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Great article!

"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......"

http://poloponyrescue.com/?p=512
 

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I didn't read your article but as what I suppose might now be considered as an "advanced beginner," it is my firm opinion that there is no such thing as a "beginner safe" horse. Beginners don't know how to handle horses and horses are by no means safe for people who don't know how to handle them.

I don't know if all horses require people to be firm and assertive but I don't think any horses is safe for a person who is not firm or assertive. We should all have to take personality tests before we get horses. And beginners better have deep pocket books because at every single freaking turn the horses is going to do something a complete beginner doesn't know how to handle and that person will naturally not react appropriately because that person is a BEGINNER. So the trainer/instructor will have to be called and that costs $ every time.

It reminds me of when I was new to cross country skiing. I went to the ski shop and told them I was a beginner and they sold me skis that were appropriate for an experience skier but not for a beginner. They were too firm for a beginner with poor form and balance. So when I went to ski, I couldn't go forward. I went back to the store and told them the skis were too firm for me and the ski store employee snottily told me that I "must not be doing it right." I said "No spit, Sherlock! I'm a BEGINNER, of course I'm not doing it right you idiot!" Then I went to a store that sold me a softer ski, which I was able to learn on and then upgrade from.

The thing is - I don't know if there's a "softer" horse. In order for a horse to be safe for a beginner it needs an expert horse person permanently attached to it.

My sincere hope is that some horses are "softer" than Al.
 

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Great article!

"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......"

http://poloponyrescue.com/?p=512
Excellent article, and a must read for every horse owner.
 

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Here's the article (without pics) for those who don't want to click on the link:

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.

6. TAKE LESSONS.
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!

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!
 

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Thank you very much for the article. Al rarely gets grained and he's not stalled, we're using a beginner safe bit, I feeling like I'm constantly nonstop trying to establish myself as something more than a doormat with him though. He terrifies me when he resists me and no matter how much people try to tell me how to do the body language thing I am just not getting it at all. I swear he can read my mind. I can march toward him looking all assertive but he knows I'm not really an assertive person and I can't tell if he's just threatening to explode or if he really actually would explode. He has these behaviors that he doesn't even show when a trainer is around -he's like one of those bratty kids who hits and bullies when the adults aren't around, then when the adult comes around they stand there looking innocent.

I just feel like such a loser, such a failure. This is so heart breaking for me. All my life I dreamed of having horses and now that I have the time and the $ f or them I find out that I'm just not assertive enough to handle one.
 

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What bit are you using? Why is it beginner safe?

Since Al was okay with your DH, there is something going on. For one thing, too many cooks spoil the soup, in horses as well as food. Find one trainer/advisor and follow their plan. Don't let several people tell you what to do. Remember the majority of people will either say they don't like horses, are afraid of them, or are very proficient. There is little middle ground. Some of your helpers may not be the horsemen they think they are.

The article is very good and worth reading. If you can't take the time to, do you really want to solve the problem?
 

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IDK what kind of bit it is, Molly. So many people were talking at once when they picked out the bit...

He was not OK with my DH, Molly. DH said he wasn't getting back on him until somebody "tamed him". But my DH is even more of a beginner than me so that's not saying that Al is like a wild bronco or anything. He is actually much more respectful to my husband than he is to me.

I did read the article and it is very good. I really don't want to solve the problem with Al, though. I just really don't like him one little bit. He terrifies me. I've tried and tried with him but he was originally for my DH, not for me, and I just got stuck riding him. I didn't like him from day 1, he just has this weird energy or something.

I need to find somebody good to teach me. My helpers are NOT the horsepeople they think they are.

I did bring Ona (you know the Ona story I think) to live with a woman who shows horses worldwide. I brought her to her because she's the only person I've met who actually seems to know what she's doing, and I like her personality, not because I have any aspirations of making Ona into some sort of champion show horse. I asked her to just start her for me and she says she can give me riding lessons on her big mare. She's into the horses as a hobby, and doesn't make a living on them. She doesn't breed them, she just loves them and spends every spare moment training, riding, showing etc.

Hopefully, this lady will be able to help me find the right horse for me. I'm sure she thinks I'm a yahoo, and I guess I am.

