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If you spend any time on horse message boards or social media, you’ve read stories about horses that were sold to someone as “beginner safe” and then, within a few months, started offloading their riders regularly, became hard to handle, stopped doing things they used to do peacefully, etc.  Frequently the new owner posts to complain that the previous owner must have drugged the horse, because they don’t understand any other way that the calm, mellow “packer” they tried out has now turned into a nightmare.

I’m not going to say that the drugging of sale horses doesn’t go on, but it is more rare than all the stories would have you believe.  (Here’s a link about how to tell if a horse is drugged).  But, generally, this is what happens when a very mellow calm polo pony (or any other kind of horse!) is sold to a beginner home and things don’t go well — and the only drugs involved are the painkillers the New Owner ends up needing to take!

1.  New Owner changes the horse’s entire lifestyle.  He was living in a pasture in Wyoming, and now he’s living in a box stall in Los Angeles.  He goes from eating unlimited quantities of grass and plentiful hay to the typical boarding barn’s 2 or 3 flakes a day.  Then, when he starts to lose weight, New Owner compensates for the lack of hay by adding more and more grain.  Doesn’t really matter what kind – oats, corn, sweet feed, even senior feed can and will crank up a horse’s energy level. Also, lots of grain and not enough quality forage combined with stall life can cause ulcers to flare up.

2.  Old Owner had horse on a serious exercise regimen.  The horse got ridden most days, hard enough to work up a sweat.  As a result, anyone could hop on him with a lead rope and pony four more without issue.  New Owner doesn’t really want to pay for a groom or exercise rider and thinks he can just ride the horse himself, but he misses Wednesday because of Lisa’s birthday party and Thursday because he has to work late, and Sunday because his buddy comes to town unexpectedly.  And so on… Because the horse is boarded, the horse stands in a 12 x 12 box getting progressively more irritated.

3.  New Owner comes out to ride.  The horse doesn’t want to pick up his foot, so after a struggle, New Owner decides that hoof does not really need to be picked.  The horse starts to get pushy to lead, because he’s been in the stall for 2 days and he’s eager to move.  New Owner permits the pushiness; the horse stops leading nicely and starts circling around New Owner or dragging him around like a kite.   New Owner goes to tack up the horse and cranks up the girth tight all at once, something Old Owner, who was more experienced, knew better than to do.  Horse flies backwards and breaks the cross ties.  Now New Owner starts to become fearful of the horse. New Owner goes to get him out of the stall and the horse swings his butt to New Owner and threatens him. New Owner gives up and leaves and the horse sits in the stall yet another day.

4.  When New Owner finally does manage to get the horse out for a ride, New Owner doesn’t understand why the horse has become pushy and resistant.  New Owner doesn’t start by turning the horse out or longeing; he just hops right on.  Maybe he pokes the horse in the side good and hard with his toe as he mounts, or kicks him in the butt accidentally with his right leg, either of which can lead to a wreck before the ride has even begun.   If he gets on successfully, the horse is a whooooole lot more horse under saddle than he was when he tried him out, due to the confinement and diet changes.  New Owner doesn’t call Old Owner yet.  Nor does New Owner consult with a competent trainer in his discipline.  New Owner allows himself to get advice from everyone he doesn’t have to pay, including the boarding barn’s official busybody who likes to give everybody unsolicited training advice, a couple of Natural Horsemanship followers who think all of these issues can be solved by playing games and, of course, everybody on his Facebook.   The end result is that New Owner buys a $150 bit and $300 worth of training videos.

5.  But none of that helps. In fact, the $150 bit leads to a new behavior – rearing!  Now New Owner is good and scared but not willing to quit just yet.  He is going to ride that horse.  The horse, on his part, can sense New Owner’s fear which of course scares him (Horses are not capable of perceiving that they are what’s scaring you.  Horses feel your fear and perceive that perhaps there is a mountain lion nearby which you have seen and they have not – so it might be a good idea to freak out and/or run like hell to get away from it).  The behavior gets worse and worse until New Owner, quite predictably, gets dumped and gets injured – possibly seriously.

6.  New Owner, from his hospital bed, writes vitriolic posts all over Facebook about the sleazy folks who sold him a horse that was not beginner safe and lied about it and probably drugged it.  Old Owner fights back, pointing out that his 6 year old kid showed the horse and was fine.  Everybody else makes popcorn and watches the drama unfold.  Bonus points if everybody lawyers up.  Meanwhile, the poor horse gets sent to slaughter by New Owner’s angry spouse.

I’m not even making any of that up, although I did combine elements of different situations to protect the guilty.  It’s a scenario that gets played out time and time again.  So now, let’s look at a constructive direction to go with this:

How do I keep my beginner safe horse beginner safe?

Here’s your answer:

1.  The vast majority of calories should come from forage (grass, hay or hay pellets)

2.  Never ever let him sit in a stall for 24 hours.  Think about it – would you like to be locked in your bathroom for 24 hours? It’s just not fair.  If you can’t get the barn you’re at to turn your horse out, you need to make arrangements to have him ridden or ponied daily.  Yes, you may have to pay for that. The ideal is pasture life but I know it’s just not an option everywhere.  Just do the best you can and be fair to the horse.

3.  Beginner horses should be “tuned up” by a competent, experienced rider at least twice a month, if not more often.  Lesson barns know that they have to have their advanced students, or the trainer, ride the school horses periodically in order to fix beginner-created habits like stopping at the gate, refusing to take a canter lead, and cutting the corners of the arenas.  Learn from this.

4.  A bigger bit in beginner hands solves nothing and creates a variety of dangerous behaviors.  Avoid any solution that involves a thinner bit, a bit with a twisted mouth, or one with longer shanks/more leverage.

