So You Think You Bought the Wrong Horse?

Updated on September 22, 2018
Ellison Hartley profile image

Ellison is a professional horse trainer and riding instructor. She runs a summer camp program and offers kids a safe introduction to horses.

There is tons of information to be found online about finding the right horse for you. Much of this information refers to which skills you should have first, where to look, and how much to spend. There is also a lot of information on how to go about acquiring a horse, but not too much on how to move forward if you think this horse might not be for you after all.

Before You Do Anything Drastic

Make sure that there is no physical reason for the horse's behavior. Pain can cause even the sweetest horse to react badly. If you owned the horse for some time and got along with it just fine, chances are that it is hurting somewhere, and once you figure it out and fix it, he will be back to his sweet, old self.

Take a Deep Breath

First things first, it's okay to have doubts about your decision or to be unsure about if the horse you purchased is the right horse for you. There are so many factors involved when buying a horse, and there is a lot of room for error, even for the experienced. Stay calm and let's talk this through.

Is the Horse Dangerous?

I know that sounds drastic, but does the horse have any habits that put you in danger? Bucking, rearing, bolting . . . those sorts of things? Does he scare you? Is he hard to handle on the ground for other people if he is boarded?

If the horse has any dangerous behaviors, then you are right, this is not the horse for you right now. There is no horse that is worth getting hurt over! I repeat, no horse on earth is worth getting hurt over. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Hopefully, I can help someone else so they don't.

This is my main man, Kemerton, who is now retired. My story with him is the classic example of buying the horse I saw myself competing on. Luckily we had help of good trainers and lived happily everafter!
This is my main man, Kemerton, who is now retired. My story with him is the classic example of buying the horse I saw myself competing on. Luckily we had help of good trainers and lived happily everafter! | Source

What If He Is Dangerous?

If the horse is dangerous, you need to determine or have a professional determine whether or not the horses' behavior is correctable with a reasonable amount of training.

I would like to say most behaviors are, but just because they can be corrected by a trainer, doesn't mean that when the horse is done with training that it will be your dream horse. Someone (preferably you since it is your horse) needs to ride the horse to maintain what the trainer taught it.

Speaking of trainers, when it comes to behavioral issues that are unsafe like the ones I mentioned above, you might have to think outside of the box as far as trainers go. A trainer that you would ride with for your specific discipline, whatever it may be, is often times not the trainer to correct these sort of behavioral problems.

Do some research on local options. Talk to trainers, talk to people that have used them and see the facility. That will help you decide if sending your horse to a trainer would be a good option for you.

Consider the Cost

Once you have found a trainer you are comfortable with, one that will work with the horse, and then with you and the horse together, consider the cost. Ask about how long the trainer thinks he or she would need to work with the horse? If it is a trainer that is new to you, be honest about your abilities and apprehension about whether or not the horse is appropriate for you. Maybe take a lesson with them on a safe horse so they can assess your riding skills.

After the trainer sees you ride and assesses your horse's problem, they will most likely be able to give you a good idea about if after a reasonable amount of training, the horse will be a good match for you. Don't be offended if the trainer says it's a rider problem, not a horse problem. It is quite often a miscommunication between the two and tension in the rider that creates the situations that foster bad behavior in some horses. There is no reason to be offended, not every horse and rider are a good match. There are some horses out there who only have the temperament to be ridden by a professional or experienced rider. A lot of times these horses are the super start athletes that thrive with the right rider who has the skills to handle them.

Horses are expensive to keep, and it can quickly become an issue if you find out the horse you picked isn't quite the right match for you.

Decide on a Time Frame

Once you have spoken with the trainer in depth, you know their philosophy, have seen their facility, and know what you are getting for your money, you need to come up with a time frame. In other words, how long will you keep the horse in training waiting to see if it will work for you?

A lot of that depends on your finances and how long you have had the horse and how attached you are to it. I think it would be reasonable that in 60-90 days would be a fair time frame to know whether or not things are going to work out. Some more minor behaviors may take a lot less time, just depends on the horse and the situation.

You Will Have Baggage With the Horse

If you sent the horse to the trainer thinking that he wasn't appropriate for you because he acted dangerously and scared you, that you will have baggage you are carrying when you try to ride them again.

Fear of what happened the last time you rode them or apprehension about certain things that might trigger past behaviors will persist. You have to be willing to take lessons and overcome this baggage.

If your horse comes home relaxed and you get on him tense and nervous and then get off at the first sign of bad behavior, you are undoing the training you paid for.

