Saturday, September 8, 2012

Selecting The Right Horse For You - The Basics



There are many factors to selecting the right horse for you. Many things should be considered when choosing a horse. 

First and foremost: You should ask yourself, what will you be using your horse for?

Be real honest and ask yourself if the horse you own will be used in trail riding, dressage, ropings, barrel racing, cutting, penning, basic ranch work, moving cows all day, and so on.

Second: You want to shop around and get the horse that is going to be the most suitable to meet your needs.  

Ask yourself if it be a "companion horse" for you, or if the horse you're looking for is to act as "company" for another horse?

Be frank with yourself and ask if the horse you're looking for will be ridden a lot, or is it a horse that is not going to be ridden very often due to your personal or medical limitations?

And also, what type of riding you'll be doing? Remember, Western and English styles of riding involve different types of tack.

Horses are versatile so the style of riding may depend on the discipline involved.

For example: cutting, roping, or reining involves western tack - while jumping, hunt seat, or dressage involves English tack.

Either style can be used for trail riding, for me I ride Western.

Third: Do not limit your search.

Be willing to look into Horse Rescues, Horse Shelters, for those owners that have a horse that they simply cannot afford anymore and are struggling to feed and care for.

Like with a few of my horses, you may find a jewel where others see junk.

Example: I was given a papered sorrel Quarter Horse gelding that an owner said was navicular. Navicular disease is one of the most common causes of chronic forelimb lameness.

Since the owner felt the horse could no longer be ridden, I took the horse "company" for my other horse Murphy.

After observing this horse over time, and seeing no signs of lameness, I had the horse, which by then I called "Mac," examined by a Veterinarian to x-ray the hoof and find out if indeed he was navicular. Come to find out, he was not.

Looking back on that horse today, I have to say that he was the best riding horse for anyone to hop aboard. Whether a greenhorn adult or a child, that horse was absolutely "bombproof."

He was a great horse to have around for guests or thier children who may show up during a visit or Bar-B-Q and want to ride.

Looking back on my horse Murphy, even though he was a papered Quarter Horse, he was mistreated and in horrible condition when I bought him.

After I got him in shape, put some weight on him, and put some time with me in the saddle with him -- he was priceless. To me, not even Bill Gates had enought money to buy him from me.

And yes, looking back on it now, I realize that he was a "rescue" horse.

Third: Ask yourself if you know what to look for in the kind of horse you need?

If you don't know what to look for when choosing a horse, you may need to find some help.

With or without help, as a potential horse owner, you really should know what are the important things to look for when choosing a horse?

Size:

Try to find a horse to match your size.

If you are 5’1” and want a horse for trail riding, a horse that is 16 or 17 hands may not be the best choice. It could work out fine, but it is something to consider.

Disposition:

This is very important. You should find a horse that falls into your comfort level.

A horse with a kind disposition is important for a young rider or a first-time horse owner - especially one who has only ridden sporadically in the past.

The effect of disposition on usefulness is ten fold!

If riding is to be a joy, and safety a requirement, good dispositions become a "must." They may be both "born" and "made."

Some breeds are more docile than others, and there are wide differences among individual horses within the different breeds.

Any horse appropriately trained will have a satisfactory disposition for normal riding.
Conversely, horses of excellent dispositions can be spoiled by improper handling.

For me, the breed that I trust is the American Quarter Horse. The breed’s inherent quickness and agility made it ideally suited to the tasks of the developing the frontier of the Old West.

And yes, its good-natured disposition and natural cow-sense made the American Quarter Horse a favourite mount among cowboys during the open-range era of the West.

They have a calm, cooperative temperament. Traits needed when riding.
When looking at a prospect, watch the ears and eyes of the horse for nervousness and resistance.

Have the owner handle its feet to see if it will give you problems when you go to clean its hoof. Remember that a "Shoer Friendly" horse is also something that owners should strive for.

And yes, to find out the true disposition of a horse -- ride the horse.

If it is trained to ride, you will be able to see if the horse is dependable and adequate for your purposes. If at all possible, take it on a trial basis.

If a horse is "green broke," its usually unsatisfactory for beginners. And in most cases, you will find out if it's green or not fairly quickly.

Usually a short test ride before purchase will let you know if the horse will be hard to handle because of a lack of training - or if the horse has had a lot of training.

Disposition also relates to courage or "heart" or second wind. Courage is necessary for horses used for sporting events.

Intelligence or ability to learn is an asset in any horse.
These can be identified in horses trained - or in training - and may be predicted in part by pedigree or family relationships.

Genetics play a big part in disposition. Take a careful look at the horse's breeding - if at all possible.

Breeding:

Whether you enjoy jumping, running barrels, or reining, choose a horse with the genetic lines proven for good disposition and conformation to best perform the task.

If breed specific shows such as AQHA or APHA interest you, find breeders who raise those breeds.

Conformation:

This is a very important part of actually forking over some of your hard earned money. It has to do with how the horse is put together. Disposition is attitude, conformation is how its built.

To evaluate a horses conformation you must know several common names associated with horse anatomy.


Equine conformation evaluates the degree of correctness of a horse's bone structure, musculature, and its body proportions in relation to each other. Undesirable conformation can limit the ability to perform a specific task.

Although there are several universal "faults," a horse's conformation is usually judged by what its intended use may be. Because of that "form to function" is one of the first set of traits considered in judging conformation.

