Friday, July 31, 2009

Hot Horse/Crazy vs Cold Horse/Safe

The horse sale classified site now includes an option within their ad format that allows the seller to rate their horse's temperament using a scale of one through ten- one being very quiet and ten being very hot. I assume that this is meant to act as an effective tool for a reader to judge, at a glace, whether a horse falls into the category that would suit their needs and/or riding level....


Is being "quiet" synonymous with being "safe" and does "10" or "hot" really mean that horse is only suited for a professional trainer/rider and/or is dangerous?

Maybe we should first look at what defines a quiet horse vs a hot horse?

Most of us don't have any trouble classifying the quiet horse; Those that are referred to as bombproof, quiet, dead head etc. are most often those that lack energy... they are the plodders- happy to mosey wherever you point them and are not at all concerned with every little leaf (or horse-eating-cow) that blows across his path. Quiet horses tend to take things in stride and dont plan on going anywhere too fast.

Where as those that are truly hot are the ADD types-bundles of nervous energy that tend to react first and think later. These horses are often very expressive and quick to pick up on every little shadow, stop sign and heaven forbid, monster shaped rock in their path.

Somewhere in between is the horse that has plenty of energy to spare but are not at all manic about getting where they're going at a break neck speed.... and while they are aware, they are not anxious. These horses are quick on their feet but steady of mind.

So which horse is safe? The plodder? The Plotter or Mr. Middle-ground?

The answer, in my very humble opinion, is:

Quiet, hot or not, the horse that is safe is the one that broke.

* Broke? *insert sarcasm* That means they dont buck when you get on, right? *

To me a really well broke horse is one that is very well practised and extremely dependable at responding on cue to a riders commands...the most important of those cues being....


Go (walk, trot, canter/lope)

Steer (left, right)

In it simplest form, to ride safely, the above three buttons is all a rider really needs. Training a horse to respond to those three cues consistently and dependably should be the goal of any rider starting a horse, regardless if said horse is quiet, hot or anywhere in between. Wet saddle pads, a consistent and capable rider and miles are the only thing that can make a broke horse and a broke horse is the only kind that we can come close to calling "safe".

Too often we see are horses that are sold as quiet (but are not truly broke or safe) because:

Their naturally quiet disposition allows the trainer or back yard owner to produce a horse that appears broke but in truth is far from it. These seemingly safe horses are often bought by inexperienced riders because of their "hoodie-hum" dispositions, (especially adult re-riders and that are depending on the mellow disposition of their mount make up for their lack of ability.) This is a lot like what I call 4x4 syndrome in drivers- that is when people think that because they have a 4x4 they dont need to slow down during a snow storm or those who relate anti-lock brakes with the ability to steer across black ice.

Many people who ride "dead head" horses let their guard down, they don't pay attention to hazards, don't get lessons to improve their balance and are not actively engaged in riding and as such, when the rare occasion comes presents itself where good ol'quiet Fluffy decides to wake-up and smell the horse-eating-monsters, said rider finds themselves in the dirt. But I digress.

What I wanted to point out was the dichotomy between safe and quiet and that hot and hard-to-handle do not have to be synonymous. Much as one might find that the quiet horses can more easily disguise a lack of foundation, many hot horses are excused from "bad behavior" under the guise that dangerous behavior is to be expected from a hot horse. While a hot horse might need a better trainer, they are no less capable (if sane) at becoming well broke than any other horse. Even a very hot horse can be trained to stop on a dime, to walk forward quietly and under control and to lope off collected and on the correct lead. A hot horse has no excuse to buck, rear, bolt, run through the bit, or blow up than any other horse- these are vices, not a quality of temperament! A very hot horse does not require require an aware, confident and capable rider because they are better adept at staying on during a blow up (even professional bronc riders get bucked off!) but because, (like a professional race car driver), they are better able keep a hot horse in line, his buttons fine tuned, anticipate upcoming problems, and mentally match the speed with which all horses can react physically.

Obviously there is a difference between the two types of horses (hot or quiet) and their suitability for a certain type of rider (beginner or professional). I am not trying to suggest otherwise. And there are all sorts of horses with different issues, some very legitimate and others that are simply misinterpreted (the bucker with the back problem, the spooky horse who is hard of sight, the dominant horse with the passive owner). However, I am tired of seeing dreamhorse ads for "super safe, dead quiet, kids safe" horses with "30 rides" on them and people who pass off their bolter as acceptable merely because said horse is "hot".

While safe may be a subjective term when applied to horses, personally I look for an owner-operated gas pedal, brakes, and steering as standard equipment on all models of both horses and vehicles- whether in a Ford pick-up or Ferrari, and a hot blooded Arab or a quiet Appy.

"And that's all I have to say about that."
-Forest Gump


  1. Good post! Ha, the part about the 4WD and the ice...I always say that in the winter around here. People with 4WD drive crazy!!! Totally agree on the horses too. I don't think a "hot" horse should be given a free pass; they just might take different training methods. And overestimating your riding ability, even on a "bombproof" horse could definitely make for a bad situation.

  2. This is yet another great post, Chelsi, and I totally agree with you about the training a horse has. Although Bo is much calmer now, he is still prone to his out-of-body-experiences, but Amber and I have never felt that he was dangerous, because he is so well trained. He will still "listen" to his rider...even when he is piaffing, jigging, and prancing. But that also speaks about our riding ability.....

    I would never place a beginner on him and turn them loose-hence why I don't let my kidlets trail ride him-because the rider must have the ability and the skill to manage him during one of his moments.

