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New homestead, buying a horse as a colt  RSS feed

 
christoph Berger
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Hi I am living on a 10 acre piece of land in vermont as of one year and building a house from the lands resources and starting a farm. I love horses and I have loved horses since I was a kid when I did some riding.having a horse is basically a complete necessity for my lifestyle and inevitably something I am going to do and I am good with animals and respectful to them. Anyways, I would like to buy a horse as a colt and I'm wondering what the necessities are for doing that. How much of my forest land do I need to clear for it to graze on to supply it with the majority of its food as a colt. And then as it gets bigger too... I'm in the process of clearing the land and establishing meadows. And I will build stables. I'm not using saddles. Also I am going to bring it to neighbor horse feilds so it can socialize and I won't need to have a second horse. So basically wondering what the costs are to do this in a very low-key way as I do with most things I do. And what my land needs to contribute. Thanks for reading this and I appreciate your help
 
Drew Moffatt
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An unbroken colt?
Have you broken one in before?
 
Timothy Markus
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Location: Ontario, Canada
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Andy's raised my first concern.  The second is that horses need much better nutrition than cows as they aren't a ruminant.  I think you'll find it very difficult  initially to grow feed of a high enough quality from converted forest land.  Many people (most) have enough issues growing horse quality feed on established pastures, so you're likely going to have to supplement very heavily at least initially. 

You also need to make sure that everything is completely ready before you get the horse, so that means established pastures and a stable.  If you start by establishing pasture, you can build up the pasture quality while you build your stable.  You're best bet to establish pasture would be with sheep or goats on a highly managed rotation. 

All that said, if you want to do it, you can make it happen and living the dream (whatever that dream is) is the best motivation.

Good luck with everything.

Mark
 
Sunny Aldrinos
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Location: Central VA
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"How much land to clear" depends entirely on your climate and how well you can establish pasture. Look at the stocking ratio for your area as a guideline (acre per horse) and then round up for the fact that it won't be established pasture. You'll still have nutritional needs that won't necessarily be met by pasture. This can mean hay or grain, but the right kind of grain. A fat horse is just as if not as unhealthy as a skinny horse. Research forage types, epiphysitis and laminitis.

I would caution you to take a good hard look at the plan to "socialize" with the neighbor's horses. If you mean they'll be sharing a fenceline and the other horses will always be in sight, that could work. But horses can bond very strongly. A lonely horse is one that crashing through fences and gets loose or injured. Turning them out together only occasionally is also a bad plan - they don't play together like dogs. Herd relationships are sorted out violently at times. A lonely horse crashing through a fence, or a well-placed kick from an irritated neighbor horse can equal a dead horse. And if your plan is to buy a young horse, find a good local trainer for assistance.

I say all this not to discourage you, but horses are too fragile and dangerous to proceed without a good plan.  (This is coming from over 20 years of horse experience, including as a professional farrier, vet tech and part-time instructor/trainer. PM me if you have any questions)
 
wayne fajkus
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What's your definition of a farm?  A horse is the least practical animal you can have. It provides nothing but consumes a lot.

My dad always said if you don't want grass, get a horse.

I've had 2 horses for 5 years and my dad is right.

The ONLY way I justify them is by importing humus. I buy hay and scoop poop and spread it on my fields.
 
K Putnam
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Horses are herd animals.  They generally require buddies to live normal lives.  Buying a young horse and expecting it to live alone will likely result in an unhappy, confused animal.

Costs:

Hay.  Depends on the size and breed of the horse.  A significant expense.
Some sort of appropriate concentrated feed and vitamins.   Can range from $30 - $300 /month depending on the nutritional needs of th horse.
Trimming and/or shoeing every six weeks.  Do not attempt to do it yourself. You will cripple the animal.   $40-$200+, depending on the needs of the horse.
Routine veterinary care:  Dental floats, vaccinations, fecal exams.  Absolute minimum $300 per year.
Emergency veterinary care:  Reserve of $2,000 per year.
Dewormer as needed by evidence-based fecal exams.

Training for you and the horse, minimum of $200/month, likely much more.

Tack, blankets, grooming supplies, veterinary supplies, barn maintenance, fencing maintenance, and so on.

