The "free" or "fixer upper" horse and newbies an expensive but common mistake.
Taking on the wrong horse is probably the most expensive & dangerous mistake you can make on the road to being an equestrian of any discipline...and the "free" horse can end up being the most expensive horse of all.
It is common sense that you would want a healthy animal so getting a vet on board to do an exam is always a great idea. Most people know to look at the hooves and to examine it for old scars, but the vet is going to be able to find things you can’t see with your naked eye. They will examine the eyes, the ears, listen to the heart to detect defects like murmurs ect and it may cost you a little bit to have them out but they can save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars in the long run by steering you clear of animals that have physical ailments that are going to be issues in their care. I always suggest a vet exam before ANY taking on any horse.
This is the story that I hear that almost always leads to the same sad ending.
“So-and-so had this horse and I felt so sorry for it and they were giving it away and I just fell in love with it. It’s not broke or it’s “green broke”. Right now it’s in there kicking the stall doors off, coming at me with teeth bared and yesterday it tried to remove my head with it’s back feet when I went into feed it.Why? What am I doing wrong? ”
That’s not to say all “FREE” horses are bad…because they are not. Some are great but some are other peoples problems OR have problems because the people getting rid of it didn’t invest the time into keeping it well mannered. They may have just let it run free and over them till it has behavior issues. When people finally face the reality that they really don’t have the time nor resources to care for one, they have often already done damage to the horses training and socialization skills.
A horse is only worth as much as it’s training in my book. Training is like location in real estate. TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING…and often a well trained, pleasant, good mannered horse does NOT come cheap. They are what everyone is looking for. So if you are to take the gamble on the freebie, be aware that you could probably be investing in a trainer BEFORE you are going to get to enjoy it. And if you are just starting out with horses, a horse fresh out of training is NOT the horse you need. That horse is for an intermediate to advanced rider who is going to further develop the animal instead of unknowingly ruin it’s training. And if you are just starting out training a horse may be out of your range of skills.
We could compare taking on a free horse to buying a “fixer upper” house. If you don’t know anything about plumbing, electrical work or carpentry your going to end up paying a lot more to save a house in disrepair than just start off with what you actually need in the beginning. The “fixer upper” horse is the same. I don’t care if it’s the most beautiful horse you have ever laid eyes on IF it has a nasty disposition or a firecracker temperament this is NOT a beginners horse…because these issues need professional attention and can be dangerous to deal with. This is an expensive and dangerous trap many new horse buyers fall into, and just like the house, it can be an absolute money pit.
I would encourage anyone getting into horses to find a good rider to go with them to check out the animal. Do NOT get a horse that is not broke as your first horse …please. I know it can be tempting but it is a very common mistake people make. A beginner needs a horse that is well behaved, has been there and done that, and is going to be forgiving of “newbie” mistakes. Take you a good riding buddy and test out the horses BEFORE you pick. And NEVER get a horse you haven’t had the courage to get on at the sellers house. This is another huge mistake people make. They get something to ride, that they won’t ride. It isn’t going to be any better at home…in fact the horse behavior may go down hill for a couple weeks as it adjusts to it’s new surroundings. Having a friend who will get on first and make sure the horse acts “as advertised” is a great idea. Then you take a ride and let them watch the horse from the ground to see how it looks and to watch for any visible signs of disrespect or unwillingness to being ridden by an unconfident rider. If you don’t know someone personally to take some barns advertise exercise riders and such you can hire to come with you and give you an honest opinion on the animals handling.
Never trust anyone’s word on an horse. They lie. And if it’s a “bad” horse they have even more reasons to lie to you. So evaluate it yourself. Let your common sense over ride your heart and eyes too. There is a saying, “you can’t ride pretty”…and that’s truth. I would rather put a beginner on an old swayed back horse with a motherly heart who is half blind…than on a 4 year old hot head who looks like he just strutted of the cover of Horse Illustrated. You have to be honest completely with yourself about your abilities. You will not be able to lie to the horse. If you buy outside of your skill you will regret it as soon as it comes time to start actually enjoying the horse.
No horse is perfect. They all have issues of some sort or another. They all need to be worked . But as a newbie you do not have the skill or the knowledge to keep you safe on a more “rambunctious” or control a more dominant animal. You need to start safe & dependable. Doing otherwise will result in a lot of painful, expensive regrets and very little enjoyment.