Assessing from the ground










Every once in a while I get inquiries from people who are either contemplating a new horse or have just purchased a horse and now have big problems. The ‘In over your head’ part comes when you have pulled the trigger and are the not-so- proud new owner of the finest specimen of horse flesh this side of the Mississippi River. You have taken possession of this magnificent equine only to realize that his mind didn’t come with the purchase. Now what?

Unfortunately there is no magic fix that will remedy that situation. One of my favorite quotes is ‘There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers….’ How I translate that to this situation is that there are very few cases where a horse cannot be helped. It isn’t always easy and often times, requires spending money on a good trainer to help you through the problem. By a good trainer I mean one who will initially get the horse through some of his anxiety issues, then work with you the owner to educate you about how to follow up. This will be a continual process that will require consistency and specificity on the owners part.

There is something that could have been done before it got to this point, when looking for ‘your next horse’. It’s called a pre-purchase exam. I am not referring to a veterinary pre-purchase (I highly recommend that as well). I am talking about having a trainer that you trust to take a look at the horse before you buy. By the way, ask the trainer if they have any financial interest in the horse before hiring them to assess. If you cannot find a trainer that you feel comfortable with, here are some of the things I look for. This is by no means an all inclusive list but might help you see how your prospect behaves. How does he interact with people? Other horses? Does he seem aloof or social? How is he to groom and saddle? How does he respond to being bridled? How does he go through a gate? How is he with things behind him? If you see a frightened, anxious or agitated reaction to any of these I would want to investigate further.

I have a very specific set of groundwork exercises that I run every new horse through before I get on their back, or if I get on their back. This shows me his basic level of training, tractability and safety. There have been horses that I would not get on right then and there. It was fixable in those horses, but I sure wasn’t going to attempt it from the saddle.

So bottom line is that you can either have an equine prospect’s behavior and training level assessed before you buy or you can take a chance….and end up ‘in over your head’.

Thanks for reading

Tom Kelner