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A friend of mine just had an adopted horse returned after less than a week, and her experience inspired me to write a post about how to set yourself up for success with a new horse. Whether adopted or purchased, the rules are the same.

1.  Let the horse settle in – even more so if he’s gone on a long trailer ride.  Hauling is tiring for horses and humans, and most horses don’t love change.  Giving the horse 48 hours or more to settle in and just turning him out or ponying him lightly will minimize the odds of a bad first ride or an avoidable injury to one of you.

2.  Don’t make any drastic changes.  Feed him what he’s been eating, making any changes gradually over time.  If he’s shod, leave him shod.  If he’s long and needs to be reset, make any changes in shoeing minimal.  If he is used to living on pasture and you’ve put him in a stall, try to ensure that he gets turned out daily or at least a few times a week.  Pay attention to what the previous owner or the rescue recommends – they had the horse sound and ready for you to ride, but if you change everything, don’t be surprised if suddenly the horse is not sound or gets sick.

3.  Pay attention to fitness level. If a horse is sold to you as a fit, playing polo pony, then great – go ahead and play. If the horse has had time off, remember that it takes slow conditioning to bring him back to fitness.  Nothing ever got fit being ridden twice a week, so if you expect to be able to do hard work with the horse – polo, gaming, hilly trails, jumping, whatever – and you only have time to ride on weekends, expect to pay someone else to help you get and keep your horse fit.  It’s just like fitting yourself up for a marathon. A horse who just came out of pasture can’t do twenty or thirty minutes of work.  Start with a program like 10 minutes walk, 5 trot, 5 walk, 5 trot, 10 walk and work up gradually from there to avoid injuries.  No jumping or galloping until the horse has been regularly ridden at least 5 days a week for at least 3-4 weeks.

4.  If he was sold or adopted to you for your six year old to ride, the horse may not be able to pack 250 lb. Uncle Bob on a trail ride.  ASK.  If you need a “multi-rider” horse, buy one with that in mind.  Sure, an adult may need to occasionally tune up any child’s horse, even small ponies, but there is a difference between a 10 or 15 minute tune up, and hours of riding.

5.  Make sure your new horse is drinking enough. Water doesn’t always taste the same at a new barn, and a picky horse may stop drinking, leading to a very expensive or even fatal colic.  If you have automatic waterers, use buckets or barrels at least at the beginning so that you actually know your horse is drinking.

6. Don’t turn a new horse out into a field at night.  Do so in the morning, and hang out and watch to make sure the existing horses accept him.  A little ear pinning and a few squeals is normal, but a horse aggressively and repeatedly chasing the new horse is not, and you may have to separate them to avoid injuries.

7. Your first rides should be in a contained area, like an arena or round pen, and using a similar bit/bridle to what the horse is used to. You can make changes after you get the feel of the horse and have a better idea of his personality.  It should go without saying, don’t ride a new horse alone – have a friend around, ideally riding with you, just in case.  And for heaven’s sake, don’t ride in a field with loose horses.

8.  Resist the urge to let everybody try out the new horse. He’s not a carnival ride.  The horse is already stressed by the move to a new place, missing his buddies, etc. and putting 6 different riders on him in a row is not fair to him.  Supervise your kids – excited kids don’t always make good choices. Youtube is full of horse videos that tell me the parents couldn’t possibly have known what the kids were doing with the horse.

9.   A little good judgment always goes a long way.  Tighten your girth slowly.  Don’t tighten the girth on a horse that is tied up – just loop the rope around or hold the horse.  If the horse seems unusually alert or much more so than when you tried him out, letting him trot and lope around the round pen with his tack on and his girth tight first is a good way to avoid an unplanned bronc ride.  (Remove your reins or buckle them through the stirrups so that they can’t fall down).  Or pony him on day one and ride on day two.  I used to work a cold-backed polo pony, infamous for taking off bucking as you mounted, that I longed before polo. Everybody looked at me like I was nuts but he never once bucked with me.  I’d rather be uninjured than cool – you can make your own decision.  😉

10. In general, pay attention to what the seller or rescue told you.  Every single horse on earth, even the most beginner safe, has his quirks.  He may need certain food, he may dislike certain bits, he may not cross tie, he may cross tie but not straight tie, he may get leapy if you don’t give him a loose rein, he may get barn sour if you don’t make him walk going towards home, he may really need those shoes with pads to stay comfortable.  The previous owner is the closest thing you have to an expert about that particular horse, so use that valuable resource and don’t be afraid to ask questions.  Any reputable seller/rescue will be happy to help you out long after the deal is done!


Sweetie practices obstacles similar to those she might encounter on a trail ride.

Sweetie practices obstacles similar to those she might encounter on a trail ride.