Major contributions to a good-bodied horse include long, sloping shoulders, short, strong back, long underline and long, rather level croup.

If shoulders are long and sloping, they extend the stride in running, absorb shock, reduce stumbling, move the elbows away from the girth, and raise the head slightly. They should be surmounted by clean, high withers that extend well backward to afford maximum security of the saddle.

Short backs and long underlines move the fore and rear legs farther apart, tend to raise the croup and head, contribute to style and action, and increase height and length of stride.

Also, short backs are stronger, reduce the length of coupling (hip bone to last rib), and are usually more muscular than others.

Finally, well-sprung ribs that blend into hips and shoulders with minimum roughness tend to accompany short backs.

Long, rather level croups accommodate more muscling, increase style and balance, and are less often associated with crooked hind legs.

Since all of the power used in motion comes from the hindquarters, muscular development should be extensive, commensurate with breed requirements. Breeching, thighs and gaskins should be especially muscular. Long, smooth muscles are preferred to those that are short and bunchy.

Leverage is gained with maximum length from hip to hock and minimum length of cannon. These dimensions are developed to a high degree in breeds that race.

Smoothness, balance and symmetry are a result of all parts blending together, being of proportionate size, and each contributing equally to the whole of a symmetrical individual. These combined with refinement, alertness and a proud carriage contribute to style.

Leg Set: A very important aspect of overall conformation.

Be thorough when observing the leg set of a horse. Proper leg set is essential to durability and good action.

A leg should be properly positioned under each corner of the body, knees and hocks should not deviate inward or outward, and feet should point straight forward.

If a horse stands straight, he will probably move straight. Conversely, if he stands on crooked legs, he must move likewise.

Crooked moving detracts from appearance, wastes energy and predisposes a horse to unsoundness. Legs should be positioned on the corners of the body.

A straight line drawn from the arm downward should bisect the forearm, knee, cannon, fetlock, and pass behind the bulb of the heel. A line drawn from the point of the shoulder downward should bisect the arm, knee, cannon, fetlock, pastern, and hoof.

When viewed from the side, a straight line drawn downward from the back of the buttock should touch the back of the hock, cannon, and fetlock.

Viewed from behind the line should bisect the gaskin, hock, cannon, fetlock, pastern, and foot.

Pasterns should be medium in length, sloped at approximately 45 degrees, and flexible but strong.

Hoofs should have the same angle as pasterns, and be deep and wide at the heels, moderate in size, dense of horn, and free of rings. White hoofs are softer (wear faster) than others. Slope of shoulders and pasterns and expansion of heels account for shock absorption when the horse is in motion.

Bone should be adequate in size, show definition of joints, and should appear flat viewed from the side, compared to a front view. Bone spavins, bogs, and weakness are common to sickle hocks.

Jarring from short, straight pasterns and shoulders predisposes to side bones, stiffness, bogs, and lameness.

Pigeon toes tend to wing, whereas splayed feet tend to swing inward in motion.



The effect of quality on wearability:

Quality is indicated by refinement of head, bone, joints and hair coat.

It is reflected in thin skin, prominent veins and absence of coarseness, especially in the legs.

Good circulation in the legs is important to durability.

Coarse, "meaty" legs with reduced circulation tend to stock, puff, bog, and become unsound.

A horse of quality has more attractiveness, therefore more buyer appeal.

The effect of head and neck on flexibility: This should not be dismissed.

The length and shape of a horse's neck and size of his head affect action. The neck should be long, slightly arched, and fine and clean at the throat-latch for maximum balance, style and maneuverability.

Fine throats enhance ease of breathing and allow maximum flexion of the chin without binding the jaws on the neck.

Short-necked, thick-throated horses "steer" hard and may be "head slingers" from jaw pressure when pulled up short.

Size of head should be in accord with breed requirements. Ears should not be over-sized and should be carried alertly.

Eyes should be wide-spaced, large and clear. Nostrils should be large but refined, and lips firm instead of pendulous.

These are the basics guidelines to selecting the right horse for you. A horse with the conformation and disposition described is physically able to be an effective partner in whatever your choice of riding.

Lastly, my opinion is that every owner should keep in mind "Responsible Ownership."

Before purchasing a horse, decide if the expense of owning a horse fits into your budget.

These days with money being tight, more and more horses are being taken into Horse Rescue Facilities all over the country.

And yes, sadly, there are owners who can't afford to feed their horses and they are not being feed the way they should be.  

So before buying a horse, please take into consideration the routine cost involved in feed, shelter, boarding if you have to, care as in shoeings and routine Veterinarian bills when say having your horse's teeth floated -  or the unexpected Veterinarian bills.

A "ranch vist" in itself, just getting the vet out to see your horse, can be costly these days. 

To keep your horse ready to ride, it needs to be fed appropriately and kept healthy with good feed and clean water.

Your horse should be inspected daily for alertness, body wieght, hoof condition, and other possible conditions including cuts, bites, punctures, raw spots, and so on.

Remember that horses in a pen together don't always get along. So yes, watch for signs of trouble, and check for injuries such as bite marks. They may need to be split up.
If you can't inspect your horse daily, try to do it as often as you can - and more than not. It goes to the heart of being a responsible owner.

That's just how I see it.

Tom Correa

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