Turning a Beginner horse into a dangerous animal; the story of too many “first, second and third” horses

Turning a Beginner horse into a dangerous animal; the story of too many “first, second and third” horses: What you need to know about the difficulty and expense of horse ownership before you take the next step.

Did you know one of the most common reasons horses end up discarded, neglected or with behavioral problems traces back to a buyer / owner who had far too little experience (but probably believed their 3 trail rides during vacations meant they were excellent riders) and / or too little ability to cover the enormous costs of owning and caring for a horse?

If you are truly a newbie, please, for the love of a horse, do not buy or adopt or pick up a free horse.

Taking 10 lessons at age 12 doesn’t mean you’re not a total beginner. Riding horses on trail rides at stables while on vacation for a 1 to 10 years also doesn’t mean you have any real experience. Feeding 1,000 carrots to horses next to your grandfather’s house as a child doesn’t count. Cleaning stalls as a job as a teenager. . .nope. Not super helpful.

Sometimes the stars align and total new owners make it work. It is rare, and it is too rare and typically too harmful for us to recommend.

We’ve saved too many who bear the scars of “newbie” owners.

They have been mishandled, their bodies and minds misused.  . sometimes through sheer ignorance only.

If you cannot afford lessons, you cannot afford a horse. Unless you’ve ridden and cared for a horse under a trained eye and hand, you will not likely do the horse any service.

Did you know even a beginner safe horse can end up damaged and dangerous in the hands of inexperienced person or family?

Beginner safe really doesn’t “usually” mean any untrained person can do anything with the horse. It means a beginner can ride the horse under supervision and be safe.

No giant animal with a prey instinct is truly safe for just any new rider / handler without a trained eye looking on and offering instruction.

You have lucked out with a rare creature if you’ve found an exception, but it is luck only you’re working with in these cases. And regardless, if you’re a real novice and have found a tolerant and kind horse, you owe the horse something better, at any rate.

We once heard a trainer talk about how horrible it is when a novice turns a perfectly well trained, beginner suitable horse into a dangerous animal with their mistakes, and the fact is, this happens far too often.

Horses are  very expensive. A luxury, really.

They aren’t especially hardy. They are extremely complex and sensitive. When they are sick, it costs even more.

They aren’t gold fish (Heck, even fish are awfully hard to keep alive), folks.

Horses require a disposable income of several thousand dollars a year each, even if you live in a very inexpensive area and keep the horse on your own property and do not need to keep the horse shod or treat any ailments beyond trims, worming, vaccines and teeth yearly (all of those things ARE a must, regardless).

Horses require knowledge. A lot of it.  You have to come into the experience with knowledge, though. You also have to continue to learn.

forever. and ever.

First. . .Lessons.

Next. . . Income.

Then. . .a horse of your own.

Any other order generally puts a horse at great risk of ending up with lasting training problems, injuries or worse. Never mind that it isn’t safe for people to do it another way.

(The horse in the original image is from a craigslist ad of a horse I rescued on my own before Heart of Phoenix many years ago. He was also entirely emaciated.)

Don’t become these guys from google:







48 thoughts on “Turning a Beginner horse into a dangerous animal; the story of too many “first, second and third” horses

  1. Amen! Volunteer for a reputable rescue and if you still want and can afford a horse that’s a start.

  2. I thing the best thing for a newbie to do is volunteer with a rescue like yours and learn the ropes. I love horses but would not consider getting one without a lot of experience under my belt.

  3. Only an expert can be the owner/trainer of a horse. Too many are ruined by ignorant and unknowing folks. Listen to the experts.

    1. There is no such thing as an “expert” and any one who pegs themselves “expert” horsemen have just lost any crediblity in my eyes. I have owned horses for 40 years and cannot possibly be an expert as I learn something new every day

      1. Well said, I usually relearn everyday just how much I still don’t know. But I do know my old trustworthy saint mustang laughs at me…a lot. I’m always telling him not to tell anybody he saw that, he has yet to reveal anything too embarrassing.

      2. The only real “expert” is the person who knows their years of experience are for showing how much they have to learn.

      3. A kid that says “I’ve been watching Clinton Anderson or Pat or Cox for a year now” gain way more respect than the ol “40 year experts”

      4. This is the best reply I have seen. You are correct there are no experts and you never stop learning. I was that newbee once and now I own a boarding facility and have had years successfully giving lessons to beginners on up. You will never know everything. Ideas are changing all the time and everything you can learn will not always work for you and your horse. You may accomplish more than the next person and have more money to spend on your success but that doesn’t label the rider.

