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..
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.