A good family horse is as precious as gold dust. Take a look at our demanding checklist to keep in mind on your hunt for the perfect one
Buying a horse can be fraught with pitfalls and that’s true whether you’re looking for a competition superstar or a good, all-round family horse. When it comes to the latter, however, there’s a pretty demanding checklist you should keep in mind. H&H looks at what matters when looking for the perfect family horse or pony.
1. “Don’t buy a Ferrari when a Ford Fiesta will do,” advises Yorkshire-based former advanced eventer turned trainer and Pony Club chief instructor Catherine Cundall. “There’s nothing wrong with a Fiesta – they’re practical, economical and easy to drive; just what you want in a family horse!” Catherine says she sees too many people over-horsing themselves with flashy horses they can’t ride, then end up losing their confidence.
2. Staying on the subject of looks, Catherine warns not to get seduced by beauty. “Personally, I don’t think it matters how ugly or old the animal is if they are capable of doing the job. So long as the horse is sound and safe, and will do what you want to do, that is what matters.” International eventer Tracey Dillon, now a BE-accredited coach based in Leicestershire, says there are two things top of her list when it comes to family horses: soundness and manners. “Everything else follows with good training. You can love them for their manners.”
3. Derbyshire-based trainer and producer Caroline Thornton believes natives are a good starting point. “Generally, they have good conformation and temperament, and a sensible brain. They also tend to have better feet; there are some conformation faults you can get along with, but bad feet are not one of them!”
Catherine Cundall agrees, and says Irish Draught crosses are also a favourite of hers. “They are usually a sound bet. They have enough brain to help you out of trouble, but don’t go looking for mischief,” she says.
4. Does size matter? Yes and no, says Catherine. “The horse needs to be suitable for the rider(s), but be aware that very large horses can be more difficult to hold together when riding. They can also have a very big movement, which can be uncomfortable or tricky to cope with — some of the big warmbloods look great from the ground but aren’t the right choice as an all-rounder.”
5. “Take a good look at their CV” is advice on which all three trainers agree. “You’re looking for a horse which has done a bit of everything and, ideally, had a really good first education,” says Caroline. “Also, if the seller says the horse is good in traffic, make sure that doesn’t mean it’s just gone down a road a couple of times!” Not being afraid of checking up on what the seller claims the horse has done is essential, says Catherine: “Genuine family types should have a traceable history. Ask around and check up on things like competition records.”
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6. While word-of-mouth recommendation is the best reference a horse can have, this isn’t always possible. In that situation, it is sensible to bring in expert help. “If you’re unsure, get professional advice to help you assess whether the horse is all it is claimed to be. A vetting will only tell you so much; you need to know the horse will be safe and mannerly too,” says Caroline. “After all, a really good family horse or pony which has the perfect CV will not be cheap. Make sure you will be getting what you’re paying for.”