Buying A Horse
Selecting Your Horse
Though much has been written about the best methods of selecting a horse, most of the focus is on the "ideal" horse to purchase and does not sufficiently consider the fact that the average owner must be satisfied with something less than perfection. A horse may be severly lacking in the ideal "conformation" and still provide a lifetime of riding pleasure. There are some defects, however, that are very important and no horse will be satisfactory if these flaws are present in a marked degree. It is best to have a professional accompany you when you make your purchase and have a vet certify that the horse your are considering is healthy.
The price you can afford to pay for a horse may limit your choices. However, it is important to be sure that you buy a healthy horse, of the best quality as possible, while remaining within your budget.
You will also want to take into consideration, the long term cost and responsibility of caring for your new horse. Feed costs will vary depending on weather or not you own property on which the horse will graze, you rent grazing space, or if you must will need to be provided with hay year round.
In an average year each horse will require 3 to 3 1/2 tons of hay unless you are fortunet enough to have pasture available, and about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 tons of grain. Shelter, Vets, farriers, minerals, shots, are also in the picture. Remember that a "poor" horse consumes as much food and requires the same care as the very best horse, and a "less quality" horse or a severly "flawed" horse, will never pay his way, either in personal satisfaction or in picking up a little compatition prize money. Keep the following two rules in mind when pricing a horse:
1. It is not wise to buy a horse whose true value is less than the cost of the feed he will consume in three years.
2. If you simply want to derive your greatest pleasure from riding, consider spending no more one month's
income for your purchase.
If you buy a young-sound horse, you could expect to enjoy up to fifteen years or more of useful life. A horse reaches his physical prime about the age of five, and barring an accident or disease he should still be doing his job until the age of fifteen to twenty. Many horses will continue their "athletic life" another five years or longer. Many top performers, including those, on a "polo team" or in the "hunting field" are in their middle to late teens.
The greatest difficulty in arriving at a purchase price lies in the fact that the value of horses is subject to more fluctuations than anything found on the open market. Be sure to shop current prices to see where the market is before makeing your final purchase.
In order to stay in business a breeder must make a small profit on the horses he sells. If he makes an investment in pedigreed stock and gives them hay and grain until they reach maturity he will have made a sizable investment by the time the horses are broke and ready for use. So the price of a horse (most often), takes into consideration, the cost of raising it.
In the SOUTH WEST many ranchers run horses much as they do cattle. These horses cost much less to raise since they must eke out their own living from the land. It takes these horses longer to develop and many never reach their optimum size, however, fine stock has come to the market in these herds.
Sentiment is another incalculable factor and it is not unusual for an owner to sacrifice price in order to secure a suitable home for his favorite horses.
Take your time selecting your new friend and companion. Spend time with the horse to be sure he has a compatalbe personality, that he is safe to be around, and that he is healthy. If something does not "feel right", it probably isn't, so walk a way and keep looking.
Reputable dealers never object to a "Vet check" (a veterinary certification of health), and many of them will invite the examination before you suggest it. If a man knows his horse is sound he is happy to have an unbiased corroboration of his statement. Whenever you run into a dealer who tries to make any objection or put any obstacle in the way of such a test you will be wise to drop negotiations with him at once. If you are unable to do your own scouting around, a possible choice is to work with a horse broker. In either case, get references wherever possible.
Many horses are sold at public auction and, at the better auctions, the horses are sold as sound or their faults declared. The main trouble with auctions is that you purchase the horse "as is", and even though they are exactly as represented, time will not permit a true test of the horses temperament, gaits, and abilities. So you may be taking some risk.
If you are looking for Thoroughbreds, but not necessarily a money winner, you may try one of the smaller race tracks, where the purses are small. Many of the small racing stables operate on a shoestring, and at the end of the "meet", some of the Thoroughbred owners will not have enough to money for feed or transport to the next track. A keen eye and good judgement would be helpful here. If a horse can't win he may be a total loss to the owner and his price will drop accordingly.
A few more basic tips: Never buy a horse unless you are fully satisfied. If possible, have someone who knows horses accompany you when selecting your horse. Listen to their opinion, but even if your professional friend thinks the horse is perfect, do not buy it unless your completely happy with the horse yourself.
