Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Little to the Left, Please

Before I get to the "in the saddle" stuff, I'm going to borrow a little something from the Equisearch newsletter. Timely and appropriate, the 9/22/08 edition included a test of your horse's nervous system that you can do at home. If ever there was a time to be aware of possible neurological issues, the horse-shopping expedition is it, so here are the basics. This list should not replace a vet check by an experienced practitioner who you trust, but before you spend the big bucks to get him there, you can do a cursory exam on your own.

These findings should sound an alarm when exhibited by any horse, but particularly one you're thinking of buying:

  • persistent drooping of one side of the lip or noticeable slackness in one ear
  • uneven sweating patterns
  • unusual behavior, such as head-pressing or circling
  • a consistently unusual stance or odd posture.
All of them indicate a possible serious neurological problem that should be specifically addressed in the pre-purchase exam (if you get that far). In addition, you want to check the horse's vision and sensation and other items you'll find clearly described in the article here. I can't do a better job, so I'll give credit where credit is due and recommend that you read the original.

Assuming the horse has passed all the ground tests thus far, you're probably going to want to see how he goes under saddle. If the owner won't mount up and show him off, that's a red light worthy of note. If the horse is lame, that's a fine excuse but a problem in a horse you want to purchase. Regardless, unless you are a professional trainer, you should not be the one to mount up. Granted, you'll learn first-hand if the horse is a wingnut by doing so, but you may not be available to try out those other horses you've had your eye on if you do a face-plant off this one. If you can't get someone else to ride him first, opt out. Either go back another day (which, of course, allows time for drugging, beating, and other unsavory horse dealer tricks) or just walk away. There are other fish in the sea, and if you'd rather not get wet, there are plenty of horses in the pasture.

If you have watched the horse ridden and have decided you still like him, then it may be time for you (or whatever professional you've conned into accompanying you) to climb on for a test drive. I don't have to tell you that you need to try all the gaits. I will say, however, that a horse that won't stand to be mounted, while he may have training issues, is curable, so don't assume the worst.

13. You know what you want to do with the horse, so try him doing exactly that. Even if it means importing a cow for him to work, you need to be sure he'll function as advertised. If you're buying a horse for children to ride, be sure to bounce up and down a bit, swing your legs, do handstands, eat a burger . . . all the things kids do on horses that make adults turn prematurely gray.

14. If this is a "move up" horse, then be sure to bring someone more advanced than you are at the skills you intend to practice with him. It doesn't help your upward mobility to buy a horse you can already get the most out of. You need one just a shade better than you are.

15. Bring a friend to stand on the ground and report such things as odd footfalls or "he's doing something strange with his left hind". Have the ride videoed if at all possible for your own later review.

16. Make a note of all refusals and issues both minor and major. While they may not turn you off, they should be addressed in the pre-purchase exam.

17. Be around for tack-up. Note any problems with girthing, bridling, leading, acceptance of the bit, and so on. If he's fussy with his familiar owner working on him, he'll likely be double-fussy when you get him to your place.

18. Note his reaction to being near/away from/across the street from other horses and various environmental objects and activities. Again, these reactions will be magnified when you move him from his familiar space to your own.

So much for the horse. Next time I will attack the rider.

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