5.  Learn the difference between abuse and discipline.  None of us wants to be the idiot beating his horse – but that doesn’t mean discipline is always wrong.  If your horse’s ground manners are melting down and he does not do things he used to do (like picking up feet, getting into the horse trailer, bridling) or has started doing things he didn’t used to do (like kicking at you, biting, trying to smush you against the wall in the stall), please get help from a competent trainer.  It may be that your body language is all wrong, but it also may be that you’ve established yourself as, well, a doormat and need to learn when it is appropriate to re-establish yourself as the boss.  This involves a lot of timing, correct body language and feel – none of which you can learn from your friends on Facebook or a training video.  You need an actual trainer or other very experienced horseperson to work with you, hands-on and in-person.


Truer words were never spoken!

Truer words were never spoken!

The better you ride, the better horses will behave for you.  

7.  Call the vet and make sure the horse is not simply trying to tell you he has a pain issue.  Horses can’t exactly text you and say “hey, dude, my back hurts.”  They will simply resort to things like biting you when you tighten the girth or bucking when asked to canter in a desperate attempt to convey the message.

8.  If you’ve changed a lot about the horse’s lifestyle, try to change it back and see if that fixes the problem.  Find a barn where the horse can be pasture boarded, for example, instead of stall kept.  If you started feeding a lot of grain, replace it with hay pellets.

9.  Don’t keep a horse you are terrified of.  If the behaviors are truly scary or you’re hitting the dirt regularly – the horse is just not for you.  You’re not in the running for the PRCA bronc riding and no one cares if you look cool or not. It’s probably more important to remain uninjured and able to, like, work and pay your mortgage, right?  Turn the horse that is way too much for you over to a competent trainer to sell.  Yes, this may cost you some money up front but it’s the right thing to do and once he’s sold, you are free to buy a more appropriate horse.

10.  Increase your odds of not having these problems in the first place by (a) buying a horse who is regularly ridden by beginners, like a lesson horse; and (b) buying a horse that is a lot older than the one you think you need (we play polo on plenty of horses in their early 20’s, so don’t think a horse of that age can’t possibly hold up for your easy trail rides and beginner lessons), and bear in mind that appearance should be your LAST concern when shopping for a beginner horse.

But he’s so PRETTY! And they’ll let me make payments! (Photo courtesy of Tammy Ferin, Ferin Arabians – and used only as an example of a rearing horse, horse in question may be a sweetheart under saddle!)

Keep in mind that a lot of sellers don’t know how a horse will behave with a beginner because they simply have not ever had a beginner ride the horse long-term.  So they weren’t maliciously trying to mislead you – they didn’t know.  The world is absolutely packed full of horses that ride beautifully for experienced riders and turn into utter broncs within 2 weeks of being ridden by beginners who bounce on their backs or have inconsistent hands.  Some horses are not very tolerant!  Call the seller!  Have them come out and ride the horse to see if they can figure out what’s going on.  Many sellers will take a horse back or help you sell it – give them a chance, don’t assume every seller is a sleazy used-horse salesman who has taken your cash and run with it and couldn’t care less what happens to the horse.  (Yes, some are – but like I say, give them a chance).

And remember, if you want to buy a horse that will act the same every single ride and never act up with anybody, you can buy them on E-bay!

Won't buck no matter how windy or cold it is!  Guaranteed!

Won’t buck no matter how windy or cold it is! Guaranteed!

93 Responses to “But I wanted a horse that was beginner safe!”

  1. Susan Crane-Sundell

    Another chapter and verse of The Horse Bible-this should be given out to everyone who ever uttered “I think I want to buy a horse” with a big bow tied around it.

    I see this happen to so many horses. A little neglect out of fear or scheduling conflicts, a whole lot of resentment that the horse doesn’t understand that “you really like him” even though you leave him in his stall and spend more time looking at him than working with him. Then a little light trip around the equestrian ring turns into a bucking bronco event at the Calgary Stampede and the horse gets blamed for being obstreperous!

    Sooner or later something really bad happens and the horse pays the price- either gets whipped for not understanding or sent off to a terrible existence or a dreaded low-level auction. There are more “Black Beauty” stories in the modern day world than we would suspect.

    You called it just right!
    I’m going to send this post to all my horsey friends, it will be preaching to the choir-but they all have students who need to read this-right from the start.

    The path to horse hell is paved with good intentions!

  2. Karen

    Very well written and unfortunately too true. The horse always pays the price.

  3. Carolyn

    Excellent article! Can I mention another factor that’s frequently overlooked? Relationship and stress.

    Moving is stressful for people and horses. You buy that new ‘bomb-proof’ horse and bring them to a new pasture/barn, with new herd mates, new trails, new neighbors, new scary stuff everywhere. Horse time isn’t our time — it can take months, not days or even weeks, to adjust.

    Even more critical, your new horse does not know what to expect from you. Certainly if you are a better rider you will be OK even if your new horse is a nervous wreck, and your horse will be more confident with a confident rider. But don’t expect to get to that same place that Old Owner was (with their 6yr old showing the horse) right off the bat, no matter how good a rider you are. Trust is earned and it takes TIME to build that relationship.

    I’ve been rescuing and rehabbing horses (mostly purebred, well trained horses who were shown when young but have fallen on hard times for a variety of reasons) and I see a major change in trust and comfort level after a year, even more so after 2 years — TWO YEARS!

    If you don’t have the time to invest in this process, I highly recommend leasing a lesson horse at your current barn. If you love the horse you may be able to purchase eventually, or to keep riding that horse while you start relationship building with a new horse. Beginners should be working with lesson horses at a stable that has a group that does what they want to do — gaming, showing or trail riding — gradually working their way up to their own special horse. My daughter and I were able to lease and eventually buy our favorite lesson horses — a paso fino and a TWH, seniors who are perfect for the light trail riding we enjoy. I’ve had my mare for 10 years and we have an amazing relationship and I look forward to many more years with her.

  4. Nancy Gant Trott

    Finally! The truth is spoken!