Horses are not to be entered into lightly and I would like recommend finding a mentor and committing to spending significant time per week around them before considering purchasing one.

A green horse and a green horse owner are one of the most dangerous combinations in the world.  It's a great way to get killed or permanently disabled.
 
Drew Moffatt
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Some of the costs listed above seem excessive, we trim our own horses feet as required some more than others. We don't feed hay or grain just grass and whatever shrubs/trees they can reach, we certainly don't drench or get the vets out annually.
Also we train our own, its people that need the training. Animals are quick to learn if you do it right.
 
Sunny Aldrinos
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Location: Central VA
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Just saw that you're in Vermont. Year round grass is almost out of the question in that climate, especially if you're having to clear to establish pasture. Horse quality round bales are also much less commonly produced and fed in New England. Maybe you'll find a source near you, but where I grew up in MA (very near the VT border) almost all round bales made by local farmers were cow hay. There's a difference and trying to get by with poor quality hay means a malnourished horse at best and a dead horse at worst. Horses can't eat what cows can.

To back up what K Putnam is saying - right now in my backyard I have three horses that have come to me from novice or hands-off owners. I've taken these horses on to help out their owners who were otherwise out of options. One was crippled and in extreme pain from having been kept out in the pasture with the owner's cows. This was not especially rich grass, but it was still too much for this pony - he became extremely obese and his feet were overgrown. When I saw him on the farm, I cut off 4" of excess hoof and still had more to go, but was reluctant to proceed without veterinary intervention. This type of laminitis can be deadly. The owner was not able to commit to keeping the pony in a dry lot on a diet or able to afford x-rays of the feet. So, the pony came home with me. 6 months later he's ditched the excess weight, but his feet will take at least a year to rehab and will never be normal. In speaking with the old owner, I am going to try to rehome him, but have learned that the pony won't tolerate a grazing muzzle and won't stay in electric fencing, and has also dumped all the kids in previous re-homing attempts. So it's going to be a long road for me to get rid of this thing! The owner didn't have the knowledge to realize how dangerous this pony's "limp" was, and how close it was to being an irreparable condition. 

The next two came to me by way of inexperienced owners causing training problems. One is a young and gorgeous horse purchased because the owner "always wanted a horse and he had a beautiful spirit." They were not prepared for the costs of horse ownership, and it's an absolute miracle she was not injured by this increasingly headstrong, large young horse that never had boundaries set or rules about personal space enforced. I took a chance on him and because of the lack of proper handling, he had developed an attitude problem. Luckily I have not gotten hurt being dumped multiple times (ha!) but even with 20+ years of riding and training under my belt, I had to send him off to another professional for boot camp. He's finally coming around to be a solid citizen. The third horse is a combination of bad training and medical problems - an inexperienced owner started following a popular "natural horsemanship" trainer who is known for their dvd's and bad ideas. The way the theories were implemented by someone who couldn't read horse body language created a horse that now bolts backwards in a panic at the drop of a hat in response to any situation. SO incredibly dangerous to humans and the horse. The horse is now blind in one eye from being tied by someone who said "Oh, she's been doing so much better!" and after the horse panicked and bolted backwards, the snap shot straight into her eye and detached the retina.

Like I said, not trying to be discouraging, but a mentor or lessons or training is incredibly important because horses can kill themselves in creative ways and because of their size and flight instincts, can take you with them pretty easily. I've seen a lot of injuries and dead horses from the "it'll be fine" attitude, which is why I come across a little strong on this topic. I love educating people about horses and always invite anyone to come out and see them and learn a bit about handling and care. Horses are great! You just have to know what you're getting into.

 
Ray Moses
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Location: Brighton, Michigan
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Good responses here that I agree with. Been in the horse business all my life as a trainer and farrier and agree with others, they are alot harder and more dangerous to train then most think so consider buying a sound trained hores. And horses have a continuous and selective grazing habit so you generally need double the acreage that cattle require for grazing season. Most likely going to need 2 acres of grass during the grazing season and then a  corral to pen the horse up that the pasture can recover then plan on buying hay for winter.
 
