Gordon Hutchinson of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is a horse owner who started riding early and has kept horses all his adult life. “When I was just big enough to hang onto the saddle horn, my grandfather would hoist me on his old farm plug. I loved riding from the first moment.” He has owned and trained dozens of horses in his lifetime. It’s enough to teach him about buying and owning a horse. Here is some of his advice when checking out potential rides.
Don’t Believe the Seller
Remember, the owner wants to shift his expensive hobby to your barn. Get a vet check. If the seller is hesitant to allow this, pass. It will cost you a few bucks, but it could save you money, time, and aggravation. A vet can tell you if the horse is sound—and the approximate age of the horse. It may well be considerably older than the seller is telling you. If you are buying a blooded animal, the registration papers will tell the age, but they won’t tell you if the horse has foundered, tends to colic, has bad knees, teeth, or hooves.
Note the Fear Factor
Bring an old bathroom towel with you. Get someone to hold the animal by its lead, flick the towel over the front shoulders (withers), back, sides, and rear quarters of the horse. The horse should stand still, not shy or react to sudden movements. It the animal shies, or acts scared it could have been abused. You want a horse that likes people and works for you because it wants to—not because it is afraid. Easily frightened horses can be dangerous.
Hold the horse by the lead, and rub it in various areas of its body. Does it respond to your touch pleasurably? Does it shy from certain areas? One of the sweetest, most affectionate horses I have ever owned is my current Tennessee Walker mare, Roxie. Loving as a puppy, she follows me around the pasture and grabs my clothes with her teeth when I ignore her.
The Alabama trainer from whom I bought her told me “She likes people more than horses.” This has proven true. But she is ear-shy for some reason. I can touch anywhere on her body, but she refuses to allow me to touch her ears in any manner. I’ve given up trying to train it out of her. If a horse is too sensitive in important areas, it might indicate mistreatment. But, this horse is too gentle to have ever been mistreated. Maybe it was an injury—we’ll never know. She has absolute trust in me, she lets me slip up next to her when she is lying down on her side, kneel, and stroke her, crooning to her gently. That, friends, is a trusting horse.
Go for a Ride
This is the final step if the horse passes the other tests. Have the owner saddle and bridle it and stand well aside. Will the horse stand solidly while it is saddled? While you mount it? Will it allow you to get settled in the saddle and your feet in the stirrups before starting to walk away with you? Nothing is more aggravating than an animal that won’t stand. Nervousness may stem simply from a lack of riding. Or, it could be a nervous horse. Are you comfortable, can you trust the horse?
A couple of horse buddies have a favorite saying, “Beauty will get you killed.” Don’t buy just because the horse is gorgeous. Unfortunately, that is the most important part of the purchase for many folks. No one wants to ride an ugly horse!
Owning a Horse: Horsemanship 101
Another is Horsemanship 101. Either you will put the money into buying a well-trained horse, or you will buy a green horse with a nice personality, and be forced into putting the training into him…but either way, you will put the money into the horse. My wife Ti Lou made one of the most astute observations I have ever heard about owning a horse. “The cheapest part of owning a horse is buying the horse.” After you buy the horse comes the tack—saddles, blankets, halters, bridles, reins— then feed, vet bills, farriers (horses need to have their hooves trimmed about every six weeks), and stable fees if you keep them at a barn.
It’s also important to remember that horses are herd animals. One of the cruelest things you can do to a horse is to buy it and put it into a pasture by itself. They crave companionship and will be miserable alone. This unhappiness can manifest itself in unpleasant nervous habits, or dangerous actions around other horses. In lieu of another horse, many people get their horse a smaller horse like a Shetland pony, or even a donkey or goat. Every horse needs a friend in the pasture.
Owning a horse is God’s way of reminding us there is good and beauty in the world. There is nothing on this planet as pleasurable as a well-mannered, easy-to-handle horse. I must love them; I’m told a full-sized horse distributes seven tons of waste a year. Having spent my lifetime with from two to five horses, I have shoveled a lot of manure—and am still doing it.
No matter what breed you choose—and I love Tennessee Walkers for their easy-riding gait that simply eats miles on a ride—they are a blessing to any family that is willing to accept the responsibilities. Horses are a wonderful way to educate, help children mature and teach them to care for something that demands their attention on a daily basis.
A horse is not a lifetime investment—but usually lives many years, and will be a part of your family for decades. It will enrich your lives, and give you memories you will cherish long after the horse is gone. But, they demand your attention, kindness and time. Be ready for the responsibility, look at several and use your brain, not your emotions.
This article is from the spring 2018 issue of The New Pioneer Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.
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