angle-left Horse Shopping, Part 1

Horse Shopping, Part 1

Learn how to match up horses and humans for the most successful horseback-riding combination.
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Two feet plus four hooves do not always equal six winning legs. Finding a horse that suits a particular amateur rider can present a challenge for trainers. It takes experience, perseverance and a little luck to make sure any horse-and-rider combination will click successfully in the show pen.

There are different ideals that must be correlated, including physical size, personality types and suitability for use intended. Those considerations can also vary depending on the discipline.

Choosing a new horse ain’t easy.

Roping Requirements

AQHA Professional Horseman Les Oswald specializes in rope horses and also branches into the four-event and working cow horse genres. From Oakdale, California, Les manages AQHA competitive rope horses differently than his cow horses. Often, the amount of money an owner can invest in a horse post-purchase dictates what caliber of horse is needed.

“Whether the horse is staying in training or going home with an amateur plays a factor, and you’re talking two different worlds between roping and cow horse,” Les says. “An AQHA rope horse needs to stay in training as much as possible so he stays tuned. An amateur cow horse can work cattle twice a week to keep his timing up.

“The amateur roper (not taking advantage of full training) needs to have a horse near a trainer or someplace where he can go rope at least three or four times a week. People get more bang for the buck when the horse stays in training until he gets to a certain age. An 8-, 9- or 10-year-old rope horse is pretty much seasoned and less likely to come untrained.”

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Even though Les has multiple AQHA roping world championships on his résumé, it isn’t always easy to find the perfect horse for that amateur rider right out of the box. As hard as they try, few, if any, trainers have a flawless record when it comes to successfully getting their customers on the right horse.

Les likes to purchase horses he has watched at shows or is at least familiar with their provenance. It is generally not important to him if they have been shown.

“We’ve all made mistakes and bought the wrong horse for somebody, but I’ve also felt like I’ve found the perfect horse for people,” Les says. “I just matched an amateur with a rope horse that he’d ridden four times and gets along with as good as you could ask; it just worked. The 6-year-old came out of a structured cow horse program from snaffle bit to the bridle and had about three months of roping when I got him. I’ve known the horse since he was 2. The owner allowed me to ride him all summer before he started on him the end of the year.”

When a purchase doesn’t suit the new owner, Les tries to give the partnership time to adjust - at least six months. He recommends the horse be put into training to see whether the trainer can’t broker a deal between horse and rider. After a half year of negative results, however, he thinks it is time to find a different horse.

“You’ve got to spend enough time to find the ins and outs and learn the horse’s personality,” Les says. “I recommend to someone taking a new horse home to ride the horse every day of the week, whether you rope on it or not, just ride the horse.

“Give the horse an honest chance and get to know him at your place before you take him out anywhere to rope or show. Until you get familiar with the horse, you don’t know how to get the horse prepared to win. You might have a rope horse that needs to be loped for an extra 20 minutes or one that just needs to be walked around to look things over. You must understand your horse so he performs at the top of his level right from the beginning.”

Cow Horse Coupling

Ted Robinson has set or broken nearly every major record in the National Reined Cow Horse Association, including an unprecedented seven open Snaffle Bit Futurity championships, $2 million rider status and two World’s Greatest Horseman titles.

Yet even with all his cow horse expertise, the Oak View, California, trainer is well aware of the difficulties in correlating a horse and rider team.

When Ted looks for a non-pro bridle horse, he prefers not to have to put the horse into training. He hates to set up anyone just getting started with a monthly bill. He also likes to buy non-pro horses that have been ridden and shown by non-pros.

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“I’m OK with putting them into training if that is the customer’s thing,” Ted says of seasoned bridle horses. “But I think they get to know the horse better at home. I want them knowing the horse, and then I show them how to fix him. If I fix the horse, it can discourage the rider, but it builds their confidence to fix the problem themselves.”

He adds, “Futurity horses are a different game. Those 2- and 3-year-olds have to be in my program unless you are one of the top non-pros like Jody Gearhart (multiple NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity non-pro champion); you don’t have to help Jody, you just give her pointers.

“I think non-pros match themselves with Futurity horses and have a bond. I’m not going to buy the horse I want, I’m going to let you buy the horse you want. Then we put the program together.”

Because most horses work well in a familiar environment at home, Ted likes to try the horse during a horse show situation, if possible. Also, cow horses in boxing classes are scrutinized differently than those being asked to run down the fence.

“I’m always looking for a horse that will save the non-pro,” Ted says. “The boxing class is real easy, and we can get away with a lot of things there on a lot of different kinds of horses. When you start down that fence, I want a horse that’s going to protect a rider, even for myself. I want a horse that is protecting himself, because then he’s protecting me.

“I have no use for these horses that will run over a cow. I can’t train that type of horse to be good because he has no self-preservation.”

Check back next week for Part 2, and learn about purchasing cutting and reining horses.