Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Ammy Dilemma: Schoolmaster or Greenie?

Nothing like experience
When you're a one-horse amateur, picking the right horse is a very stressful event. Most of us don't have unlimited funds and a private farm, and unless we're very lucky, we generally have to choose between an old road warrior or a young, green thing.

I've done it both ways. 

Here are my thoughts:

Plus he had scope
1) I frequently hear ammies say that they want a horse with enough scope to save them when they make bad decisions and use that as a rationale to buy a younger, fancier horse vs an older packer. That isn't necessarily bad logic, but here are some better thought processes:

  • A more athletic and younger horse is going to use more athletic and greener evasions that are by definition harder to ride. Almost no one gets bucked off an unfit old draft horse because, hello, that horse can't buck for shit. The same is not true of your young, green warmblood. I'm not advocating for unfit draft horses here, but you get my point.
  • A wise old campaigner has a lot more options than scope to save you with. Instead of relying on sheer athletic ability and raw talent, the horse can make solid decisions because it understands the questions being asked both by the rider and by the obstacles. He may not really want to leap that square oxer from a standstill since you completely buried him, but he can see that you're going to bury him and adjust accordingly. Or stop, which is actually about 1000% safer for everyone involved. 
Maintain that
2) Another common objection to a schoolmaster type is that a one horse ammy is going to have a hard time affording the maintenance that comes along with some wear and tear that you'd expect to see on a more established horse. 
  • First off, a horse coming down from a more vigorous career generally already has an established maintenance routine. Can I just say how much easier it is to budget for something that you know exists? 
  • This seems like a no-brainer to me, but I would always always always rather pay for some corrective shoeing or hock injections or special supplements instead of training and (unfortunate reality) medical bills in the event of a mishap. Horses are going to cost you money--be smart about where you choose to spend it. 
3) The last really big objection to the older schoolmaster horse is just that a one-horse ammy isn't set up to provide a proper retirement for that eventual day when the horse needs to step down even more. Having one horse is a financial strain and no one wants to set themselves up to have that horse be unrideable. This is a really hard question and I get it, absolutely.
  • Where there's a will, there's a way. I never, ever thought I'd be able to afford two horses, but last summer/fall, I found a way to make it work. Yeah, it wasn't a fancy showing situation, but everyone was having their needs met. It definitely requires creative thinking and hard work. It's totally worth it. 
  • No one likes to think about this, but young horses are far from immune to career ending injuries. It raises a lot of difficult questions that we need to be willing to address if we're going to have horses in our lives. 
4) Ok, one more. Be realistic about your actual goals. If you aren't prepared with sponsors and training facilities and a thorough understanding of the upper levels, don't buy buy a horse with the talent for Rolex "just in case". No one gets to Rolex (or Grand Prix, or Tevis, or what-have-you) by mistake. If you're getting back into horses for the first time as an adult, look for an appropriate match that will give you experience and build your confidence. 
  • Just because a horse is older (or less fancy) doesn't mean it can't perform perfectly well. This is especially true if you're wanting to trail ride and do dressage or compete on your local circuit or just have fun with your horse. He may not be a world beater, but he can still be your friend.
  • A young horse doesn't care if it ever goes to Rolex, but that talent isn't going to be wasted. If he can jump five feet from a standstill, well, that's great for Phillip Dutton dropping in to the head of the lake, but it's going to SUCK BALLS when he does it in the dressage arena with you up. 
When I hear fellow ammies talk about buying ridiculously green and athletic horses, I cringe just a little bit. It can certainly be done successfully, but by definition, we ammies are more jack-of-all-trade types instead of qualified specialists. We have to be able to hold down a job, interact with friends, co-workers, and family (who are usually non-horsey), and function in an unrelenting world of normal people. We don't get to follow the circuit and ride 10 horses a day and develop the kind of skills that go along with it, so we absolutely need to benefit from the sort of people who do. 

