Consider these tests before you buy a horse:
1. Look at him from a distance and examine his build as a whole. This is called conformation, and each breed of horse has certain characteristics that identify him by form. The animal should carry his head well and be neatly put together.
2. Check for soundness. Run your hands up and down his legs. Look for an unexplained lump or sign of soreness.
3. Test his vision. A horse should blink when you wave your hand in back of his eye.
4. See whether or not he leads in or out of the stable easily.
5. Watch saddling and bridling. See if he is uneasy when cinched. Some horses are afraid of a girth, caused by too tight a cinch. Notice whether or not he is bridle shy, touchy about the ears; whether he opens his mouth to receive the bit.
6. Have the owner ride the animal so you can see how he handles. Watch whether he stops easily, reins well, backs, and has an easy gait. Have the owner work the horse to a gallop. Try to determine if he is speed crazy. The owner should guarantee the safety of the animal as to training. Also, note whether or not there is excessive breathing, noise with the breathing, and flanks that heave spasmodically.
7. Most important! Ride the horse yourself. Is he smooth in the walk, trot, and canter? Does he shy? Is he spooky? Can you start and stop him? Is he too spirited for you to handle? Does he switch his tail constantly? Can you ride him away from the stable? A tail-switcher means that the animal has been pushed too fast in training and indicates nervousness. Usually a horse that has been trained by a woman will not like a man rider, or will be uneasy with a man on his back. Sometimes this works in the reverse. Many times it is because of the handling of the reins. A man is normally heavier handed than a woman. However, this depends on the horse and the rider in the main, but it is something to consider in buying a horse that has been privately owned by one person for some time.
8. Don’t buy a stallion. He may look good in the movies but is not practicable in real life. He is likely to be unpredictable and should be managed only by an expert horseman. He belongs, mainly, on the breeding farm. You’ll find just as much spirit and animation in a good mare or gelding and far less trouble.
No horse is perfect, but whatever faults are present you must decide whether or not they may be eliminated with some training. Many times all a horse needs is work. Horses also respond to owners. They have their likes and dislikes. Personalities clash just as between people. Whole personalities have changed with ownership.
Be sure the animal is suited to your own capabilities. And, once again, don’t buy the first horse you see. Somewhere there is a horse suited to you. Two things are important: the age of the rider and of the horse, and the experience or lack of it in both rider and animal.
One must equal the other, rider and animal, because no matter how well trained the horse, if the rider does not understand this training, then the horse will not work well. And a good horse can soon be ruined by a poor rider.
There is no need to be an expert to find pleasure with a horse, but both animal and rider must know the basic principles of horsemanship to be compatible. Too many prospective horse buyers are entranced by the animal’s appearance and forget to find if the horse is suitable. If the horse cannot be managed by the rider he is no good for the new owner no matter how beautiful he is.
If only a pleasure horse is desired, an animal from nine to sixteen years old will prove a safer mount for a child than a younger animal. The pleasure horse is the most reasonable to buy and maintain. You should find one for about $100 to $350. Try to find an animal that has been privately owned, is gentle and reasonably trained. Everyone who desires to own a horse should take at least a year of instruction in riding. In buying a mature horse there will be less danger than in finding one that becomes easily excited; he will have more patience, and will tolerate reasonable use by children.
Even a gentle horse is apt to become mean if parents allow children to aggravate it hour after hour. Parents must be ready to teach a child compassion and respect for the animal’s rights. Teasing should not be permitted, and certain hours for riding should be planned. A parent who is not willing to do this may be buying trouble.
As with every other sport you can either get by with little expense or spend a small fortune. Everything depends upon what you want from your horse and the type of riding you are going to do. Remember, owning a horse is a pleasure and comes under the head of entertainment. When you think of the cost of keeping it, compare it with other forms of sport and entertainment costwise.
There are many good, useful horses who will never win a prize for beauty but will be loyal and safe and pleasurable. With common-sense care, there should be no more cost than routine feeding. A parent should remember this: a child’s horse, dependable, safe, affectionate, and healthy, is worth thousands of dollars in the peace of mind he gives, even if it is a fifty-dollar animal in actual money. Many horses are usable until twenty years of age, a few even older. For the very young child, there is nothing better than an old horse to start on.
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