If you don’t have a horse to ride, or if you’ve determined the
one you do have isn’t right for the job, you’ll have to acquire
one. Taking a horse on loan, or leasing one can be helpful while
you’re learning, but it’s more likely you’ll need to purchase a
horse for this purpose.
And, as you progress in the sport, you may find a need to move on to a horse with more talent. Here are some tips for finding a horse to suit your needs.
- Get help! This is by far the most important advice I (or any knowledgeable professional) can give you. Using the guidance and counsel of a reputable trainer to help you locate and evaluate a suitable horse will save you untold amount of time, money, and grief. It may be the trainer you work with now, or someone you retain specifically for this purpose, but you need a person to evaluate your abilities and match you up with a mount.
Trainers typically have an extensive network of contacts, and
often know about horses coming available before they hit the
market. They can also spot flaws that you’d otherwise miss—that
is, until the horse is purchased and performing poorly! They know
the weak spots of many of the reining horses already on
the market, and can make an assessment of what
you can live with—and what will sabotage your efforts to learn
If you don’t follow any of my other advice, do follow this recommendation: Get help finding a horse!
- Value your first impression. Your initial gut reaction to a horse is extremely important, because horses are what they seem. Is he quiet to handle, friendly, and curious, or is he skittish or cranky? Does he seem to like people, or would he obviously rather be left alone? Be especially careful of falling for a pretty face, such that you overlook clear warning signs.
Specifically, don’t make excuses for any questionable behavior (“I must have approached her too quickly—that’s why she spooked,” or “He was probably cranky because it was feeding time”). Be doubly cautious if the seller tries to offer such explanations, or the old standard, “He’s never done that before.”
Bottom line: any traits you notice when you first see the horse when your mind’s a clean slate accurately represent who the horse “is.” Those traits aren’t going to change, and they’ll be a common thread throughout all the horse’s behavior. Be cautious.
- Buy the individual, not the “brand.” It’s true that certain traits seem to carry through in bloodlines, so a horse with a lot of successful reiners in his pedigree may have a higher likelihood of success than a “nobody.” Still, my advice is to shop for popular breeding, but buy the balanced, good-minded individual. Your advisor will be able to guide you in this area.
- Get a prepurchase exam. When you’ve found a horse you think will work for you, a prepurchase exam or “vet check” is a must to be sure the horse has no health problems or conformational flaws.
For example, flexion tests (where the veterinarian holds the leg in a flexed position for a set amount of time before having the horse trot off) can reveal a lot of potential joint problems.
If the horse isn’t too pricey, and if his flexion tests are negative, you might forego having his legs X-rayed; make a decision on this after discussing it with your trainer or advisor and the vet. Radiographs can be useful, however, in revealing joint and bone problems that may worsen.
If you decide you can only afford one set of radiographs, make them of the horse’s stifles. OCD (osteochondritis dissecans), a condition that results from a loss of blood supply to an area of bone beneath the surface of a joint, is increasingly seen in our performance horse bloodlines, and when in the stifles it is a career stopper. So although bone spurs on hocks and even some changes to the navicular bone in the foot can be managed with the right kind of ongoing care, stifle problems are a deal-breaker.
I prefer to X-ray the hocks and feet as well. Not only does it help reveal potential problems, having the radiograph on hand may also be an advantage when you go to sell the horse. Let’s say that, after conferring with your advisor and the vet who performs the prepurchase exam, you decide to buy a horse with a manageable problem that showed up on an radiograph, such as some small lesions on the navicular bone. When you later go to sell that horse, if you can show the problem hasn’t gotten significantly worse (by comparing the radiographs the buyer gets to the ones you had done when you bought the horse), the sale will probably go through.