Tuesday, July 2, 2013

What Makes a Quiet, Safe, Bombproof & Broke Horse?

Awhile ago a girl at my barn had a bad fall from a horse. The horse in question is one that i've known since he was 4, and rode extensively when he was younger. The girl is in her teens, a good rider who has been taking lessons for awhile, She has also ridden him pretty regularly since September - at least a few times a month. Falls from horses happen all the time, a thing that the EMS repeated to her when they came to take her to the hospital. Which, in itself, is a good lesson and reminder. She is fine, although she has a broken collar bone (at the beginning of summer too - poor kid), and i'm sure is pretty shaken up.

Is Fergus any of the below qualities? I would say most old school-master lesson ponies are, but then learn quickly how to forget they are... sneaky sneaky..
However, her fall got me thinking about the nature of horses. There are 4 qualities people often look for in a horse, especially for inexperienced, or younger riders.
The first is Quiet, a horse that you can fail, flop, yell, and mess-up around, all the while the horse remains calm and steady.

The second is Safe, a horse that you can get in tricky situations with and the horse maintains it's composure, a horse that you can be a total beginner on, and it wont take advantage of you. A safe horse is one that is safe to be around - whether it's on the ground, riding, or in it's presence.

The third is that word that is so often thrown around, especially when it comes to a kids horse, Bombproof. The essence of the word is that a bomb could go off infront of the horse and it wouldn't even flinch. The prime example of bombproof horses are police horses used in riot situations. However, when we see the word most is when we are explaining children's horses, "Old Bobby Sue was so bombproof I could put my toddler on her without a helmet and get her to gallop around brideless and the mare could care less," however.. so often these types of horses have caveats, "except she hated mud, she'd rear at the sight of it, so we just avoided riding in the rainy season." Not quite sure that behaviour consistutes as "bombproof." Although safe and quiet are often assumed when it comes to bombproof horses, I seperate this category because they are almost always "a kids horse".

Finally, we have the second horse-specific term, "Broke". What does broke even mean? For some people Broke means a horse that knows it's leads, flying lead changes, spins, stops, sidepasses, etc. These are your seasoned show horses, your dependable ranch geldings, your beenthere-donethat-gotthetshirt steady-eddys. Sometimes these horses can be used by every level of experience, and age, these are the horses that teach you how to become truly good riders. Other times, your "brokest" horse in the bunch may not be the one you reach for when your "never been on a horse" neice comes to visit. Perhaps your "brokest" is a little hot, a little snorty, can be impatient, etc.

When that neice comes to visit, often you reach for your quietest.. and there is a huge difference. This is the idea that spurred this entire post.

I have an interesting insight on the above categories because I worked at a dude ranch, specifically a kids camp. A camp where 8 year olds could come, absolutely terrified of horses, and we'd throw them on elderly mares and geldings who would plod along behind us for 5 days. Sure, sometimes kids slipped off, or we hit wasp nests which caused the horses to get a little frisky, but for the most part the old beginner string were horses I trusted completely. They were quiet, and they were safe. We had photos done every week for the kids and their horses, the photographer used all manner of aparatus to get the horses to look alive and prick up their ears. From tarps blowing in the wind to literally attempting to scare them... I would consistute that as showing how bombproof they were. But, were they broke? Hell no. If they even knew what a sidepass was, they placed it in a tiny room in their brain called "things humans made me do when I was little". They ambled behind the horse infront of them, playing every bit the bombproof horse, but certainly not a horse you would want to be on if.... ya know.. you wanted to actually do something. Which raises an interesting point, how safe can a horse be if you can't do anything on it? Well, for a kid in a trail riding situation like that... I would say pretty safe. For me, if I was out bringing in brood mares and got into a sticky spot, not that safe. So, in the end, safe becomes a measure on a sliding scale.

In the end, all these categories are really about perspective, what is safe to one person, isn't always safe to another. Going back to the horse that was originally brought up, I would say he's pretty safe and he's pretty quiet - however, he is not broke and he is not bombproof. He has his moments, and he has an underlying current of nervousness. The girl that hurt herself is not his owner, his owner is new to horses and took lessons for a bit before buying him in September. He seemed so quiet, and so safe, that everyone thought it would be a perfect match. Well, she can be a nervous rider, and he can be a nervous horse, and unfortunately, generally you need calm + nervous = happy combo. So, he is up for sale, and the owner has now found another horse - an "old trusty, been there, done that" kind of horse who has been in parades, roped off of, done some reining and team penning, he's 14, he's unphased. She already loves him, and feels comfortable enough to jump on him without the trainer around and post-trot away. Something she probably would not have done with the other horse. To me, right there, that is what makes me happy. People feeling completely comfortable on the horses they are riding when they are starting out.

