I love reading horse ads. What people say and don’t say is very telling. Some people are honest to a fault; some people tell lie after lie. I love horses and would have one in every size and color if I could afford it, so even though I’m not in the market, I still like to window shop.
Many times I see ISO ads (in search of) that want a dead broke, bombproof horse, usually for their kid or their husband. You hear people talk about a “husband horse,” meaning that your husband who doesn’t ride can ride him and not get himself killed.
It’s the type of horse you see out west on the dude ranches that cart tourists around, or the mules that carry people down into the Grand Canyon. This horse has been face to face with a grizzly, been caught in a blizzard, and has climbed the same tough mountain trail every day for 15 years. If it’s on that mountain, he’s already seen it. The rider needs zero skill to ride this horse; they just need to grab the horn and stay out of his way.
The other “bombproof” horse I see is the one owned by rednecks. This horse has seen fireworks all year, been ponied by a 4 wheeler with a 3 year old driving, lives in a pasture with a rusted out car in it, has heard gunfire every day of deer season, turkey season, and “Grandma says she saw a coyote” season. If it’s loud and fast and dangerous, this horse has seen it a thousand times.
When people post ISO ads, this is the horse they imagine. This horse will not spook, will not bolt, will not buck or rear, will not go anywhere except where you point him, and will never offer an opinion that differs from their own. The problem is, that horse doesn’t exist.
The people who post those ads don’t want to buy a horse; they want to buy safety. They want to buy the assurance that nothing bad will ever happen, that the horse will ignore thousands of years of prey animal survival instinct, that they can participate in a sport that is by definition dangerous and never be in danger. Sorry to burst that bubble, but it’s impossible.
So called bombproof horses have been habituated to certain stimuli. They have been exposed to certain things, like gunfire or motorcycles, enough times to know that those things are not a threat. But when you move a horse from his old home to your home, he will be exposed to different things. Horses spook at ridiculous things like mailboxes and old tires, things that don’t move, things that do move, things that are too loud or too quiet. Horses spook. It’s just a matter of time before they find something they haven’t seen. Every horse will eventually spook at something. What you want is a horse that, when he spooks, he does it quietly in place instead of heading for the hills.
So called bombproof horses are often accustomed to doing a very specific job, a trail horse for example. Any deviation from that job and the horse is no longer calm. Many trail horses will ride all day long behind another horse but the minute you try to take them out alone, you’ve got a fight on your hands. Or let’s say you take a trail horse and put him in a hunter ring where he is supposed to keep a respectful distance from the horse in front and behind. That horse’s happy place is so close behind another horse that he will get manure on his nose if the front horse poops. Try getting him to back off and he’ll pull forward. He knows where he belongs!
Another thing to consider is that horses learn to trust individual people. A horse that is brave and confident with one person might be a nervous wreck with another person. It depends a lot on the energy of the rider and their history together. Many people are surprised when a horse acts really differently at a new home, but they’re forgetting that the horse is acclimating to a new environment, new herd, and new rider. All of that is stressful.
I think many people don’t want a horse; they want a horse shaped robot. I’ll admit there have been times when that sounded appealing, like when my mule, who visited an elementary school and let the children maul her, bolted at a Christmas parade. I didn’t see it coming; you just never know with horses.
Unfortunately, if you’re going to ride or be around horses, things are going to go wrong. Horses are prey animals and herd animals, and we’re asking them to ignore all of their survival instincts when we ride them. At some point all those thousands of years of brain development will surface and they will spook or resist our efforts to direct them. That’s just part of riding horses.
If you’re in the market for a bombproof horse, keep these things in mind. Have some compassion for what the horse is going through. There are good, confident, well-behaved horses out there, but they are still horses.