Tyler Ludens
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One needs also be prepared to care for an animal who may live 30+ years.
 
christoph Berger
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Thanks everyone. I'm going to take my time and be sure I have things figured out before rushing into anything and thanks for the advice and opinions. I'm going to cut probably an acre of trees this winter to get started, add cow manure and lime and seed pasture next spring so it will be reasonably established after a year or so. I feel that a lot of the supposed necessities of owning horses is just like the supposed necessities for human living conditions but Im happy living in the woods in a hut and bathing in a river and drinking from a spring. Going without electricity plumbing and whatnot. Anyway I don't wanna sound like I think I know everything especially since I have never owned a horse but I tend to think not all the cultural horse ways are completely necessary. Anyway I'm hearing all thats been said and appreciate it all so thanks again to everyone.
 
Roberta Wilkinson
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While you're thinking things over, you might also consider if there's another animal better suited to your conditions that could do what you want a horse to do.  Oxen are great for heavy draft work, or you could look at goats or donkeys for packing...  Maybe look at indigenous cultures in similar climates to your own and see what their traditional animal working relationships look like. 

Just as an example, when we moved out here I was sure I wanted goats.  Buuuut... goats in this area need a lot of mineral supplementation and don't really thrive in the wet.  After a lot of looking and thought, we ended up with Black Welsh Mountain Sheep instead - they're bred for cool wet conditions and can thrive on forage here year 'round.  I could have goats, people here do it, but it felt like forcing a situation that wasn't really a good fit just for the sake of what I thought I wanted, when the sheep can also clear brush, give fiber, milk, and meat, more or less like the goats would have, but with much less strain on us and them.
 
Annie Lochte
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I keep a horse as an 'only horse'. She has goats for her companions. I have a lifetime exp with them. Her grandsire was a great horse, I bred him and rode him and drove him and as the decades have passed I kept this filly. I raised her from conception and she is 2 now and I havent trained her to ride yet. I'm older now and just don't have it to jump on an go like I used to. Never thought I'd be in the lead an feed brigade but here I am! She's a lovely filly that I feed hay an grass-browse and beet pulp and minerals. A handfull of grain a couple times a week. I only have 3 acres and can't speak on providing complete enough diet from the land alone but I do have this land fenced in approx 120x150' paddocks and each day she goes in one block to eat for 3 hours or so... She lives in a sacrifice area. It is bare dirt. She is now past the brat yearling pia stage and becoming really nice to have around... She looks to me as herd mate and I am dominate. All is good. It can be done... In my case at a cost of buying in hay, and I pay someone to trim her hooves, and I work in vet med field and just do very basic vaccines and wormings myself...
 
Tyler Ludens
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A strong person can learn to trim hooves themselves.  I learned the Mustang (barefoot) trim on my sister's horse, and loved it, but my back hated it.  Really it was so fun and interesting, if I had a strong back I would want to go into business doing the Mustang trim.

http://www.barefoothorse.com/barefoot_HoofShape.html

 
Ferne Reid
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christoph Berger wrote:I feel that a lot of the supposed necessities of owning horses is just like the supposed necessities for human living conditions


I would tend to agree with you there.

Everyone raises their animals differently, and just because other horse owners don't do what I do doesn't mean they are wrong. However, it's my experience (20+ years owning horses) that the majority of horses don't need a lot of the things humans think they do. My general philosophy is that I raise my animals as naturally as possible, and then tweak it as necessary to keep the animal in good condition.

Horses were created to eat grass. In most situations, that translates to hay for at least part of the year. Their guts are not really designed to process grain, and the only reason to feed grain is if the horse is unable to maintain appropriate body condition on hay alone. That can happen for a variety of reasons, but the bottom line is that feeding grain really doesn't need to be an automatic thing. You're better off putting your money into providing free choice hay, and then add grain only if the horse needs it. Grain is expensive.

You can learn to do vaccinations, worming, and basic vet care yourself. You can also learn to trim hooves yourself. I'm not saying that these things don't take some training and skill, but any reasonably intelligent person can learn to do them if he or she wishes to. Depending on your personal situation and how often, if ever, your horse is exposed to other horses, you may be able to skip some vaccinations. I'm not recommending that for anyone else here, but that's been my experience.

You can also learn to read a horse's body language and train yourself. Again, not saying that it's just a matter of going out there and winging it. Just saying that you can learn to do it if you want to.

