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Evaluating Temperment
 Moderated by: DrDeb  
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Joined: Wed May 9th, 2007
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 Posted: Sun Jul 1st, 2007 04:20 am
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I'm thinking about buying a two year old but have relatively little experience with youngsters.  The horse I am considering has not (thankfully) been started under saddle but has been worked with and handled.  When I go to look at him, what might be some good ways to get to know something about his personality and temperment? 

My plan is to introduce myself to him by asking for some basic leading skills (stop, start, turn, back up), groom him and evaluate his comfort level with having my hands all over his body (NOT in any sort of rowdy way), turn him back out and let him chill for awhile, and then have another brief session of working and chatting with him. I realize that this will tell me alot about his willingness and ability to tune into me and his comfort level with being handled, but I don't know how much it will tell me about how he deals with learning new tasks or facing challenges.  Are there other things I should ask of him or look for?  I'd be grateful for any suggestions.


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 Posted: Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 08:55 am
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Shawna -- Making a good choice in a horse to purchase, as far as what is called "temperament" is concerned, is a question of experience on the one hand, and personal taste on the other. You earn the right to have the personal taste once you have gained the experience.

As you gain experience, you will have more and more ability to know pretty much from the beginning what you have in the horse. But it is never a 100% certain deal; in other words, all horses after you purchase them are going to show you some facets of their personality (or hors-a-nality) that will come as surprises. This is because you're in this to make friends, but friendship is an ongoing takes time to unfold.

You're also going to make some compromises, and you're going to do this from the outset, knowing that is what you're doing. Because you're never going to find the "perfect" horse, any more than you are going to find the "perfect" life partner. "Perfect" wasn't one of the product descriptions on the cosmic itinerary sheet. What is on there instead is a whole list of other stuff -- reliable/unreliable, sweet/serious, clown/gentleman, energetic/laid back, quick as a whip/a muller of things over, easily motivated/cautious, hardy/wimpy, trusting/reserved, and on and on. So you get to pick "one from column A, two from column B", but you don't get to pick "perfect". You get the mixture -- some things you really like, some you don't, but in buying the horse you're saying you're willing to work with ALL of whatever there is.

The little bit of handling that you propose to do with the 2YO you're considering will not tell you much about his temperament, because that's not the sort of situation where you find out about temperament. What handling will mostly do is tell you how he's previously been handled, and how he expects to be handled. If he's been well handled up to this point, you'll enjoy the experience and him, and he'll enjoy whatever you are offering. But mutual enjoyment is not temperament.

Temperament is a deeper thing than that. Temperament you find out about by means which cannot be tested -- except by being in real situations with the horse. How you "know" about temperament cannot even really be expressed in words. There is a communication. A moment will come and you will see something in the horse's eye, or he sees something in your eye and that resonates in his eye so you can see it then too. Often, the horse knows more about you initially than you know about him, and he knows more about you at all times than you will probably ever know about yourself.

The most important aspect that is really a part of temperament is honesty. What you want to know about any horse, more than any other thing, is whether you can trust him. This is not a kind of "trusting him" that relates to any one specific situation. Rather, it relates to whether, if push ever comes to shove, he will wig to save his own skin and not remember, or care, that you're up there; OR whether he will wig in such a manner as to save his skin AND yours AND on top of that know consciously that that is what he has chosen in that moment -- and from the first moment -- in other words, he just couldn't do it any other way.

So, this is why I say -- it takes experience. I don't think anybody is ever really in as much control of their first few choices in horses as they think they are. The horse is choosing you, and maybe there is God or some greater intelligence that is also helping that, so you don't get killed while you learn.

The best advice I can give you, then, is to be sure to step back from the whole purchase situation as much as you can, and LET the horse SHOW you, instead of being so anxious to buy him, or so pressured by the sellers, or so eager to show how all your techniques are going to work on him, that the horse has no freedom and no chance to show you what he wants to show you. You let him show you, and then you'll know whether you should buy him. I don't know entirely how you'll know it -- there will be confidence, happiness, and a sort of settled feeling, but none of those descriptions is fully adequate. I don't know how you'll know to do the thing you should do, but you will.