  5. Horses beginner safe??

    […] beginner safe?? − But I wanted a horse that was beginner safe! Great information on why a horse sold as something turns into something […]

  6. Marcia

    I liked this article and have to admit its not just beginners that can cause a horse to do things we don’t understand…I grew up riding horses and never considered myself an expert but I had no problem hoping on a horse when I was younger and riding it…But through the years with 15 years off with no horse contact and then the next horse I owned and rode was a gaited horsed that was as easy as pie to train myself with not a mean bone in his body….But that also set me up for future “failure” because I got used to his gait and do to injuries not acquired through horses I didn’t realize how unbalanced I really was until 2 years ago I bought a mare. I admit I wasn’t sure of her but I also didn’t like the situation she was in so my husband bought her for me…Now mind you we have no clue what her training is, all we know is the places she has been and then the sale barns. Now the other thing is that I have always ridden geldings who will let you be boss Mare if you show them you are well Mares will test you…In all of this, I was tossed flat on my back, first time my confidence was ever blown, I sent her to a friend to have her check her out and ride her to see if it was me or the horse, Well they had no problem with her even had young girl riding her with no issues..Did she test them yes but never tried to crow hop or throw them…So then the issue had to be me….I tried many things, my girls could ride her and even canter her without a problem but could not figure out what I was doing that got her so “excited” until one day I came across this video and it was about balance…Now remember I already said I had injuries and in trying to figure our the mares cues and training one of the issues was she has very long gaits compared to what I have been used to especially compared to my gaited horse. So I was have trouble adjusting to her gaits but when the balance issue came up a light bulb went off in my head and So the next time I rode her I tried something, Something that I don’t think twice about normally because I would ride almost any horse bareback because I trusted them…But I won’t ride her bareback so instead I pulled my feet out of the stirrups and guess what figure out MY problem and it was my balance because of past injuries I lean to one side more than the other so I was not as balanced in the seat as I thought and therefore confusing my mare as to what I want her to do. Now we are progressing really good and I am finding out through what she can do that she was trained in Texas and either a reining horse or a gymkhana horse because she can turn and spin on a dime when I am in balance….So even old timers like myself need help with a horse. Just wanted to comment and hope this also helps someone out there that has ridden as long as I have non professionally and come across a horse they think has problems….Have a Great Ride Everyone….

  7. Lisa Johnson

    Another great variation is “I want to buy a young (untrained) horse for my kid and they can grow up together!” I have actually heard a parent say this. Apparently they don’t like their kids very much. And then watched while their horse crazy daughter became more and more afraid until I couldn’t hold my tongue any more. I’m not a trainer, so it wasn’t my place, but someone was going to get hurt. I highly recommended the old schoolhorse solution instead of the young, untrained Arab route, and even with that they should hook up with a trainer and keep taking lessons. They took my advice, and their daughter went on to enjoy her new “old”, more tolerant horse.

  8. Robyn gunther

    Great article. So very true.
    I will re send to all my horse friends. Thanks for nailing this issue on the nose! I worked in a show barn where the poor critters got 12 lbs sweet feed, and 2 flakes of hay, and 20 min. Of turn out or exercise, while I stripped the stall, daily. They were cracked-out freaks! My trail buddy is now out on 5 acres, just enough grain to get vitamins/minerals in him, turned out again. And yes, you can ride him w a halter.
    Thanks for taking the side of good, honest horse-people who know what they are doing. Beginners, take lessons. It will cost you far less, in the long run. And if you still want a horse a year later, after helping me w chores all winter long, I will help you find the right one. Then, you will be ready. In my program, my clients groom, tack up, feed, and clean stall. They also learn groundwork. Then, they graduate!

  9. poloponyrescue

    You’re awesome! Your horse is very lucky that you actually realized the problem might be you and tried to use intelligence and common sense to fix it.

  10. Laura K

    Excellent article! Bang on!

  11. Nina

    Very well written so even a first time owner can understand. Would you mind if re-posted if credit is given to your writer?

  12. boo

    That’s why we still have one of our tb geldings. We explain he’s high energy and must be worked regularly and is not a beginners horse. We also require a minimum of 2 month trial period. He went out for a trial with a young but experienced rider who we thought would be boarding where she could ride daily. When that fell thru they ended up putting him in a small pen. They switched to pellets instead of grain and he started losing weight. Then after a month she called to send him back because he was acting up. She kindly gave me a list of things he now could do and faults she had observed in him. Funny, they were the same things we had already cautioned her about……… our boy is still here but at least he’s safe.

  13. Beth

    Excellent !!!!!

  14. Darlene

    Very informative. Thank you!

  15. Rich

    Very well done!!!

  16. Crystal

    Sadly I see this a lot at horse auctions. New and inexpierenced people who have always wanted a horse will buy a young one that is maybe 6 months old for their 3 young kids so they can grow up together! And they can’t be that hard to train right, they’ve trained their dog. And all you can do is sit and wait to see when they list it for sale online or bring it back to auction.

  17. shiny

    So true! And not just beginners either. My new horse who was bombproof and compliant at the old owners place has tried me out every way he could think of (and is still trying to some extent). He is quiet and fairly unflappable but also extremely smart and assertive. No, the sellers didn’t lie about him or drug him. He is just trying to be boss in a new environment with a new human, and I am learning to manage a horse who is very different to my previous less smart more compliant horses. I’m grateful that I have a great instructor so that as he tries something new, I learn new ways of stopping him getting away with it.

  18. Katie

    I agree 100% and going to post this to my local horse group on fb. Even if only a few beginner people read it, at least this message has made a few extra people more aware 😉

  19. Julie

    My easy horses make me look good, my difficult horses make me be good.

  20. Lee

    Good article but totally wrong in saying that drugged horses are rare. There are 5 horses in the barn where I board that are for sale and are not only drugged up with Ace every time a prospective buyer is on the way, but also all have their knees & hocks injected to hide their chronic lameness. Drugs are readily available from certain unscrupulous vets in every area-watch out! You won’t know what you have until at least a week after taking it home.

    Why on earth don’t beginner take the time for lessons, leasing and actually learning what horse ownership requires?! Then… take an experienced trainer with them when shopping.

    • poloponyrescue

      I meant drugged to be beginner safe – you are correct that drugging to hide lameness is extremely prevalent.

      Which is why EVERY horse should be vet checked. We encourage adopters to vet check! We want them to know exactly what they are signing on for.