Horses don't do well alone, but they will usually be fine with goats or sheep as companions. They just need another herding animal to hang out with ... but it's a must. A lonely, depressed horse can be a nightmare to work with.

Obviously they need shelter, but it doesn't have to be a huge, expensive barn. A run in that keeps them out of the weather is fine. In VT, you might want to invest in a blanket. You'll also need to figure out how you're going to deal with frozen water buckets.

However, I do share a lot of the concerns that have already been mentioned in this thread. An inexperienced human needs an experienced horse. If the horse is inexperienced, then the human had better know what he's doing. Otherwise, you're looking at a recipe for disaster. A young horse needs to be despooked, have his instinct to get out of Dodge at the first sign of trouble controlled, and be taught manners, or he's going to seriously hurt someone. And that's all before he even learns his job. If you don't know how to do those things, you shouldn't get an untrained horse.

Keep in mind that if you get a young filly or colt, you'll be feeding it for anywhere from 2-3 years before you can really do anything with it. Obviously that varies with age, breed, and the type of work you want the horse to do, but keep in mind that horses are generally still growing until they're around 5 years old. I know there are a lot of people who would disagree with me, but I prefer to err on the side of caution, and I don't ask a horse under 4 years old to do any real work. If it's a colt, you'll also need to have him gelded, which will set you back a few hundred dollars.

But ... I get that you love horses, and you want one. I don't blame you. So go ahead and clear your pasture and start throwing some seed down. While you're waiting, find some way to get yourself around horses. If you're creative and determined, you can find someone in your area who can help you out. Learn as much as you can. Muck stalls and throw hay and turn the horse out and ride if you can. Be there when the vet and the farrier show up. Always ask WHY they are doing something ... as I said, everyone does it differently, and when you have your own horse you're going to have to decide how you want to care for and train it. IMHO, feeding 2 pounds of sweet feed per day because that's what so-and-so down the road said to do is not acceptable to me. I want to understand what's behind that practice and then decide if I want to do it or not.

If I can leave you with one strong recommendation, though, it's that a young horse is NOT a good idea for someone in your situation. You should be able to find a well broke, gentle, older horse for not a whole lot of money these days ... they are a dime a dozen down here. Find one between 15 and 20 and you'll still have a lot of good years with that horse.

 
Drew Moffatt
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I agree with the above post, we go real easy care. No rugs(yes it snows and freezes here), only natural shelter, sometimes other horses for company sometimes alone as horses with separation anxiety suck.
I tend to find most people are making their animals into hard work when it doesn't need to be.
Supplements being a good example, we blood tested out of curiosity and it was fine
 
christoph Berger
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I like the idea of other draft animals but I'm really set on a horse just because of the riding aspect.since my property it totally forested it will be helpful to be able to get around there. And for work like pulling logs around when I build and Maple sap in the winter. I know a cow could do the draft work just as well but I like the riding aspect too mostly just for fun...but could come in handy too.
Anyways I might get a older horse like some of you were recommending, and I could maybe get a colt later when im more prepared to have horses. I think it would be fun to try to raise one sometime though. And I might get a couple goats or something to give it company but I am hoping i will be able to bring it over to neighbour horses frequently enough for it not to get too lonely.
 
Gail Gardner
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christoph Berger wrote:Anyways I might get a older horse like some of you were recommending, and I could maybe get a colt later when im more prepared to have horses.


You will be happier if you get an older well-broke horse that is a very easy keeper. If you really can't have two like that, get a goat for a companion. Horses do not like to live alone and visiting next door will only make that worse - not better.

If you weren't so far north grass might be enough. But you're likely to have to buy hay (unless you can grow it and put it up yourself). In Oklahoma and Texas, many horses live entirely on pasture. That works best with cold or warm blooded breeds - not hot blooded types like Thoroughbreds (although some do adapt).

Horses in very cold places need shelter. That could be heavy trees or a 3-sided run-in. People often treat horses as though they were people. They like cold a lot more than I do. And many horses live in mountain areas of heavy snow and do fine. Wild horses live in Colorado with no shelter.
 
