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Posted on Oct 24, 2020 in Articles

‘Suitable for Novices’ the Advert said!

‘Suitable for Novices’ the Advert said!

Please note before you read this article …. the riders in these images are not beginners and are not in anyway linked to the content of this article they just had the appropriate images of horses and behaviours that we needed.

If you spend any time in the equestrian world or on social media, you’ve read or heard stories about horses and ponies that were sold to someone as “suitable for a novice ” and then, within a few months they started bucking their riders off regularly, became hard to handle, stopped doing things they used to do peacefully, rearing and bolting etc.

Credit Allen Breen

Frequently the new owner posts to complain that the previous owner must have drugged the horse, because they don’t understand any other way that the calm, mellow horse or pony they tried out has now turned into a nightmare. No one is saying that the drugging of sale horses doesn’t go on, but it is more rare than all the stories would have you believe. But, generally, this is what happens when a very mellow calm pony (or any other kind of horse!) is sold to a beginner home and things don’t go well — and the only drugs involved are the painkillers the New Owner ends up needing to take!

1. New Owner changes the horse’s entire lifestyle. He was living out 24hrs a day in a field , and now he’s living in a stable with maybe an hours turnout . He goes from eating unlimited quantities of grass and plentiful hay to the typical livery yards 2 or 3 flakes a day. Then, when he starts to lose weight, New Owner compensates for the lack of hay by adding more and more hard feed . Doesn’t really matter what kind – even senior feed can and will crank up a horse’s energy level. Also, lots of hard feed and not enough quality forage combined with stabled life can cause ulcers to flare up.

2. Old Owner had horse on a serious exercise programme. The horse got ridden most days, hard enough to work up a sweat. As a result, anyone could hop on him. New Owner doesn’t really want to pay for a groom or exercise rider and thinks he can just ride the horse himself, but he misses Wednesday because of Janes’s birthday party and Thursday because he has to work late, and Sunday because his buddy comes to town unexpectedly. And so on… Because the horse is now stabled, the horse stands in a 12 x 12 box getting progressively more irritated.

Credit Angela Naysmith and her daughter Erin

3. New Owner comes to yard to ride. The horse doesn’t want to pick up his foot, so after a struggle, New Owner decides that hoof does not really need to be picked. The horse starts to get pushy to lead, because he’s been in the stable for 2 days and he’s eager to move. New Owner permits the pushiness; the horse stops leading nicely and starts circling around New Owner or dragging him around like a kite. New Owner goes to tack up the horse and cranks up the girth tight all at once, something Old Owner, who was more experienced, knew better than to do. Horse flies backwards and breaks the cross ties. Now New Owner starts to become fearful of the horse. New Owner goes to get him out of the stable and the horse swings his backside towards New Owner and threatens him. New Owner gives up and leaves and the horse sits in the stall yet another day.

Credit Lauren Thomson

4. When New Owner finally does manage to get the horse out for a ride, New Owner doesn’t understand why the horse has become pushy and resistant. New Owner doesn’t start by turning the horse out or lunging the horse; he just hops right on. Maybe he pokes the horse in the side good and hard with his toe as he mounts, or kicks him on the backside accidentally with his right leg, either of which can lead to a wreck before the ride has even begun. If he gets on successfully, the horse is a whooooole lot more horse under saddle than he was when he tried him out, due to the confinement and diet changes. New Owner doesn’t call Old Owner yet. Nor does New Owner consult with a competent trainer in his discipline. New Owner allows himself to get advice from everyone he doesn’t have to pay, including the livery yards (they all have one!) official busybody who likes to give everybody unsolicited training advice, a couple of Natural Horsemanship followers who think all of these issues can be solved by playing games and, of course, everybody on his Facebook. The end result is that New Owner buys a £80 bit and £300 worth of training videos.

Credit Josie Elliot

5. But none of that helps. In fact, the £80 bit leads to a new behavior – rearing! Now New Owner is good and scared but not willing to quit just yet. He is going to ride that horse. The horse, on his part, can sense New Owner’s fear which of course scares him. (Horses are not capable of perceiving that they are what’s scaring you). Horses feel your fear and perceive that perhaps there is danger nearby which you have seen and they have not – so it might be a good idea to freak out and/or run like hell to get away from it. The behavior gets worse and worse until New Owner, quite predictably, gets dumped and gets injured – possibly seriously.

