What does your horse want to be when he grows up?

Bogie was a bold and tidy jumper over stadium fences but a complete chicken when it came to cross country jumps.
Bogie was a bold and tidy jumper over stadium fences but a complete chicken when it came to cross country jumps.

The purchase of a horse comes with all kinds of dreams and aspirations. You can picture yourself on your new steed — winning ribbons, chasing hounds, succeeding at the discipline of your choice.

However, if you don’t buy a horse that is already established in that “job”, it doesn’t always work the way you hoped. Unfortunately, “prospect” and “potential” don’t always add up to proficient.Non-horse people don’t get it: a horse is a horse, right?

Not always. I’ve had a few horses that required a change in direction. Because when you find out that your horse isn’t suitable — or doesn’t like — the job you intended him for, you have two choices: find another job for them or sell them and buy another horse.

Bogie, who I bought when I was in my early 30s, was supposed to be an event horse. He was a nice jumper who was fearless in the ring . . . and turned out to be a chicken over natural jumps. Eventing him was just an exercise in frustration. He’d start to slow down 50 yards back from a fence he thought was “scary” (a coop or something like it) and there was no convincing him that he was wrong. He was already 16 or so when I bought him and set in his ways. Instead, we did the low jumpers. He loved it! This was a horse pulled me to the fences and could turn on a dime, a completely different animal than the one I tried to ride xc.

Kroni was never going to be quiet in his mouth while wearing a bit. Foxhunting suited him just fine as he loved the action and I could ride him bitless.
Kroni was never going to be quiet in his mouth while wearing a bit. Foxhunting suited him just fine as he loved the action and I could ride him bitless.

Kroni, my Trakehner, was also supposed to be my next eventer — but what he really wanted to do was foxhunt. Kroni was very bold cross country. It was the dressage that was his bugaboo. He had a low palate and a thick tongue which made most bits uncomfortable for him, he also hated the feeling of being trapped, something he associated with any request for collection. He had been ridden in draw reins before I got him and had started to rear. Over time I was to find a way of riding him that made him much less defensive (no rear) and found that he was a great candidate riding bitless. But it wasn’t until I took him foxhunting that I discovered his true avocation. He just loved it from day one and was always a gentleman in the hunt field, even bitless.

Dezi was an OTTB that I bought as a resale project. She was a stunning horse with classic thoroughbred looks. Unfortunately, she could barely jump a pole on the ground. She had no talent for jumping whatsoever. In fact, after one lesson my trainer casually mentioned that I should probably not jump her over anything solid when I was on my own. Is she that bad? I asked. Yes, was her answer. She went to a home where she would never be asked to jump a cross country fence.

When I got Freedom, I was a foxhunting convert and really only wanted a horse who would hunt. He didn’t show much promise for it in the beginning as he absolutely refused to go behind another horse if we were out hacking He threw some wicked tantrums in those early days. One day I took him to a hunter pace without a partner and he was so bad in the warm up area that no one would ride with me. I went on my own and he was fine (no question about going first). In fact, we won.

Hunting is tricky. Lots of horses who seem completely sane eventing or hacking lose their minds when asked to gallop and jump in a field of other horses. Freedom turned out to be the opposite. With time and patience, he learned his new job and discovered that he didn’t have to be first all the time; in fact, it might be better to be firmly in the middle of the field. It took a leap of faith and the knowledge that he was my only option to get us into the hunt field. Then it took a stronger bit and wet saddle blanket therapy to keep us there!

I feel quite lucky that I ended up with a horse who loves the discipline that I do. I know plenty of people who have horses that haven’t worked out and who didn’t want to try something else with them. It’s hard to sell a horse on when you’ve had them for awhile even when they aren’t ideal and yet it’s frustrating to have a horse that clearly isn’t suitable for what you want to do.

Tell me about some of the horses you’ve had. Did they grow up and want to do something different? Did you work with them to find a job they liked? Or find a horse that likes to do what you prefer?



One thought on “What does your horse want to be when he grows up?

  1. My life has been in too much flux to find out exactly what my 6-year-old wants to do but in the meantime she has quite a foundation! I think you can look at it one of two ways: you can pick the horse and let them lead you or you can find a horse already doing what you need to do. You’re right. It’s tricky business buying a horse for a certain discipline that hasn’t done it yet! I’ve seen many a “so-and-so bred” horse crap out at what his ancestors were famous for.

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