Dawna Clephas
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A few more thoughts:

1)  Breed of horse-- this will impact what kind of shelter and feed you'll need to provide, and certainly the usefulness of the animal for your intended purpose. 
2)  Hoof care--  If you can handle the horse well, you can do a weekly rasping on growth and snags that will minimize the need for a good farrier.  But for a young horse you need regular visits from someone who can help you learn the natural angle and growth pattern for the particular animal.  And you need to learn the early signs of problems such as abscesses, white line disease, and laminitis so you can save the horse and your budget.
3)  Water-- A horse in winter tends to drink less water if it's cold water.  That can lead to colic, which can lead to death or expensive surgery. One of the best health measures to take for your horse is to ensure plenty of clean, cool water on a very regular basis.  A cattle fountain is great for this-- freeze proof  (mostly), protected from varmints, and always groundwater temperature.
4)  Diseases and Vaccines--  if your neighbor's horse goes to a show and comes back to socialize with yours, your horse is at risk.  If you have mosquitoes, wild birds (West Nile), possums, snails, open water, foxes, flies...find out what diseases are common in your region and vaccinate accordingly.  Rabies and tetanus are the absolute minimum.  I have 8 horses and cannot afford to have a vet do them, so I teach them to put up with a few needle jabs from me each year.
5)  Worms - An adult horse cam resist damage from many parasites if he has a strong immune system.  A young horse is very vulnerable to damage that you can't easily see, but may compromise his health and utility permanently.  If you can't afford regular fecal exams (to see exactly what the colt has got), maybe go with regular commercial products, rotating active ingredients, for the first 2 or 3 years of life.  He WILL get worms.  The key is to keep the population low enough so as to avoid major health issues.
6)  Feed-- be prepared to store feed and hay properly.  Avoid mold & rodent/bug infestations or you'll possibly have a tragically ill horse.  Keep grain and rich hay (eg alfalfa) secured so your horse can't self-serve (and founder).
7)  Secure premises--- Walk the property, all of it, and check for loose wire, nails, holes, downed fencelines,  noxious plants ( eg Jimsonweed).  Some horses can avoid every hazard, while others are drawn to them like magnets.  Young horses are especially curious.

Lots to consider.  Even those of us who have cared for horses at home for decades never think of everything.  But cover the basics, like with your kids, and you're 80% there....

Dawna in SW VA USA (new to site!)
 
Deb Rebel
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As a teen I bought a foal from a cousin (before the mare had it) and raised it, trained it, and sold it when I went to college (cousin wanted it back and I said I paid for it, it's going to the ring. He couldn't afford it...) A quarter horse bay that had some pretty good genetics, turned out to be a filly.

Four years. Daily work. Plus the keeping of it. But four years of gentling it, then breaking it, then training.  It was a lot of work. At the end it was neck reins, leg pressure (for roping you have to have some other ways of controlling it). I rode it into the ring with a halter and bareback, me barefoot, in shorts. She did everything I asked despite the crowd and she went for a good price...I needed college money. She was trained as a riding and a cowhorse/workhorse so that is more than the average hobby kept horse is trained to.

It was a lot of work and discipline for both of us. A colt? Are you going to have it gelded? Otherwise it will get to be a handful and a half as it matures. Trust me.

We didn't call them hayburners and oatburners for nothing. A horse takes a lot of feed. And as others have said, a lot of maintenance. Hooves, teeth... worming... running into something and cutting their legs up. Flying lessons (aka training a horse to be ridden, OR reconvincing them they're going to behave and work after a few months off during the worst of winter) are no fun either. I've had my share of being bucked off. Now a lot of horses are gentle once broke and mostly behave... 

Dawna has some very good points, and so does Gail. Look for an older gentle already broken horse. If this is your first pass, you will have a lot less issues. I was raised with horses and we had several when I bought the foal, and knew what I was doing because of all of that. Please update us.
 
Dawna Clephas
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Want to add one more thing, about your horse staying warm. 

Horses warm themselves by digesting roughage.  If it's super cold out and your horse has plenty of hay and fresh water, he will convert fiber to heat in his stomach, like a boiler, and will do fine.  (Keep in mind that his legs aren't as susceptible to cold as ours are.)

If it's sleeting, or blowing hard, he needs a roof or wall or both available. You don't have to close him in-- he'll go to cover if he needs to.  Since he'll be alone, he can't resort to the "nose-to-tail" protective posture common to horses in herds.

