How do you identify a kid broke horse? Well maybe the better question would be how to identify a horse broke kid.
First of all, a horse is a horse is a horse. Any horse, no matter how much training, desensitizing, riding and handling it has, is still first and foremost a prey animal. Desensitizing does wonders for dulling this tendency in them, but they never completely outgrow what is inherent to their nature. I know of a case where the most trustworthy Appaloosa on the planet accidentally touched an electric fence and took off running with his young rider. (thankfully everyone is okay)
But we can identify some characteristics of horse that is kid-friendly.
1. The horse is NOT below 8 years old. So many people make the mistake of thinking they will buy a young horse their child can grow up with and form an extraordinary bond. This RARELY works out well. An older horse has almost always been ridden by several different people who have differing styles of riding. They have almost always been put in different riding scenarios and been exposed to stimuli such as noisy people, rustling leaves, mooing cows, etc. An older horse has likely been under saddle for quite some time and is not as apt to be “silly” like younger horses can.
2. The horse has not changed hands over and over again. Get references from the people who know the seller that the horse has been in his possession for quite some time. There are unscrupulous horse traders out there who will claim the horse they just picked up last week at auction belonged to their little Billy who rode her all over the place and is now too big for her. This is a legitimate reason for re-homing a horse…IF it is a true story. The exception to this is if you are purchasing a rescue horse, in which case it should be a reputable rescue who has video of a child riding the horse( for more than 5 minutes), who has had the horse for a bit and worked with it extensively, and who watches your child ride the potential horse and decides they would make a good fit. Do not be offended when any horse owner looking to sell a horse asks hundreds of questions and requests that you ride the horse in their presence. This is a hallmark of an honest seller.
3. The video of the horse labeled as “kid-broke” is not extensively done in a round pen only. This is a favorite trick of horse sellers. Many many horses will behave quite well when going in circles without much room, but you take them out of that pen and it all goes south. ALSO, if the seller only wants you or your child to ride them in a round pen (“but this is the only area I have available”) walk away.
4. In pictures and videos of the horse being ridden, it is capable of walking along on a loose rein. A horse with a loose rein who is going along calmly is a pretty confident horse. A confident horse is a calm horse. This is why desensitizing and ground work are so useful; they help to install confidence in a horse.
5. Hopefully, you can visit the horse several different times without having a set in stone time period where you have to be there. Be wary of unscrupulous people who will drug a horse to sell it. Look closely at the horse. If it is standing with its head hanging down, seems dull and out of it, has no interest in anything around it, it is likely it has been drugged. You want a horse with a nice bright eye who is friendly and curious. Dishonest sellers will be very antsy about you being there precisely on time so that the drugs won’t wear off.
6. The horse is not already groomed and tacked when you get there. Ideally, you and your child should be able to halter the horse, take it for a short walk, and then groom and tack it. You want a horse that is respectful on the ground and walks just behind and to the side of you. A horse that you don’t have to chase and wrestle to put its halter on and who will stand quietly while it is being groomed, feet picked and tacked up.
7. The seller is willing to offer you a trial period. The best way to know if that is the horse for your child is to spend time with it. If you are adopting from a rescue, make sure the rescue will always allow you to return the horse if it does not work out. Trial periods are tough for a rescue to do, but a return any time policy serves just as well.
8. When you go to look at the horse, are all the horses in their care in good shape? (of course in a rescue, there may be some with your potential horse who are being rehabilitated) Is the property in good shape? It does not have to be new or fancy but does it look safe? Do the horses have clean stalls or pastures and clean water? All of these factors go to establish the seller as being a responsible horse owner. Of course, horses poop frequently during the day, so just notice if it seems to be fresh or several days accumulation. Be wary of people who state that they just rescued the horse off of craigslist cause they felt sorry for it, and it has a wonderful personality. If it is skinny, it may be feeling too poorly to act up. Then when it gets close to its proper weight, you might just have a very energetic horse.
9. Ideally you will see several different videos of the horse in different situations. Perhaps it is being round penned with cans rattling hung on the side of it. Perhaps it is walking through water, riding in an arena, on a trail, or around an obstacle course. The more a potential child’s horse has been exposed to, the better off your child will be.
10. Do NOT do NOT do NOT buy a horse solely on color or looks. Although conformation should be something you buy for, color should be very last on your list. Also, try not to get your mind set on one particular breed. Understanding that you may be buying this horse for your child to show, regardless, often any horse can participate in pet pony or lead line classes. Sometimes the mixed up, unidentifiable horse or pony is the best one of all. Additionally, sometimes a mellow horse is better than a short pony. One has to be careful when buying ponies as some of them can have quite the attitude.
11. Remember that even the best horse or pony if ridden primarily by a child will need some tuning by an experienced rider regularly. Make sure that you know someone with the ability and willingness to do this on occasion. Also, pay close attention when the seller tells you how the horse is kept. A horse that behaves well for a child and lives in a pasture, may NOT be the same horse if it is stalled 24/7 with nothing to wear off some energy.
12. And it goes without saying…..NEVER EVER buy a stallion for your child. No explanation necessary
13. Lastly, if an owner or a rescue does not feel that your child and the horse are a good match, be grateful for that. That is an honest person who is more interested in the welfare of the horse (and rider) then the money. Pay careful attention when an owner tells you habits and quirks your potential horse may have. If it has only ever been ridden in an English saddle, but you want your child to ride Western, some horses really get nervous over the different feel of those.