Friday, January 21, 2011

Never Test Ride a Horse On Pavement

#2 from the Annals: Never test ride a horse you don't know away from its owner, especially not on pavement.

I could even say don't ever test ride a horse you don't know, always let the owner ride it for you first. Or, never test ride a horse on pavement. Period.

As you know by now, I learned this from experience. I saw an ad for a friendly, seven-year-old, been-there-done-that Paint gelding in Coeur D'Alene at a time I was looking for another horse. He sounded good, so my husband and I drove up to see him.

A big, modern cowboy type guy came out of the house to greet us. He had about five acres, well-laid out, and about five horses. It was a nice house--well-kept--the horses were all nice-looking and clean--well-fed.

But seeing all the other horses there, my first question was, why is this one for sale?

His answer: It was his daughter's horse. They'd purchased him about five months before for barrel racing, but he didn't work out. He just wasn't a good fit.

Any vices?

Answer: He's cinchy and, occasionally, he bites, but once you get him saddled, he's GREAT! But none of this really matters, because even if he'd said he was P-E-R-F-E-C-T, I still should not have got on him.

He saddled and bridled the horse (and yes, the horse was cinchy) and he also used a running martingale on him. (I don't know how I feel about these. My first colt 25 years ago was trained with one and it worked well. My horse, Cowboy, came with a tiedown--he'd, apparently, been ridden with it for years--and it seemed fine, but I read horror stories about them on the trail--getting caught, drowning horses--so I just took it off one day and never rode with it again. Did he ever need it? I tend to doubt it. So, personally, I don't care for any of these aids.) This horse had one.

Here's where it gets hairy: The owner asked if I'd like to ride him down the road (there wasn't a good spot on his property in the subdivision.) At first I declined, but then he pressured me a bit saying it'd be fine, etc., so I started feeling guilty--that I was being a wuss--I caved. Stupid me, always doubting myself back then--always thinking I had to prove myself--always thinking there were people who knew sooo much more than me and turning off my warning signs and BRAIN! I can just see it--off I rode down the paved street leaving my husband and him talking on his lawn behind me. (The way this test ride was going to go--it may have well been the last thing I ever saw!)

Looking back, there are lots of things I wonder--Number 1, why didn't he volunteer to ride him first? He'd given me enough information to know he didn't trust the horse--that of all the horses he owned, this was the one he didn't want--that he hadn't even owned him very long and during that time, he hadn't corrected his vices....I could go on and on.

I should add to this, unless you aren't horrified enough at the thought of me riding a strange horse, an ill-mannered horse down a busy, paved highway, that I also was NOT wearing a helmet.

Off we go and, as I said, it was busy, the horse was tight, but not tucked..I thought, let's take the first turn off this street onto a quiet one. That turn came fast, but it was that turn where it all went wrong, too.

We took the first left off the busy road, but he realized, right quickly, he was out of sight of his owner. He didn't like that. He started to jig a bit, then he'd stop and loosen up. I'd think, Whew, he's relaxed. (Looking back, I do give the poor horse credit for trying to calm himself) But then, he'd tighten up again, loosen, tighten, and on and on. It became apparent, he was working himself up and soon there wouldn't be any moments of relaxation. I thought, I've got to take the next turn and circle this horse back.

We took the next turn around the block, however, when we got about mid-way down, he could see his backyard through the houses separating him from it--he could hear his buddies calling out for him, too.

He tried to flip a turn their direction--I tried to keep him walking straight--he started to jig--he tucked his head deep into his chest and his hind-end started to flip around. The running martingale was tucked in, too--and I had, basically, no way of getting his head around for a circle. At that point, he had all the control, and he didn't want me on him and he didn't want to be away from his buds. He wasn't going to go a step forward further away from them (since he saw a direct path home.) He was telling me, beyond any doubt, I'm going to buck you off and run back to my barn.

I made an emergency decision. (It often comes down to these split-second decisions, doesn't it? You make them so fast--they come straight from the gut--you don't have time to question them, yet everything hinges on their success.)

I HAD to get off that horse, but from where I was--on the pavement--he was not relaxed enough to let me dismount, and I did not want to hit the asphalt if he bolted or bucked. My decision was to let him go where he wanted--toward his house so that he'd bring his head back up and move forward. It would also get us off the road and into a yard.