    I have always said that the safest horses to do anything with, are the ones with the best/effective training. However, I do like a horse that has a lot of get up and go, and I am not satisfied to ride a super well behaved, never do anything wrong, type of horse. I like a little bit of a challenge, but I like it to be safe. :)

    Now...I happen to know several instances where horses that I know, who have NO training whatsoever and are what I would consider dangerous, get listed on DreamHorse as having a "1" or a "2." They will also rate them as kid safe, husband safe, bomb-proof etc...and I happen to know that the owner is afraid to ride, because the horse bucks, rears, and/or bolts. (All things that may be due to their lack of training, and maybe the horse has the potential to be great, but not at the moment)

    That is the problem with rating a horses is up to each individuals personal assessment of that horse. So, I try to ignore that rating, but it is kind of hard. I just tell myself that I don't know what the horse is actaully like until I try it out, right???

    Although there are moments when I see an Arab rated as a 2 and I snort a "Yeah, right," or I see a QH rated as being above a 5 and I perk up. :)

    Sorry for the long response!!!!

  3. I really enjoyed the analogies. I must admit that for most of my riding career I've rode "spunky" horses and what I've found is many so called "hot" horses are bored. They are looking for things to liven up their lives - and can they ever!

    My Arabians ranged from Mr. Steady Eddie (yet still responsive) to Mr. Tilting At Windmills. I must admit the last few months as I've scrolled the horse ads I've been a bit astounded at all these just started "quiet" horses. I personally don't consider a horse "broke" until you can do whatever your discipline is with the horse consistently well.

    When I had to rate Buddy I found it really hard - he wasn't hot per say but he was a jerk. How do you get people to differentiate the two? lol (I'm also vehemently opposed to beginners or novices having young horses.)

  4. I totally agree with you too.
    I ignore the ratings. Just because an untrained horse is "quiet" doesn't mean it is bomb proof. Any horse can blow up at anything at anytime. I think people forget that horses are prey animals.
    Brandy is what I would consider a semi "hot" horse. I would never put a beginner on her, ever. She is very unpredictable. But she has a lot of training. She just has serious insecure, anxiety issues that she will always have.
    I would probably never be happy on a dead broke, bomb proof horse. I like the challenge that Brandy gives me. Even Fritzy can be challenging at times with her impatience.
    Good post!

  5. I'm like Country Girl-If I had to "rate" Moon, it would be a real dilima. He is a complete dead-head. No spook, no buck, broke-broke horse. But he is a jerk. He had mannerisms that are extremely irritating and with his bloodlines...he could have been a hotrod in the wrong hands. And not one of the "fun" ones!

    I think you are totally correct about the "safe" horses often end up not being broke all that well and people excuse way too much if a horse is considered "hot".

    I have just pulled the "redhead" from pasture and he is quite likely the hottest horse we have. Very reactive. Very quick. And is a g.e.t m.a.d right now kind of horse. He can go from being a 4 to an 8 in the blink of an eye. Good thing Frosty bucked me off and I'm okie dokie with that now right?;)

  6. Good post. In my opinion no matter what horse you plan on riding, you had better know how to control a horse, whether it be 'bombproof' or 'hot' or anywhere in between.
    Like the analogy of the 4x4 drivers, we've got them around here, what a bunch of nuts.

  7. What a terrific post! Having just completed the shopping process I can say the ads are virtually worthless except for the few folks who are forthcoming. You have to know that no 5 year old horse is a kids horse and no green broke horse is okay for a beginner.

    So many of us wandering back into horses after a time are completely at a loss - often we had someone else making selections for us. We trust, we look for rating systems as if it were mpg or rpm or watts. But horses defy such numbers.

    That's what's so wonderful and crazy at the same time, right?

  8. So true what Breathe said...and what BECG said, too. The ads should cover a braoder #, like this horse can go from a 2-6 for instance.
    Of course, I think most horses can. They are unpredicatble by nature.
    I've ridden horses throughout my life and took lessons, but was still a novice since I didn't own my own horse and didn't ride regularly, until this past year. I had been on different horses...some mroe spirited than others, and have had to deal with blow-ups and spooks and had never fallen.
    I always thought when I did fall (notice I said 'when', because it truly is a matter of when, not if) that I'd just have a few bruises, instead of the major crash that I ended up with.

    What you said about 'dead-head horses' and 'dominant horses and passive riders' is right on.

    I was told that Baby Doll was 'bombproof' and she did seem that way out on the trail. When my neighbor's Arabian would spook and be nervous, Baby Doll would just plod along calm and realxed orjust give a brief snort. It was easy to let my guard down, even though I also knew that she wasn't bombproof and would actually blow-up at 'bombs'.
    She had bolted on me during a spook, did a spin and burn maneuver during a spook, and that last spook involved a teleportation of at least 5 feet sideways...not just once...but twice. I just couldn't stay on.

    I wish I had learned how to fall off safely.

    My novice opinion...and with my own experience tells me that having a willing, level-headed, calm...but not dead-head...or bombproof, is what riders need....especially novice riders.

    Another interesting thing I've noticed and now think is important to anyone looking to buy a horse is watching the horse in a herd situation. If you are a fairly passive rider, or not as self-confidant, you don't want an alpha horse or dominant horse.

    In the past few weeks since my mare has been out on leased pasture accross the road from my house, I've been made aware of how my mare acts in a herd of 6 horses. She dominates all of them. They fear her and she only has to give any of them a 'look' or pin her ears or take a step towards then....and they run away.
    When I bring her grain or a cookie, she comes up to me to eat and she squeals and kicks any horse that comes near.
    She kicked one gelding so hard I thought she'd broken his shoulder. He was ok, but he did cry out. And another gelding has cuts and hoof marks all over him.

    I tell ya, it's no wonder that Baby Doll and I were always arguing. She was always testing me to see if I was alpha, and even when I thought I was...she really didn't believe me.