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Selecting the Right Horse
Once you've decided to adopt a wild horse or burro - the next problem is "How do I choose?"
Here are some things to think about:
- Conformation: Health
- Conformation: Purpose (Get the Right Horse for the Job)
- Your gut-level Connection
How good are your horse-gentling skills? Are your skills up to handling an adult wild horse or are you more comfortable with a weanling or yearling? Do you have a gut-level preference? Some people prefer babies, others prefer adult horses.
Many experienced wild horse adopters feel that three to five years is perfect: the horse is still young enough to accept domestication easily, yet mature enough to have all the mental and physical advantages of a natural upbringing in a fully functioning wild herd.
WILD HORSES OVER AGE 5: Many experienced adopters dispute the commonly held theory that older mustangs are too difficult to gentle and should not be adopted. Not so, they say. Any horse will, with time and patience, learn to bond with you. Some older horses, being very wise and intelligent, come around very quickly, as they realize they are in trouble and that you are there to help them. Now that older wild horses in holding facilities are not protected from sale to slaughter, it becomes more important than ever to consider adopting the older mustangs. Remember, in the overall horse world, 7, or even 10 or 12, is not considered an old horse by any means! At 7 they've just reached maturity, and most horses are at their prime starting around age 10 and into their teens.
If your reason for getting a wild mustang is in hopes of riding right away - DON'T!
Very few people will be able to ride their new wild horse within the first year. There are occasional horses who just gentle down and accept training very quickly, and a really good trainer can usually get a wild horse "green-broke" under saddle within not too many months. But for most of us, it's a longer process. You probably WON'T be riding right away. If your top priority is to ride right away, get an already-trained horse.
To some people this isn't an issue. Other people have definite ideas about gender in equines.
Mares are often more "cuddly" and demonstrative in their affections than males. They can also be harder to handle during their heat cycles, depending upon how are affected by their hormonal fluctuations. Many people prefer geldings for this reason. Of course, individuals vary.
Males come in two models: stallions (studs) and geldings. Wild studs are reported by many to be far more tractable than domestic stallions. This is due to the socialization inherent in wild herd structure - a wild horse who acts like a jerk is not tolerated by the others in his band. Wild studs do have normal mating urges, however. It is generally a good idea to get a newly-adopted wild stud gelded as soon as possible.
Geldings are the choice of many horse owners. There is an old saying that "Mares and stallions are good for making foals, but the only good working horse is a gelding."
3. Conformation: Health
Unless you are consciously taking on a rescue horse (and this is a wonderful thing to do, don't get me wrong!) you will probably want to learn enough about conformation (skeletal structure, etc.) to choose a horse who has sturdy legs and feet, and an overall structure that will allow a pleasant smooth ride, and will not cost you big bucks down the line in vet bills.
If you plan to show your horse, you need to choose an animal with exceptional conformation. Contrary to popular myth, such excellent individuals abound in the wild horse populations.
4. Conformation: Purpose (The Right Horse for the Job)
A good dressage horse is built differently from a good cutting horse. A reining horse needs differing conformation than a draft horse. A good barrel racing horse is built differently than an endurance horse.
Think about what you want to do with your horse, and choose accordingly. If you don't know what is needed for your chosen discipline, visit shows and talk with people. (Be aware that they'll probably also turn up their noses at your mention of a mustang - but consider that their problem, not yours!)
Temperament is probably the hardest thing to evaluate at an adoption site. The stress of being confined in a small pen with other horses who may be strangers to one another sometimes makes good horses look bad.
There are a number of widely-quoted benchmarks for judging temperament: Look for a kind eye, look for large, clear eyes, not tight, slit-open ones.
Watch how the horse interacts with others. If you want a quiet, easy-going horse, choose one that manages to avoid most skirmishes, one that does not seem overly upset by the more excitable horses, or one who seems sociable and well-liked by the other horses. A horse with many scars and blemished should not necessarily be ruled out, as it may be due to human harassment, injuries during capture or transport, predator encounters or a host of other reasons, but it is a "red flag" that just may indicate that this fellow has an Attitude!
If you want a horse for endurance or similar discipline that requires tremendous "heart" choose one of the more animated, even feisty ones.
You may see some of these traits in horses at an adoption, but do understand that such horses are stressed. It seems unreasonable to expect them to stand around, calm and serene, with big soft eyes, under the circumstances. Their facial expressions will change 100% once you get them home and they start to feel safe and comfortable.
A good horse is never a bad color. You don't ride the color, you ride what's inside the horse. That said, color may matter to you.
Certain disciplines that you may want to participate in, do discriminate against, or in favor of, certain colors & color patterns.
Or you may feel that, if you can only get this one horse, it had better be the horse you've dreamed of all your life. One's Dream Horse is usually a certain color or color pattern. Since your ability to commit deeply to the horse is THE prime ingredient for success, a color priority is legitimate. If you have a color preference, simply admit that you do, and don't beat yourself up over it.
7. Your gut-level Connection
The most important thing of all is for you to feel a strong commitment to your animal, because that's what it's going to take.
For all of the above reasons, Strawberry Mountain Mustangs encourages you to come for a visit. Spend some time with our horses and see how they interact. We won’t mind if you want to sit and watch for a while. This is not a decision to be made lightly, but a choice to be made wisely - and we want to help. The perfect horse is out there for you.
No matter how "practical" or "rational" a choice is, your adoption project will not be successful if you cannot, in your heart, commit deeply to it.
So, after considering all the practical matters:
CHOOSE A HORSE THAT SPEAKS TO YOUR HEART.