Are you thinking about buying your first horse? Or maybe you already did, and you are already finding yourself making mistakes. Horse care mistakes can cost you. They can be expensive not only financially, but also in terms of lost time and wasted effort. In the worst cases, they may take a toll on your mount’s health, and maybe on yours too. Either way, a lot of mistakes are avoidable once you know what they are. Let’s go over some of the top mistakes that horse owners—especially first-time horse owners—make.
Mistakes Horse Owners Make
If you are a first-time horse owner, you have a lot to learn. Of course, before you buy a horse, start with these red flags to watch for when buying a horse. Then you'll want to check out some of the tips for buying a horse for the first time. Before you dive right in and get a breed of horse that isn't ideal for your situation, make sure you truly understand what you are getting into. These mistakes below are ones to watch for and prevent yourself from making.
Buying an unsuitable horse.
The first mistake a lot of horse owners make is purchasing the wrong horse in the first place. This is generally a newbie mistake because it isn’t one that a person would likely repeat after buying the wrong horse the first time.
Here are some common selection errors when choosing the first horse to buy:
- Basing the selection of the horse on its appearance. Maybe you grew up dreaming of owning a beautiful white Arabian, and now you have found one. While the horse has a relatively calm demeanor most of the time, you are warned it can be quite spirited when it is upset. You buy it anyway, and soon find yourself in over your head with a horse you were not ready for.
- Purchasing a stallion. There is never going to be a situation where a stallion is a suitable purchase for a beginning horse owner. Nevertheless, some riders still make the mistake of buying one. When you are experienced, you might be ready for a stallion, but right now, if you are shopping for your first horse, you aren’t. Stick with a mare, or even better, a gelding. Just because the stallion may be a stunning image, doesn't mean it is appropriate for you.
- Getting a really young horse. This is an understandable mistake. You might think, “I’m new to this, so I will get a horse that is also new to this, and we can learn alongside each other.” You may imagine that would be easier. But however counterintuitive it might sound, that is rarely the case. Older horses tend to have calmer demeanors and are more experienced working with trainers. So, get an older horse as your first one.
Being impatient with a horse.
You should be purchasing a horse that is trained and “finished” when you are a newbie. But you still are going to need to give your mount the personalized training it needs to work with you and do what you want.
Horse owners can sometimes be very impatient with their horses and with the process. Training a horse is very different from training a dog in a lot of respects, but one area where they are similar is with respect to the gradual approach required.
If you try to take shortcuts with training a dog, you probably know what happens: the dog either doesn’t know what you want, is too anxious to do it, or does not yet associate doing what you want with a reward. The same applies to a horse as well. You need to go one step at a time with training your mount. If you try to skip steps, your horse will not do as you command. And that won’t be the horse’s fault—it will be yours.
If your impatience comes through in your demeanor, the horse may just get even more frustrated, leading to the situation getting worse. It becomes even harder to control the horse, and you start losing confidence, creating a feedback cycle. So, take your time with training. Go one step at a time toward your goals. Trying to hurry the process will only lead to failure and frustration for both of you.
If you are hiring someone to train your horse, make sure you understand what kind of training they are using. There is a big difference between training and abuse, but many aren't as clear. You may also benefit from sending your horse away for training sometimes. Ultimately, finding a great horse trainer can help you with this transition.
Sticking with a method that isn’t working.
Even though you need to be patient and wait to see results with training, the reality is that not every training method is going to be a fit for every horse in every situation. Sometimes new horse owners get stuck on a particular technique and keep trying to use it even though they have a lot of feedback by now from repeated failures that it is not working.
It does not mean that technique is a bad one. It just means it may not be right for you and your horse. Don’t make the mistake of thinking there is only one way to solve any particular problem. If you make that mistake, you might think that the problem is you or your mount, when it could be neither of you.
There are many techniques out there you can try. Instead of trying the same one over and over because it is the one you happen to be familiar with, try branching out. Get some more horse training books and see if they can teach you something new. Get on horse forums and ask for ideas. Talk to your own instructor to see if they have any alternative technique you could try.