It is rare that a deal must be made on the spot, so look at several prospects. Compare their merits and go home and think it over. "Sleep on it", and if you still want a specific horse in the morning, he is probably the one to buy.
In the matter of sex: Geldings - are often perfered, due to their dependable-quiet nature. Their personalities are more consistant which is a real benefit when consistancy maters. Mares - are by nature far more uncertain and this is particularly true in the spring and early summer. At times they will be flighty, irritable, and they are distinctly less trust-worthy. Some riders prefer the elivated challange of a mare and many mares are found to be absolutely tops in courage and intelligence. Stallions - should be in the hands of an "Expert" only. Their drive to be with a mare can make them extremely dangerous. All stallions must be a registered and should be an outstanding specimen of his breed. In some states it is for-bidden by law to stand an unregistered animal at public stud.
The best age for a prospect is between four and eight. A horse reaches his physical prime at about five years, and will usually keep his top form until twelve or fourteen. A horse who is over four is ready to go on into a full schedule of work, and most of them have had at least general breaking by the time they are five. Horses over that age are frequently quite difficult to break if they have had no handling in their earlier years. If you have not yet developed skill as a trainer, it is best to select a well schooled horse, and frequently a horse of nine or ten may be a wise and economical choice. If he is still sound at that time there is a good chance that he will remain so, and you can look forward to five or more years of pleasure while you are developing your horsemanship skills.
If you prefer to do your own schooling a well developed three-year-old may be a good idea, for you can start him at the beginning and mold him to your own standards. Since training constitutes a large share of the expense, if you are able to train the horse yourself, you will save a good deal of money here.
Many novices are tempted to give too much weight to color when they go horse buying. The old proverb says "A good horse cannot be a bad color". Sellect your horse first, for his "Qualities", then for his color.
From the standpoint of economy you will get a lot more for your money in a horse of small or average size. So buy quality first, and with it as much size as your weight requires and your purse permits.
Basically horses come from three sources: "Hot Blood" de-rived from the oriental, middle eastern, and North African strains; and "Cold Blood" which is the draft or working stock. Recent research has shown that these two lines are much further apart in their origins than previously believed. "Warm Blood" Offer a balance of characteristic traits.
Most horses are of composite heritage, so it is worthwhile to briefly review the various breeds and their characteristics.
The Arab is the oldest of the present day strains and his purity as a type was established before the time of Christ. Stories and legends trace his family tree back to the five war mares of the prophet Mahomed. Generations of breeding in the desert established the Arab's hardiness, intelligence, and his suitability as friend and mount for man. From his ancestral home in the Middle East the Arab spread to Egypt, North Africa, and finally across most of the civilized world. Over time the Arab has diminished in his birthplace, and the majority of the finest specimens are now found in Western Europe, England and America. The Arab is a small horse, standing about fifteen hands and weighing approximately nine hundred pounds. This lack of stature is more than compensated by the flinty hardness of his bone, the strength of his tendons, and the courage of his heart. His intelligence and docility are proverbial. The Arab displays a beautiful (dish faced) head, fine large eyes, a short back and clean legs. His walk is free and proud, his trot fair, and his canter smooth and easy. His speed is less than that, of the Thoroughbred, and his size limits him as a hunter or steeplechaser.
The greatest value of the :Arab is as a modifier of the other strains. Centuries of pure breeding have established a genetic prepotency which enables him to stamp his off-spring more surely than will his more nondescript mate. An Arab sire will improve practically any halfbred horse, and crosses with pure breds are usually even more successful. As an all round pleasure horse it is hard to beat a cross of the little fellow with the Thoroughbred, the Saddle-bred, or the Standardbred. The Arab-Thoroughbred cross is called an Anglo-Arab, and for years they have been the mainstay of the French and North African Cavalry. The best of them combine the durability and tractability of the Arab with the size and speed of the running horse.