So ask yourself: Will you be able to overcome your fear of this horse? There is no shame if you can't. My horse reared and flipped over on me. Despite having had her since she was two years, old broken her to ride and competing her for many years, I couldn't get over that. I tried, it only led to more bad behavior from the horse and more broken bones for me, so be honest with yourself when you ask this question.

Remember that if you sent the horse to the trainer thinking that he wasn't appropriate for you because he acted dangerously and scared you, that you will have baggage you are carrying when you try to ride them again.

Fear of what happened the last time you rode them, or apprehension about certain things that might trigger past behaviors. You have to be willing to take lessons and overcome this baggage.

If your horse comes home relaxed and you get on him tense and nervous and then get off at the first sign of bad behavior, you are undoing the training you paid for.

My red mare that I loved oh so much despite all the trouble we caused each other. Talk about baggage—we had tons of it. Still the best horse I ever had to this day!
My red mare that I loved oh so much despite all the trouble we caused each other. Talk about baggage—we had tons of it. Still the best horse I ever had to this day! | Source

Bring the Horse Home From the Trainer With a Plan

You should bring your horse home only after you have ridden the horse under the trainer's watchful eye and know how the horse was trained and how you need to respond to certain behaviors. Remember, as hard as it is for us to admit, a lot of the times it is a people problem, not a horse problem. If we want to succeed, we have to be dedicated to working hard on ourselves too.

Schedule lessons, stick to a training plan and schedule (I wrote about that a few days ago), and see how it goes. If it doesn't work out, you gave it a fair shot. Make sure you keep in touch with the trainer throughout.

This is Spunk, a little mare that was born on our farm. I just never did get along with her for whatever reason. I sent her to a trainer friend of mine to be broke to ride and then to another trainer friend to find a home.
This is Spunk, a little mare that was born on our farm. I just never did get along with her for whatever reason. I sent her to a trainer friend of mine to be broke to ride and then to another trainer friend to find a home. | Source

Sell the Horse on Consignment

If it turns out that after training the horse is not going to work for you, I would suggest seeing if the trainer you work with would take the horse on consignment sale. Meaning they handle the sale for you and get paid a certain percentage of the sale.

There are a lot of different terms for these kinds of arrangements, so make sure you understand what you are paying for and how much of the sale cost the trainer will get. If you can afford it, this will be the best option to sell your horse.

It is in a safe place, where he will continue to be trained by someone who knows him well and will be able to show him off to the best of his abilities. Having the horse for sale with a professional will also get it a lot more exposure due to their clients and professional contacts, which hopefully will help it sell sooner.

Sell the Horse Yourself

If you cannot afford to sell the horse through a trainer, you can advertise and sell the horse yourself. You will just have to be honest with potential buyers about why you are selling the horse. People appreciate the honesty and it doesn't necessarily mean they don't like your horse or give it a chance.

If the horse is to the point of being safe to ride, you are just afraid to or you don't get along, try and find someone else who is capable to ride the horse. Obviously, there is liability involved with someone else riding your horse that you need to keep in mind.

Often times though, if the horse is safe, you may be able to find a horseless rider to keep the horse going well for you until it sells. Which leads me to my next point!

Lease the Horse Out

If the horse is safe for a more skilled rider and you are still unable to sell it for whatever reason, you could try to put the horse up for lease. It is a good option because lease terms can vary however the two parties would like it to and if you set it up right, could help you pay the horses expenses. At the same time, in the hands of a capable rider, his training will be maintained.

Talk to People

The horse community even in small states is tightly knit and active, and with the internet and social media, it is easy to reach a lot of people. Even people outside of your area. Use that to your advantage and spread the word online about your horse being for sale or lease. Be honest about the situation, remember honesty keeps people from getting hurt.

Make sure to spread the word to everyone at your barn or other horsey friends, horse people talk to each other! Someone out there might be looking for a horse just like yours!

This precious little thing is Ginny. A pony I purchased for next to nothing to give pony rides on, unfortunately she couldn't hold up to it. Now she is a companion to another senior horse and a first grade kid that loves her!
This precious little thing is Ginny. A pony I purchased for next to nothing to give pony rides on, unfortunately she couldn't hold up to it. Now she is a companion to another senior horse and a first grade kid that loves her! | Source

Giving Your Horse Away

I know this makes a lot of people cringe. Not just because of the money lost, but just the thought of maybe not knowing where your horse ends up. Some people think that it is setting your horse up to land in a bad situation. I don't necessarily agree, as long as you are honest and feel comfortable with the person, it could be the right situation. You just have to follow your gut about whether it seems like a good match or not. If you can't horse shop for your unicorn(another one of my posts) until you sell the first horse because it is too expensive to board two, it is at least something to think about.

