As I was handgrazing Henry the other day, I got to thinking about how different he and Sadie are to handle. Not that Sadie is difficult, but she’s definitely smart, and if she thinks you’re a pushover she will both literally and figuratively walk all over you. Henry is more like an old lesson horse (albeit one who’s had too many cookies and is probably a bit spoiled but let’s ignore that). He’s just kinda there, and he might glare at you but he’ll do pretty much whatever you want without argument as long as it doesn’t involve putting anything in his ears.
Sadie, on the other hand, can smell dominance from a mile a way. If you’re assertive, she’s very simple. But if you give her an inch, she’ll take a mile. Her general temperament has a definite “Hmmm… how sure are you?” theme. This was illustrated really well when she was at the vet clinic with Presto, because the guys that cleaned the pens were very clearly terrified of her. They would slowly tiptoe into her pen, keeping their eyes on her at all times, and if she moved toward them at all, they would go running. I don’t totally blame them, she is a BIG horse that had a sick foal by her side, but I’m pretty sure Sadie found their terror to be hilarious and it became a game to her. Yet if I went in there she was a total lamb and I could move her backwards just by pointing my finger at her (which I’m fairly certain the workers thought that was some kind of majikal horse whispering voodoo). Mare ain’t stupid, she knows who’s alpha. And if you’re alpha, she’s great. If you’re not, you aren’t going to enjoy her very much.
Yet once you’re in the saddle she’s so easy and simple that it’s borderline ridiculous. At her first trail ride as a 3yo, fresh from the breaker, she was the bravest, quietest, easiest horse in a big group of seasoned trail horses. I can’t leave just anyone holding her unattended, but I’ve always been able to throw literally anyone up on her and say “keep your hands down and you’re golden”. And she was. A blind geriatric monkey could ride that horse. She loves to work and the answer is always yes. The more difficult it is, the more interested she is. She’s the most pleasant, happiest mare I’ve ever ridden. And she is definitely more rideable than Henry. I’d classify both of them as fairly easy horses to ride but he is more sensitive and naturally more tense than she is, thus he requires more tact.
Yet if you spent 5 minutes with each horse on the ground, almost everyone would probably guess that Henry was much easier to ride. I’ve noticed over and over that it seems like a lot of people think that temperament and rideability go hand in hand. You see it a lot with people that buy babies… “oh he’s so smart and quiet, he’ll be a great ammy horse.”. Enh… well… maybe. I personally have not seen a strong enough correlation between temperament and rideability to ever bank on that.
The only really reliable indicator I’ve seen is a genetic one, and it’s why rideability was so important to me in choosing a stallion. Some lines have strong reputations for making horses that are easy to train, ride, and are forgiving of mistakes. Others are known for creating quite the opposite. In that case I don’t care how good the temperament seems, I don’t want one.
But really, you don’t know what you’ve got until you swing a leg over and put them to work. I’ve had one that was super stupid on the ground but super easy to ride, and I’ve had one that was bombproof on the ground but a total moron to ride. That’s the extra fun part about breeding, buying a young horse, or buying sight unseen: it’s a surprise! Whether it’s good surprise or a bad surprise, well… that depends.