But…I Need A Kid Broke Horse!
Every week we get at least one application that in one way or another reads as follows, “I am looking for a bomb proof, kid broke horse so I can teach my young child how to ride”. We LOVE that our adopters trust our assessments and know that we will be honest with them, and won’t place them with a horse they can’t handle. However, these applicants never get the response they expect. What they hear is:
“We don’t have bomb proof, kid broke horses for adoption.”
Nope, Nada, Never….but not the end of the story.
Every horse in Safe Harbor has a story. Every horse came from a situation before rescue, and we rely on our horse’s ability to forgive, and our knowledge that they never forget in our work with them. Our focus as a rescue is physical and emotional rehabilitation. Second to that is training. We have a GREAT training coordinator. She helps to teach our foster homes and boost their skills, works with our training volunteers, and makes the final decision on assessments. These assessments rank horses as follows:
Beginner, however, to us, does not mean bomb proof, child ready. It is very rare that our foster horses get exposed to trail rides, and when they do, we can’t say they have experienced everything life as a trail horse will throw at them. Traffic, snakes, water crossings–all of these have to be experienced with horse and rider for any statement to be made about how the horse responds. Let’s take that one step further. A real horse is a living creature with good days and bad days, likes and dislikes. How our foster horse responds under the hands of our advanced to expert riders is NOT how the horse will respond under the seat and hands of the average seven year old. There is a vast difference, and liability precautions will not allow us to place random children on a foster horse to see what happens.
We don’t want to mass turn away those looking for a child ready horse though, so where is the middle ground? First, it is in adopter expectations. Equine adoption fees are WAY below market rates for horses. Part of that is because we are a non-profit rescue and the other part of that is that we want you, the adopter, to not be looking for a cheap horse, but to be looking at an adoption fee low enough to allow you to invest in quality post-adoption training. We HIGHLY recommend that training be for both horse and rider. Even a great horse won’t necessarily be great under the hands of an inexperienced rider who is aggressive in the mouth and unbalanced in the seat. Our rating scale will not only tell you where we have found the horse to be with an experienced rider, but also what we feel the horse’s potential is.
Let’s take Mandy for example. Mandy is a senior Arabian who was adopted in early 2014. She was rated Intermediate with Beginner potential during her time in rescue. Mandy had a problem with being herd bound–and with the wrong person could be explosively herd bound. Her adopter worked her through this issue, and brought Mandy to a true beginner level. We still wouldn’t call Mandy bomb proof, but she came to Safe Harbor’s Summer kids camp in 2014 as one of the lesson horses for the week, and did phenomenal with all of the children there. Her adopter took lessons with her once a week for 3 months for both Mandy’s benefit and her own benefit to help Mandy reach this potential. Total cost for this? $300 for an adoption fee for a fully vetted horse and $455 for training for a total of $755. Try finding a $755 bomb proof, child ready, fully vetted horse with proof of current negative coggins and microchip on Craigslist. We seriously doubt it is possible. Even better, rather than getting just a horse that is trained, in Mandy’s case her adopter ALSO received valuable education and became a better rider.
Second is understanding what your adoptive horse is used to. As an adopter there are questions you SHOULD ask at your meeting with the foster home.
- What is the horse’s daily routine? Feeding times, pasture times, stall times, etc. Any change to routine can be a change to behavior.
- Has this horse been with other mares? Other geldings? Changes to pasture dynamic can greatly affect behavior.
- How often was this horse exercised? If you adopt a horse that was being worked 3 to 5 days a week and then you expect him/her to be ready for you the one time a month you want to ride–well, reset those expectations. That’s a super quick way to transition a beginner horse to intermediate or advanced.
- What was this horse eating? Changes can not only upset the digestive tract, but changes in feed and supplementation CAN create drastic behavioral shifts as well.
If you adopt a beginner rated horse, consistency is an important part of keeping that horse beginner ready.
Third, don’t rule out the seniors! Seniors are generally the experienced horses. There is a saying, “Green and Green make black and blue”. If you haven’t heard it before what it means is an inexperienced horse and inexperienced rider combined together will almost always lead to injury. We can’t stress this enough.
What we cannot offer at Safe Harbor are horses that have been regularly ridden by beginners. What we can provide is a testimonial of a horse that has been ridden once or twice by an adult beginner, or tested by an advanced rider acting like a beginner rider on how that horse responded. We take detailed notes. We take video. We provide as much disclosure as we can.
As a parent or new horse owner, don’t get worried when we say we don’t have kid broke horses. Just understand what it means. You might find out that the horse you adopted is everything you wanted without one day of additional training. We’re just not going to tell you they are because we have no way whatsoever of putting through that test. PLAN on having a family trainer to work with you, your horse and your child. If you are all new to horses have an experienced friend or relative ride your horse at least once a month to help work out any issues you as a beginner may be unknowingly causing (like sluggishness on lead changes, inappropriate stops at gates, etc). And finally, have confidence that if you end up adopting a horse you are afraid of or who is just not the right personality fit, your adoption contract with Safe Harbor requires your horse to come back. Unlike buying on the internet or from a breeder your horse can come back, and we will welcome him/her back with open arms–and continue to help you find the horse of your dreams.