I did it--gave 90 percent of everything to him, and it was all going as planned--he turned toward home, in seconds we were trotting through the neighbor's yard, and I could get his head to the side just enough to buy me a safe second where I slipped right off onto the grass and held him by the reins while he jigged circles around me. I was on the ground! Standing! I was alive--unharmed!

My heart was pounding out of my chest, as it should have been. The poor horse was puffing and snorting and looking toward his pasture. My hands were trembling from adrenaline.

His property was separated from the neighbor's by a fence, so I walked him back to the house from the way I'd come, with him prancing at my side. When I got back, I didn't care what anyone thought of me--good or bad. I handed the reins to the owner, and said I wasn't interested. In fact, I was pissed--at him, at myself, at the situation, but I hadn't time to process it all yet. My husband and I made a hasty departure.

There were so many bad things about that incident, where do I start? I don't even know what kind of horse he really was because it was such a horrible way to test ride him. It wasn't fair to him. It wasn't fair to me. But it was, certainly, my bad decision. Nothing he did was that abnormal--he didn't know me--I didn't know his ways--I couldn't comfort him--but his buddies could. How can I blame the horse? I can't.

So, lesson #2 for the annals--don't test ride a horse you don't know on pavement.


  1. I'm glad the story ended with you in one piece! I was anticipating something a lot worse with broken bones involved. You make some very good points there. When I first got into the horse world it wouldn't have occurred to me to have the owner ride first. Now I always ask them to (not that I've been horse shopping in a while). You can learn a lot just by observation.

  2. I'm really glad to hear you or the horse didn't get hurt.

    I also would like to add that I get really tired of hind sight being so clear when standing right in front of us we can be in a fog and not even know it. It's just not fair.

    I also hate when I don't listen to my instincts and then I get burnt but boy am I an expert at that. Hopefully, I'll learn one of these, that gut knows what it's talking about.

  3. Andrea--you're right, or talking to other horse people and learning from their mistakes. I try to fill my head up with "what-ifs" now so I learn less lessons the hard way.


    You know, I think I learned not to listen to my gut because sometimes, when I did, things went perfectly okay, and then I looked like I'd been overly cautious. I started to think maybe I was just an old worry-wart! I've come to the point in my life where I don't care if I look overly cautious (and often I am now) if it saves me from one of those experiences like test riding a horse on the road.

  4. Wow, you really had to think on your toes there. What a lesson though, to really listen to our guts. I don't think it ever steers us wrong. I've also finally reached that point where I make my decisions regardless of what others think. I think that when doubts creep in, it should be a red flag that we're not staying in charge of our own ways.

  5. I agree, Joanne--and maybe it's a good time to just pause and rethink things when we get those red flags.

  6. When I sold my mare last year, I wasn't able to ride her anymore...both because of my fears and because of my rehab and healing from my ACL surgery (from the first time my mare hurt me when she teleported sideways about 8 feet, and I fell off).
    She had only been ridden twice in a year, so she needed work.
    And I was very honest with the potential owners because I wanted to keep them safe and I wanted my mare to go to a good home where she would have experienced people who could deal with her and retrain her to be more reliable and respectful.

    So, when they both mounted her one after the other, and she did her jiggy stuff, her crowhops and her attempts at running off with each of them, they were prepared and ready. It was a joy to see them deal with her and not let her get away with the bad behavior.

    Instead of giving up from fear of getting hurt and just dismounting, like I always did, they just worked her harder.
    She had my number and knew how to get me to dismount.
    Within minutes she was quiet, respectful and relaxed. They had her number and knew how to fix her.

    I'm glad they were willing to try her out even though I didn't ride her first. And I'm glad they still wanted her, even after they showed up a few days later to ride her again to be sure.


  7. Lisa, That was very nice of you to let them know what they were dealing with--nice to them and to your horse because it sounds like she got the people she needed.

    Looking back at my situation, I wish I'd asked him to meet us at an arena somewhere so I could have rode the horse in a smaller area with the owner around. I think it would have gone better.


Please feel welcome to join our discussion by telling us about your own thoughts and experiences.