Q: I recently purchased a 5-year-old Quarter Horse mare with hopes of showing her in reining. She’s had basic under-saddle training and seems athletic overall, but I feel like we’re constantly fighting each other. We’ll be going along fine, but when I ask her to lope, she tosses her head and rears. After we’ve mastered something one day, she’ll refuse to cooperate the next, or she’ll spook at something she’s seen dozens of times. She’s bossy on the ground and has even kicked out at me a few times. She’s beautiful, and seems like she’d make a great reiner, but I’m beyond frustrated. I feel guilty for even asking this, but when is it time to quit, sell, and move on? Help!
Brenda Monk, Iowa
A: Brenda, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone in asking this question. In evaluating your own situation, however, you must be honest with yourself. Your decision will not just affect you—it will also impact your horse’s well-being and happiness. I encounter a lot of horse owners who believe that selling will result in dire consequences for their horses. In reality, another home (and another job) might be better for that particular horse’s needs. You’re not the only person who can provide a good home for your horse.
Here, I’m going to explain three of the most important reasons you should consider selling your horse: safety, enjoyment, and intended use. As I elaborate on these reasons, carefully evaluate how each relates to you and your horse. And most importantly, don’t look at selling your mare as a failure on your part—you’re being smart by moving on to a horse that you’ll be happier and more successful with down the road.
Your (and your horse’s) safety is paramount to all other factors considered. If you don’t feel safe, you’re not going to enjoy your horse. Dangerous behaviors include bucking, rearing, kicking, biting, striking, or attacking other horses. Some horses can’t be willed out of such behaviors, but more often, the problems stem from a lack of training. If you’re confident in your abilities as a trainer, you then need to determine whether you have the time and desire to do so. If you don’t have either, but still want to try the training approach, you’ll need some significant funds. I’ll explain below.
Time. Quality training requires a lot of time. To make notable progress, you need to work with your mare at the very least four times a week. Consistency is key. So, if your job consumes much of your time; you live in an area where bad weather can prevent you from riding or working with your horse; or you have other obligations, you’re not going to have time to train your mare yourself.
Desire. You have to want to train your horse. If serious training is not your idea of a good time, you’re not going to change your circumstances. So, if you prefer to trail ride with friends once a week or so, working through training problems on your own is not a good idea.
Money. If you don’t have the time or desire to train your mare yourself, you can send her to a professional trainer to do the work for you. But, let’s face it. Good trainers are expensive. The economy is in the dumps. It may not be financially feasible for you to send your horse out for training.
Sell/move on? After considering your and your mare’s safety and whether you’ll be able to “fix” her behavioral issues, you determine you’re in a dead-end situation. I strongly suggest you consider selling.
Keep? Your horse has some bad behaviors, and you have plenty of time and the knowledge to work with her. Keep your horse; work hard; reassess the situation in a few months.
Most of us spend time with horses because we love it. Assess your current enjoyment level with your mare: Are you having fun? Are you excited about going to the barn? Or, are you making excuses to avoid riding or spending time with your horse? Too tired. Too cranky. Too hot, or cold, or windy. It might rain. You really need to organize your sock drawer. Be honest with yourself. If the “excuse maker” sounds like you, you’re not having fun anymore. Don’t get down on yourself; instead, consider the following:
Personality conflicts. Just like people, every horse has a unique personality—and there are some personalities you’ll naturally click with better than others. Beyond her behavioral issues, does your mare have an annoying habit that drives you crazy? Does she satisfy your horse “craving?” For example: If you desire an emotional bond with your mare, ask yourself if she’s meeting those needs. Maybe you want her come to you from the pasture; you’d like her to want treats and a good back scratch from you—you want her to like you! But, maybe she tends to be standoffish, workmanlike, and generally aloof toward you. Your personalities just don’t mesh—and that’s OK.
Energy levels. You and your horse need to be on the same “pace.” If you have a naturally high-energy horse like a Thoroughbred, he’s probably not going to enjoy going on a slow, meandering trail ride—and you won’t have fun either. On the other end of the spectrum, your older, on-the-lazy-side Quarter Horse isn't likely to excel in barrel racing or jumping. And surprisingly, this type can be just as dangerous as the high-energy horse. Lazy horses can get cranky when asked to work harder than they’re accustomed to—triggering a buck, crow hop, or rear. The lesson? Find a horse that matches your speed.
Sell/move on? You’ve been avoiding going to the barn, because you’re exasperated with your mare’s behavior, and she seems like she could care less if you were there. You’re not having fun. Seriously consider selling, and finding a horse whose personality clicks with yours.
Keep? Your mare doesn’t come cantering to you from the pasture, but she has a good work ethic and seems to enjoy her job. You wish she were more affectionate, but maybe that will grow with time. Keep her; reassess how you feel in a few months’ time.
And last, you need to consider what you want to do with your horse. Evaluate her temperament, athleticism, and overall conditioning. Do these complement the sport or discipline in which you’d like to compete or ride in? A halter horse probably isn’t going to make a good reiner, just as a barrel racer isn’t likely to be successful in Western pleasure. Demanding something your horse isn’t capable of doing (or excelling in) is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It’s not feasible or fair, and will only leave you disappointed and your horse burned out, or worse.
The soundness factor. Many people worry that if their horses have any lameness issues, they won’t find good homes. Not so. While not suitable for the show ring or high-speed events, a horse with minor arthritis or an occasional soundness problem could make a great trail horse, or the perfect mount for children or beginners.
Sell/move on? You’re ready to step your riding up a notch, but your horse isn’t cut out for the event you want to pursue. Consider selling.
Keep? Your mare’s in good condition; you’ve been showing her in one event; you’re bored, and want to try something new. Keep her; work with a competent trainer on your desired event; assess your progress—and your (and her) enjoyment—and evaluate your situation down the road.
Starting colts and being the first woman to compete in—and win—the Road to the Horse Colt-Starting Competition isn’t Stacy’s only claim to fame. In 2006, she won the Freestyle Reining Championship at the All American Quarter Horse Congress with one of the highest scores in NRHA history: 239. She did it by performing without a saddle, bridle, or even a neck rope. (If you haven’t seen Stacy’s “world-famous” run, find a link to it at HorseandRider.com.)
Stacy’s husband, Jesse, is also a well-known reining trainer and NRHA judge. The couple has three young sons; the Westfall training facility is in Mount Gilead, Ohio.