  21. Susan Murray

    YES, YES, YES….. Love this and let’s talk about a new horse at a new barn. Just like putting your child in a new school with no friends and not knowing where everything is. Let the horse get adjusted to the home and other horses if they even get along. If they don’t, the horse will be really mad getting out of the field. Let the horse have some time to learn where everything is and give them a few days to know you. You don’t have to jump on him and ride him right away. Let the horse graze on a lead line so your connected to him. Brush him, learn his ground matters first. Give him a bath and spend TIME with your horse. This way when you do ride he knows your smell and trusts you. He is a child in a new school. Treat him that way. No matter how old the horse is. Thank you for posting your article!

  22. Krissie England

    So true! I would like to make one suggestion to add to the list of things to do to keep your beginner horse beginner safe. If New Owner is boarding at a lesson barn, sometimes an arrangement can be worked out with the barn owner. If the horse is truly beginner safe when purchased, they may be able to let the barn use the horse for lessons in exchange for reduced board. This benefits both the barn owner in the use of an additional lesson horse, and New Owner in that their horse gets ridden more regularly and may save a little money on board as well. I know several people who have done this and it worked out well all around. Also, New Owner should take lessons on their new horse to help head off any potential problems before they become a big issue.

  23. JustAThought

    Well written article! There’s just one thing…. you wrote “4. A bigger bit in beginner hands” and I don’t think this conveys quite what you meant it to convey to the target (beginner owner) audience. If the horse is in a bit that is too small, a bigger (wider) bit might be exactly what is called for, right? I feel the article would read better if you said “A stronger or harsher bit in beginner hands…” instead, and be clearer to the people you are trying to educate and warn.

  24. Buffy

    I have experienced this so when people ask about my beginner horse i have for sale..i ask questions with main questions asking if the person will be taking lessons or under guidance of trainer. Never considered the difference in living arangements though…that will now be asked for sure.
    Years ago we sold a super quiet mare to a “first horse” family. Yrs later we heard the mare would chase the mother and daughter out of the pen. Turns out..when the mare would flick her ears and they would go running. The mare realized that she was top of the pecking order!
    We suggested they take the mare to trainer and to take lessons…all turned out well!

  25. HELPtheHORSE!

    Well written. There are those that feed there horses human food, treat them like cows, asks if paste wormer is injected, shoes them so heavy that the hooves grow out to adjust to the pain of having to carry burdens on their hooves and break their tail bones so the humans look good. There are those that put gag bits and tie downs on them so the horses can not use their heads for balance and are forced to endure excruciating pain for human pleasure. There are those that tie the horses heads half way around their bodies to their hind leg so humans can run around barrels, and the owners don’t care about the inhumane training techniques used. What about the Extreme Mustang Makeover? Tying their 4 legs and head together, throwing a tarp over them, and leaving them in the excessive heat for days? Where are the Humane Societies, Animal Control Cops, and Animal Protection Agencies?

  26. ellen

    It’s usually not the horse .

  27. kidznhorses

    Excellent article that should be handed out to every first time horse owner.
    One more thought along the lines of the stress factor in the comments. It’s important to know where the horse is in the herd pecking order and what their relationship is with the other horses. Pulling some very bonded horses apart can be devasting and change their entire personalities. Horses that were in the middle of the herd that move up to being in charge of another herd also change, same with moving lower or getting picked on by herd bullies. Many factors go into herding horses together that first time owners don’t understand ( especially if they are boarding ), so it’s important for sellers to know what type of environment the horse is moving into if they care about the horse’s success with a new owner.

  28. CndnApple

    I am a 4H leader and very involved with the youth in my community learning to ride.. I tell parents that I like to see the child’s age and the horses age add up to 20..

  29. Oda

    Excellent post …I also encounter this too frequently when working with equines (hoof rehab and bodywork)…most equines are overfed and over supplemented…

    Recently met a client’s mare who was actually hyped up on a flax based calming product (Vitacalm)…3 days off the product and the mare was back to her normal self.

    Still too many people, vets and other horse care professionals included, are completely clueless when it comes to diet , bad tack fit/training, etc. influencing behavior!

  30. Deanne Marriott

    How about the words Bombproof. When we were selling my daughter’s show horse we were probably over cautious with the little girl trying her out. They asked us why and we proceeded to tell them that a horse although very broke can spook at any time. Better safe than sorry and we always suggest getting outside help from a local trainer. Turn out is a very important factor to a horses ride and I never thought about the grain, not always a necessity.

  31. Maria Wachter

    I think this is the best article I’ve ever read regarding horses. I hope you don’t mind me sharing it.

  32. t-leigh

    Excellent article, very spot-on.
    But I want to add something about “beginner” safe horses. In my experience and opinion, it isn’t likely that a horse dealer can claim a horse to be beginner safe. Why? Because they’ve had it a short amount of time and they have been riding it – they, experienced, and confident people. Unless they are having beginners ride that horse too, the dealer can’t possibly know from he or she riding the horse that it is beginner safe. Not unless they have worked with beginners or less confident riders ON THAT HORSE. Otherwise… it’s really their guess and nobody will know ’til they get the horse home. It’s a risky thing to assess a horse beginner safe without really knowing the horse and send it home where it might easily be a horse that NEEDS a confident rider to behave as a beginner safe horse. Then a dangerous situation has been created and somebody can get hurt.
    JMO after seeing this many many times.

  33. Oda

    well, and the general consensus seems to be that bigger bits are milder which is absolutely not true either. Bits need to be properly fit to the horse’s oral cavity and that’s another too often neglected process.

  34. Tammy Harris-Ferin

    Hi. This is a great article–very informative. However, I was contacted by a few of my friends regarding the photo of the black horse used in the article. I am the owner of that horse (since his birth), and also took that photo of him 9 years ago. I was never asked permission for its use. I don’t mind you using it, but I would appreciate getting proper ownership and photo credit. If not, kindly please remove the photo. If you need proof that I am his owner and photographer, please see his photo album on my facebook page at:

    Thank you,
    Tammy Ferin
    Ferin Arabians

    • poloponyrescue

      Sure, happy to edit and give you credit! Just grabbed it as an example of a horse that, while beautiful and appealing, MIGHT not be beginner safe (or he might just like to put on a show in the pasture).

