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What should I be looking for when
I’m selecting a new horse ‘partner’?

By RAY ARISS / Horsetrader columnist - April 14th, 2010 - Q&A Hey Ray!

HEY RAY!: As a mounted posse member, I need a clear picture of what to look for in a horse when I’m selecting a partner for this kind of work. Do you have any suggestions for people in my situation to make the right choice?
— Kim Amerman, Wildomar, Calif.

HEY KIM: Anytime you deal with a horse, it’s always good to have a clear picture of what you want before getting started. So, you’re off to a good start. The qualities that should be important for a mounted police horse should be the standard for all horses. Security and dependability are two elements that go a long way any time you need to rely on any partner in a relationship.

That’s where we should start. When you stand in front of the horse you are considering, ask yourself: “How do I feel about this horse?” When you look into his eye, does he settle you or does he make you uncomfortable? In this moment, you need to trust your instincts. It’s so easy to be distracted by a pretty face, a beautiful color, fancy movement or maybe even a great education. Just because a horse has been taught to do something, it doesn’t mean he’s going to be willing to do it for you. It’s not to say that the qualities mentioned above are not important, I just believe that a sweet, willing and predictable horse should be at the top of the list. So look for that intention of being able to S.W.A.P. through every phase of the evaluation while going down your list of standards.

The standard should not be gauged by what they are able to do, but rather on how they actually do it — and how you feel about the horse’s intention. You can expose a horse to flags, bags, tarps, smoke and even gunfire, but all of this would be of no value if the horse was not accepting of it. I’ve talked about tolerance versus acceptance in previous columns, and acceptance is a must. A “barely tolerant” horse can still be unpredictable and therefore dangerous. So look for a horse that shows “try” as opposed to “fight.” It will make the whole difference in the future of your relationship with him. Because a perfect horse does not exist, you need to look for a horse that has the ability to learn with ease. If you don’t trust your own judgment, then find someone’s judgment that you do trust to help you.

The trained horse will probably be more expensive than the trainable one, but he will probably not be necessarily better. If money is no object, you should start off with the most trained horse you can find that fits the bill. Now, how do you know that the training that he purportedly has is actually in him? My suggestion to you is to ask the seller to leave the horse in the stall until you get there. Try to get a feel for this horse from the moment the seller approaches the horse in the stall, halters, leads, cross ties, grooms, cleans his feet, saddles, cinches up, bridles, leads out to the arena, lunges, mounts, rides through any and all of your requests and requirements, dismounts, unsaddles, showers and returns to the stall. This is going to come down to a judgment call on your part that shouldn’t be stated until you get home. You need to ask yourself, do I still feel like he is “the one?” If the answer is “yes,” make an appointment to see him again. This time, it’s your turn. If all goes well, try not to be too excited and negotiate down. Make sure you leave with him; he’s the horse of your dreams. So, Kim, especially in your case, you will need to trust your instincts and think safe.


Horsetrader columnist Ray Ariss, husband to Pippa Ariss and father of six, shares his insight into the relationship of horseand human twice each month, in print and on www.horsetrader.com. He lives and trains in “Horsetown USA”, Norco, Calif., at his bustling Starbrite Riding Academy, where he currently has 50 horses in various stages of training, including Andalusians, Friesians, Quarter Horses, Paints, Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Mustangs and more. Ray attributes his training success to the support of his wife and partner, Pippa, and a system he calls S.W.A.P., to which he credits his multiple championships in several disciplines. His passionate understanding of the “human-horse” relationship was evident when he took on the challenge of training a wild Mustang and — in just 100 days — produced the highest-priced adopted Mustang ever — $50,000. Does your “horse-human relationship” leave you with a question for Ray? Click here to submit one!

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