…and how nice girls end up feeling homicidal!  🙂

I knew Aston (aka Joey, aka Commando) two years ago when he was being used for lessons at the barn I was at.  He was a wonderful lesson horse who would happily pack around beginner riders and tolerate their mistakes.  I loved riding him and stick and balling him – he had a great mouth, very responsive, and nothing ever spooked him despite our arena being right next to a Los Angeles highway.  You could let him sit for two weeks and then hop on him in a bitless bridle.   Well, turns out the bills weren’t getting paid and as a result, the horse was given (with no written agreement) to a good friend of mine who had also played him in the past, who took him out to Indio and had a great time riding and playing him.  He was a multifaceted horse who could jump a 3′ course as easily as play polo. He wasn’t a horse for just anyone though – he was sensitive and reacted very poorly to being manhandled.  He preferred arena polo to the grass, where he got scared and melted down.  Still, he was a valuable horse that you would not expect to wind up in a bad situation.

Aston in a beginner lesson - March 2011. Sound and fit!

Aston in a beginner lesson – March 2011. Sound and fit!

Suddenly, after she’d had the horse for at least six months, my friend got a call that the horse had been sold and would be picked up tomorrow.  We were all horrified.  Who buys a horse without riding it first?  What kind of home could that be?  I urged her to refuse to release the horse and fight it in court, but she was trying to be a nice person and allowed the horse to be picked up.  We heard nothing more for over a year until she received a call from the new owner asking her if she wanted the horse back – no charge.  As the discussion progressed, the truth came out — the horse had been leased out to play, totally unfit, and had hurt his suspensory. He was unrideable and the extent of the damage was not known.

Aston playing with Nancy. He loved her and she gave him a wonderful home until he was sold out from underneath her with no notice.

Aston playing with Nancy. He loved her and she gave him a wonderful home until he was sold out from underneath her with no notice.

We also learned that Aston had been leased out to a young girl at the time he was played and hurt.  Shelby had noticed the attractive Thoroughbred never got visitors and sat in his stall, dirty and neglected, so she investigated and was able to work out a lease agreement.  They were paying 50% of his expenses, yet had not been consulted before he was sub-leased for polo. In fact, the girl had gone out to the barn to ride to find the horse missing.  Even the barn had not been informed he was leaving to play polo.  When he finally returned, days after promised, he was injured.  The lessor got a vet out at her own expense, and they are sending me the records.  However, her mom refused to pay for a horse that couldn’t be ridden (and in all fairness, they weren’t the ones who had lamed him up, so why should they?) so the lease ended and Aston sat in his stall, again ignored, with no further treatment or attention.  I spoke to Shelby’s mom and she cleared up another mystery – Aston hadn’t been purchased by his current owner, he had been given to him as repayment for a completely unrelated debt!  This explained WHY he had been transferred to someone who hadn’t come to ride him or see him first, someone who then let him sit in the stall and did nothing for him.  For those of you unfamiliar with L.A. area boarding, there is no daily turnout. If you do not come out to see your horse, the stall is where that horse sits…a 12 x 12 pipe corral…day in and day out.  Food is thrown, water filled, but as long as the bill is paid, your horse can sit there forever at many barns without anyone saying a word about the inhumane lack of exercise.  (The same day I picked up Aston, I picked up another filly, a three year old who had been abandoned and who had been in the stall for 70 days.)

Aston yesterday.  Thin, wormy, rough and scurfy coat.  Dragged me 10 feet to eat a leaf.

Aston yesterday. Thin, wormy, rough and scurfy coat. Dragged me 10 feet to eat a leaf.

I don’t know the extent of his injury yet.  I hauled him in last night, dewormed him for what obviously was the first time probably in a year, and settled him in a clean stall with plenty of hay.  He is sucking up food like a Hoover.  I hope we still have a rideable horse here, but only further investigation will determine that. I am waiting on the vet records from the time of the injury, around the first week of October.  Then we’ll have my vet take a look and see what we think is the best course of action.

Who’s to blame here?  The new owner was not a horseman and probably did not actually understand that a horse has to be fit to play polo.  Nor do I blame the person who played the horse, who I am sure was not informed he was playing a completely unfit horse.  No, it is someone in polo who spearheaded this completely ridiculous deal.  For a profit of a few hundred dollars, if that, a horse has been reduced in value from $8000 to free – or rather, about $100 had he ended up at the local auction instead of with me.  If that had happened, he’d be on his way to Mexico right now to become a sandwich.  That’s a fate no polo pony deserves.

As a player, one thing you can do is ask questions.  If you lease horses, where do they come from?  Who is responsible for them? Who is working them?  Is the groom that is grooming for you familiar with the horse?  Is it the groom that works and maintains the horse?  Ultimately, this is not only an animal cruelty issue – it’s about your neck.  An unfit horse is a good way to have a life-threatening accident on the polo field.  You wouldn’t get into a car that might have a wheel loose, so don’t get on a pony that looks bad (thin, rough coat, limping).  Educate yourself and protect yourself from an unnecessary accident!

Aston is safe and more updates will be forthcoming.  The teenager who leased him knows I have him and will be coming to visit him as he convalesces.  She was heartbroken and is thrilled to know he is safe.


Here you go:

Adoption Application

The girls saw our farrier on Monday.  Juesa got a trim and Sweetie got some front shoes.   We use Jorge Ordonez, who is just the absolute best.  He is a whiz at corrective shoeing and restoring neglected hooves to their correct angles.