  35. Kris Hughes

    It should be illegal (yes, I mean illegal) to keep a horse confined to a stall/stable for more than 12 hours in 24. I don’t say this because some newbie horse owner with more money than sense might get hurt, I say it because to do so is immoral and unethical. The American way of horse keeping is shocking and disgusting. No one thinks twice about keeping horses confined to stalls and pens. Insanity!

  36. S

    I have had this happen this year. The perfect pony that took my daughter on many perfect rides around town started being barn sour and reared because I was trying to make her keep going away from the barn. Before this, she became progressively girthy because her girth was too tight (or she was fatter)– ordered two new girths that have neoprene. The old owner said the girthyness was because she didn’t like to work, and when she realized we were not “working” things would be fine.
    Another horse was fine for me to ride but my friend who is an experienced rider broke her arm in the first 10 seconds on him because she bailed out because he was running toward a fence that she was looking towards! One horse is acting perfectly and those other two are being “tuned up”.

  37. Heather Bruce

    Hi! Your comment about the pecking order of horses intrigued me. I have a horse that is at the bottom with all the horses at the barn. He’ll lead them into a wild frolic, but when it comes to sharing food, they push him away and he stands patiently behind, waiting. I feel so bad for him. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. I’ve had him for almost 3 years and never seen his ears back or any agressive move to a fellow horse. The only time he “acts up”, is when a person is too agressive with him. But never to another horse. Any insight?

    • poloponyrescue

      Some horses are just wimps, and there’s nothing wrong with that – you have a horse who needs to be fed separately OR you need to put out such an abundance of food, in so many locations, that everybody gets enough – even low man on the totem pole!

  38. Jan

    Except most didn’t train the dog either.

  39. Kris

    Totally agree with you. When I was rehabbing problem horses, the # 1 cause of misbehavior was over-feeding. One woman consistently buys quiet horses, gives them “grain”, and then complains about them being spooky and hot. This has happened repeatedly even though the source of the problem has been gently pointed out to her.
    Years ago, I was asked to “break” (gently) two Morgan mares to ride. One had a dangerous habit of bolting uncontrollably on the ground and had seriously injured the last trainer by dragging him. The other mare kicked the owner in the chest the day I met her. First thing I asked was “What are you feeding”? She was giving 1 ounce of a supplement popular in the Northwest that seemed to make horses nuts. After explaining the problem, I offered to break the horses ONLY if she stopped feeding that supplement for a week. Also explained that if she lied and didn’t stop the supplement, she could cause me to be seriously injured or killed. She stopped the supplement and the mares were extremely easy to break. The “bolter” never bolted, and the owner became a believer. How many horses have gone to slaughter because they are overfed? As one of the above posters wrote, “Black Beauty” scenarios happen all the time.
    Thank you for this excellent editorial!

  40. none

    A true “beginner safe” horse should be the same horse without needing “tuning up” or ridden every day or a very specific diet and turnout situation.
    They should be tolerant of little things like accidentally getting poked in the side or caught in the mouth. If they are a show horse I would expect them to preform basically the same in new surroundings (after all thats what they see every time they show and they get judged on it!)
    If thats how you’re advertising the horse… that’s what I expect.
    Any responsible horse owner will switch over feed gradually and ask about what bit works best and things like that or they shouldn’t have a horse.

  41. Mary McCrea

    Truer words have not been spoken. I sold a wonderful, generous horse who became the new owner’s Rodeo Bucking Machine, why? Because if he did not do what they asked, immediately after they asked, they beat him with a crop. Never acknowledging perhaps they were not asking him in the same manner of which he had been asked the 12 years prior. I came home from work a year later to find him tied to my front gate with not 1 but 2 blown check ligaments as their payback to him. A once kind, generous, game horse now a cripple.

  42. jJackie Silverman

    I think you are talking about Saddlebreds when you say they break the tail bone. They do not break the tail bone. They nick the muscle so as it heals and forms scar tissue they can stretch it in the tail set. Like you or I getting a paper cut no worse then that.

  43. Buying a horse - being honest with myself - Page 2

    […] Have a read of this. It popped up on my FB feed yesterday, and it is absolutely brilliant. I think the main thing about buying a horse as an amateur rider is that you have to be 100% brutally honest with yourself about your abilities and what sort of horse will fit those abilities. − But I wanted a horse that was beginner safe! […]

  44. kate

    As an older rider experienced only with just one amazing rescue morgan mare,i spent a year looking for a middle aged morgan mare when i retired my girl and then spent several years out of the saddle. i looked around ALOT. Rode alot of horses. got thrown by a horse that turned out had been purchased as part of a herd the night before my visit by a dealer but described as beginner safe. I am not a beginner but i was looking for a calm and experienced horse. I don’t bounce like i used to! how i came to find a barn in Pa that was looking for a home for a three year old thoroghbred i dont know. my brain told me to walk away. my heart said wait. after several trips up there to be with her, i was smitten. everyone called me crazy. heck, i called myself crazy. it has been a journey these past 7 months. but so far so good. lots of bumps along the way. building trust. i can not stress enough the trust aspect. she tested me for sure. big time! it took a farrier to set me straight. he told me if i continued to be hesitant around the mare, i would ruin her. i started to look at it from her point of view. how can i get her to trust me??!! then the world changed for us. she is a fun and feist young horse. but she also now trusts me. still, i never take that trust for granted. each day, it has to be earned.

  45. Julia

    Great article! I bought a horse from this exact situation because I felt the need to “save her” from the owner who said she was crazy and the owners fooled her and drugged the horse before she bought her. (She had no horse experience and bought the horse at a claims race off the local track and I know of the previous owners – good, responsible people).

