Win­ning In­sights

Time for a horse up­grade? Read this first.

Horse & Rider - - Contents -

You’ve de­cided it’s time: You need to up­grade your horse to reach your next-level rid­ing goals. You feel as though you’ve el­e­vated your rid­ing skills and are ready for more, which is the goal if you’re an “achiever-type” rider. It’s an ex­cit­ing stage, for sure.

But be­fore you run out and start look­ing for your next mount, take a minute to ask your­self these six ques­tions to be sure you’re on a path to suc­cess rather than to dis­as­ter.

Why Are You Up­grad­ing?

Rid­ers de­cide to look for more horse for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons. As is of­ten the case, some rea­sons are good and oth­ers aren’t. Is your horse get­ting older and needs to ease up the in­ten­sity when you’re on a tra­jec­tory to more com- pe­t­i­tive rid­ing? Then it’s time to look for a younger horse that can take you there. Or maybe your horse’s abil­ity has topped out and he can’t give you the higher level of per­for­mance you’ve ad­vanced to. In­juries can also limit a horse’s abil­i­ties, which means you need a sound horse that can help you ful­fill your goals. These are just three ex­am­ples of the right rea­sons to up­grade.

Un­for­tu­nately, I see many rid­ers de­cide to up­grade to flat­ter their own ego. They’re not ac­tu­ally ready for the horse they think they want or need. And that is a recipe for dis­as­ter. See the next ques­tion for more de­tails.

Can You Ride the Up­grade?

You might want to buy a great one…but can you ride a great one? The right up­grade horse is one you can ride re­ally well. No mat­ter how good a horse is, if you can’t ride him, you’re not up­grad­ing. You’re set­ting your­self up for frus­tra­tion. And that’s not what rid­ing is sup­posed to be about— it should be fun!

I find this is es­pe­cially true with non-pro rid­ers who want to par­tic­i­pate in aged events (fu­tu­ri­ties and der­bies for horses of des­ig­nated ages). Those are an en­tirely dif­fer­ent ball­game—es­pe­cially if you’re go­ing from a 12-year-old babysit­ter horse to a 3- or 4-yearold that’s un­pre­dictable and needs lots of work.

The fact is, the younger a horse is, the more work he needs. When horses are your hobby, there’s noth­ing bet­ter than a horse you can go have fun on 99 per­cent of the time. Keep that in mind be­fore you con­sider a prospect as your up­grade.

Do You Re­ally Know What You’re Get­ting Into?

An up­grade can be a big step. It’s im­por­tant to up­grade enough that

you don’t have to step up to an­other horse too soon, but you also need to be con­ser­va­tive enough that you don’t ex­ceed your skills.

For ex­am­ple, I’ve had a cus­tomer who got into rein­ing at the rookie level and con­quered all she could with her safe, sane, older horse. She was ready for an up­grade, but she wasn’t ready for a lot more horse. We looked for a quiet, re­li­able 7- or 8-year-old horse that was at the level she was ready for—not a colt for aged events.

The key is to be aware of what you’re get­ting your­self into. If, when try­ing a step-up horse you don’t feel com­fort­able with him, don’t buy him. He’ll be the right horse for some­one else, and you’ll find the right one for your­self.

Do You Know What You’re Look­ing For?

The best way to find the right up­grade is to eval­u­ate your cur­rent mount. Think about the things you re­ally like about your horse. What are you will­ing to sac­ri­fice to get a higher-cal­iber part­ner? What are the must-have (or must-not-have) traits? Some­times you get lucky and find a horse that has ev­ery­thing your week­end war­rior had, but with just a lit­tle more tal­ent. Of­ten, though, there’s a give and take.

Are You Pre­pared for a Tran­si­tion Pe­riod?

Get­ting on track with a new horse can be bumpy. A trainer or ex­pe­ri­enced friend can help and of­fer you sup­port and en­cour­age­ment.

The tran­si­tion pe­riod can be long—longer than you’d like, any­way. Con­sider keep­ing your cur­rent horse to show while you ad­just to your new one. This takes the pres­sure off of set­tling in with the new horse and can keep your con­fi­dence up be­cause you have a fa­mil­iar horse to ride.

The tim­ing of your pur­chase is also im­por­tant. Don’t buy a new horse and ex­pect to go show him—and win—the next week­end. If pos­si­ble, buy at the end of your com­pet­i­tive sea­son. Then use your off­sea­son to get to know each other and get in sync with­out the pres­sure of qual­i­fy­ing for big events.

How Will You Con­nect?

A key suc­cess fac­tor with any new horse is find­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to con­nect. If you’re some­one who ar­rives at the barn and ex­pects your horse to be sad­dled and groomed for you, you’re miss­ing out on prime bond­ing time.

Spend time with him in his stall, pre­par­ing him to ride, in the arena, and out­side. Get to know his quirks, where he likes to be scratched, and whether he craves your at­ten­tion or is more busi­nesslike. De­vel­op­ing a solid con­nec­tion and un­der­stand­ing of each other is cru­cial to get­ting where you want to be and reach­ing your goals with your up­graded horse.

Up­grad­ing your horse is ex­cit­ing and can be fun, but it’s also a big step in your rid­ing game. Care­fully con­sider these six ques­tions be­fore you run out and buy more horse than you’re ready to han­dle.

Is it re­ally an up­grade if the horse you pick is be­yond your skill level? Talk with a pro­fes­sional about your true rid­ing abil­i­ties and what you can han­dle so you find a horse that pushes you but doesn’t take the fun out of rid­ing.

Bob Avila, Te­mec­ula, Cal­i­for­nia, is an AQHA world cham­pion, three-time NRCHA Snaf­fle Bit Fu­tu­rity win­ner, NRHA Fu­tu­rity champ, and two-time World’s Great­est Horse­man. He's been named the AQHA Pro­fes­sional Horse­man of the Year. Learn more at bobav­

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