The horse sale classified site dreamhorse.com 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."