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Horse Shopping -The Ideal First Experience

Updated on October 17, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

What Was She Looking For?

We were on the lookout for a registered quarter horse, one that was quiet and well trained enough to be shared by my client and her granddaughter. They preferred a gelding, which this horse was. There was no color preference( remember, a good horse is never a bad color). The other main criteria were that it would be tall enough for the granddaughter to grow into. She is a long-legged 10-year old, that will obviously need something in the 16 hand range. This particular horse was advertised at 17.2, I think he was more like 17 hands, but that is irrelevant. You get the point! He was big! He was within driving distance and within budget, so off we went to check him out.

The horse my friend tried today.
The horse my friend tried today. | Source

My First Impression

My first impression of the horse was that it had a kind eye and nice quiet demeanor. My sixth sense told me that it was a good-hearted animal. I liked what I saw.

He was well put together, well mannered, and obviously well fed and cared for. He stood quietly being tacked up and took the bit easily when bridled. So far, so good.

My friend who was shopping was pleased with what she saw but was definitely apprehensive about his size. Even though he did nothing to indicate he knew how big he was or how to use it, seeing him in person and seeing 17 some hands in person was a bit shocking I think.


The Seller Rode Him First

The seller got on him and rode him first. As I said, he is a registered Quarter Horse, so she rode him as she would have if he was in an English class at a Quarter Horse show.

He kept his head very low, was in a frame that was much different than the way we ride our horses, and preferred to go on pretty much no rein contact. He went obediently and was very pretty as he did it, but as soon as I saw him go I knew that he would not be the horse she was looking for.

This horse was used to a whole different set of cues.
This horse was used to a whole different set of cues. | Source
Even though he wasn't right for her, he sure was pretty!
Even though he wasn't right for her, he sure was pretty! | Source

My Friend's Ride

When my friend got on him to try him out, she felt pretty comfortable on him because he was calm, but still was wary of his size. Our style of riding is very different than the way they ride on the Quarter Horse circuit, so they were having trouble communicating.

It was hard for her to tell how much contact to use, or how much leg to use. As the seller coached her, she explained the cues that the horse was trained to. All the cues the horse was used to were different than what we do.

She followed the sellers instructions and was able to get him going nicely, but it was hard because it was like they were speaking a different language. It was nobody's fault, he wasn't trained to do what we do. Considering they were both confused, they did great and really did have a pleasant ride.

She was surprised when she climbed on how big he was!
She was surprised when she climbed on how big he was! | Source

Why It Was An Ideal Experience If It Wasn't The Perfect Match?

For one, it is always a good experience to ride new horses. Time in the saddle is never wasted.

She was able to have a good successful ride, while also realizing that though he was a great horse, and most certainly quiet as advertised, he was not a good match for her.

He was well trained in the style of riding that he was used to, it would have been confusing for both of them to try to retrain him to go differently.

She realized now that she doesn't want a horse that is quite that big. Yes, a 15 hand horse is probably too small, but 17 hands and over, that is a big horse, and not necessary for them.

It was a good experience because the seller was very honest and advertised the horse appropriately. She also was a great coach when horse and rider were having trouble trying to figure each other out.

The seller was also not at all pushy about wanting to sell the horse quickly, she knew that we had planned to see others and didn't press for any sort of answer or decision.

She Got Her "Feet Wet"

It can be nerve-racking going out to different barns and riding in front of different trainers. Today's experience went great, she was nervous and cautious when she arrived. Rightfully so! It was a confidence builder that even though it was a very different ride she got through it.

Riding a safe horse is never time wasted. There is always something to learn!
Riding a safe horse is never time wasted. There is always something to learn! | Source

A Good Comparison Point

The horse met all the qualifications that she had when she began horse shopping. He was just as advertised. She had a good ride on him and learned more so she can refine her search.

Now she knows that she wants something smaller, and also that though she wants a Quarter Horse if she can't find one that is trained to go the ways she knows how to ride, that she is open to other breeds or unregistered horses.

Now when she sees the next prospect, she has something to compare to.

Never Buy The First Horse You Look At

I never encourage my clients to buy the first horse that they look at. You need to look at a variety, see what's available, what you like and what you don't. Before making your decision.

If after you look at a variety of horses that meet your specifications, then if you still think that first horse is most appropriate, you can always go back and try him again and decide.

There is a lot of fish in the sea! You might have to check out a bunch before you find the one for you, so plan on taking your time and don't be in a rush.

She learned a lot from her experience today, about what she likes, but also about what she doesn't.
She learned a lot from her experience today, about what she likes, but also about what she doesn't. | Source

What's The Point?

I think in a perfect world everyone's first horse shopping experience should be like the one we had today. The horse was what it was advertised to be. The seller was professional. My student had a good ride and learned a lot about what she wants, and what she doesn't want.

It was another step on her horsemanship journey, a step that is hopefully heading in the direction of horse ownership!


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