Non-Profit Internet Source for News, Events, History, & Culture of Northern Frederick & Carroll County Md./Southern Adams County Pa.


Pets Large & Small

An Appropriate Horse

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(10/2016) It is challenging trying to find the "perfect" horse. As I've said in previous articles, the perfect horse doesn't exist, so the goal should instead be to find an appropriate horse for the rider and the family. I've seen numerous clients purchase the wrong horse and get injured. Even a good horse can seriously injure his or her owner, but the appropriate horse is much less likely to cause an injury. The appropriate horse is also a lot more fun for his owner.

While everyone would agree that they are looking for a sweet, gentle, and cooperative horse, the other desired characteristics of the horse (talent, amount of training, age, color, gender) are at the discretion of the future owner. Matching a horse with a good potential owner involves a lot of skill, as well as some luck. That being said, certain horse and rider matches are obviously destined to result in an undesirable situation.

Several years ago I acquired a new client. He was new to horses, and had never owned one before or even really ridden other than a couple of times on guided trail rides at national parks. He called me to come to his farm as he had recently bought a 10 month old paint colt and needed to know how to take care of the horse. He'd bought the farm a year ago and decided that he wanted to get a horse. The farm had about an acre fenced in with a small run-in shed on it that looked like it had previously been used for goats, but a smaller sized horse would be comfortable living in it. The horse, who we will call "Killer", acted like your typical young, baby horse. While I was able to examine and vaccinate Killer, he was very wiggly and lacked training and ground manners.

During the exam, I spoke with the owner about his plans for Killer, the next set of vaccinations and getting Killer castrated. The owner informed me that his plan was to train Killer himself and that he had purchased a book as well as several DVDs on horse training. He was also not planning to get Killer castrated and was going to leave him as a stallion. In addition to wanting to trail ride Killer, the owner also wanted to breed him so he could make a little money with the horse. As the owner was talking, I was thinking to myself that he was going to get himself killed. Very few people have any business owning a stallion. Stallions can be dangerous. I know several professional riders that have been injured by stallions. Even if a stallion has basic training, making money by breeding a stallion to local mares is usually not a successful endeavor. The few people who want to breed their mares expect to breed to a stallion who is an experienced and successful competition horse in their discipline of choice. If they want their mare to produce a Quarter Horse barrel racer, they will breed to a Quarter Horse stallion who is a good barrel racer. Another challenge with a stallion is that they are hard to sell should you no longer wish to keep the horse. As this owner was also an inexperienced horseman, he should not be training a young horse without assistance from an experienced trainer. A respected horseman once told me that the combined years of experience between horse and rider should be 10 or greater. For example if a person has been riding regularly for 2 years then they should get a horse that has been being ridden for 8 years. In my mind Killer was a completely inappropriate horse for this owner. If the owner were willing to geld him and send Killer for professional training then it had the potential to turn into a good situation, but otherwise I anticipated disaster.

I discussed my concerns with Killer's owner. I told him that I would be happy to recommend several good trainers in the area and that I would strongly recommend that he reconsider his decision to keep Killer as a stallion. I recommended that the owner do basic genetic testing if he had any thoughts of keeping Killer as a stallion. Having seen two beautiful foals die from the Lethal White genetic syndrome, passed on by an untested stallion, I don't like to see stallions out breeding without appropriate testing. Since Killer looked to be primarily Quarter Horse, he could also be carrying the HYPP genetic abnormality. The owner told me that he was sure Killer was healthy. He wanted to do all the training himself and thought that it would be a good bonding experience for him to learn alongside his horse. He was also adamantly against having Killer castrated. He said he knew that horses were expensive and selling breedings would help offset the cost. I asked the owner if Killer was registered with any of the breed registries or had good bloodlines that made him valuable breeding stock. The owner informed me that while Killer had no papers from a breed registry, since he had fancy markings, the owner knew he could market his stallion.

As the years progressed Killer became increasingly dangerous and un-handleable. The owner did decide to castrate Killer, but only after he realized that no mare owner would pay to breed to Killer, and Killer was impossible for him to work around. Each year I suggested that the owner send Killer for training. Not only was the owner unable to ride Killer, but he was not able to lead him without being bitten or kicked at. Killer had to be heavily sedated for the farrier. While we had previously been able to put sedatives in Killer's food, the oral sedatives eventually were no longer effective enough that I could work with him and inject him with additional sedation. I told Killer's owner that I did not feel that I could safely work with Killer and that he needed to find another vet. Only a few months ago I saw on Facebook someone who had posted a GoFundMe page. She had outbid the meat man and bought Killer at an auction. Upon getting him home, she realized that Killer was unhandled and extremely dangerous. She was asking for money to send Killer for professional training. If she couldn't send him for training, she was going to have him euthanized as he was too dangerous to keep. While I don't know what the final outcome was for that horse, I know that situation was probably preventable had Killer's owner gotten him castrated and the appropriate help training him while he was young. It always saddens me to see an animal suffer due to his owner's stubbornness.

Buying the right horse is not easy, but is really important. If my client had bought a suitable horse, most likely a quiet, older horse, he could have been out enjoying the trails in the parks with his horse. Instead, he spent a lot of money caring for a horse who wasn't able to do the things that the owner enjoyed. His young and untrained horse never learned the skills that would have helped him find a new home, when the owner could not keep him. A good, honest, trainer, who has good matchmaking skills, would have immediately suggested to the owner that a yearling colt was not a good match for him. The trainer could have helped find a good horse for this owner. Instead, the owner got a horse he couldn't enjoy, and the horse almost ended up as someone's dinner.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw