Some useful tips when trying horses!
Trying to assess a horses suitability in just a couple of rides is not an easy task! Here are some tips and tricks that you may find helpful when testing out your perspective horses suitability!
When possible try and arrive a little earlier so you can watch the horse being tacked up. If you consider how many hours there are in a day and how much time you actually spend riding, it’s equally important that your new horse is as much a pleasure to handle as he is under saddle. So pay attention to how he reacts to being tied up, groomed and tacked up. This also gives you a good opportunity to check his legs for swelling while they are still cold.
I like to watch the horse being warmed up right from the beginning. This will tell you a lot about his/her general soundness and disposition.
If after watching the perspective horse being ridden you decide to test ride the horse yourself, pay attention to the tightness of the nose-band as you get on. It very easy to discreetly check this by placing two fingers under the nose-band.
The whole point of test riding a horse is to test out his training, character and suitability. For example, providing his level of education allows it, try riding him in different frames, different tempos and test out how he reacts to a slightly stronger leg aid. Try riding different exercises from his repertoire, and maybe an exercise he doesn’t know yet. The point is not that he gets it right, but more importantly his reaction to being pushed slightly out of his comfort zone. When you buy a horse its inevitable that there will be moments of miscommunication or confusion at times. It’s important to know that when this happens you and your horse can work these issues together safely.
Placing a blanket or a jacket over the side of the arena is a great way of testing out how spooky a horse might be. It’s normal that a horse will react to changes in his environment because being a prey animal, sudden environmental changes usually mean a threat. But it’s important to know that he’ll figure out that blanket isn’t a lion sooner rather than later! After riding past an object 3-4 times ideally the horse should be more focussed on the rider and less on the object.
If you decide to retry a horse I always recommend taking the time to brush, tack-up, and untack the horse yourself. It’s through one on one contact that you really learn the most about a horses personality.
During this retrial I would suggest that you get on and warm the horse up yourself. Don’t expect the horse to feel exactly the same as when he’s warmed up by his usual rider. What’s important is that you have the feeling you can manage and ride this horse safely, on your own, and with pleasure.
At this point another useful test might be to ride him with another horse in the arena. This is to check if he’s horse shy. Its not always something we test for and you won’t realise it’s an issue until you get your horse home or try to go to your first competition. If there is a mirror available another quick way to test this out is by riding the horse directly towards the mirror. He’ll initially assume his reflection is another horse and you can judge his reaction.
Always ask for a copy of the competition history of the horse, providing he has one. The reason being that this will not only tell you whether or not the horse is a consistent performer, but will also draw your attention to any periods of time off the horse has had in the past. There maybe a very innocent reason for a horse not competing consistently such as lack of time etc, but it could also potentially indicate that the horse has had an injury at some stage and needed some time off. This doesn’t need to be a deal breaker because all horses will get injured at some point in their careers, but this information will help you to make an informed decision regarding the purchase of your next horse.