Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The ad says the horse is bomb proof....now how the hell can we test that?

This will be the first in a series of evaluating the horse, including evaluating conformation.

Over the course of 30 years of training horses, I have been asked on numerous occasions to evaluate horses for potential clients as well as current clients. Most of the time they have found the horse on through an ad online or in the paper. I find that when the seller places those ads they very often use terms that will help sell the horse.

Today, I am going to talk about one term that is used that I absolutely hate, and that term is 'bomb proof'!

So what does that mean?

Well, that means that the horse will not spook at anything or blow up.....EVER!

Let me be the first to break it to you, there is no such thing. Every horse has a point at which they will 'blow up' at something. It may be something as insignificant as a gopher running underneath them (I have had that happen) or something like a truck horn. There is no way to tell what is going to set a horse off. I have had times where I can feel the horse tense up underneath me before they are going to explode and there have been times that there was no warning.

Remember, what the horse is like at his current home before you buy them may be somewhat different than what they are like when you take them home. Just like they may be quiet at home, they can be a different horse at a show or competition.

When I am asked to evaluate the horse for a buyer, the first thing I want to do is call the seller and ask them a lot of questions. Sometimes, I have to ask questions that I know they may not like, but they have to be asked before we go look at the horse. If the ad says the horse is ' bomb proof', then I will ask them flat out what it is they feel is 'bomb proof'.

Once I have established what the seller is trying to say, I will then either tell the buyer that we will go look at the horse or we will look elsewhere.

If we decide that we are going to look at the horse, I am going to want to see the horse ridden and I am going to want to ride him.

When I ask to see the seller ride him, I am going to want to see them walk, trot and lope/canter and back. The reason I am going to want to see the horse back, is so I can see if the horse is willing to give to the bit without going up. I am also going to want to see if that horse knows any lateral aids.

Then when I get on the horse, I am also going to ask for the walk, trot, lope/canter. I am also going to push the horses buttons by pulling on him and bumping them with my legs a little to see how he will react. I am also going to see what kind of 'whoa' the horse has. That is just something that is going to have to be done. If there are cattle, I will ask if I can take the horse on cattle, if the horse is a reiner, I will ask for the elements of a pattern, etc.

After all that is done, I will go stand in the center of the ring to see how and if the horse relaxes after he works or if he acts like he is stressed out.

If at that point, I feel that the horse may have some potential, we will then work on taking the horse on trial, though I realize that is not always an option that the seller will be willing to discuss, the majority of the time most sellers are willing to do so if the buyer is willing to leave a deposit. We will only do so, if we are serious about purchasing the horse. We will also have our vet out to evaluate the horse at the buyers expense.

If the seller is willing to do so, then that will allow me to try the horse in a new and different environment to see how he handles that situation.

It is so important that when buying a new horse, that you know where the horse came from and who trained the horse. Call the person that originally trained the horse and ask them about him, if at all possible, go see that trainer work. Doing the research before you purchase your new horse can prevent headaches later on!


fuglyhorseoftheday said...

I have told the story before about how my friend's 25 year old TB polo pony flipped over backward when he saw a balloon inflated with helium at State Fair. Fortunately no one was hurt, but that is an example of a horse I could normally ride anywhere with a halter and lead rope going completely ballistic at a spooky thing.

It does happen and it's why I get SO upset when I see people have little kids on a horse with no halter or anything, loose in a field and of course no helmet on the kid. I don't care if it's 35, SOMETHING can set it off and your kid can be DEAD. I am not being an alarmist. This stuff happens!

EveryoneThinksThey'reGoodDrivers said...

"Bomb proof" what a weird term. I agree, no such thing.

I agree that people have different ideas on what a good horse looks like, asking someone what they think that means is a good idea.

When I go horse shopping, I always have the owner or agent ride first. Then I ride. Depending on whom the horse is for, I'll make mistakes they might make - to see the way the horse handles it.

If all is good, and if appropriate, I will ride the horse out away from home, to get a gander of what they do when they are scared and/or what they do when they say "no."

My other favorite term is "kid broke" - I always wonder if that really means "broke by a kid."

fuglyhorseoftheday said...