Next step is having their teeth floated, and then Sweetie will be available for adoption!  Each one of our horses will be up to date on feet, shots, deworming and teeth when they are adopted out, so that we know they are ready to go.  We do the rehabbing – not you.  The adoption fee helps reimburse us for the cost of delivering the horse to you in the most excellent condition possible.

Our policy is that horses will be shown only to pre-approved adopters.  There’s no application fee, and no obligation to adopt a horse if you are approved, so if you think you might be interested in adopting at any point in the future, please feel free to start the process!

If you have a retired polo pony that you’d like to find a great retirement home for, we are happy to list them for free here on our site and help you screen adopters.  Our facility space is limited as are our resources at this preliminary point, so we cannot take in more horses until these adopt, but we are very happy to provide free advertising and assistance for horses that are still with you.  Just e-mail us for more information!

Have a great rest of your week everyone – more pictures of the girls coming this weekend!


We finally had sunshine on a weekend and got to put an evaluation ride on Sweetie.  She was utterly perfect.


This little mare has had over a year off after finishing up her polo career. Today was the first ride back and she was flawless.  She is fine for clippers, picks up her feet willingly, ties to the tie rail and great to groom.   No snarky faces or issues – a good horse for a small child to work around.    She is a tiny bit hard to catch/evasive in turnout but I expect that to go away quickly as she comes to associate us with peppermint cookies.  🙂  Even after a year off, she was just perfect.  Lovely air brakes in a mild bit, pivots nicely both directions, backs up willingly and without throwing her head.  Her trot is so smooth that you can sit it without even having to think about it.

She is getting some front shoes on Monday and will be having her teeth done soon.  I anticipate she’ll be available for adoption in about three more weeks.  I’d like to put a little more weight on her and make sure we have her shoeing correct.   I’ll have an adoption application posted by next weekend if you are interested and want to apply.  An application is just that, and there is no obligation – it just gets the wheels turning.   To me, her best “fit” will be with a small child who has a trainer or knowledgeable parent to supervise, or as a confidence builder for an adult who is looking for a safe light use trail/arena horse.  I can definitely see this mare showing successfully at the 4-H and ETI level.   Could go hunt or western, but no jumping or gaming for this one.

Then, we decided to take Juesa out and give her some work.  She has been here for almost four weeks now, after coming out of the shelter in pretty rough condition.


Juesa on December 9th, 2012, the day we got her.

Juesa was part of a seizure of about thirty horses from a failed rescue in Acton.  I stumbled upon a discussion on Facebook and when I heard about a chestnut mare with a dent in her head, I knew it was her – I remembered her from her playing days – and quickly made arrangements to pick her up.  She has been quickly regaining her weight in the past month.  People always want to know what I feed to get good results quickly.  There is nothing special.  She gets alfalfa morning and night, orchard grass hay to snack on 24/7 and  pellets that are alfalfa/rice bran.   The supplements I put every new rescue on are Sand Clear (because nearly every hungry horse has picked up a gut full of sand in their frantic search for food), Probios (helps improve digestion so that they utilize their food better, will also help horses with ulcers), Strongid C (daily dewormer – a good way to get the worm problem under control in a horse who has been neglected, without killing all of the worms at one time and risking an impaction) and BL Solution (basically herbal bute — wonderful for older horses with some arthritis).

So today I decided Juesa looked good enough to at least saddle up and work a bit.  Now, Juesa is no Sweetie.  She is a high goal Argentine princess, and don’t you ever forget it.  She will snap at you when you dare to blanket her, and threaten you with her hind feet if you brush her in a place she doesn’t care for.  She clips great, and hauls great, but I’m told she doesn’t always tie (so we didn’t). Of course, not tying is sort of a pain when they don’t stand still very well, which she doesn’t. (I spend so much time saying HO to this mare that I sound like Santa Claus). In general, she’s sort of a pushy buffalo unless you’re feeding her cookies or scratching her head (that, she likes.) Fortunately for her, I freaking LOVE bitchy alpha mares.  I always have.  I love them and enjoy earning their respect.

She wanted no part of saddling and did her best to either kick at me or bowl over the top of Melanie who was trying to hold her still.  I suspect she has had the girth cranked too hard in the past (some players are just convinced they will die if the girth isn’t tighter than Scarlett O’Hara’s corset.  Folks, buy an overgirth but stop strangling your ponies and making them girthy.  They need to breathe a little bit to run, you know!)  So we slowly tightened the girth.  She was fine once it was on and she realized it was fleece with elastic at both ends and actually didn’t hurt.

She can kick at me, I'm just so happy she's sound!

She can kick at me, I’m just so happy she’s sound!

Juesa’s a total marshmallow – 5 or 6 minutes of trot is her limit right now. We’ll start slowly building her up and I’ll climb on her in a few weeks. I think she’ll make a nice riding horse for someone. She does not need to retire – she’s totally sound. We’ll have to see if the ground manners improve, or if we can find someone else like me who has a soft spot for her diva behavior!

You can't fool me, Juesa. I know you love me...when you're not trying to kick me.

You can’t fool me, Juesa. I know you love me…when you’re not trying to kick me.