A friend of mine recently bought a stock horse mare at the local horse sale. “I got a bargain,” he said. “She’s only seven years old and she goes great. Let me show you.” He rode the mare around and she danced and pranced and jigged and jogged and was very nervous and worried. She didn’t know how to relax. The fellow thought this was great. “She’s got plenty of go in her,” he told me. I didn’t answer.
I looked in the mare’s mouth. “Looks more like 17 than seven,” I told him.
“They said she was only seven,” he replied. Again, no comment from me.
“Have a ride and see what you think.” When I politely declined, he said “She’s gonna be great. You’ll see.”
The sad fact is, I’ve ridden hundreds of horses like this poor mare –horses who are worried and frightened every time anyone goes near them. I didn’t particularly want to ride another one. It gives me no pleasure to ride such horses.
There are thousands of horses like this mare, who’ve been badly handled and mistreated for years on end. These horses expect a bad experience every time they’re handled and ridden. They’ve never been taught to be relaxed and confident with people. All they’ve ever known is conflict and bad experiences.
Through no fault of their own, such horses make unreliable riding horses. Whenever something out of the ordinary happens, they expect trouble and immediately panic. Instead of stopping and thinking, they bolt or buck or pull back or kick or rear. This is very dangerous for an unsuspecting or novice rider. Let me repeat: Horses like this are dangerous.
Every day I receive emails and messages from people who have horses like this. People with the best intentions, who think they can ‘fix’ horses with these issues. Yes, every horse can be improved but you must always remember that no-one can erase a horse’s memory. No-one can make a horse forget the bad experiences he’s been through.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is well recognized these days. People who’ve been through traumatic experiences are affected for the rest of their lives. They never forget. And it’s exactly the same with horses who’ve been frightened. They’re affected for the rest of their lives.
Regardless of what anyone tells you, a horse four years or older who’s been frightened and mistreated and doesn’t trust people, can’t be made reliable. And the older the horse is, the more difficult the task of gaining his trust becomes.
I find it very worrying that so many inexperienced horse people think they can ‘fix’ a frightened, older horse. People with very little skill and experience go out of their way to find a mistreated horse and then wonder why they can’t overcome all the problems they encounter. The most worrying part of all this is that it’s very dangerous and they can be badly injured.
It takes years of experience for a novice horseperson to develop the necessary skills to handle a frightened or mistreated horse. Nobody can give you that experience and nobody can give you a magic formula to ‘fix’ a horse.
When you buy a horse, your safety must be the first and foremost consideration. Don’t put yourself at risk by starting with a horse that’s too difficult for you. Find a quiet, safe, reliable horse to start with. People are injured, and worse, by horses every day. Please don’t be one of them.
Meanwhile, what happened to the mare that my friend bought at the sale? After about a month, he quietly sold her to another unsuspecting person. And so the problem continues, not only for the new owner but for the poor mare as well.
Neil Davies began training horses full-time in 1977. Over the next 15 years, he started more than a thousand horses under saddle and trained thousands of so-called ‘problem’ horses. [read more]
He is the author of Fear-free Horse Training – every step of the way.
Visit Neil’s website at www.fearfreehorsetraining.com.