I have a horse that is with a therapeutic riding program. Some of the tests they did when they tried him out:

Walked up to him shaking a white plastic bag in his face.

Bounced a ball off him and rolled it under him and bounced it off his legs.

Had the rider start to fall off from both sides (he moved underneath her in response, which is what they like for a horse to do).

Had the rider drop her reins and flop on his neck (he drifted to a stop - also the desired response).

These seem to be pretty good tests if you are looking for a little kid or disabled rider or total beginner's horse.

fernvalley01 said...

I don't know about bomb proof , kinda hard to prove all things considered . I did once know a horse trader that was a crusty old bugger but he was honest , I bought a gelding from him ,but only after I rode the horse in the round pen ,then at his insistence went out for a 2 hr tail ride ,crossed water and a busy road ,then went for a tear across an open field. He was not a beginer horse but he worked for me and Harry wasn't letting him go till he knew he did!
You don't find too many "dealers" like that

fernvalley01 said...

Forgive the spelling "tail ride" should read trail ride ! Didn't mean to take this somewhere inappropriate!

EveryoneThinksThey'reGoodDrivers said...

Ha ha - tail ride...

EveryoneThinksThey'reGoodDrivers said...

"Walked up to him shaking a white plastic bag in his face."

I personally do not like it when people do stuff like that.

I had a woman come to look at a horse once that (with no warning) whipped out a plastic bag while the horse was still tied in the aisle on the concrete! The horse was fine but I did stop her and told her if she wanted to do stuff like that to take it to the arena.

A woman that has a therapy program bought two horses from a customer of mine. She likes to see the horse travel, she walks next to the horse and leans on them (common sidewalker habit I am told) and then she rides and slumps over the saddle horn amongst other things.

I think if someone writes "bomb-proof" in an ad it is acceptable to expect the horse might be suitable for a beginner. It is amazing how often they aren't.

SFTS said...

I've told people before, the only truly "bombproof" horse is a dead one.

Surely I will be again accused of "copying" you JR, LOL, however what you do when searching for a horse for a client sounds very similar to what I do. ;)

One thing that is a huge red flag for me, especially if the horse is supposed to be a youth horse, or even for a timid ammy ~ the owner that won't ride the horse. Sorry, but if the owner's afraid to get on, I am sure as Hell not gonna put a timid adult ammy or child on that horse!!

Cut-N-Jump said...

The first rule of thumb anymore is having the owner, seller, agent ride the horse. If they won't get on, I'm not either.

They must know something about the horses behavior that I wouldn't and why risk it? There are plenty of well trained horses out there right now for reasonable prices.

Wasn't it HP who said she had decided she isn't going out on a dink horse? I totally agree with ya!

BuckdOff said...

A woman we know, bought a horse for a few thousand without taking anyone with her and after riding it once. He was supposed to be a jumper, of course she hadn't jumped him or watched him jump. He was pretty, she had the money and really wanted a horse..She had him shipped to a local stable..Guess what? He was too much horse for her, and when a trainer here tried him out, he attempted to go into the bushes and stay there, just refused to do anything at all. Luckily, the seller took him back, and another trainer bought him. Did this woman learn a lesson? Nope...She's back out there looking, but she's at a different stable now. She lost money on the vet check..But, the whole thing could have been avoided, if she had been honest about her riding ability, and had taken someone knowledgeable with her. The problem was the woman, not the horse. The money was burning a hole in her pocket.

CharlesCityCat said...

The terms bomb-proof, kid-proof, husband-safe, etc..., should be removed from any language. They do not exist.

Horses are not machines, they are living beings with emotions and intelligence base on what their species is.

To assume that horses can be bomb-proof is to prove that humans do make an ass out of you and me.

Dena said...

I have rode many bombproof horses over the years.
I know they were bombproof because each of the sellers had several bombs on hand solely for the purpose of demonstrating that their horse was in fact bombproof.

You know I am thinking if a bomb went off in the vicinity of where I was riding?
I would want that horse to run!!!
Not stand there calmly and wait for the next one.

Ever notice how many people are not willing to ride their own horse for a prospective sale?

