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Talk to me about unstarted older horses

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  • Talk to me about unstarted older horses

    I recently happened upon a horse that I quite like. Horse, however, is older (2001 model) and has never been started. She has spent the last 5 years as a broodmare. She is the type of horse that I like, and a younger horse of equivalent quality would be priced out of my price-range. That said, I've never ridden a horse started this late, and an informal poll among various friends hasn't turned up anyone who has started one this old either.

    So, what are your experiences/thoughts?

    I wonder whether work-ethic issues might be more prone to pop up. The horse has, after all, spent the last 10 years enjoying life largely on her own terms. On the physical side, while horse (and her joints) are obviously low-mileage, there are lots of studies that seem to support the notion that low-impact work is beneficial for youngsters.

    I have no desire to go advanced or anything like that, but would like to go training sometime in the not too distant future (i.e. 3 or so years).

    On the more practical side, if the price was reasonable and the horse vetted clean 5 years ago, would you be inclined to do an extensive vet check or simply take a chance? If this was a gelding, I would absolutely vet the horse. But then I probably wouldn't even consider an unstarted 10 year old gelding!

  • #2
    No. (I mean this in the nicest possible way, but, no.)
    After over 40 years of trying these kinds, my broken neck, back, ribs, sternum, toes, fingers, sprained wrist, ankle, anc multiple concussions have proven to me beyond the shadow of an ex-ray doubt that older unbroken horses are best left to someone else.
    It is my feeling that a horse that has gone to age 4 without being ridden or trained has been on their own so long they don't think they need anyone, and thus, have an opinion about you on their back. It's just my experience that younger horses might or might not yet have formed an opinion, but if you get on them or work with them while they are young, you can change that opinion. It seems to me, the older I get, the more that opinion changing thing with older horses is a waste of what precious time I have left.
    Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
    Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)


    • #3
      I second the NO.
      Have had lots of older horses to start under saddle and get to competitions and it is a longer ordeal than if they are started at a reasonable age.
      Work ethic is a BIGGGGGIE being herd bound comes in there also.
      If at all possible I would take her on trial first and see what she is like off the farm she has been on. If the owners are not willing to do that i would look elsewhere, just my 2 cents.
      Last edited by nextyear; Jan. 9, 2011, 08:53 PM. Reason: incorrect sentance and spelling


      • #4
        My experiences,
        I have a mare that was left pretty much to her own devices in a field all her life (she was hard to catch, her owner had lots of other horses and was always meaning to get around to starting her but never did) .
        I got her aged about 12 and backed her, she was very cheap, i thought she might be nice with a bit of tlc, and I took a chance with her.
        She's an absolute lamb and was very easy to back, has never put a hoof out of place. Shes not very keen on strangers though on the ground though, still a bit timid.


        • #5
          I say go for it if you like her! I bought a QH mare that was a broodmare until she was 10. At 11 she was then sent to a western trainer to be a trail horse for a husband. The trainer told me that she definitely spent the first 30 days in training hating life and not really keen on working, but once she realized it was fun,she was good to go. She was deemed too hot for the husband, and as I knew the trainer, I went out and took a look at her. I never looked back. We started jumping within weeks of my purchase of her, and she is now a fabulous eventer. She definitely has her quirks, some of which I chalk up to her late start in riding, but I just look at them as part of her and we go on. She has the best work ethic and is bottomless in her reserves. She is now 18 and I am hoping to go training this year. If you are looking for something that you are going to be able to resell, its probably not a good idea, but if you find a horse you like, age shouldn't matter that much. My mare has stayed remarkably sound through a lot of jumping in the years I've had her, and I chalk that up in part to the fact that she wasn't started too young and ground into the ground at a young age. In addition I already know that she is a proven broodmare, and so if/when I breed her in the next couple years, I am not dealing with an aged maiden mare.


          • Original Poster

            I should add that I sure as heck would not be backing her, there are professionals for that and I am more than happy to hand over the cash! A one month trial might be possible, and I think, ultimately, is the only way I would consider it. The horse has also been handled and is quite friendly.

            But I'm not one of those posters who is only going to "hear" what they want to "hear"

            Loopy - did you compete the mare? how did that go?
            nextyear - did you find that you had a lot more issues away from home?
            retread - does any of the above change your view? Or do you just feel for the poor pro who would theoretically take this on, lol?


            • #7
              Originally posted by Backstage View Post
              I should add that I sure as heck would not be backing her, there are professionals for that and I am more than happy to hand over the cash! A one month trial might be possible, and I think, ultimately, is the only way I would consider it. The horse has also been handled and is quite friendly.

              But I'm not one of those posters who is only going to "hear" what they want to "hear"

              Loopy - did you compete the mare? how did that go?
              nextyear - did you find that you had a lot more issues away from home?
              retread - does any of the above change your view? Or do you just feel for the poor pro who would theoretically take this on, lol?
              Actually most of the older horses I have started are better at competitions than at home, I think there is so much going on it makes them stay in tune to you more.
              The problems are at home or out for hacks.
              The trial period I am talking about would be to see what type of work ethic she has and how she reacts in a bit of stress situation, does she try to figure it out or get out of it?


