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Article: ‘A bias against young horses in Horse Sales.

By Devanee Cardinal

In ‘Horse Shopping 101’ it reads….. ‘don’t get a horse too young’ . Hopefully we are past the myth that you should buy a young horse so that you can ‘learn together’. As they say…’green on green makes black and blue’.

What I am noticing on the horse market is almost a bias against young horses. In this article I would like to explain what I mean by this and give a revised version of what to look for in terms of suitability in your next partner.

First let’s explain what a foundation is in terms our horse development. I have written previous articles about this, but in a nutshell, using the language of building construction applies very well. You can think of foundation building as laying bricks side by side. Our bricks are largely laid using the Parelli Program. We love the versatility it provides, how it builds confidence, and how it develops our horses into ‘super learners’. (there’s the Parelli plug ) It includes playing online, connecting at liberty, freestyle riding using just your body for transitions and steering, riding with contact for refinement and finesse. We play bridges, and teeter totters, trail ride, track a cow, swing a rope, drag a barrel. These are all just the basics and we try to have as many ‘topics’, aka ‘bricks’ as possible.

Then it’s time to add progression, in other words stack the bricks. This progression water might be play in the pond-creek-river. Trail riding progression might be in a group going last, going first, going solo into the sunset. Cows might be tracking cattle, pushing and sorting, to finally holding a herd back on a cattle drive. Roping progression might be swing a rope, drag a barrel, catch and hold heels or head (of the milk cow calf)….to a live branding situation. These progressions all stack the bricks.

The problem happens when bricks are only stacked on top of one or two bricks. Often we see this example in the horse industry… backed in a round pen, ridden in the arena, patterns in the arena, fancy stuff in the arena, goes to shows. (spooky outside arena, only ok on trails if he has a buddy, only crosses the river if someone else goes first., unconfident around cows, only good at one sport…) This does not fit with my goals, or the goals of most of our clients.

It’s not what the bricks are that matter so much as how they are stacked. I am actually pretty sure that most of our clients will not be relying on their horses for ranch work or help at a branding. However, if you can’t take a horse into a situation like that it would reflect some holes in the foundation. When it comes to a Foundation, look for bricks not just in the area you are most interested in, or it will not be a solid foundation. It will easily tip over, and I see this more often than I would like. It’s usually an unsafe experience for both the horse and the human. Not fun at all.

There is no guarantee when buying any horse but a false sense of security sometimes comes with older horses. The years do not determine the foundation, the bricks do. Unfortunately finding out the actual background of a horse with some age on him is difficult. If an older horse is being passed on I would wonder why. Horses quickly ‘learn things they don’t need to know’. Just because a horse is older does not necessarily mean he has received the foundation to be the safe, trusty partner you are looking for.

So, with all of this said here’s what I suggest: Compare the bricks. Look at what the bricks are, look how they are stacked, get a picture of how solid the foundation is. Add to this a good understanding of the horse’s temperament or ‘horsenality’, and also his spirit level. You’ll have your own preferences to add to this list on size, shape, looks, etc. If you find 2 horses with the same suitability that are different ages then you can choose based on preference. All things being the same, most of us would probably take the younger horse anyway.




‘BRONCitis’ Symptoms and Prevention

Definition: A serious condition of the saddle horse of the Northern hemisphere’s that occurs acutely right after the winter months when first spring riding conditions appear.

Prognosis: After onset, there is no cure. However the condition is highly preventable. (See below)

You won’t need a clinical diagnosis to recognize these symptoms in your equine partner. You might notice your trusty partner is insecure about leaving his herd, uneasy at the hitching post, tense about being saddled. If he goes undiagnosed and you decide to ride him, he might seem spooky or reluctant. Either unwilling to move forward, or unwilling to stand still. If you are still in denial about his condition but decide the day is just too beautiful, and because it’s just been too long without riding, you might do the unthinkable. With visions of your last rides in the fall in your head you . . . . ask him to canter across the open field.


  • Move his feet before you get on! Play on the ground first, and PLAY SADDLED. A good guideline is to ask him for a gait faster that you would like to ride that day. If you want to canter that day, give him the opportunity to have a little gallop in the saddle and see what he thinks of it. Even your best saddle horse, might get tight, hump up and want to buck when he is first saddle. Good to get the kinks out before you ride. In my informal survey (in my head) Most ‘bucking’ related accidents can be tied to improper preparation under saddle, before riding.

  • Proper Progression for Confidence Building. Aka….kiddy pool before the ocean! We wouldn’t dream of dropping our kids in the deep end of the pool before they were ready, but that’s exactly the temptation. A wise progression in the spring could be round pen, arena, outdoor arena, trail around your home, open fields……and then the Raush Valley (the figureative ocean in our world)

  • Use Obstacles! Why wait until your horse gets either apprehensive or uncooperative out on the trail? Help you horse get partnered up with you on some interesting puzzles for him to figure out. It doesn’t have to be a fancy teeter totter (although I love those) Just something that gets him thinking and connected to you as a leader.

  • Take a Clinic! Not just saying that because Buddy and I teach clinics (well, it’s not the only reason). It’s a great time to set aside for just you and your horse, to have a refresher, get reacquainted and learn some new things to work on over the summer.


I know what you’re thinking…….who has time for all of this prevention…..I want to just get on and ride…. After all, it’s SPRING!!


And maybe you’re right……A body cast would be so much better.

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