Hey JR and CNJ go look at my beootiyful Sharem El Sheikh grandson.
He is coming along.
Definitely not bombproof. Not a hubby horse. And not for children unless you want to see how fast they can run.
Mostly just kidding...

LizBeth said...

My mother bought a horse for me when I was about 12 from a neighbor that was supposed to be 'bomb proof'. The neighbor was a long time friend of my mother, my brother and I had played with her kids, gone to school with them, etc. Definitely a level of trust there.

I rode the mare ONE TIME. For approx. 30 minutes. That was all it took for my mother to turn to the seller and ask for her money back. Said mare was barely broke at all, never mind "bomb proof". I remember that ride very clearly, and I can't remember any other ride that was scarier than that one. This horse was sweet and loving on the ground, but put a rider on her back, and she was a monster.

As for horses flipping out at the oddest things...

Just this past weekend my good friend at my barn was taking her very level headed, calm, quarter horse gelding out of his stall and was walking him to the hitching post next to the gate that led to the back yard of the house. Landscapers were on the property doing their thing, and they had been asked to clean out the pool toy storage area.

One guy walked through the gate with an arm full of those brightly colored Fun Noodles... the big foam pool toys that are like 5 feet tall and skinny? He was carrying 4-5 of them at once, and Wyatt took one look at him and EXPLODED - set back, broke his lead, and went about 15 feet backwards - all in about 5 seconds.

Never would we have ever thought that Wyatt... who's so calm that his joke nickname is "Wild Wyatt" would flip out like that.

Just goes to show there is always SOMETHING that sets them off.

Of course we all jokingly told Patty to go back and grab one of those noodles, and "beat him to death with a wet noodle" ... but of course none of us could resist THAT one....

horspoor said...

Big red flags for me. The owner doesn't want to get on. The horse is all tacked up, and has been worked before we get there. They don't tie the horse, or wont tie the horse. Horse is rude on the ground.

I want to see how the horse handles grooming, how he is about his feet, putting on the tack etc...

If I'm shopping for a client I need to be sure the horse is not just sound, but sane, and kind. I want to see their normal routine of tacking and riding.

Now, if it is a horse for me, I want to see these things. If it blows up in the current owners face, and I still like the horse, or I think it has potential...then I have leverage. lol Yes, I am that shallow.

Trainer X said...

AMEN to this post!!! I really wish people would stop using this term, although I know they never will...

pedfjords said...

I agree that the term
" Bombproof " is way overused and if a horse really is that mellow, its dead.
That said, I have found a great home for several of our retired show mares in a great therapy program. I found out tonight that a mare they have had on loan / tryout is also going to join their program.
She is not bombproof, but it turning out to be very easy and tolerant of their most severly disabled adults and the lifts used to get them on board.
DOLLY, the Fjord mare who is also at the National Ability Center is as close to perfect as they have seen, BUT, she does not like flash cameras.
My mare, Ayla, who is a qualified Search and Rescue horse ( and packed my butt up some serious hills, did crowd control at the UT. Summer Games, brought in the flag at a rodeo, and is a " rock star " as Jan likes to say ), BUT, she did not like cows. Never did anything bad, but I could feel her heart pound when we had to wade through them while out training.
" Husband proof " is even more scary. Dont even get me started.....

JediMom said...

I went to a Horse Expo one year that had the county sherrif's posse holding a demo of their desensitation clinic. One big thing they use are the fun noodles. First just being held, then in the air, then bumping into the horses, and so on. Hula hoops, beach balls, umbrellas, and strollers were all another thing they used. The lady doing the announcing said it the Dollar Store is great for getting the toys. It was really neat to watch and gave me great ideas.
I have to watch out though as our horses now think a baby stoller is a hay cart, my youngest is almost 4 so no worries now, but had to remember NOT to take stoller in to the pasture. I also let the boys ride their bikes around the arena and up and down the fence lines.
I don't like the terms bomb proof, kid safe, or hubby horse because everyone's idea of those terms are all different. It doesn't work.

windingwinds said...

Ahhh...."bombproof"....not a fav of mine, but it doesn't make my skin crawl like "I love my kids to death" or whomever, "love hubby to death" it's CREEPY!!