    I hired a professional trainer and it didn’t take long before she showed herself to be an amazing horse – sweet, willing, smart and talented. After a couple years of training I gave her to an experienced, responsible teen with her own professional trainer and she is a great horse for her too. Doing eventing and very well loved.

    This story hits very close to home and those situations frustrate me to no end! When I’ve seen similar situations since and tried to tell the owner, “I think your horse might be in pain. Why don’t you have the vet out?” I get the usual, “He’s just a jerk,” or “He just doesn’t want to work” and like you said they get bigger bits and corrective devices and things just get worse.

  46. KC

    Just adding my voice to the chorus here: excellent post. Spot on.

  47. Ananda Aspen

    Thank you for this boldly honest article that tells it like it is! I would only add one thing – New Owner fills his pockets with Ol’ Suzie’s (his former, now dead mare) treats and gives the horse a cookie and a carrot when he comes to the barn. Horse starts to bite New Owner. Barn manager who knows everything tells New Owner to reprimand him. New Owner vows to be a better disciplinarian, and talks sternly to the horse as he tacks up. Horse smells cookies in Owner’s pocket and bites him. Owner slaps him and horse pulls back and breaks lead rope. New Owner ties him up again and angrily tightens the girth.

    I have had two very bad experiences selling lovely kind horses to people who thought they were ‘experienced’, and wanted to listen to all the wrong people. Both these new owners took my horses who were used to working hard and being treated well and ridden 5x a week doing varied trot and gallop sets around the track, jumping, or flatwork with poles and lots of variation– and began coddling them with blankets and grain and stalls, giving them treats at the wrong times (not as reinforcement but randomly), and worst of all – toodling around the arena for 15 minutes a couple times a week and calling it a real ride. My OTTBs who loved to work were suddenly having their day reduced to a rider who shouldn’t even have been wearing spurs use them in combination with every other aid they could purchase trying to send the horse into a canter transition and wondering why they had a bucking, head up, sideways galloping horse. Gee – old owner used to just ‘think’ canter and horse would softly and happily go forward into a canter – it must have been the ‘drugs’ right?
    How do you weed these people out from the potential buyers who really understand horses? Is there a personality test we could give to discern rider suitability? And — can we screen out buyers who board at the barns with the natural horsemanship-trained, Reiki-certified, self-certified saddle fitter, know-it-all barn manager who has probably never actually GALLOPED a horse in their life?

    I don’t know the answer – but I have a wonderful success story to end on and to give kudos to all the New Owners who do understand horses. I just sold a horse to a wonderful fearless, athletic junior rider who has no show clothes, no trainer (although she takes lessons when she can afford to from an A-rated Pony Clubber), no nice tack, is putting herself through school and has been riding since she was 5. She now has my wonderful 11 year old OTTB who is unapologetically hot, flashy, and can jump the moon. This girl laughs when her horse breathes fire – and she then puts him into a big working trot and then a nice hand gallop and then over a couple big oxers. She pats him and tells him he’s her best buddy, and then they work happily together at whatever the day’s lesson is (which is always different from yesterday’s).

    • poloponyrescue

      “And — can we screen out buyers who board at the barns with the natural horsemanship-trained, Reiki-certified, self-certified saddle fitter, know-it-all barn manager who has probably never actually GALLOPED a horse in their life? ”

      We keep wondering how to screen out those adopters, too. I’ve said before, one of my biggest fears is that we’ll adopt a horse to what seems like a great home and then they’ll meet one of these loony snake-oil-salesmen type trainers and the horse will get ruined.

  48. Jenna

    This is so funny and not funny at the same time. So this is such the story of our first ever horse/pony… We named him “Prince Charming” a white and grey flea bitten pony. 12 years old. Bought him right out of the Hunter Jumper facility. I had dreamed of having a horse for 30 years… I refused to buy a horse and board it so I waited until finally we found a house with land and a barn!! Within 2 months I went out and bought this adorable Pony. They had called him Pickles.. Maybe because he was soured? LOL He was great at the facility… Great on the ride home… Then my fence got messed up and he ended up going from a pasture to a stall. Got pushy… began stomping on my feet.. Tried bucking and rearing. I was certain they had drugged him!! Overnight that old kid broke well trained pony was a nightmare! I dreaded even getting him out of the stall. I was exceedingly happy that I bought a pony to learn on instead of a horse. I am a very experienced dog trainer. I have been training and showing for 20 years. One crucial thing not accounted for was they predator/prey mentality difference in the two species!! So fed up and at the end of my rope I went to a professional trainer.. Eeek 60$ a freaking hour!!! All it took my was 3 lessons for MYSELF and I corrected all my pony issues. My issues not his! Then I bought a horse. Green broke.. Well shes good with ME but she was a rescue and has trust issues. Sooo no one else can ride her. So I traded some baby things to a minister and his wife for 2 more horses “kid broke” and the story repeats itself.. LOL I’m headed back to the trainer to see how to correct their issues. I think the horses personality is much more important than age. Maybe 6 is just a PMS age. The 2 6 year olds wont let a soul besides me do anything on them. The 4 year old TWH my kids ride everywhere and that horse is the best natured thing I’ve ever met in my life. Very eager to please and if she gets confused she just stops until she figures out what you want. I wish I could clone 2 more of her. The point to all the rambling is… Don’t give up on your horses. Get yourself some training if you have issues. Pay good money from a reputable trainer. I’m hiring one out to the house next time. Don’t buy your first horse if you have to board it. Don’t do it.. unless you can go every single day. My horses interact with my family all day every day. The pasture leads about 100 feet off my back deck. The second they hear the squealing children they know head pats or treats are headed their way and they are so happy to see us. It does a lot for the relationship. Even if you cant ride daily. Our horses took several weeks to trust us… even seeing us every day… being fed exclusively by us.

  49. Lee

    Yes and it is definitely abusive “training” being done by the ignorant (and a lot of so called professional trainers) that result in these horses ending up in the kill pen at the slaughter yard.

  50. Lee

    Sadly, a vet check will not pick up the nerve blocks people use and in most cases not the tranquilizer ACE either! Most of the pre-purchase vet checks I have seen have not included blood tests as the purchaser is leery of running up a higher bill.