Blaming the horse for things you should be taking responsibility for.
If a horse disobeys you, is that your fault, or the horses? If you are frustrated enough, you will probably believe it is the horse’s fault. Even if you think you know better, look at your actions and your attitude. If you are constantly getting angry at the horse, you are blaming the horse.
But the reality is, obedience problems typically result from bad training. That could be your fault, or it might have started with the horse’s previous owner. Either way, the first step to resolving the problem is going to be to acknowledge it is not the horse’s fault, and it is your responsibility to learn the techniques that can fix the issue.
We have shared before about how horse senses relate to their behavior. You might also want to check out our post about destructive horse behaviors that may give insight into their health and how groundwork can help modify horse behavior.
Trying to ride a new horse right away.
When you buy a new horse, you are going to be excited to saddle up and go for a ride. You might even be keen on the notion of doing it the same day.
But there are a few reasons this is not a good idea.
- First of all, think how you would feel if you were the horse. You have just been taken away from the stable you have been living in up to this point.
- You are now in a different stable. Everything is unfamiliar. And now, this strange new human is trying to get you to go out for a ride.
- Your horse is going to be tired at this point, and probably more than a little anxious. Instead of demanding a ride, just spend some time with it in the stable, getting it comfortable and reassuring it.
- Another reason you should skip going on a ride right away is that however much time you put into preparing for the horse’s arrival, you are no doubt going to find a ton of chores that need to be seen to right away when you bring your horse to its new home.
If you take care of those instead, ultimately, it is going to be a less stressful first day/week for both you and your horse.
Riding too infrequently.
Ideally, it would be great if you could get out on your horse every day, wouldn’t it? But let’s face facts. A lot of us can’t do that. We have day jobs and families. Then there is all the time we need to spend in the barn taking care of chores. So, we might have a hard time getting out regularly.
You might fall into a pattern where you only go out to ride once in a while. A week or two might pass at a time between rides, sometimes even more. You then wonder why neither you nor your horse is getting any better. But the explanation is pretty simple. You are not riding and training consistently enough for either of you to learn effectively.
So, you should make a commitment to ride as often as you can. Try and go out at least a few times a week if possible. And, if anxiety or fear is the reason behind the dealy, you might benefit from these expert tips to reduce horseback riding anxiety and a few tips for riding a spooky horse that can make it easier on both of you.
Treating your horse too much.
A treat is supposed to be just that … a treat. It isn’t something that your horse is supposed to get all the time. A lot of horse owners have a hard time not giving their horses lots of treats. We enjoy making them happy.
But did you know that if you give your horse treats all the time, it can lead to your horse misbehaving? It also makes treats less effective as a motivator for training. So, try not to overdo it with respect to treats.
And if you aren't sure what to give them as treats, check out how to make your own homemade horse treats, and this great list of over 40 fruits and vegetables that are safe for horses. Just gift them sparingly.
Not approaching your horse with a due amount of caution.
Dogs and cats have plenty of predators—but they also predate on other critters. This is not the case with horses. Horses don’t hunt. Instead, nature wired them to be on the alert for things that hunt them.
So, however cautious you may be with your dog or cat so as not to alarm them, you need to multiply that with respect to your horse. Horses spook very easily. A lot of new riders do not realize this, and may not be careful enough with how they approach their new horse, or how they introduce the horse to different environments, people, animals, and situations.
We've shared a few tips for introducing kids to horses, how to introduce a horse to a herd, and even how to introduce a horse to adults or friends. These are great tips to help the process easier for everyone. Depending upon the buying situation, you can even have the seller of your new horse practice these introduction techniques with you over a few weeks so your horse isn't wary of you when you bring him or her home.
Trying to use a saddle that isn’t suitable for your mount.
It makes sense to buy as much tack as you can before you get your horse so that you are ready when you complete the purchase. But there are some items that are difficult to size before you have the horse (or at least have access to the horse), among them, the saddle.