              • #8
                I didnt really get her to compete as I have other horses, and she's not very big. I just liked something about her,

                I thought she'd be nice as a trail riding pony (is that the right American terminology?) she is a lovely ride and I also use her to lead other horses from on exercise.
                Also I do competitive long distance rides on her, which she IS good at.


                • #9
                  I bought Spy as a basically unstarted 10 yo. Someone had sat on his back, but he had not taken any actual steps under saddle.

                  He was (and is) the most anxious-to-please horse I have worked with. He was very easy to start and train.

                  But every horse is different.

                  I suggest you take the opportunity to teach the horse something new in hand (say, turn on the forehand). That will give you and idea of how willing she will be to accept training.

                  chief feeder and mucker for Music, Spy, Belle and Tiara. Someone else is now feeding and mucking for Chief and Brain (both foxhunting now).


                  • #10
                    I would say that it depends on the horse. We have a mare that competed this year in "baby green", at age 13. She has not been overly difficult to train / or ride. We did A LOT of ground work with her first. She was about 9 before she was first backed, and then a variety of small crisis put her being ridden on the back burner. We teach beginner riders on her now. She is on the lazy side, but that's the worst I can say about her.


                    • #11
                      Don't skip any steps

                      I think one of the issues that causes problems with adult starts is that we assume they are somewhat trained as they often lead well, tie, load in a trailer, allow the farrier, etc. This is not the same as training...it is socializing. Sure there are elements of training but it is not like building a work ethic. Building a work ethic is very important. It is teaching them that praise is good...worth working for...that work is interesting(fun even). Punishment is very difficult to teach as they are that much more certain you are wrong and the temptation and frustration for us is to punish harder. They need to learn what punishment is however you define punishment.

                      Their incomplete knowledge is very challenging. All this time they have known the rules...and horses learn things very deeply...now as you begin laying new rules they are going to be confused, belligerent and even mad. Do lots of ground work, assume nothing, when you are stuck know that you need to break it down a different way. Once they learn forward is good and praise is good and you are patient with their complete lack of fitness and lessons are short you will do fine.

                      There might be rearing and "no go" and dragging you off quiting...the hot ones do better generally than the really quiet ones. Training oldies is a challenge...think about teaching your mother or grandmother something new. I wanted to kill my mom when I was teaching her to use a mouse. PatO


                      • #12
                        Strange-from reading above I must just be lucky.
                        Currently working a 13 yr old never been broke pony-who in 45 days went to a dressage show and scored 65% Intro A & B-was fine w/ trailering/other horses/warm-up/ a little nervous w/ the gazebo but great overall...@ home starting to jump.

                        Over the summer-broke an 11 yr old suppose to be a Morgan for someone 30 days walk/trot, turn left/right/stop. Owner a very nervous rider-they are trail riding.

                        Previous-a few broodmares and 2 pasture buddies who "we never got around to it"

                        Glad to say I never broke anything on me.

                        I think alot depends on the horse, but alot depends on who will be doing the training.
                        My original answer was- Why wouldn't you.
                        But maybe for this question, go w/ the masses.


                        • #13
                          ...and resale prospects are not very good. I'd say as usual - it depends.
                          Proud member of People Who Hate to Kill Wildlife clique


                          • #14
                            I'm in the depends on the horse/pony. During my young and brave days I would go with the sure! Being older and more fragile I would be wary. Resale might be interesting depending on the showing capabilities. Work Ethic has always been the issue with the older started ones I have dealt with. It's not that all of them didn't have one it was you had to earn the ride cause they knew an easier life. But the same can be said of the horses coming off extensive stall rest as well, how many have not been quite right after the rest?
                            Adoring fan of A Fine Romance
                            Originally Posted by alicen:
                            What serious breeder would think that a horse at that performance level is push button? Even so, that's still a lot of buttons to push.


                            • #15
                              I'm in the "it depends" category as well. I've done a few older ones that turned out great, a couple that were unhappy to be taken out of retirement the first 60 days. But none that ultimately didn't shape up and turn out fine. Send her to a trainer for sure so you don't have to deal with getting past the adult "WTF DON'T YOU KNOW I'M RETIRED!!!" attitude, should she have one.


                              • #16
                                There is a reason they don't generally adopt mustangs out after age 5 or 6...most of them by that age are really, really hard to train.

                                I had a fantastic trainer a few years ago who wouldn't take a horse that wasn't broke before age 4. She had found too many horses who just did NOT want to accept leadership. Current trainer is less drastic but he is definitely aware that there are older horses who just won't be as trainable/easy/fun, and won't be the same horse after 3 or 4 years of hard work that a younger one would become-so he would pass on a lot of older, un- or late-broke horses. Both trainers are the types whose horses whinny and run to the fence as soon as they hear the trainer's voice outside, (and not because the trainer ever gives them cookies!).