    2. Not true, anyone can own a horse with the correct training (owner) and become a “expert” with the correct supervision , kindness and understanding and education and this takes years even so called experts keep leaning it is a ongoing process, on the other hand not everyone is suitable to own a horse , or any other animal for that matter, I am a successful endurance rider of 32years,

  4. I agree totally with you. But I do think that the third photo down of the young man riding what looks like a black gypsy vanner, may have developmental disabilities. And the horse he is riding is a therapy horse. Thank you for all you do for God’s creatures!

    1. You may be correct. It was used in another post, but the more I looked it over, the more I believe you are likely right. I have removed that image.

  5. You have hit the nail on the head! Horses are so complex! And SO much information is out there, both good and bad. A Newbie could get lost in the information jungle! Make sure you have an experienced person help you if you are contemplating getting a horse. They are not for the weak at heart!!

  6. OK I get what you are saying, but I don’t entirely agree. If the “experts” would stop throwing away horses for better ones, than who would look after the throwaways. We have two rescue horses that would have ended up at slaughter. If I told myself that I could not own a horse until I was an “expert”, there would be no hope at all for these horses. The two trained horses I have were from “experts” who moved on to “better” horses. Our horses may not get ridden on a daily basis, but they are cared for and loved. You don’t have to be an expert to care for another living being. Otherwise you would need to be an expert to have a baby. Impossible right. You have to start somewhere. “Expert” horse people need to get off their high horse with comments like these. I am surprised a rescue would post this snobbery.

    1. Snobbery?! It states you need to be humble enough to know that lessons and expert guidance is needed.

      You have not seen the mis handled horses by “inexperience” then, the toll it can take on a horse with uneducated and un learning people.

      This states that you need HELP to own a first time horse… stable management is over looked and finally it needs to be said.

      Don’t get so defensive over a matter you should clearly be discussing with someone with more experience than yourself

      1. While this information is correct and is a good start, it is also true that there are inexperienced horse people who have done very well by the horse (bought or rescued). It is also true that there are “horse experts” that have done horribly by the horse.

        I have seen “trainers/instructors” that have years of experience and yet know nothing about horsemanship, safety, horse behavior, health, etc. I have seen them ruin horses and potentially good horse people through ignorance and overblown egos. I have seen people hurt and horses almost killed because of the “expert” who demanded that they knew EXACTLY what they were doing. I have seen “newbies” who mistakenly counted on this type of “expert” and the left the horse world because of the bad experience.

        I have also seen new owners with limited experience that have gone above and beyond to make sure they are caring for and learning about their horse. Do they make mistakes? Sure they do. But at least they try to learn and correct. And because of the love they give their horse is tolerant of the mistakes and thrives in their care. I have seen newbies that because they truly cared about horses, they treated their horses better with very limited experience than a long time horse person who had no TRUE care about the horse.

        In other words, the true problems lie NOT STRICTLY with newbie vs expert but instead with the mentality and attitude of the person/people involved with the horse(s). Drawing broad generalization, especially without giving both good and bad examples, does not paint a full picture. I

        f you truly want to help newbies, instead of just saying “don’t get a horse til you do X” maybe try explaining what to look for in a good “horse expert” to help guide them. Maybe offer to help them locate a reputable trainer/instructor/breeder/rescue that they can get help from. Maybe offer to be their mentor and to help them prepare for a horse. Maybe suggest some books they can read or a good clinic they can attend. Every iota of help that you offer those newbies is going to be of benefit to the horse or horses that they come in to contact with.

      2. If you are a first time owner and took those horses to save them because love fixes everything, then this article is directed at YOU. The point is, an educated horse owner knows that a teeny, tiny little issue, imperceptible to the novice eye, can ultimately lead to death of the horse. They require more than love and carrots. What also required mention is that your nice rescue may get a little pushy with you, then a little more, then a little more, and now that beginner safe husband horse is a dangerous animal because the novice horse owner let him get away with things he shouldn’t have, or somehow “rewarded” (in the horse’s mind) bad behavior. If you can’t understand the message in this article then YOU are a novice owner and someone may one day end up saving your rescues. No, maybe not because you got rid of them at auction–you sold them or gave them away to another great, living home because they were difficult. It’s the next guy who will send them to auction.