Did you see my post that the girl who had Al before the lady I bought him from wants to buy him back from me? THat is a happy solution to the problem.
 

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Don't give up ffarmgirl. There are lots of very kind horses out there, but keep Harvest Moon's article in mind, it's excellent. You sound like you are determined to succeed but if you're now afraid of that horse it will sense it and your problems will escalate. If you have the option to sell and continue your search do it, your experience will help you in the future. The best teacher is to ride and work with multiple horses, that will help you find the personality you can click with. If there's a local stable where you can volunteer, grooming, exercise and turnout, take the opportunity to learn how different horses think and behave. Good luck and as I said don't give up. The right horse is out there.
 

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Every ranch horse I've ever sold was perfectly safe for beginners but I value my reputation and if a beginner will not spend training time with me and the horse, I will refuse a sale.

Inevitably, they start having problems because they confuse the horse by lack of experience, neighbours offer advice even though they have never seen the horse work and it goes south from there.
 

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Any horse, no matter HOW "beginner safe" will test it's handler. Like a chicken and pecking order in the flock, or a dog's position in the pack, it's a natural behavior for all horses. So, if the horse tests, and the new owner isn't ready with a convincing answer, the horse starts to take liberties.

Seen it happen a million times (good horses get ruined and beginners get frightened) - which is why it is such a good idea for a beginner to take lessons and ride many different horses under supervision to become comfortable with "testing" and resistance".
 

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Very good article. And something else to consider, some horses and some riders are only comfortable in certain situations. I know people who are only comfortable in the arena, take them and their horse on a trail ride, and they're terrified!

I knew one woman who used to lease a horse on the farm where I board. The horse came from an auction, and was not in the greatest of shape. (She's either an Arab, or an Arab cross. She was sold as a Morgan cross.) Anyway, this woman was, as far as we knew, a good rider. She took lessons and rode the horse regularly. But we went on a trail ride and when the horse started to act up a bit, she and another woman went back. Then, as the horse started feeling better and got more energy, she just couldn't handle her. I sometimes wonder where she was taking lessons, and why the horse was suddenly too much for her. I didn't have the experience that she did, but I was still able to saddle train my Arabian rescue. And she can be quite spirited.
 

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I don't know but I think different horses might test their riders in different ways. Different people connect with different types of horses.

Like with Zippy - she was an extremely sensitive horse. I didn't have to really go out of my way to show my authority. I mean, she did test me and I did have to be somewhat assertive but it wasn't like I was fighting a bull or something. Just a quit "knock it off!" or a snap on the lead rope was all she needed and anything more was too much for her. There were times when she fought me a little on the trail and she actually did buck occasionally, which Al never did, but I just found her easier to handle. She was a lighter, more sensitive horse and I understood her better because I've always been sensitive myself. If she hadn't been green I'm certain she would have been the perfect horse for me.

It seems like horses are kind of like children. Some children just need raised eyebrows or a "don't you dare even think about it!" to get them in line and anything further makes them sulky and difficult to deal with. Others need a large intimidating man to make them behave. Zippy was like the first type and Al was like the 2nd type and it seems like there was just no way I could comfortably make myself intimidating to Al. I'm sure it would have been possible if I didn't have a choice, but it is not in any way pleasant for me to try to be big and intimidating.

I followed the rules with him. When we'd get to a point in the road where he didn't want to go further, I forced him but boy was it hard to force him. Even when I got the spurs - the first ride with spurs he did great. The second ride, I actually had to kick him with them. Stubborn old mule.
 

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Inevitably, they start having problems because they confuse the horse by lack of experience
This ... exactly. I grew up on a horse on a working ranch and yet, when I bought my Oldenburg stallion, he and I were not a good fit. He was trained to upper levels in dressage, all his training/riding had been in an arena and I rode lst/2nd level at best. He was a perfectionist, he wanted clear, firm cues and trying to 'guess' what I was asking made him tense. He hated being outside of an arena on uneven ground and that made him tense. I was fortunate in being experienced enough to know that we wouldn't work as a horse/rider team but we got along very well otherwise. I suspect, if I had continued to try to force him to work at low levels and ride outside in the pastures, either he or I would have had an eventual melt-down ... if not both of us. He would get tense and I believe, had I persisted, he would have started to resist and get 'hot' and difficult ... but he had beautiful manners on the ground because both of us knew exactly what I expected then.

