Secret of the Older Horse
First Horse for the Beginning Rider
I once had an instructor who firmly believed that we don't pick our horse, the horse chooses us. Whether that be true or false, purchasing or accepting the gift of a horse from someone is one of those decisions that compares with finding the right relationship, or the best job. First of all, it calls for a clear and honest evaluation of both our intended use for the horse and of our goals, or where we want to end up with the horse. Ignoring this simple process has left many a hopeful horse owner with post-purchase blues. Secondly, the number of horses rescued from squalor or brutality indicates the need for correct assessment, not just of our riding skills, but also our available funds and time to spend with our horse, and our ability to provide a clean, natural environment once we accept the horse as our own.
Every level of rider will find their equal level in a horse when it comes to matching talent for talent, skill for skill. Horses range to each extreme in temperaments and athletic ability. But one of our most valuable resources in the horse industry is the older horse. These seasoned campaigners are one of the best catches for children, novice, handicapped, or elderly riders. The older, more traveled horses provide safe, predictable interaction for novices learning their way through the horse world. The slower pace of the beginner, whose focus is on posture in the saddle rather than the high level, show-quality performance of an advanced rider, is a welcome, simpler pace for the older horse. This type of elementary curriculum also provides a job for many impaired horses retired from competition due to arthritic joints or soft tissue weakness. These horses have been carefully trained and used for intense competition. Their retirement opens up the option of owning a highly skilled horse at a reasonable cost, ready to educate a new rider eager to learn. In addition, as the new schedule gives old chronic injuries the time to heal, the impaired horse can often become sounder and healthier, offering additional years of education for novice riders. An extremely aged horse who can no longer be ridden can still live out its remaining years serving as a companion for foals, breeding mares, or convalescing horses. Their sedentary influence tends to subdue the excessive exuberance that is often harmful to a young or recovering horse turned out to pasture.
The decision to choose a horse in its late teens or early twenties is an intelligent choice that offers many years of enjoyment for a novice rider. My favorite example is a gentleman I knew who accepted the gift of a 27-year-old horse. He had never ridden nor owned a horse before, but his horse carried him around the mountain trails near his home with ease and with perfect manners. This same horse lived to be 35, and my friend still reminisces about the eight years they spent together camping out in the mountains. But he confided that his happiest moments were those he spent just hanging around the barn having a beer and brushing his favorite horse buddy.
I have had the pleasure of transitioning many retired horse to different careers. Many ex-race horses make great lesson mounts after retraining. The photo shows a 25-year-old Morgan Mare at a Breed Show where she exhibited her newly learned work with the Garrocha Stick, a Spanish riding technique.