This leads me to my last opinion of the day. I firmly believe that it is better to be under-horsed when your learning, than to be over-horsed. Exclaimer: I mean like, green as grass learning, I mean like, barely ever ridden/been around horses in your life learning. Some people will definitely disagree with me on this one. Yes, I've heard the stories how you wrangled a wild mustang as a child, threw a saddle on and learned to ride out the bucks while you ambled along in fields of daisies. I, myself, learned how to ride on many over-horsed horsies, but some pretty "perfect 4" horses too. As I learned on the Quiet, Safe, Bombproof and Broke horses, I was then given horses that were a "challenge", not only to me, but to people around them. I learned a lot, but I didn't learn a lot of technique because I had to compensate my learning for often, heck, my survival. Some people rise to the challenge of being over-horsed, it takes a special and often, confident, person to look a challenging horse in the eye and say "I'm going to learn how to ride you." When I first started riding Jingle I was over-horsed to the max, but I didn't know any better, and we were in such a calm and confident environment that we figured eachother out pretty quick. It worked in our favour, but it was a special circumstance. I think it's part of our duties as horse owners, and lovers, to guide people who are new to the horse community to picking the right horse for them. If your friend has just decided to learn how to ride and comes to you for advice, tell them the honest truth. As much as I love to tell the story of Jingle and I, basically a "rescue" case that was semi-dangerous but whom I fell in love with, I always caution against it... there's been a lot of success and triumph with us, but there's also been a lot of scary moments, and a lot of sad ones too. I can't imagine if he was the first horse I ever came to know, I honestly don't know if I would still be riding today.

So, that was my little ramble for the day. Do you agree with me, disagree with me, are you somewhere in the middle? Let me know! Hope you are all having a wonderful time riding - whether it be on a 1. Quiet 2. Safe 3. Bombproof or 4. Broke horse, or perhaps... like myself and my horse that needs ALL the work... none of the above.

What?! I didn't realize that bucking wasn't an appropriate response just because YOU'RE "learning"


  1. See, my Pony is pretty much all four, except for being green broke. She knows her leads, knows how to move off of leg, will do pretty much anything you ask of her, but she doesn't have much fancy training. But she is definitely broke better than a plod along trail horse. For me, my Pony is quiet, safe and bombproof. However, put a beginner on her, and she will run in circles until the person calms down or falls off, and then she will be as far away from said person until she understands what happened. And, this isn't her being malicious in the slightest. It is her being a nervous horse that needs a calm, confident rider. She has figured me out, and while she gives the mustang eye to things, she doesn't spook. She will stand tied all day long, and not even shift a muscle when you climb on her and through her and such. I brought the little boy I babysit out, and when she took a carrot from his hand, he clapped and screamed, while her face was like, still in his hands. She jerked her head away, but didnt do anything dangerous. I think that rider/horse combination has SOOO much to do with stuff.

    Also, I feel the safest on her than any other horse I've ever been on (except for old man arab that is the most safe bombproof horse in the world) simply because she is kind of weird and fast and sensitive and funny, but she showed me all of that upfront, and there isn't much else in her to be explosive or scared. Everything that she has, is right out in the open for me to see and feel. If she explodes and shuts down, as the rider you would have felt that coming for at least an hour, and if the rider is stupid enough to keep pushing her, then yeah, her little brain is going to shut down. But, she is so honest and up front, that I would rather be on her, who has been the same horse since day one, than the plod along horse that can suddenly spook and buck and bolt and react. (Been on a horse like that before too....thouuuuught they were pretty deadbroke).

  2. This is a very noteworthy- down right publishable post. Something that a lot of people need to read. Especially the parents of young folks just getting into horses.

  3. So true, safe and quite are much more important that broke for a beginner. I don't think any horse is really bombproof but there are some that are pretty darn close! I don't like that plod along horse anymore, but always like a safe horse, even when its not necessarily easy or "fun" to ride, but don't like mean or unpredictable at all