                                That said, I bought a mare last summer, not even halter-broke until age 5, started, had a foal, weaned him and then continued with some training.
                                This mare is willing to learn and try, but if you are not FANATIC about having her paying attention and being light to your requests, it is like trying to talk sense into a railroad tie. She just 'knows' she can outlast you or be stronger/more stubborn than you, and you will give up. But if you can demand (nicely) that you are in charge, and she is to be paying attention and light, she really is delightful.
                                I rode this mare last fall when the cows escaped, she didn't give up and it was a job for three people horseback plus a dog...DH and dog came to my rescue an hour later and she still didn't give up, it was dark by then and we had lights from the 4wheeler in our eyes, I was very proud of her.

                                This mare would have been totally easy if she had been started younger, but I think she's worth the effort. She lived, turned out on 1000 acres, her whole life so she got plenty of low-impact work but wasn't ridden on immature joints.
                                I'd say it's not so much a work ethic thing, as an, "I'm not going to drink your kool-aid" thing...she doesn't see any reason to follow and be with you mentally, she's worked out how to do things her own way.

                                So my advice would be, you can give it a try for sure but be wary. A trial would be ideal, especially if you could so something like have a very good trainer start her for 30 days for you, you pay, if you don't want her at end of 30 days you don't buy her. If she was a GOOD broodmare, there should be some salvage value there. I would vet her (probably just flex test, no radiographs) and have vet do a breeding soundness exam also.


                                • #17
                                  I'm definitely on the "depends on the horse" wagon. My first pony wasn't broken until ~age 8 (just a couple months before I got him...my 12 year old self was NOT aware of this!) and he was a very good boy. Especially considering a kid was training him! My current pony also did not start under saddle until he was 11 years old and 3.5 years later, he's preparing for our first season at training level! He could have gotten there MUCH quicker if he had a rider who knew her stuff before he did However, he had been a driving pony for several years in his younger days and then was let out into a field for a couple years before I started riding him. So he did have a lot of basics already.

                                  I did check out one horse to potentially buy who was a true-blue hasn't been touched and only living in a field for years scenario. He was dreadfully heard bound and really really difficult to work with. He would refuse to move forward if he was away from the other horse and he would rear repeatedly. SUPER nice horse, but I did not have it in me to see if it was possible to work through that.
                                  "Last time I picked your feet, you broke my toe!"


                                  • #18
                                    I started a 7 year old who eventually made it to Rolex and a short list for the Pan Ams (didn't go, got injured in the last gallop). I also know of two mares who were broodmares until they were ten who went on to compete at advanced.

                                    That being said, he was, and would have been a very special horse at any age, because his work ethic and try were second to none.

                                    So, as mentioned, it depends. Many/most horses who have stood around through their formative and middle years tend to lack the inclination to have a job. While not an insurmountable issue, they can be far more of a project than a younger green horse. And some of them never completely come around.

                                    If you love the horse for you, and have experience starting babies (or have a good trainer to do it for you), it can be worthwhile. As a resale, or without the proper experience (or help), I wouldn't recommend it.
                                    Phoenix Farm ~ Breeding-Training-Sales
                                    Eventing, Dressage, Young Horses
                                    Check out my new blog: http://califcountrymom.blogspot.com


                                    • #19
                                      Originally posted by Backstage View Post
                                      I should add that I sure as heck would not be backing her, there are professionals for that and I am more than happy to hand over the cash! A one month trial might be possible, and I think, ultimately, is the only way I would consider it. The horse has also been handled and is quite friendly.

                                      But I'm not one of those posters who is only going to "hear" what they want to "hear"

                                      Loopy - did you compete the mare? how did that go?
                                      nextyear - did you find that you had a lot more issues away from home?
                                      retread - does any of the above change your view? Or do you just feel for the poor pro who would theoretically take this on, lol?
                                      Backstage, I have been that poor person, thus the recitation of my various outcomes with regard to personal injuries so inflicted by said unbroken older horses. Iffy iffy iffy. You will hear of all sorts of good success stories but my contention is those are the tip of an iceberg with a whole lot of unsuccessful stories under the water that you aren't hearing about. Certainly there are good ones but in my 40 plus years I have heard of very few. Nothing stated here so far has enlightened me to change my opinion. Those folks whose older horses who have been turned into good horses have all of my admiration and respect, they are true horsemen and women.
                                      Proud & Permanent Student Of The Long Road
                                      Read me: EN (http://eventingnation.com/author/annemarch/) and HJU (http://horsejunkiesunited.com/author/holly-covey/)


                                      • #20
                                        HAve had a few experiences with horses like this and, generally speaking they tend to just not have the work ethic of a horse started younger. Personally I wouldnt take a hrose of that age and bother with training it. I'd rather put my time, effort and money into one that is younger with a better chance of success, as wella s the fact that youa re limited in "time" once the horse gets into the teens, before they begin to develop arthritic conditions etc. It is possible that once in steady work, the joints aren't able to hold up and that would not be found out til you had spend a year or two on the horse.