Credit Jane McDowell

6. New Owner, from his hospital bed, writes series of slanderous posts all over Facebook about the sleazy folks who sold him a horse that was not beginner safe and lied about it and probably drugged it. Old Owner fights back, pointing out that his 6 year old kid showed the horse and was fine. Everybody else makes popcorn and watches the drama unfold. Bonus points if everybody lawyers up. Meanwhile, the poor horse gets sent to slaughter by New Owner’s angry spouse. It’s a scenario that gets played out time and time again.

So now, let’s look at a constructive direction to go with this:

How do I keep my beginner safe horse beginner safe? Here’s your answer:

1. The vast majority of calories should come from forage (grass, hay or hay pellets)

2. Never ever let him sit in a stable for 24 hours. Think about it – would you like to be locked in your bathroom for 24 hours? It’s just not fair. If you can’t get the yard you’re at to turn your horse out, you need to make arrangements to have him ridden or turned out daily. Yes, you may have to pay for that. The ideal is 24hour turnout but I know it’s just not an option everywhere. Just do the best you can and be fair to the horse.

3. Beginner horses should be “tuned up” by a competent, experienced rider at least twice a month, if not more often. Riding Schools know that they have to have their advanced students, or the trainer, ride the school horses periodically in order to fix beginner-created habits like stopping at the gate, refusing to take a canter lead, and cutting the corners of the arenas. Learn from this.

4. A bigger bit in beginner hands solves nothing and creates a variety of dangerous behaviors. Avoid any solution that involves a thinner bit, a bit with a twisted mouth, or one with longer shanks/more leverage.

5. Learn the difference between abuse and discipline. None of us wants to be the idiot beating his horse – but that doesn’t mean discipline is always wrong. If your horse’s ground manners are melting down and he does not do things he used to do (like picking up feet, getting into the horse trailer, bridling) or has started doing things he didn’t used to do (like kicking at you, biting, trying to squash you against the wall in the stable), please get help from a competent trainer. It may be that your body language is all wrong, but it also may be that you’ve established yourself as, well, a doormat and need to learn when it is appropriate to re-establish yourself as the boss. This involves a lot of timing, correct body language and feel – none of which you can learn from your friends on Facebook or a training video. You need an actual trainer or other very experienced horseperson to work with you, hands-on and in-person.

6. TAKE LESSONS. Truer words were never spoken! The better you ride, the better horses will behave for you.

7. Call the vet and make sure the horse is not simply trying to tell you he has a pain issue. Horses can’t exactly text you and say “hey, dude, my back hurts.” They will simply resort to things like biting you when you tighten the girth or bucking when asked to canter in a desperate attempt to convey the message.

8. If you’ve changed a lot about the horse’s lifestyle, try to change it back and see if that fixes the problem. Find a yard where the horse can be turned out full time for example, instead of stabled. If you started feeding a lot of grain, replace it with grass pellets.

9. Don’t keep a horse you are terrified of. If the behaviors are truly scary or you’re hitting the dirt regularly – the horse is just not for you. You’re not eating to be in the running for the rodeo championship and no one cares if you look cool or not. It’s probably more important to remain uninjured and able to, like, work and pay your mortgage, right? Turn the horse that is way too much for you over to a competent trainer to sell. Yes, this may cost you some money up front but it’s the right thing to do and once he’s sold, you are free to buy a more appropriate horse.

10. Increase your odds of not having these problems in the first place by

(a) buying a horse who is regularly ridden by beginners, like a lesson horse; and

(b) buying a horse that is a lot older than the one you think you need , and bear in mind that appearance should be your LAST concern when shopping for a beginner horse. But he’s so PRETTY! And they’ll let me make payments! Keep in mind that a lot of sellers don’t know how a horse will behave with a beginner because they simply have not ever had a beginner ride the horse long-term. So they weren’t maliciously trying to mislead you – they didn’t know.

Credit Sara Hunter

The world is absolutely packed full of horses that ride beautifully for experienced riders and turn into utter broncs within 2 weeks of being ridden by beginners who bounce on their backs or have inconsistent hands. Some horses are not very tolerant! Call the seller! Have them come out and ride the horse to see if they can figure out what’s going on. Many sellers will take a horse back or help you sell it – give them a chance, don’t assume every seller is a sleazy used-horse salesman who has taken your cash and ran with it and couldn’t care less what happens to the horse. (Yes, some are – but like I say, give them a chance). And remember, if you want to buy a horse that will act the same every single ride and never act up with anybody, you can buy them on E-bay , search under My Little Pony!

This article was originally wrote by Polo pony rescue we have tweaked it for a UK version.

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