If you buy a weaned foal or yearling, you must teach it to lead and be well mannered. Follow all the procedures described in the articles on the foal and yearling.
Physically and mentally, a two-year-old is only capable of working for very short periods. Like a young child it can only concentrate for a short time and it tires quickly. It may be slow-thinking and rather unbalanced. Be prepared to give it several weeks’ rest in between short spells of education to allow time for the new knowledge to sink in. A two-year-old may not be strong enough to back and you should not try to push things too far too fast at this stage. Even if it is alert, well balanced, mature in appearance and strong in the back, you should still not ask it to do more than a few minutes’ work a day. Little and often is much better than long, tiring sessions.
If you buy a three-year-old, you should be able to progress further. If, after three or four weeks of gentle work, the horse is showing no signs of brushing, clicking or forgeing – hitting the toe of its hind toe/shoe on the toe of its front toe/shoe – dragging its hind toes on the ground or showing general signs of tiredness or boredom, it can be kept going quietly for a few months, not necessarily being worked everyday.
A four-year-old should be capable of gradually building up to an hour’s work a day preferably divided up into two sessions and may be strong enough to be worked continually for several months.
If you are buying a three-or four-year-old that has been recently broken and ridden out a few times, go and see it in its stable first. Notice how it reacts to its owner or rider. Is it calm and confident when they approach? Or does it stiffen, tense up and move away from them? Does it look pleased to see them or cross, with ears laid back? These signs will give you a guide to the sort of treatment it has received and its feelings towards people in general.
Next watch the horse being saddled and bridled. ls it relaxed and confident or nervous and apprehensive? See its owner or regular rider on it first. Does it stand still to be mounted or does it move away and look back at the rider, tensing up as they prepare to mount?
Will it walk and trot quietly towards and away from home in an open field? If possible, see it ridden in the field with another horse and note if it will go towards and away from its companion without arguing and whether it behaves sensibly when in company.
See it ridden out alone up a road and several times past the entrance to its home in both directions to see if it is nappy. Not wanting to leave the home yard or to pass the home gate is a very common problem with young horses and will not show up if they are only ridden in a field or enclosed area.
Note how the rider sits and how obvious their aids are. See if the horse appears to be much stiffer on one rein than on the other. Next, ride the horse yourself, first, if possible, in a small, enclosed area.
Notice its reactions when a stranger mounts and rides it. Is it relaxed and looking forwards or is it tense and worried, looking back at you with apprehension?
Now ride it in an open field, with and without company if possible. Does it become strong when turned towards home? Does it try to stop when turned away from home and give you the feeling it might argue?
Finally, take it up and down the road alone and see if you feel safe and in command. Is it a comfortable ride? Is it reasonably responsive and willing? What sort of condition is it in? It could be very quiet because it is in poor condition or because it has been worked really hard before you came and is now very tired. Does it become tense at the sight of traffic or spook at things in the hedgerow?
Find out how long the horse has been in regular work. How many people have ridden it? A horse that has only ever been ridden by one person can be worried by the feel of a different rider at first. Has it been kept stabled or out at grass or half and half? What has it been fed? Has it any real likes or dislikes? Has it any peculiarities?
If possible, see the horse being loaded and unloaded. If this is not possible it could be safer not to pay for the horse until you have it loaded. Do you like the horse and feel confident when handling and riding it?
Remember that, as a general rule, most Thoroughbred or hot-blooded horses are quick-thinking, quick-reacting, more sensitive and more excitable than commoner horses. A horse that is less well bred, slower thinking, slower reacting, less sensitive and calmer in temperament may be more suitable for you.
If you buy a horse that has already been partly broken and backed, it is a good idea to revert to the early stages of breaking and repeat these yourself. You will then get to know each other gradually and the youngster can learn to respond to a new voice and new actions.