That may seem like a bizarre question, but you would be surprised how many adults will put a child on a horse they would not be willing to ride themselves. While driving home last night, I passed a local arena. What I observed there made me sick. A big bold Paint barrel horse, probably 15.3 was leaping and jumping around the arena. Like a little humming bird perched on his back was a child who appeared to be about 7. I bet she didn’t weigh 50 pounds soaking wet! It was very windy and the horse was “jacked-up” with its head tied down. I can tell you I would not have wanted to ride him. The power and impulsion of a horse this size would flick a young rider off without a moment’s notice. It goes without saying that she was not wearing a helmet. A man, who appeared to be her father and the owner/trainer of the horse, looked on. What has this world come to when winning a prize is more important than the safety of a child? This little girl was clearly not enjoying the experience and neither of the adults participating in the fiasco had the good sense to say “maybe this is too much horse for a child.”
Matching horses to riders is one of the most important skills a trainer should have. When you put the right horse and rider together it is magic! They both go to a higher level of performance working as a team. For this reason, professionals have an obligation to their clients to guide them towards the appropriate equine partner.
I had a lady call me last week who wanted to start endurance riding. She was interested in a 15 hand Arabian gelding I had for sale. It sounded like it was going to be a good match, until she mentioned she would like her husband to ride the horse.
I asked, “How big of a fellow is he?”
She said, “6’1” and 180 lbs.”
“What type of saddle does he use?”
“A traditional western saddle,” she answered.
Now we are looking at a rider that is going to “tack out” at over 220 lbs. I explained to her that this horse is 900 lbs, a light-bodied Arabian. He would not be well suited to carry over 220 lbs for a long distance. She seemed surprised that I would turn away a potential buyer for the good of the horse.
But that is what professionals should do. When you compromise what you know is right to make a sale, you ultimately hurt your reputation and the industry as a whole. I know countless children and adults who have made a hasty exit from equine sports after having a bad experience or accident. Greedy behavior and bad judgment hurts an industry that so desperately depends on new riders and first-time horse owners.
One day I went to look at a horse at a trainer’s barn, and when I asked to see her ride the horse she told me she could not because she did not have a saddle! Hmmm. Do you think that horse bucks?
On another occasion I went to a neighbor’s place to look at a mare he wanted to sell. I asked to see the horse under saddle, and he said, “You are such a good rider, we were hoping you would get on her.”
I said, “I will right after I see you ride her.”
He called his college age daughter and asked her to ride the horse. She had not been on the mare two minutes when the mare started bucking! He turned to me, and with a straight face said, “Gee… she has never bucked before.”
This advice does not apply to professionals, who may get on problem horses and green horses, and may not mind hitting the ground every now and then. It is intended for riders, who are at an age or place in life where hitting the ground is one of the last things they need to do. DO NOT get on any horse that you do not SEE ridden first. Do not fall for “I have not had this horse out in a while, but she will be fine.” If she is fine, please get on her and take her for a spin so I can see for myself how nice she is. If you do not feel safe on a horse for any reason, get off! It is incredible how many people who have accidents say “I felt like something bad was going to happen.” Don’t wait, just get off. There is no shame in removing yourself from a situation that you do not want to be in. I personally will not get on any horse that appears out of control. If a horse cannot stop, stand, and turn, I don’t want to ride it. Why would I?
There are loads of great horses looking for new homes. Shopping for your first horse can be a fun adventure. Don’t get in a hurry! Horses are easy to buy and hard to sell. Buy the horse you would want to ride, not the one you think you can turn into what you want. Injuries can happen in seconds and can take months to recover from. Training is expensive and can take years. Enjoy the shopping experience and take your time. Be smart and be safe.