Indeed, it is a common mistake among beginners to choose a saddle based on their needs without thinking about their horse’s needs. But the saddle you purchase needs to not only fit you but also fit your horse comfortably as well. If it does not, your horse will be unhappy, and might even be prone to bucking. So, it is actually a safety issue.
Not thinking about safety in general.
Speaking of safety, new riders sometimes fail to focus on it adequately and stock up on what they will need to be safe when they are in the saddle.
Don’t have a riding helmet? What about boots that will stay on your feet and which have good heels? Is your tack high in quality, rugged enough not to snap? And again, does everything you purchased fit you and your horse as needed?
Safety is equally important out of the saddle. You should conduct a thorough inspection of your barn. If anything is out of repair, you should see to it right away. You do not want your horse (or you) to get injured.
Something else to consider with respect to safety that you might overlook as a beginner is that just having the right equipment and keeping your barn in tiptop shape does not guarantee that injuries won’t happen. At some point, you will be injured in the course of caring for your horse or riding, and so will your horse. So, you should always have a first aid kit handy.
Not only that, but you should also be aware of the ongoing wear and tear that your body takes. Riders’ hips are particularly prone to problems (especially as they get older). Back and neck issues could also crop up.
So, try and warm up properly before you go on a ride or even before you do any hard work around your horse’s stall. Also, consider appropriate aftercare measures like applying heat or ice if you have strained anything. Finally, do not push yourself too hard. If you injure yourself, you should work on recovering rather than just forging ahead. You need to heal properly before jumping back into the saddle.
Making dietary mistakes.
Your horse needs protein, but how much? A lot, you might figure. Well, if you are riding frequently, that is probably correct. Your horse does need extra protein. But what if you are not riding often right now? Well, in that case, if you give your horse the same high amount of protein, it is going to end up with more energy than it knows what to do with.
At that point, you are going to have an animal on your hands that is unruly and hard to control. Another mistake is to think that if your horse is able to graze out on a pasture every day, that will cover its dietary needs. You will also need to buy feed for your horse along with supplements.
But here’s the thing—it is also a mistake to just pick a random feed product that has good reviews, thinking that will be sufficient.
Why is that an issue? Because it may be the ideal feed for one horse, but not another. You should eliminate the guesswork from feeding your horse as much as possible. A good way to do that is to consult with your horse’s vet instead of making assumptions about what your horse needs.
Another mistake is to assume that the same diet that works today will still be right in the future.
Factors that can cause dietary requirements to change include:
- Health conditions
- Activity levels
Nutrition for an older horse is very different from nutrition for a younger horse. A horse with a health problem like arthritis may require an anti-inflammatory diet, and so forth.
So, you will need to account for these changing needs. Once again, your vet can be very helpful in keeping you on track. There are a lot of tips for how much food a horse should eat, but that doesn't necessarily tell you everything. Learn about food aggression in horses, what foods you should never feed your horse, and reasons your horse may not be eating before you go willy nilly with treats or new foods.
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
- Listening to the Horse - The Documentary by Elaine Heney & Grey Pony Films
- Shoulder In & Out Training for better balance, bend & topline development with your horse
- Over 110+ Polework Exercises & Challenges to Download
- Dancing at Liberty & Creating Connection with Your Horse (11 lessons) - Grey Pony Films
Not taking sufficient riding lessons before buying a horse.
How long have you been riding? A few weeks? A few months? A few years? If you have not been riding for at least six months, you probably should not be shopping for a horse right now.
If you have fallen in love with horses and riding quickly, it can be hard to hold off. But you need at least six months of riding experience before you bring your first horse home. Doing so will ensure that you get started the right way with your new horse, making for a safer and more enjoyable experience for both of you.
Avoiding These Common Mistakes Can Help You Transition Into a Successful Relationship With Your New Horse
Now you know some of the most common mistakes that horse owners make, especially those who are new to owning a horse.
By steering clear of these common mistakes, you will be able to have a better experience with your new horse—and offer a better experience to your horse as well.