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To each horse, its rider!

A question that often comes up with my clients is how to choose the right horse. So in our blog this month, I'm going to give you some advice on choosing the right horse for you.

Like all types of relationships, the one with your horse must be win/win to last over time. What I mean by this is that each must bring something to the other. One-sided relationships are more often than not difficult. We must therefore ensure that we are able to meet the needs of the horse we buy, not just look for a horse that will meet our own needs.

The stages of a horse's life

In order to fully understand the needs of horses, let's first go over some basic notions about the different stages in a horse's life and the needs associated with them.

  • From zero to six months, horses simply need to live with their mothers. Thereafter, from six months to two years, they must go to “daycare”. Just like humans, the daycare is not a work environment where foals go to work or force, but an environment in which we must instill in them a little routine, basic things such as walking on a leash, taking their feet, taking them to the shower, in the trailer, etc. All in the form of games so as not to put them under stress or rush them, because daycare is the stage of discovery.

  • At two years old, school begins. From two to three years old, it is “primary school”. We begin to learn the basics, and we continue to maintain a certain discipline. Foals are allowed to do certain things and not others. At this age again, horses do not force physically.

  • From three to four years old, this is the “secondary school” phase. And just like humans, horses have to learn to be more disciplined, you have to do homework, and be more independent. Horses need to learn to take responsibility too.

  • From four to five years comes the phase of “high studies”. It is at this stage that horses begin their specialization in a particular discipline. We begin to get an idea of their potential and what they like the most.

  • After five years, it is the “working” phase. At this stage, we find them a career that can last up to ten or twelve years. When we talk about a career, it is a particular discipline such as a barrel horse, racehorse, course, jumping, etc. It is also a phase during which horses must work several days a week.

  • After being educated, having had a career, riding regularly, we talk about “semi-retirement”. They can be given a more relaxed life, like having them go trail riding or being a beginner horse. He is a horse that no longer needs to be ridden or worked regularly.

  • Thereafter, it is quite simply the well-deserved “retirement”!

It is obvious that some horses will pass certain phases at different ages, for example, the breed can be an influencing factor in determining the age of transition from one phase to another. Now that you have a better idea of the needs of each phase, let's see how they come into play when it comes time to buy your horse, and especially their importance!

The purchase of your horse according to your needs... and those of your future horse

Many of my clients consult me about the purchase of their horse and a good number of them tell me that they are looking for a horse that meets their needs, but we forget an essential concept which is, as a rider are you ready to meet the needs of the horse?

Time is a fundamental element to think about before starting your buying process. How much time do you have to give your horse per week? If your schedule is busy and your wish is to take care of your horse once a week, you probably won't have time to take care of a horse that is in the education phases, and you should probably focus on a horse that is more “semi-retired” and whose needs are less important.

Each phase requires a very distinct type of involvement. A horse that is in its learning phase or the “school” phase needs about 5 days of training per week. Do you have time? Do you have the skills and knowledge necessary to teach a horse that is in a learning phase? Do you have the timing, the hands, and the coordination necessary to teach this horse the right exercises, are you able to build the right training program adapted to the needs of this horse?

Athletic horses, or horses that are in their “career” phase, are also types of horses that require a lot of time and energy to learn. They need to be supervised to progress and perform. Do you have the knowledge to advance your horse and bring it to the next level? Do you have the time, the resources, but also the necessary facilities to support it in its performance?

A foal as a first horse?

A very common mistake is to go for a horse that is too young for your skills on the pretext of having it with you for a long time. But the youngest phases are the ones that require the most time, because once again, the horse needs to be educated. And a bad education can sometimes lead to long-term behaviour problems. If you do not yet have all the knowledge to successfully educate this young horse, do you have the financial means to have him work with a professional trainer?

Knowing how to self-assess your own needs and abilities

It is important to identify your own needs, but also to correctly assess your ability to support the horse through its different phases of life. You too as a rider you have learning phases, but also specialties that you prefer and it is essential to be attentive to all these factors in order to make an informed choice.

When the time comes to choose a horse for you, it is very important to take the time to analyze your ability to meet their needs before looking at what needs they can meet. Because your dream can quickly turn into a nightmare when the rider-horse match is unbalanced.

With that, good training!

Eric St-Arnault

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