Best wishes, good luck, and have fun on this -- Dr. Deb

Best wishes -- Dr. Deb



Joined: Mon Apr 16th, 2007
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 Posted: Tue Jul 3rd, 2007 01:37 pm
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Dr. Deb:

Very good reply overall.  One sentence caught my eye in particular as it was almost word for word what another friend said about his old favorite, for whom he still grieves: "he knows more about you at all times than you will probably ever know about yourself."

That is one of those profound truths about horses that has so much compressed in it, so many ramifications,  that it bears thought --for a lifetime.

My friend is a superb horseman who served as chief trainer in the last mounted unit to actually see combat.  He was in Africa, in the 1970s and 1980s.  He saw months at a time in the field on horseback, where he and his horse had to rely on one another to survive not only terrorists, but also attack by lions and other big preditors -- and to get through some of the roughest country on earth.

One day, he saw his favorite horse destroyed in seconds by a terrorist mortar round.

He has never gotten over it.

In writing a moving tribute to that animal, he called him " a horse who knew me much better than I knew myself."

Joe Sullivan

Leigh in California

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 Posted: Wed Jul 4th, 2007 02:29 am
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I had the privilege this past weekend of auditing the Ray Hunt clinic in Murrieta, CA.  My horse had a choking episode earlier in the week, so any thought I'd had of taking an available rider space were gone, and it was therefore much easier to concentrate on listening and observing, rather than doing.
As always, there are so many gems that usher forth from Mr. Hunt's mouth, and applicable to this thread is the following, which is a paraphrase:  You think you know your horse, but I can guarantee that that animal under you knows you 10 times better than you know him. 
And ain't that the truth, which speaks not only to the sensitivity and intelligence of the horse, but raises the question:  Are you fair and fine and consistent enough to measure up  to your horse?
Just for fun, there's a wonderful poemabout choosing that special equine at (click on the Sale Horses icon on the home page).  It's called "Heart."



Joined: Wed May 9th, 2007
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 Posted: Wed Jul 4th, 2007 03:59 am
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Dr. Deb,

Thank you so much for your reply; it gets to the heart so effectively of what I so inexpertly was trying to express.  My sense that the quality I am looking for can't really be tested for both inspired the initial question and caused me to be dissatisfied with the way I asked it. 

It is, in fact, precisely this issue of trust, of wanting to divine how a horse will react in a really difficult situation that was behind the initial question.  When I was much younger and far more foolish I made the mistake of buying a 3 yr old off the track who not only was willing to wig to save his own skin, but would sometimes wig in ways that put both of us in jeaporady.  Pride, lack of knowledge, and a misplaced sense of loyalty caused me to keep trying with him for years after I had become utterly terrified of him, which was, to say the least, a disservice to us both. 

I have made better decisions and had much better relationships with horses since then, but it is a desire not to repeat that earlier mistake that makes me anxious about evaluating this youngster now.  Yet on some level I also know that this previous experience has given me valuable information that will help me make better choices now, and the ability to recognize and admit when I need help. 

And of course relationships take time to build.  So much of the fun of working with horses comes from the process of building those relationships.  All I am really asking is that the horse I ultimately select be level headed and generous enough not to endanger himself or me in a tight situation. 

So I will go check out this guy with an open mind, and try to present myself to him as I am, with both my virtues and my faults, and to listen to what he has to say to me.  I will try my best to step back from side issues (breed, movement, how "cute" or "sweet" he might seem on the day) and just try to be honest about whether or not there was a connection. 

Leigh-- thanks for sharing the poem.  I really enjoyed it.  Isn't heart all we ever really want from our equine friends?

So thanks again to everyone for the good wishes.  This really should be a fun process. 


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