The Thoroughbred. In the early seventeen hundreds three great horses were brought to England. They were the Godolphin Arabian, the Darley Arabian, and the Byerly Turk. These were mated to the so called native mares, many of whom were largely of the blood of previous oriental imports. From this limited beginning has evolved the running horse, and every Thoroughbred in the world today, whether he runs in the Kentucky Derby, flies the fences at Liverpool or plays polo in Australia, can trace his male descent from one of these three. The pure Thoroughbred is a horse of mixed virtue. Nothing can match the speed of his stride, the beauty of his motion or his ability to do so many things so well. Unfortunately speed has been the single watchword of his breeding in the past century, and with this seeking for that single attribute other factors have been neglected. The result is that only a limited number of them are suitable for pleasure riding and general use. Unsoundness and lack of stamina exact a heavy toll, as does the blinding urge to be first at the finish wire. Certain strains have suffered worse than others, and one of my favorite studies has been the consideration of the inheritance of temperament, of which more anon. The Thoroughbred is definitely not the mount for the tactless, the impatient, and the heavy handed. A cold horse will stand a lot of abuse, but when a Thoroughbred enters the fight he seldom gives up until something snaps in the horse or the rider. But like the Stradivarius violin, he will yield the greatest return for one who knows how to treat him. After you have learned to understand and guide the Thoroughbred you are hopelessly spoiled for the others. His gaits, be they fast or slow, will flow effortlessly for miles over any sort of terrain, and when you ask for a supreme effort the heart and the body will be there to respond. Year after year we see more of the horses "in the book" making a name for themselves in the hunting field, the polo game, and in all the realm of higher equitation. As with the Arab, the blood of the Thoroughbred has spread throughout the horses of the world, improving and fortifying the humble. It is a little too much to expect a fine animal when only half is of pure heritage. A cross of three-quarters Thorough-bred blood will usually do the trick unless the other quarter is hopelessly cold. In the past twenty years the late Army Remount Service placed over a thousand stallions in the field and they have been of incalculable value both to the upgrading of stock and in the education of breeders and riders. The program has now come to an end but most horsemen will never be content to go back to underbred stock.
One of the most important offshoots of the Thoroughbred is the American Standardbred, or trotter. Imported Messenger, brought to this country in 1788 is credited, along with a hackney sire, as founding the trotter through Hambletonian 10. Selective breeding has evolved a horse primarily for speed in harness, and the earlier roughness of the breed has been greatly eliminated in recent years. Since racing is usually conducted in heats, there is a great premium upon stamina and the average Standardbred is still going strong when the colder horses are finished. Disposition is another characteristic which has been cultivated, and in spite of a keen racing instinct these animals are docile and sensible. It is a revelation to go to one of the major trotting tracks and visit the paddock just before the race. In contrast to the general confusion and cutting up that one sees at all other races, the trotters stand quietly in harness while their handlers loaf about and chat. In the show ring they are required to step on at top speed on a tight circular course. The tanbark flies and the crowd screams, but a few seconds later they are all standing motion-less in the center of the ring while their drivers walk away and wait out in front.
The Standardbred is of two types, the trotter with diagonal gait, and the pacer with a lateral gait. In the latter the two legs on the same side are advanced simultaneously in a "side wheeling motion." The latter is seldom a pleasant gait to ride and pure pacers are rarely seen under saddle. When crossed with other breeds the result is often an ambling extra gait that is not without merit. The straight trotter is a pleasant ride and his extra spring and action give him a talent for jumping. He is inclined to be a little more plain headed than his Thoroughbred cousin and his shoulders and withers are not quite as well designed for the saddle. Standardbred blood plays an important part in the improvement of riding types in general and crosses with the Thoroughbred, the Arab, and the Saddlebred or mixtures of the same, result in a high percentage of splendid animals. For rugged cross country riding and jumping, a horse with three-quarters Thoroughbred and one-quarter Standardbred is not far from ideal.