He was willing, he just didn't have the temperament to be a teacher. There are horses/ponies that do have the 'teaching' disposition but they aren't common and there are also different kinds of teachers. I had a Connemara mare that would give a child a safe ride all day long, would stop if the child got unbalanced, regardless of what the child wanted her to do ... but if an adult got on her, she expected the adult to know what they were doing and would look for the opportunity to dump that adult if they didn't pay attention or were inexperienced.

I now have a Haflinger mare that is as well trained ride/drive as any horse I've ever had but she is one of those 'give an inch and she'll take a mile' kinds. Every so often, she will start the "let's see if this will work" ... you say whoa and she takes one extra step. If you let that go, the next time she takes two extra steps ... and pretty soon she is stopping where she wants to. A good, instant "come to Jesus" moment the first time she takes that extra step and she doesn't try it again for another six months or more. She would never deliberately hurt anyone but in six months, with a 'soft' inexperienced owner, she'd be doing exactly what she pleased all the time.

Horses will vary just as much as people do and you often do not know whether an older, reliable, well trained ranch horse, used to experienced working riders will adjust and be a "teacher" for an inexperienced rider or not. Some will and some won't ... and you never know until an inexperienced rider tries them.
 

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SFM, I've ridden horses like your Haflinger as well. And it also reminds me of something that happened years ago, B4 I ever got a horse.

A friend and I went horseback riding. Since she was taking lessons and I had never had a lesson in my life, they gave her the more difficult horse to handle. She couldn't handle the horse. So we switched horses. First thing I did once I got on the horse was to ride over to a tree and break off a branch, and strip all the twigs and leaves off of it. I didn't have a problem w/the horse.
 

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First thing I did once I got on the horse was to ride over to a tree and break off a branch, and strip all the twigs and leaves off of it. I didn't have a problem w/the horse.
Sounds exactly like a gelding we had at the ranch. Easy-going, never bucked, kicked or bit, but used every trick in the book to keep from doing his job well. He didn't like cow work, hated to turn hard and gallop hard to head a cow, would shove his nose out and push against the rein instead. Dad finally got tired of it one day and cut a stick (he said it was as big as a broomstick but I never actually saw it) and by the time they got back to the ranch that day, that gelding was neckreining well and turning hard after a cow.

He was a good working ranch horse with an experienced rider, though he needed 'reminding' every so often that the rider could make him work. Absolutely safe with an inexperienced rider or a kid, but he'd do just exactly what he wanted to.
 

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When I was growing up, my grandparents lived in PA near Bloomsburg. Their neighbor had a horse and 2 ponies that were boarded there. I wasn't allowed to ride the horse, but the owner didn't care if I messed w/the ponies. The one was a good size, I'd say around 13.2 hh. So, if we were visiting my grandparents, you'd find me down the street on JB. I never had a problem w/him. One day my sister decided she wanted to ride, so I let her. I never thought to close the barn door cuz he never acted up w/me. She got raked off since she couldn't control him.
 

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I don't think it's usually a matter of the beginner rider not being able to "control" a horse, more likely it's because so many beginners just "sit there" and never give any instructions. Of course the horse will take advantage of that! Ponies probably more so because they are more crafty. Beginners don't notice little things, like when a horse meanders rather than going somewhere with guidance, or when "snuggles" begin to cross the line into rude pushing, or the difference between a horse's discomfort and disobedience. Some people never seem to recognize these things, even after many years of horse ownership, which is why so many horses are spoiled and ill-mannered when horse professionals come into the picture (farriers, vets, trainers, etc).

Great article, by the way.
 

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Malinda, I hear ya on that. I knew someone years ago who had a horse start to act up. Rather than look to see if there was a problem since the horse had never done this B4, she stuck it in the RP, and ran it until it was too tired to act up. She seemed quite proud of herself when she told me.

My DD's Chincoteague pony started acting up in a 4-H show. He acted like he wanted her off his back. This wasn't like him. So, rather than getting upset w/him, when the class was over, we checked his saddle. It no longer fit. I had my saddle w/me, so we put that on him and he was fine for the rest of the show.
 
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