    2. If only “experts” could own horses, then nobody would ever own a horse. I got my first pony when I was 12. I had asked for my own horse ever since I was a toddler, but my parents never entertained the thought until I had taken lessons regularly for two years. My dad required me to read books about horses (I can practically recite “The Complete Book of Horses and Ponies” word for word to this day), do my own research about how to keep horses safe and healthy, and find out how much it would all cost. We found a sane, older, 14.1hh mare with no bad habits that another girl had outgrown. She cost $100.00. I had to demonstrate that I would give up my free time to care for her properly, or she would go to a family friend’s cattle ranch for his young son to ride. I did extra chores to earn lesson money. I was required to join 4-H and attend every mounted and unmounted meeting, even if I had more “fun” things I wanted to do. Turns out, there was nothing more fun than 4-H, and I embarked upon a path that would include many horses and life lessons learned from each one. Horses are my passion, my companions, my livelihood. But above all, they are my teachers. I didn’t know everything when I was 12, and I am even more aware that I don’t know everything now that I’m 60. You don’t need to be an expert to own a horse. You do, however, need to have knowledge and a plan. Part of the plan is being receptive to the idea that you will always need more knowledge.

      1. But the point is that you had people who knew what they were doing to help you, and you were receptive to learning. The article is pointing out that too many people think they know what they’re doing, and then don’t listen or seek out help.

    3. I agree I rescued a horse 5 years ago now at the age of 60 me not horse I soon found how hard it was to try to give a horse away my only option was to learn how to look after him I Now have a loveable boy who’s in local shows. I made it my job to learn what I could but the biggest thing he needed was love and lots to eat yep he took all my money. But in this throw away society I couldn’t just abandon him so it’s not really true you have to be an expert just have common sense and aware that they are a dangerous animal I learnt that horsey people will always help each other I love my boy and so glad I stuck it out with him

      1. You made a serious commitment to him and lived up to it. You got help when you needed it. That’s what’s required.

  7. Defensive? I was stating my opinion on the whole matter, and the word snobbery set you off obviously. Hmmmm very telling.
    It states that very rarely and only when the stars align does it ever work out with first-time owners. If a rescue is as caring as they should be, they provide help and guidance for new adopters and fosterers. They don’t make remarks that deters well-meaning people from making a difference. Remarks that state if you don’t know it all than you are doing a disservice to the horse. I agree with getting guidance, but I don’t agree with the experts only remarks.
    If a person gets a horse and doesn’t care for it properly, it is that person’s neglectfulness, not their ignorance. You can find guidance from the rescue, and from neighbors and friends. It takes a village, but you don’t need to be an expert to care.

  8. I was a newbie 6 years ago yes I’ve been around horses my whole life I was a stable hand at a couple barns had some lessons rode with friends took more lessons took in every ounce of advice I could read every book I could get my hands on but what I’ve learned so far about owning horses is horses aren’t by the book and not what you learn from others the horse itself will teach you what you need to know if you only know how to listen to them yes learning from instructors is valuable learning their body language is the main key I bought a horse she was 3 at the time I was 19 she was my first horse the man taught me how to train them with her still had no idea what I was doing but I did have help I didn’t go it alone and I had a very good high paying job at the time so I bought a horse. Since then I’ve been on top with them an on bottom my horses are always cared for they have what they need before I get what I need so I know their takin care of to call yourself an expert is a highly egotistical maniac thing to say no one is an expert we all still learn Day to Day about our beauties if your an expert you wouldn’t continue to learn about them and people no matter how long they’ve been in the horse world still continue to learn experts don’t exist point blank they don’t end of story I was a newbie partially still am but I love my horses an my horses love me and their very tolerable of me I still take lessons when I can to make sure I’m still on the right track your never alone when you own horses unless you make it that way there’s always another horse person willing to help. Expert hahaha that’s ignorance at least the newbie knows they know nothing lol

  9. Thanks for posting. Yes, there are exceptions, but the norm is exactly as you said. I think back to my first few years as an adult horse owner and it astounds me that they survived my lack of experience and knowledge. Thank God they’re still the kind and gentle souls they were a dozen years ago.