  51. none

    oh really? because I’ve owned those types of horses and known people with them.
    if a horse is a good horse let alone one being advertised as “beginner safe” they shouldn’t require a PRECISE turnout schedule and “tuneups” by a more experienced rider, and turn into buckers and rearers or biters just because someone accidentally bumps them in the side with a spur or is carrying food in their pocket.

  52. ECR70


  53. ECR70

    My response was to Julie’s comment.

  54. Lee

    Agree completely!

  55. Myra

    Absolutely excellent article! I have a feeling that the people who will take the time to read it are the ones who already know and agree with you 100%. I sure hope it reaches someone who really needs it before another great horse ends up at the auction.

  56. Lee

    Myra, you are so right! The people who really need this article won’t be interested-they’re the ones who go out and buy a “Pretty Pony” for their horse crazy little girl and have no idea what owning, handling and riding a horse entails. Then the horse gets sold down to the next ignorant owner becoming more ruined each time-this is the path to the slaughter pen for most horses.
    The fact is, a true beginner horse is worth it’s weight in gold and they don’t come cheap!!

  57. Lee

    The only safe way to buy a horse is to take it home for a week on a pre-purchase trial. Then, when the drugs wear off you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.
    Unfortunately most sellers don’t allow that and people should be instantly suspicious.

  58. gizmo

    When i bought my first horse who is 15 i made surprise visits every so often to make sure he wasn’t drugged or worked down before i got there. This advice i got from my dads friend. Before i even knew about him i tried this mare who was probably drug i couldn’t get her to lope no matter what. i knew that was definitely not the right horse. (especially since she was half asleep she loped for only 2 seconds before she was died back to a walk.)

  59. Sylvia

    You have so far published a lot of comments from people that either breed horses or sell horses. Many of the comments actually want to put the public at large away from the different equestrian sports. Basically they say-if you are not a horse industry person, don’t try to get a horse!!! What a lot of nonsense!!! Also, when one goes to buy a horse for a beginner all that is meant is that one is looking for a calmer horse. Horses, like all other animals and people have different characters,different mentality and it is all genetic. One has a sweet character, the other is more competitive and boisterous, the other one is stubborn, has swinging moods and so on. So what the new buyer is looking for is a sweeter, calmer character. Also, the novice is looking for a horse that is already experienced, that has been trained, because the novice raider is not a professional and still does not have the ability to train the horse himself. In reality what happens is that the novice raider looking for a novice’s horse receives a wild horse somewhere from the mountains, untrained in manners, gaits, that doesn’t know what is a human touch and what grooming is even!!!! And yes, as it was mentioned in the previous comments, the sellers do not know the horse when that sell it, because they have hardly worked with the animal, just ridden the horse from time to time to exercise the horse! So my question is, why are they selling such a wild animal that they themselves do not know how is going to behave to a person that has come to them and told them already that is inexperienced!!!! And the answer is-because it is just a transaction for them, it is about the money, after that it is not their problem anymore!!!! So, instead of all shouting out how horrible the novice rider is and how only people that know what to do with horses should have horses, look at yourselves and actually what drives the problem, and what drives it is quick financial gains on behalf of the breeders!!!! IT should be the breeders responsibility as experienced horsemen to know, train and screen their animals for a novice prospective buyer and offer to the novice a suitable horse for a novice! They should be the ones this or that animal i can not sell to you. Lets stop blaming all the time the public!

    • poloponyrescue

      I don’t think you’re undrestanding the nature of horses. Of COURSE there are calmer horses and more sedate horses – but even those horses absolutely will deteriorate in behavior if you don’t take lessons and have a trainer help you. They might not become “wild horses from the mountains” but they will learn to stop at the gate, refuse to take the canter lead they don’t like, refuse to pick up their feet, etc. This is true of every horse in the world and if you’ve ridden school horses at lesson barns, you know about it. It’s just not a golf cart that will always go when you step on the gas and always stop when you hit the brakes, no matter what. And I’m not suggesting only people who know about horses have horses – I’m suggesting that people who are new to horses take regular lessons with a qualified instructor because that is safest for them and kindest to the horse!

      Finally, the breeder has no ability to control what happens to their horse after they sell it. They can sell a quiet, well mannered horse and have someone mess it up so badly that it becomes a bronc.

  60. liv885

    I’ve seen these wanted ads for beginner horses a lot where I am. I brought my horse off one of these beginners who were scare of the horse. My horse can be a pushy mare if allowed but is easy to put in her place. Since I’ve purchased my mare, I’ve seen her old owners buy and sell multiple horses because they were not beginner proof. There is another lady that used to own a very young gelding, who brought him because of his colour but found out he was too much for her. So sold him on, without bothering to pay for training as she thought she was experienced enough. She started looking again but for a rare breed coloured beginner proof gelding and has turned down suitable horses due to colour and gender.

  61. Jessica

    This is a great article! I would honestly give it to any “beginner” I know who is considering buying a horse.

    Unfortunately, as Lee points out, true beginner horses don’t come cheap, but most beginners I’ve met don’t want to invest in the horse they need for their level. I recommend to all of my friends with horse crazy daughters (no stereotype, it just typically is a girl) to lease a horse first rather than buying.

  62. Dollie Bettendorf

    Wow!! So True!! I agreed with everything & wish more ppl would or should know this!! I was a beginner after 20yrs+ of not riding. Bought a friends horse who was pastured in a herd of 8.. Over fed & fat & not ridden regularly!! I moved her 2 a boarding facility.. She had a paddock & was turned out pasture everyday! But she paced a lot about 3mos. Changed her diet but no grains only a mineral supplement. Worked with her almost everyday & started taking lessons.. She would buck @ a canter, scaring me!! Trainer helped with that immediately.. Now 3 yrs. later she’s a wonderful Beautiful Paint mare & I’m showing Western & English in Open not quite ready 4 Prime Time (breed)! Get help professionally right from the start!! It could of been a total disaster!!!! Good article =D

  63. Andrew

    Can I put this in our Assn newsletter please???