A second product of the United States is the American Saddlebred. Again there is a parent stock of the Thorough-bred. Denmark, foaled in 1839, is usually acknowledged as the foundation Sire of the breed. The Saddle Horse resulted from a cross on "saddlers" or "amblers" brought into Kentucky from Canada and other places. Primarily developed as a general utility riding horse for southern plantations, they have been refined and developed until the present day specimen has taken his place as the outstanding show horse. In addition to the. three natural gaits- of walk, trot, and canter, this breed has the potentialities of two- additional gaits. There is the "slow gait," an animated four beat rhythm, and the spectacular fast rack which is in the nature of a broken. pace. The feet on one side are advanced but the hind strikes before the fore foot. The present day Saddlebred finds various spheres of usefulness. Many of them, particularly in the middle west, are used entirely as pleasure horses. Carrying a natural tail, and a normal length of hoof, thousands of them are seen on the bridle paths and on country lanes. In general they show manners, a tractable. disposition and enjoyable riding qualities. They lack stamina, due to a light, round barrel and inadequate bone. When pushed at the gallop they fall far behind the Thoroughbred in both speed and beauty of stride. As a result of naturally springy action some of them have shown a talent for jumping, provided that they. are not asked to go far and fast.
The outstanding horses are saved for the show ring, and this entails a lifetime of study in itself. It is a pity, as I see it, to permit so many artificial modifications to enter into the picture. The hooves are grown to excessive lengths, and action is further altered by weighted shoes, boots and heaven knows what else. The style of riding, adopted results in a general rigidity of the entire head and neck, and good mouths are the exception rather than the rule. The tail's muscles are cut so that it will stick up, and between shows the position is maintained by a brace. As a final gesture before they prance into the ring they are treated to a rectal massage with a ginger preparation.
Again we have a breed that is primarily bred for the saddle and he furnishes another ideal cross for general pleasure mounts. Saddlebred sires mated with pure or grade Thoroughbred mares supply many nice types, as do the produce of Saddlebred mares by Arab, Thoroughbred or Standard-bred stallions.
In recent years there has been a revived and expanded interest in the Quarter Horse. This stocky little animal is primarily a product of the cattle country and is the result of crossing the sprinting type of Thoroughbred with the native cow ponies of the plains. Bred primarily to run only a quarter of a mile, the devotees like to believe that nothing can beat him at this distance. It is a fact, however, that in match races the Quarter Horse has been defeated by the Thoroughbred even under his own terms. The chief advantage of this early speed is that it helps in rounding up cattle where a quick getaway is more essential than the long run. Along with the development of the breed has come some-thing known as cow sense. To those who have not seen the stock horse as a workman the first experience will be a revelation. Many of the shows are adding a cutting horse class and nothing in the entire horse world is more thrilling than the sight of one of these horses handling his cattle without any visible guidance from his rider.
Unfortunately many Quarter Horses are low withered and heavy behind; factors which limit their galloping scope, speed and jumping ability. More and more Thoroughbred blood is being infused into the strain and many of the better ones are taking on the conformation of a good polo pony. For mountain work, and long days on the trail they have few superiors. They are long on brains and accept all sorts of untoward circumstances far better than many other breeds.
A few other breeds have been thrown into the melting pot, but numerically they have been comparatively unimportant. One of the best known is the Morgan, all allegedly descended from the fourteen hand stallion Justin Morgan. In the days of the general utility horse the Morgan found a place, but at present his star is waning except in the eyes of a limited few. He is noted for stamina, and tranquility, but when judged in comparison with the pure saddle breeds he takes a second place in style, gaits, and scope.
A few of the Cleveland Bays have been brought to this country but they have made little headway. Primarily a part Thoroughbred coaching horse, it was believed that a cross with the Thoroughbred would produce heavy weight hunters.
Palominos, Pintos, Appaloosas, and the other similar groupings, are hardly to be classed as breeds in the true genetic sense. Most of them are mixtures of the other breeds, both saddle and draft. All of them are to be judged upon their individual merits and very few generalities will apply.
The popularity of the Tennessee Walking Horse is greatly on the rise. The origin is quite similar to that of the Saddlebred, but he has been kept up until recently as a working horse rather than a showman. Of medium size, he comes in all colors and is unique in having a running walk that may reach over seven miles per hour. He does this with little fatigue or loss of motion. His head nods and his rider feels as if he were floating along. The trot is practically non-existent, and the canter is smooth, rocking and easy. The walker has a justified favor among those who want their riding to be a relaxing recreation rather than a vigorous sport. Good disposition is seldom missing, and for the timid or elderly rider a better choice can hardly be made. Sustained speed and jumping ability are lacking. The show craze is now engulfing this breed, too, and it is hoped that fundamental virtues will not be sacrificed to artificial dicta. Already a number of them are appearing with shoeing that would preclude any work across country, and set tails are no longer a rarity.