    Years of lessons, volunteering, reading, researching and studying highly respected people like Tom and Bill Dorrance and Buck Brannaman, asking a million questions and listening are paramount to good horsemanship, but I think the most important quality is HUMILITY. There is always so much more to learn!
    We have to be willing to humble ourselves and admit that we don’t know everything, and never will. Our horses deserve nothing less.

  10. The same can be said for any animal we take into our care.
    Horses In pasture, dogs on chains, cats left out to mouse and roam.
    We treat them as disposable far too often

  11. Karen, look up the word expert in the dictionary. Then read the article over again. Also in your situation you have much to learn for the sake of the rescued horses you have taken on. I also think you should do more listening and less babble and blame. The experts you say who are disposing unwanted horses are usually only expert businessmen not expert horseman. And you will be humbled if you stick it out for the long haul, then you will understand the meaning behind this article, but with this attitude, it’s a bad start! Good luck…

    1. Good point. There are far too many “expert” businessmen, showmen, and charlatans passing themselves off as expert horsemen to make a quick buck. A true expert doesn’t have to prove their expertise with big claims and applause. They let their horses speak for themselves.

  12. Wow!!! Who is an expert? I have been a round and owned and rode horses in my younger days. Never had a lesson or anyone who claimed to be an expert. Some horse people have always had the title of (Snobs) that is the horse owners that you sound like. But there are also trainers out there who do not claim to be the expert that do a very good job. You make it sound like any horse that someone owns should be the Cadillac. Horses are only as expensive as you make it. Your article was not helpful, it was rather insulting to many horse owners. Are you an expert because you rescue horses? Do you have a certificate for being an expert? Your point could have been made had you used better wording, but you do sound like a snob inn your writing.

  13. There is no such thing as an Equine Expert period!
    That’s just like saying that a horse is “bombproof”.

    Even the so-called professionals are not experts. And any good professional will tell u so! They will say that they learn something new everyday! Even when they do clinics!
    If you believe thatu r an expert. That’s when someone’s gonna be overly confident and will get hurt or maybe, God forbid, killed!

  14. Rather than pick at the word expert, I think it is better to concentrate on how inexpert many first-time horse owners are and the damage they do to horses.

  15. I guess most mid-western farm kids and Native Americans have been doing it wrong for centuries then. I guess they never read any expert advice. I agree horses are expensive and a commitment like any other animal you purchase or adopt. I got my first horse at 4 yrs old and still have horses at 60 and yet I would never tell anyone they need to go talk to an “expert” unless they were having a serious problem that time and effort doesn’t fix. Health issues being the exception – knowing and using a good vet is necessary. It really isn’t rocket science and opinions in the horse world are hard to get away from at the local feed/tack store. The biggest part is starting and having a good relationship with the animal – no matter what species.

  16. If you keep horses on your own property, the expenses of hay, grain, bedding, farrier, deworming, spring and fall vax, tack etc. does not include emergency visits from vet. Better have an emergency fund tucked away. Take it from someone that has had vet bills in the thousands.

  17. I think when some read this article, maybe they breezed through it. The author did not say “the only people that should own horses are experts”.
    The whole point is that caring for anything is complicated. Yes, horses and most things can get by on bare minimum care and knowledge. But why wouldn’t it be best to strive for better? To not have to sell the house or kill the horse to pay a vet bill or avoid it?
    The entire point is if you want to care for any living thing, you should be humble enough to seek help, training, education, and not think that it’s no big deal. If we’re going to take ” ownership ” of another being, for crying out loud don’t be a know it all. Yes, an educated beginner can own a horse. The author stated that. Instead of everyone getting all upset, why not take a step back and double check yourself? Is there anything that could be improved? Anything that’s been put off? For the sake and sanity of the horse, check into it. We could all learn a thing or two. I’ve been riding for 28 years and I can’t properly execute a proper half halt. But I’m learning. And laughing.

  18. Totally right i have been riding horses 2 times a week for the past seven years and i have seen a lot of good horses ruined

    1. Grace? how is it that you happen to have seen so many “good horses” ruined? I cant even imagine that being true, 2 x a week for 7 years…. and you have seen all this? I have my reservations on your opinion about what you “have seen” and what you “think you know”.

  19. I started owning horses when I was 6 and I never stopped. does this make me an expert? I sure was no expert at 6 and my parents were not experts either. but they are now.

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