In Virginia I rarely deal with extended deep cold spells, but it can get below zero for a few days and has iced something awful. I put decent round bales out all winter to ensure there's always roughage available, and feed good squares at mealtime for nutritional needs (and grain, because Thoroughbreds generally have higher energy needs).  That works because my 8 horses will consume a round bale before it gets nasty.  With one horse, a round bale is likely not practical.

You'll need to pay particular attention to making dry, clean hay available every cold night.  And realize that if it's icy out, your horse might not walk a slippery path to get from his shed to the food/water location-- you'll need to blaze a trail (e.g.with sawdust) or take his hay and water to him.

Blankets can be tricky.  If your horse has been clipped for show or hunting, he may well need one.  Or if he has been in a warm stall a lot and you're turning him out on a cold day.  But his own natural coat is generally his best protection against the elements**, and he won't get it hung on anything  

(**may not apply to very young or sick horses.)
 
Katie Jarvis
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Physical necessities are just a windbreak and a place to stay dry - ours have a 3-sided run in shed. And 100% access to some sort of hay so that their hind gut can digest the fiber all the time to keep warm. Get a food book on horse digestion and read up. Otherwisd, water and trimmed hooves. Also, get a microscope and learn to do fecal egg tests - that way you can track parasites and know whether or not you need to deworm, and what dewormers are likely to work.

Teeth - the only vet care is their teeth. Mustangs have natural selection, so if they have bad teeth, they starve and leave the breeding group. Domestic horses do not, so they do have to have their teeth done every 1-3 years. While your horse may survive without this, it is essentially paramount to cruelty. Their teeth grow constantly and as they chew, their teeth wear down unevenly creating horrifically sharp points that gouge into their cheeks and tongue. While they will still eat to survive, they will be in horrible pain, and also become harder and harder to keep weight on. But otherwise, you can probably learn enough to avoid any vet bills. For vaccines, you can skip if you want, just learn the signs of the common diseases so that you recognize them immediately if your horse gets anything.

Training - I would recommend getting some books by trainers like Monty Roberts and Pat Parelli. You need to remember that they are prey animals (therefore fear and flight and their first and strongest reactions) and are pressure/release motivated. If you can correctly apply these concepts, you may be able to have success. In all my years as a trainer, I have never seen a single person fo this successfully. I have met countless people, and most of my clients, who wanted to train their own horses from a young age and ended up with a crazy horse because they did not know howto read and react to the horse properly. And usually injured people, also. You will be much happier if you find a good trainer to help you. They are not at all like any other type of animal, so it woll take a completely new way of thinking as well as learning muscle memory and reflexes to properly work with the horse.

Alone - if you're getting other prey animals like goats or cows or something, you'll be ok. If not, I would recommend getting a mini donkey as a companion - they get fat on air and require almost no care. They are generally friendly and would provide a good companion. Please do not take your horse "visiting". As mentioned above, the first week or so that any new horseare together are very violent - if you try to hold your horse next to your neighbor's fence to smell their horses, chance are someone will kick through the fence or try to lunge over it in their attempts to hurt each other. And yours will probably break free. They don't want a friend to play with like a dog, they need company 100% of the time to feel safe from predator attack because they are herd animals. They do not bond with people the way cats and dogs do. Also, young horses learn from the kicks and bites of older horses - young horses who are raised without an equine companion become dangerous because a human cannot exert enough force quickly and correctly enough to teach them their place. They need older horses to teach them respect.

I recommend a bareback pad if you don't want to use a saddle. Your balance will be way off if you've never ridden together and you will hurt your horse's back. Your seat bones will dig into his back when you bounce and you will pinch hom with your knees. Horses are VERY sensitive to their riders, and you will absolutely end up with a horse that hates being ridden if you try to learn how to ride, riding only bareback, on a horse that's never been ridden.

Please heed all of our advice - we have seen thousands of people attempt this and fail. Set yourself and your horse up for success. Find a good trainer to help you. Get some sort of companion for your horse. Don't learn to ride on a green horse bareback. It was different when kids grew up riding their whole lives than when adults try to apply the same thing.
 
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