wow!

How do you determine if a horse is right for you?

Of course, there are a lot of stories out there spotlighting finds with tons of problems that turned into stars when redirected with patience and understanding to a new career. Even at Olympic levels. The issues never completely disappear, but talented professionals figure out ways to work around them.

For the average novice, amateur, pleasure or recreational rider, though, investing in a horse with an awesome attitude can be so much more rewarding for both than trying to reach one with complications. They’re out there. Rather than settling for a horse that’s not right, or deciding you’re going to conquer a crazy, why not spend the time to find a horse that’s naturally wired to work with instead of against you?

Better yet, if you don’t know how to read a horse to determine suitability for you and what you want to do, why not get some help? There was an old cowboy saying popular when I was a youth that went something like ‘it costs just as much to feed a bad horse as a good one.’ Add blacksmith, vet bills, board, headaches and heartache in today’s realm and the wrong horse can get expensive pretty quickly. Trust your trainer (provided their incentive isn’t a commission on the sale) if you have one for input and assessment. If you don’t, we offer affordable horse suitability assessments. Call (585) 554-4612 or e-mail if you need help determining if the horse you have or want to buy is right for you.

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