Most horse owners have been there. You’re seduced by flashy paces, beguiled by breeding, or you love the challenge of a problematic animal that clearly has the talent to go far, especially for a low price. And you go ahead and buy the horse without really thinking things through.
So, is your new four-legged problem child a fun project and future superstar, or are you, in reality, over-horsed?
In this article, we take a look at some red flags that could spell trouble!
Red flag #1 – Fools rush in
You bought a horse based on a very brief description and just one viewing.
Perhaps you didn’t even ride the creature, deciding that you’d start your journey of discovery when you got him home.
If you didn’t want to ride the horse to try him out, perhaps your subconscious was trying to tell you something. That “something” most likely being that you’re over-horsed!
Red flag #2 – Where do you start?
So, your new horse is now installed in your yard. Where do you start? If you find yourself wondering just how to begin fixing the horse’s problems, alarm bells should ring.
Difficult horses and inexperienced riders make a dangerous combination.
If you have taken on a horse that’s beyond your skill and confidence level, you are seriously over-horsed. At best, you’ll make the horse’s behavior worse, but at worst, you could finish up injured and totally lose your confidence.
Red flag #3 – The horse won’t “go” for you
Unfortunately, dressage judges see too many horses that have the ability to do a great test but won’t go well for their rider.
Often, people buy a readymade horse that has “form” at a good level. Depressingly, these combinations often develop chronic problems that never improve, simply because the rider does not have the experience or ability to bring out the best in the horse.
Red flag #4 – Green vs. green
As a general rule, a green horse and a green rider do not make a safe or successful combination.
Novice riders typically don’t have the knowledge, skill level, or experience to bring on a youngster.
Too often, talented young horses acquire bad habits, usually as a means of protecting themselves from a rider’s harsh hands, clumsy aids, or poor balance.
In this lose-lose situation, the horse learns to throw up evasions that can be difficult to fix for even a more capable jockey.
Red flag #5 – Size matters
If you’re a very short, petite rider, you will probably struggle to connect and engage a 17.3hh warmblood.
If your feet are brushing the bottom of your dressage saddle flaps, you have no chance of wrapping your leg around your horse, and it’s likely that you will finish up trying to balance the horse by using too much hand.
Also, short, large riders often struggle to keep their balance on a big-moving, powerful horse. As a result, they resort to riding with stirrups that are too long, hanging onto the reins, and bouncing in the saddle. That can lead to the horse coming behind the contact in an effort to escape the discomfort in his mouth, especially if the rider insists on using a double bridle.
In both these scenarios, the rider is over-horsed.
Always choose a horse that’s the right size for your height and build.
Red flag #6 – Do you make excuses not to ride?
Do you find reasons why you can’t ride your horse today? Perhaps you only have time to lunge your horse, or maybe the weather’s bad, or the horse doesn’t quite seem himself.
If you find that you are regularly making excuses not to ride your horse, you have a big problem.
Red flag #7 – You feel nervous and anxious about riding
Riding should be a fun, positive experience for both parties. If you feel at all anxious or worried about getting on board, you are onto a loser from the off.
Horses are very receptive and sensitive to your moods.
Your horse can feel when your heart is racing, when your hands are shaking, when you become stiff and tense, and he can smell when your body is exuding adrenaline and “flight” hormones in your sweat. That’s why so many horses only appear to relax at the end of a dressage test when their rider breathes a massive sigh of relief that the test is over and their anxiety disappears.
If you ride an awkward or nervy horse when you’re in full flight mode yourself, your horse will pick up on that and feel the same. And that’s an accident waiting to happen!
What should you do if you think you’re over-horsed?
If you’ve recognized any of the red flags highlighted above in yourself, you’re probably over-horsed.
So, what do you do now?
Well, first of all, you must be honest with yourself.
Do you really have the ability to solve a problem horse’s behavioral issues? Are you really capable of educating and schooling a newly backed youngster? If your horse goes well for your trainer or your friend but is naughty for you, that’s a good indication that your horse is too much for you.
Admitting defeat and cutting your losses is nothing to be ashamed of. However, struggling on and getting nowhere will not help to cure the horse’s issues, and you’ll most likely finish up losing your confidence.
So, you have three options.
- Pay a professional to re-school the horse
- Keep the horse and pay a professional to compete it for you
- Sell the horse
Option #1 – Pay a professional to re-school the horse
If you simply can’t bear to part with your horse, you could send him to a professional trainer for re-schooling.
Unfortunately, that won’t necessarily cure the problem.
Yes, the horse will probably come back to you transformed into an obedient, mannerly creature that goes like a dream. However, horses don’t forget past experiences, and there’s a very good chance that the horse’s unwanted behavior will recur eventually.
Also, you will always associate riding that particular horse with a bad or frightening experience, and you’ll find yourself sitting there in the saddle waiting for “it” to happen.
Option #2 – Keep the horse and pay a professional to compete it for you
If your horse is a highly-talented individual that you paid big bucks for or bred yourself, you’ll probably want to keep him.
If you’re happy to enjoy hacking and having lessons on the horse while leaving the competition and more advanced work to a professional rider, then this could be an option for you to consider. However, you will have to pay for a pro’s services.
Option #3 – Sell the horse
Option three is perhaps the best way to go for both you and your equine if you’re over-horsed. There’s no point battling on when both of you are miserable.
Sell the horse to someone who has the experience and ability to manage the horse’s issues. And, next time, find yourself a horse that’s within your capabilities and is the right size for you too.
A rider can be over-horsed simply because their mount is physically too big or strong for his jockey.
However, most often riders are over-horsed because they have chosen a difficult or very green horse that is beyond their skill level and experience.
Have you ever been over-horsed? Tell us about your experience and how you solved the problem in the comments section below.
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