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A horse, a horse, my garden needs a horse

A living, breathing ‘my little pony’

By Jennifer Stern

, |

A horse, a horse, my garden needs a horse

A living, breathing ‘my little pony’

By Jennifer Stern

, |

4 min read

If you’ve just moved into an equestrian estate for the scenery, the security and the position, you may be tempted to buy a pair of jodhpurs – and, of course, a horse to go with them. But buying a horse is not really that simple.

Defining your needs

There are many good reasons for acquiring a horse, but the main distinction is whether you want to use – which probably means ride – the horse, or whether you just want a pet and/or paddock ornament – and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you get the right horse.

Horses for looking at and cuddling

Just because you’re not going to be using your horse for riding, showing or pulling a plough doesn’t mean it’s useless. Horses make the best companions. They smell wonderful, and they are great listeners. They can keep secrets, and they have excellent shoulders to cry on. They’re also the world’s quietest lawnmowers – with the added bonus of free fertiliser.

If you’re looking for a horse you’re not going to ride, there are some great options. One of the best is to adopt a rescue horse. There are a number of organisations that work hard with low-income horse owners who depend on horses for transport or traction, and teach them how to care for their horses – but they also rescue and/or confiscate horses and ponies that have been abused or badly neglected. You’d be amazed how these ‘toast racks’ can turn into pretty plump ponies with a bit of love and affection – and lots of good food and care. You could also foster a rescue horse, which you could perhaps then decide to keep. Or take on a retired working or competitive horse – perhaps one with a career-ending injury but who would be perfectly happy frolicking among the daisies. Another utterly adorable option is to get a miniature horse. These have all the advantages of full-size horses, but they eat much less, and they make awesome pets.

Horses for riding

The most common mistake first-time horse buyers make is to ‘over-horse’ themselves. Be particularly careful to evaluate advice from your horsey neighbours as, quite often, experts can be blinded by their own knowledge, experience and expertise, and are unable to put themselves into the boots of a real novice.

For a couple of years, I had almost unlimited access to a really beautiful thoroughbred mare whose owner was too scared to ride her except the day after I’d taken her for a long, fast cross-country hack. She was well schooled, and had the sweetest temperament, but she was a bit twitchy until she’d had a chance to let off steam – exactly the sort of horse your show-jumping, polo-playing neighbours would consider a really easy ride, but that you may find absolutely terrifying on the wrong day. So don’t be seduced by the glamour of a beautiful (lively and independent-minded) Arab, an elegant (super-high-maintenance and probably neurotic) thoroughbred, or a magnificent, sleek (and very powerful) warmblood.

Ideally you want a horse that’s been loved, well schooled, and regularly ridden. You can sometimes strike it lucky with retired show jumpers or eventers, but choose carefully because – even in their dotage – these can be ‘a lot of horse’. Your best bet, really, is a horse that someone else has been hacking for a few years – a calm but not dead-on-its-feet, tractable mount that will respond to kindness, and not take advantage of your inexperience. They exist – you just need to keep looking till you find one.

Just like with dogs, breed is no guarantee of temperament or ability – for example, you get some very calm thoroughbreds – but there are some horse breeds that tend to make better all-rounders. Here in South Africa we have two fabulous indigenous horse breeds. The Boerperd is a hardy, beautiful breed that, with good training, makes a lovely riding horse. And the smaller but similar Nooitgedachter, which is bred specifically for its calm temperament, may be a bit on the petite side for bigger adults. But – again like dogs – some of the best horses are those with a pleasingly diverse ancestry, and a serendipitous combination of the best of all breeds. Really, it’s all down to perseverance in looking, diligence in trying out and checking, and taking advice from the right people.

Look in its mouth

Looking in a horse’s mouth before you buy it is about as useful as kicking the tyres before you buy a car. Rather get a vet to check it out. Even if you’re just going to keep it in the garden for decoration, you must ensure it has had all its inoculations – these will be on its passport. Yes, all competition horses (including racehorses) and many other non-competition horses have passports, which serve two purposes. The first is to positively identify the horse, and the second – possibly more important – is to document all its inoculations. If you are the person to introduce African horse sickness to your estate, you will be very, very unpopular.

Red tape

Buying a horse is not in the same league as buying a car or a house in terms of red tape, but you should at the very least draw up a good, unambiguous contract that carefully outlines costs, delivery and terms, and accurately identifies the horse – preferably with its passport.

And now …

… you’re ready to ride off into the sunset. Cue atmospheric Ennio Morricone music … and that’s not a bad ‘note’ on which to remember this prolific and awesomely talented composer who rode into a permanent sunset on 6 July this year at the ripe old age of 91. RIP Ennio – if there is a heaven, it’s about to get musical.

Where to look

You may be lucky enough to find a suitable horse in a nearby yard, but you will probably need to look further afield. Horsetrader is a dedicated site offering horses and horsey goods for sale. It’s also worth checking out HQ Magazine and even Farmer’s Weekly.

And don’t forget the rescue organisations: www.carthorse.org.za, www.horsecare.org.za, www.dreamchaserhorserescue.org, www.coastalhorsecareunit.org.za.

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