  64. Gloria

    Would love to know the name of this supplement you are talking about in your article.

  65. Gloria

    Would love to know name of supplement that was causing behavior problems

  66. The horrible dishonest people out there - Page 4

    […] That sounds very similar to what happened to my friend. She was given a "crazy, psycho" TB mare she wanted to retrain as her next eventer. The horse ended up being a complete deadhead and never tried anything with her so she just ended up being her beginner husband's horse. Dropping this article by again. Very good read and a lot to take in consideration when bringing home any horse. − But I wanted a horse that was beginner safe! […]

  67. Andrew

    Thank you

  68. Linda

    So true! I’m still grieving about what happened to friend’s horse. Had to sell because of divorce. Horse beautiful paint. Ridden by 8 yr old kid. Kept at my place ridden every day for 2 weeks. No problems but little lazy. Neighbor bought horse. Made NO MONEY from sale to help friend in difficult divorce. Gave new owner certificate for 4 free lessons. Rode one, gave one to her daughter then never used the rest, always too busy. Horse not ridden for 6 months. Decides to ride on cold windy day using step ladder to mount. Ladder falls scares horse lady hurts her back. Another 6 months & decides to let daughter’s boyfriend ride horse. He breaks a leg. Offer to work with horse but out of town, will pick up horse next day. Husband insists horse gone same day. Slaughter buyers?!? Who knows. Poor horse. People failed horse, they insist I sold them a horse NOT BROKE! No good deed goes unpunished!!!

  69. Jen Hardacre

    RE: The drug will wear off in a week and then you’ll know what you have.
    Problem is, some tranquillizers can last up to a month, past your trial period. That calm horse you thought was great falls to pieces, is terribly anxious, runs the pasture fence line and is so barn sour that it can hardly be ridden in an arena within a few yards of the barn. As for trail riding, forget it! And of course, you have no proof that it was drugged, so cannot go after the seller. Sad but true. Happened to me.

    • poloponyrescue

      There is Reserpine which will last about three weeks, and I’m sure other drugs like it, but I honestly think in cases like yours, it is much more likely that something changed about the horse’s lifestyle. For example, the seller may have been working them daily and then they go home and aren’t being worked that hard. Or they NEVER lived anywhere else and the move to a new barn blows their pea brain! The anxiety sounds like ulcers – you might want to try omeprazole and see if that fixes him!

  70. Jen Hardacre

    No, actually. When the horse fell apart, I did some research and discovered that her dam was also highly anxious and that her whole line of breeding was characterized as anxious. As for changing locations, she had done plenty of that; when her papers came through, it was evident that, at 10 years of age, she had been sold on approximately every two years, probably when it became evident to each owner in turn that she was an emotional basket case. Ultimately, after several years of struggle, I retired her to a very nice quiet farm with other Pasos. After she had been there a month or so, she clotheslined herself on a rope gate, trying to get to the barn. The B.O. used the rope gate every day when she picked up the paddocks, so Fresa was familiar with it. Nonetheless, at full gallop she hit the rope so hard that she fractured her trachea and died. A sad end to an otherwise good, well-gaited, pretty little horse.

  71. Cs.Adelaide.Edu.Au


    – But I wanted a horse that was beginner safe!

  72. m b

    Oh thank you! I’ve tried to explain this to so many people and they all seem to think that i’m giving the horse human emotions instead of explaining simple logic.

  73. Little Crow

    I’ve seen the worst of this unfold… Little gelding sold to a family as a “starter” show horse. He’d been trained to death and was solid for the ring…had been shown by teenagers regularly and was overall a very sweet boy.
    Within the year the new owners had turned him into an ulcer-ridden, nervous, wreck. He’d panic when tied…because they’d tied him to a truck side mirror at one point and he’d gotten spooked by another vehicle backfiring and damned near killed himself. He’d started freaking out under saddle not long after…guessing that it may have been related to not only having his neck yanked out of place but also to having flipped over backwards and striking his withers and poll in his terror. Nevermind the fact that if someone is stupid enough to tie a horse to a truck mirror…they likely don’t pay a lot of attention to saddle fit and placement..etc.
    They wouldn’t turn him out with other horses as they all “fought” the first day they put him in the pasture with them. So he was shuffled between a small boxstall and a small lot with no equine company…a horse that had been accustomed to living in a herd. They claimed that he was “crazy” because he started biting his sides and kicking himself in the belly when, and after, he ate….and that their “vet” said he was “nuts.”

    These people started going to every forum they could…complaining about the “psychotic” horse…claiming that he’d been drugged and that they’d been lied to and the entire industry was full of lying pricks.

    The seller offered to buy him back, the breeders offered to buy him back, people that had seen him or known him from elsewhere offered to buy him…..the owners wouldn’t sell. They claimed that the horse was neurologically damaged and dangerous and they were putting him down for his own good….. They posted pictures of this poor, skinny, gelding in a small lot with the backho digging his grave in the background.

    These nutballs bought a sweet, little, show-gelding, ruined him, blamed him…and his breeder and his trainer, and then shot him and buried him…..

  74. poloponyrescue

    Absolutely positively awful.

    And sadly, could have been worse – at least he didn’t go to slaughter.

    I think frequently people put horses down because they cannot stand the thought of someone else fixing the horse and proving they were wrong.

  75. Taemin

    What a great post, I really like it!I love one and three: It’s not the horse’s fault, it’s my fault. and, If the horse can’t untansderd me, I am the one with the problem and I need to find a solution. It’s not the animal’s fault if the animal doesn’t untansderd or don’t obey a cue. It just means we have a few holes in our training. As easy as it is to say this, I think it’s one of THE hardest bits for trainers to put into practice.I recently found your blog through blog catalog and am enjoying reading through it! Keep up the good work. (BTW, I think blog catalog still has the link to your old site.)cheers,Mary H.

  76. Christine Uyyek

    This is one of the best articles I have ever read on why “Beginner horses” don’t necessary stay “beginner-safe”. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this!

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