According to strict definition a pony is an animal standing less than fourteen and a half hands. In this sense he is a small horse but that is not the end of the story. A pony is of stockier conformation and possessed of a temperament usually quite unlike a horse. There are many in the United States who dislike ponies for children and prefer that the child should be taught on an old, gentle, and well schooled horse. There is considerable justification for this point of view chiefly because of the fact that the proper type of riding ponies have not been extensively produced in the United States except perhaps in the Atlantic Coast States. Many which have been selected for children were not of riding conformation or of suitable disposition. Perhaps another reason for the lack of popularity of the pony is that riding academies usually prefer to have large horses which can be offered to anyone who comes along. When one of these old timers becomes too sluggish to be of much interest to the better riders he can be turned over to children who, under the watchful eyes of the instructor, tag along one after the other in a small enclosure. Many children learn to ride well in this way but it is not like having a mount of their own size that they can care for, cherish, and ride around the countryside with their neighbors.
The subject of disposition is the paramount consideration in any pony for a child. The number of purebred ponies is quite limited and most that you will find are mixtures of Shetland and other less well defined strains. It is well to remember that a Shetland was primarily a work pony and not a riding type. They are extremely hardy and able to carry weight out of all proportion to their size but their wide backs and low withers do not suit them for use under saddle. In addition, many of them are inclined to be quite stubborn and a few have inherent meanness. Many of the breeders of Shetlands have been primarily interested in upgrading style and animation in order to have a high class harness pony for the show ring. To achieve these ends they have used crosses of the small hackney which has given the desired results but has done nothing to make the animal more suitable for a child's pleasure.
In England and Ireland there are many strains of ponies which have been bred for the saddle. They come in all colors and various types, now so often crossbred that it is difficult to tell one from the other unless you are an expert. The most popular has been the Welsh which in many ways resembles a miniature hunter. Others include the Dartmoor, Exmoor, and New Forest ponies. In order to produce ponies for the older children they have crossed these mares with Arab and small Thoroughbred sires. When the disposition factor was maintained in these cases results have been splendid.
Psychologically the pony offers many advantages. A horse looks very big to an eight-year-old and actually no child can hope to control one unless it is so docile that it requires no guidance. Since the better breeds of horses have been selected and hand raised in order to obtain such things as animation, speed and brilliance, the hardiness and self-sufficiency that characterize the pony has frequently been lost in the shuffle. The pony has a highly developed instinct of self-preservation and for that reason it is not apt to run itself into exhaustion, frantically fight restraint, or blow up in the face of unexpected circumstances.
The average small child finds great difficulty in putting a saddle and bridle on a big horse but soon finds it easy to do it with light weight equipment for something nearer his own size. The pony size is also a great safety factor since a tumble involves less than half the fall from a larger horse.
Another factor of importance is the economy of the pony. As long as there is riding country adjoining, the simplest little barn and backyard enclosure will suffice. Shoeing is rarely necessary and feed is minimal.
In general, the factors of conformation apply equally to horses and ponies. A pony will be more stocky, rounder of barrel and have less length of neck and height of withers. The best of ponies will not be heavy headed, thick necked, or look like miniature draft horses.
Because ponies are not too numerous their initial cost may seem high, but remember that you are paying for your child's safety and that nothing will reimburse you for an accident which could have been avoided by the selection of a safe mount. Of course, the pony will be outgrown in a few years, but that generally presents no problem as there is usually a waiting list among your friends when your own child is ready for something larger.
If you have trouble finding a pony in your own neighborhood write to the Maryland Pony Breeders, Inc., Louise Este Hollyday, Secretary, Never Die Farm, Sykesville, Maryland. This valuable organization keeps a roster of pony breeders and also sponsors sales of high class riding ponies.