Nicole said...

My last horse was a former logging draft and the only horse I have ever thought was close to "bomb proof" At a kids camp someone popped a baloon behind him and didn't even flick an ear. Awesome horse. He was also old and had cushing, but an amazing horse. Quite fun to trail ride because he would look up and down big hills and then look at you like your crazy to think he is going up or down that. But he WOULD NOT come inside the metal roofed arena when it was raining. Broke railroad ties to get out.

JohnieRotten said...

I used to be a Thoroughbred trainer. Then we set the bomb off to test them to see if they were bomb proof.........now I am into Quarter Horses and Half Arabs. ; ]

Drillrider said...

I don't remember where I saw it, but saw a documentary on where the term "bombproof" came from. Disney made a movie way back when (in the 60's I think) about the Lipizzan stallions and in the movie they were filming a scene where the arena was being bombed during WWII. They had to do many takes of the scene and after the horses realized there was no threat, the horses stopped spooking (which was what they "wanted" for the scene), so they had to get some different horses.

I agree though......no horse is completely bombproof. I rode during a fair and a clown was doing a routine that included explosions. ALL (except one) of the horses shot backwards by about 10 feet when the exposions went off. We all laughed and said "so much for bombproof"!!!

I never take a seller's word for anything with any horses I look at when shopping. Also, I have purchased horses knowing full well the seller was lying through their teeth, but also knowing and accepting that I was willing to work through whatever issue(s) the horse had or else I walked away!

Cut-N-Jump said...

Ahhh, Kid Safe, or ridden by kids, blah, blah, blah.

We all know there are kids out there with no sense of fear or self preservation. Then there are those who take things a bit slower and are cautious in every endeavor.

Same goes for people at any age.

I used to ride anything you could strap a saddle on. If you couldn't saddle it I would ride bareback. No biggy.

Kid safe, kids horse, however you wish to phrase it, it too, varies by degrees and covers all ranges in the spectrum.

And like Dena said, if there are bombs going off, I'm not so sure I want to stick around. That horse better move!

huh said...

I have a great horse- she was used in a therapeutic riding program. Kids can fall off her, scream and drop reins, objects can hit her, whizz around her, etc. Pretty much a relaxed girl with commotion- I have photos of kids climbing all over her, standing up in the saddle, etc.
One day a young girl was riding her in the woods. Not really sure what happened but the horse came trotting back home without girl. I'm not sure if the horse spooked or was just irritated with her rider (who wasn't a novice, so didn't get all the extra special tolerance a complete novice gets) but whatever it was "Ms. Bombproof" dumped her and hurried on home without a second glance.
I absolutely trust this horse with rank beginners and can't think of a kinder, gentler animal to novices but she's a HORSE and who knows what might set her off?

JohnieRotten said...


We have a mare like that, she is the a red mare named Johnie, hence the name JohnieRotten. She is great with the beginners and will teach them a lot.

cattypex said...

Good things in horse-buying situations:

1) You've ridden and handled the horse for several months in lessons

2) Seller lets you have the horse on trial.

3) You've watched the horse at shows/trail rides/lessons.

4) You and seller are on the same wavelength.

And of course, make sure ALL paperwork is in order!! Buying horses on a handshake can really bite you in the ass, even (or maybe especially) if friends or family are involved.

Cut-N-Jump said...

CP- Good call on the paperwork part. Not cool to find out after money changes hands, that somewhere along the line the paperwork was misplaced, withheld or otherwise non-existant.

Laura Crum said...

Johnie Rotten and group--I have a bomb proof horse. I've known him since he was six. He's now twenty-one. No one has ever come off of him. He was once an old man's team roping horse horse (from seventy-five to eighty-one), then he packed a collection of novice ropers and little kids. I watched. I bought him at nineteen for my son. Yes, I suppose the right/wrong thing would make him spook. No, he will not do a stupid, violent, or dangerous thing. My little boy is safe on him. I have a lifetime of experience training and riding and I know whereof I speak. Bomb proof does exist. You could set a small bomb off next to Henry and he wouldn't flinch. If it was a big bomb, he would take my kid away to safety. And my well-trained kid, who has a good seat, would stay on. (And by the way, I know that anything can happen--nobody knows this better than me--I just wanted to defend the "bomb-proof" concept in the face of all the flak.) I know what it means. I own one, I refer to him as a horse that ought to be canonized. (Read my eleventh mystery to hear more about this horse.)And I put my money where my mouth is. I spent ten thousand dollars to save Henry's life--removed a large enterolith. My son took him on a trail ride in new territory today. We had a blast. Henry is worth every penny. Yes, bomb-proof horses do exist.

cattypex said...

