Getting your first horse is a unique experience. It’s exciting, sure, but it’s also a bit intimidating, as owning a horse is a big responsibility. I got my first horse when I was 10, and I think that’s a decent age to get in touch with the equine world. We can watch horse movies, read about them, and watch equestrian events for years. Nothing compares to riding a horse for the first time, feeding it for the first time, and bonding with your first horse.
But what is the best age for your first horse? Most equine experts agree that getting a horse between 10 to 15 years is the way to go. At that age, the horse has matured and there’s a good chance that it is very much used to being around humans. Furthermore, horses aged between 8 and 12 have usually received some form of training.
There is no definitive rule.
The truth is that it all depends on the horse. I know this is not the answer you were looking for, but I have to be honest with you. Some young horses will be very easy to live with, and they will give you no trouble at all. Even a 2-year-old horse can be an absolute delight to ride even by an inexperienced horseman. On the other hand, there are older horses out there that can be a handful.
It goes both ways as well. However, in general, the older horse will be easier to manage, and the younger one will need some work. It’s always a good idea to know the horse a bit beforehand, to learn about its history, its quirks, and its personality. Sadly, that’s not always possible when buying your first horse. Still, don’t be inclined to get what you can and hope for the best. While it’s certainly more difficult to learn a horse’s mannerisms at glance, you can get a general idea of what to expect given its age.
For a new rider, an older horse has its advantages.
If you’re a new rider, your best bet is to go with an older and more experienced horse. One that you can ride and enjoy spending time with right away. An older horse is usually between 10 to 15 years old, but keep in mind that horses can live up to 30 years or more. If you’d like to learn more about the average life expectancy of horses, have a look at this article that I wrote specifically on this subject.
An older horse will already know how to behave around you, and it won’t give you much trouble as you improve your own riding skills. If you plan to ride your horse every now and then in a recreational fashion, definitely go for an older horse. Just make sure to keep up with its health records. Arthritis and other medical issues become more prominent as a horse gets older.
The issue with younger horses.
Is it absolutely wrong to get a younger horse as your first horse? No, not at all, as long as you know what to expect. The main issue with younger horses is predictability. An older horse has been through a lot. It has received training, it learned to cope with its fears, and it has suppressed some of its survival instincts.
A young horse might be unpredictable when it comes to a certain training regimen, a riding route, or a particular exercise. It might spook easily, or it might be more prone to kicking. You’ll need to invest more time to rough out its edges so to speak. You might be inclined to think that a young horse will evolve as you do and that you’ll bond together as you both learn.
More often than not, a younger horse will get frustrated with an inexperienced rider and vice versa. Eventually, chances are that you simply won’t progress fast enough. You might not have enough time to invest in your own training AND your horse’s training. With an older horse, you only need to focus on bettering your own skills.
How old is too old?
We’ve established that an older horse is usually the way to go, but how old is too old for your first horse? Let’s answer this question with an actual example. Say you have a 12-year-old son that has already been through a few years of training in the saddle. You want to buy him his first horse but the only ones you have available are 17 or 18-years old. Is an 18-year-old horse too old for a youngster’s first horse? Not at all, if you ask me.
As long as the horse is sound, 17 or 18 years is not that old for a first horse. The only issue that I foresee is a senior treatment plan for when the equine does get too old to ride properly. If you have a property and the required facilities to care for a horse throughout its entire lifetime, then you can definitely get an older one, make the most out of it, then let it live out its senior years in peace.
An older horse has much to give, both in terms of experience and affection. It can teach your child the proper ways of horse riding, and it can form a bond that lasts for years. All that being said, a horse that’s 23 to 25 years old is usually too old to ride or to use competitively.
As I wrote in a previous article, green horses don’t pair well with new riders. Keep in mind that some horses might never really be suitable for new riders, even in their older years. Age is no guarantee for fine temperament or training ability, merely a guideline. That’s why it’s so important to learn as much as you can before buying your first horse.
Your first horse will represent a gateway to the equestrian lifestyle. If your first experience with a horse will be a disappointing or painful one, you might turn away from this lifestyle simply because you got the wrong horse. Hopefully, this short guide will help you make an informed decision.