I have gotten some of my best horses for free, older horses to do lessons and younger horses, like the racetrack rejects that ended up in the hands of an inexperienced rider. Each horse and situation is different and should be treated as such.

Donating to a College Equestrian Program

I have seen many ads in publications in search of rideable horses to be donated to their equine studies program. The type of horses they look for varies, but some equine studies programs have young aspiring and skilled riders who can handle a little more horse.

Donating your horse also opens up the possibility of a tax write off at the end of the year, depending on your expenses and what the horse was valued at.

Many college equine programs seek horses of all levels for their programs.
Many college equine programs seek horses of all levels for their programs.

What If the Problem Is Not Behavioral but Soundness?

If your horse is not appropriate for you due to soundness, I'm assuming you had him evaluated by a vet. So, in that case, you know what the horse's capabilities should be as far as riding goes. For example, he may not be able to jump but could be a good trail horse . . . that sort of thing. So, in this case, you are looking for an easier job for your horse.

A lot of time these horses make the best horses for young riders first mounts. They also fit in well often at lesson barns and summer camps. Maybe even therapeutic riding.

If you need to rehome your horse for reason of soundness, advertise and network with locals and the online horse community. Be honest, be willing to show all your horses vet records if necessary, or for the potential new owner to get a second opinion. Check the college programs as well, they do need beginner horses too sometimes depending on their program at the time

This is Troy, the very first horse I owned, a handsome draft cross, unfortunately not a good match due to arthritis in his pasterns. Even with the best of intentions, some matches don't work out.
This is Troy, the very first horse I owned, a handsome draft cross, unfortunately not a good match due to arthritis in his pasterns. Even with the best of intentions, some matches don't work out. | Source

Consider a Horse Rescue

If your horse is not sound enough to ride, and you have exhausted all options and can't afford to keep him, you can look into horse rescues. Often though, as with dog rescues, horses that are in safe homes are not a high priority for rescues since they work with limited resources.

This is Oz, a horse that belonged to a friend of mine. He didn't turn out to be an appropriate horse for her needs, but found a good home through a rescue with contacts who placed him in a good home.
This is Oz, a horse that belonged to a friend of mine. He didn't turn out to be an appropriate horse for her needs, but found a good home through a rescue with contacts who placed him in a good home. | Source

Euthanasia: Dangerous Horses or Unsound Horses

If your horse is dangerous for you or others to ride or even be around on the ground euthanasia is an option. There is no shame in it and there is no horse on earth that is worth getting hurt over. There are some horses in this world that we are just not meant to be riding horses or even pet horses—just like in people, dogs, cats, any living thing really. Some minds just aren't right and no matter how hard we try we will not be able to connect with them.

Euthanizing these types of horses not only keep anyone else from being hurt, it also saves the horse from being passed around from place to place and inevitably falling into the hands of someone who might not treat them well. You will know you did everything you can and were responsible for keeping other people and your horse safe from harm or mistreatment. It is not the wrong choice after you have exhausted every avenue to put your horse at peace.

If your horse is so unsound that it is inhibiting his quality of life, it is probably kinder to euthanize than to rehome him to a strange place, but that is an individual decision that everyone has to evaluate the factors and then decide. A horse not sound enough to ride at all, has little to no value, just being a pet or companion horse, and just like the ill-tempered horse, this puts them in danger of falling into the wrong hands.

Take Your Time When Selecting

I write this because I know how it feels to have that realization that you picked the wrong horse. I have sent a horse to one trainer after another trainer, just to end up with her being euthanized due to her dangerous behavior. Someone once told me when a horse loses it's sense of self-preservation when you work with it, to the point that it puts you in danger, it's time to give up, and that there is no shame in it.

I have worked with a trainer on a horse that I thought was my dream horse, and then months later I thought I had made a huge mistake. He was not unsafe, I had good help and I was dedicated, and it worked out. I still have that horse, he is an old retiree now.

It happens. I would honestly say it happens often that people buy the wrong horse before they buy the right one! Maybe they didn't have good guidance, got excited and picked the first horse they say, maybe they bought a horse because it was a certain color, maybe they bought the horse they dream to ride in 5 years, not what they are capable of riding now.

There is no shame in it at all! You did your best, so ask for professional help, involve your horsey friends and spread the word and you will find the right home for your horse.

I like to think there is a perfect home for every horse out there, you just have to take the time to find it.

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