"Bomb-proof" can be a useful term to describe a been-there-seen-it-done-it kind of horse, the kind that's a pretty laid-back, honest fella.

I really don't have much to say that's BAD about the term - just so folks know that horses aren't robots.

Heck, you could even have a great old family CAR that suddenly blows up without warning, just cuz.

"Kid-proof" doesn't bother me, either. I'd describe my dog and cat as kid-proof, though I had to go all dominant on poor Trixie the other night because she made the tiniest grumble when my daughter tried to take the bone out of her mouth.

Sometimes a "kid-proof" horse needs some adult intervention, too, but can still be a good mount for a little one after a small attitude adjustment or schooling.

(And NO, I'm not talking about taking it behind the barn and beating the shit out of it!! In fact, if the kid participates in the "who's riding who" session, so much the better. Just keep it positive and all that good stuff.)

"Husband Horse" cracks me up, because my own husband is 6'3" and somewhere over 250 lbs. He's been on a horse exactly ONCE, on our honeymoon, where they put him on a big good-natured draft cross. Perfect!

kestrel said...

I was in Costa Rica 3 years ago at a festival...and those people know how to train and breed. Fabulous experience. Over 1000 horses, mostly Costa Rican Pasos, dancing in the street to music for a couple of hours. One rider offered me his stud to ride, hell yeah! Drop purse and sandals, climb on, and join the party. What an incredible ride. The horses are gaited, and also have spectacular endurance and the nicest minds.
Half or more were stallions and not a kick or squeal from anyone, mixed right in with open mares and little kids, packed tight in narrow streets, doing dance off competitions in side streets. It's not like our parades where everyone just goes past, the riders and horses are milling around and partying for hours. Then you go to the fairgrounds, standing around visiting incredible horses and really nice people...AND A BIG ASSED CANNON GOES OFF!!! I jump about 8 feet straight up in the air, and not a horse even flinched. Those that do lose breeding rights. I have truly seen horses that are bomb proof, but I'm not!

horspoor said...

Well any horse can and will startle. It is kind of what they do with that 'startle' isn't. Some just look up, and see what it is. Others try to flee, others go into full blown hissy fits. Some kind of give a little hop in place. But all horses startle. Or have the potential to spook. Every horse can kick, every horse can bite. They all have the potential. Yes, it is very unlikely in some horses...but they are still horses.

kestrel said...

The startle reaction does seem to be influenced by genetics, also. Some bloodlines seem to be more sensible from birth than others.

Kirri said...

I used to train and sell children's riding ponies...just one or two at a time, I was going through Uni and it helped pay the bills.
They were "child safe" and that was how they were advertised.
If the right people came along, so long as they took out full insurance, they could take the pony on a months trial, at the end of which, or before, they could buy or return.
I actually never had this fail, the ponies were exactly as I advertised them, and the time they had with the pony allowed them to just relax and get to know one another.
I never had a pony come back, most times the people were demanding to pay after the first few days.
That way everyone was satisfied, me, the buyers and the pony!!
BTW I would always take the animal back, and a couple of times had them back after five or six years. No problem, all part of the service.
I agree that all horses have a breaking point but, so long as you fit them with a human they can trust, you often do not ever find out where it is.

Having said all that I had an Arab mare who would gallop through a stream flat out on a Hunter Trial course (whether I wanted her to or not, most times) and would have a hysteric and climb a tree if you asked her to step in a puddle!! She could turn faster than any cutting horse, one minute going one way, next minute going back the way we came.

michelle said...

Great post, and very true! I have enjoyed looking through your site.