If you have the resources and patience to start a greenie, by all means, go for it! It can be a fun and rewarding process. It's not for everyone and I'd say there are HUGE perks to letting yourself learn from a horse who's been around the block a few times. 

Let's face it. The only reason I can have fun with Courage right now is because of all the things that Cuna taught me when we were together. 

<3 those golden oldies.


  1. I totally agree with everything you've said here! There are benefits to both kinds of horses, and like you mentioned, it largely depends on your realistic goals and budget. Yet another GREAT post :)

  2. I love this. I think sometimes people get caught up in a horse's potential and start to ignore where their riding currently is.

    Moe has reached "old campaigner" status at 19 (with about 11 years of competing as an eventer under his belt) and I love knowing I can go out, point him at any jump, and rely on him to get me over it even if something goes wrong. I like the challenge of greenies, but riding an older, more experienced horse is very comforting! Plus, totally fun to see him pack around green riders. :)

  3. Schoolmasters are great for learning how to feel what is right. They take care of you and can be great confidence builders. Greenies are great for presenting problems and challenging you to ride better because if you don't ride well, they won't perform well. I would take a greenie over a schoolmaster any day (though even as an ammy I have no other responsibilities aside from work, so I can concentrate on riding) as I feel I ultimately learn more from them. Though I do enjoy riding schoolmasters, if only for the ability to relax and concentrate on myself.

    1. This is so true too. There is so much to be said for learning together. I teared up the first time Pongo and I finished a XC course together at a recognized show because he was my first one I'd started from square 1. With that said, I had 20 years of experience under my belt, a great trainer and a game 5 year old horse. So it all just depends on what the goal is and remembering what you set out to do when you bought the horse which can range from learn what feels right, learn how to train a horse, have fun, have a challenge, etc.

  4. I think people can often overestimate their abilities or time they have to devote as well. It is easy to be caught up in daydream of youngster when the schoolmaster is more realistic. And hopefully no one is talked into something just because trainer said so.

  5. Can I just please hug you for your comment about realistic goals?

    I can not tell you how many people ask "Does this horse have upper level potential" - and the person asking has not shown in like 5 years or jumped anything bigger than 2'! Buy something suitable for NOW - if you need more horse in the future, then approach it at that time.

    It's funny too because people always assume because I have young horses that I choose them to build them up the levels - if I could afford a schoolmaster I would WAY rather have one to ride and build confidence and experience on! Can't tell you how many people I have to tell - if I could go out and BUY a training campaigner, I would.

    Great post.

  6. I think that this is a very personal decision to make, and that there's not a right or wrong answer... there are so many factors to consider. But that's just me :-)

  7. This really hit home for me! My mare is part schoolmaster, part failed kids horse. She came with a handful of issues, sure, but she knows her basics and expects me to ride her properly, thankyouverymuch. But she also is totally unsuitable as a beginner's horse, plus still young and fit enough to do whatever ammy-type things I ask of her.
    Rereading that, the more I realize just how *lucky* I got with the silly horse. I'd like to say there are more like her out there, but I suspect they'd be hard to find too.

  8. Great article and lots to think about. Also totally related to your comment on the "unrelenting world of normal people." SIGH!

  9. Preach on! I couldn't agree with you more. I get sad seeing ammies flustered, flailing and falling off their green beans. It's just not fun to deal with young horse crap and it's like people don't realize it takes YEARS to 'make'/train a really good horse, it does not happen in a couple months or one show season. {Insert Deep Breath Here}. And you're so right, if anyone thinks a young horse will = less vet bills they need to come on over and read my blog. 6 or 16, you just never know what you're going to have to deal with.

  10. Great thoughts! I have my "older" horse but I would not say she is a schoolmaster in any means. She does have years of experience, however, and has taught me a LOT.

  11. What kills me most about the greenie vs broke horse question is the number of people who are all, "This baby horse is different! It's quiet with a good brain, so everything will be fine!"

    Which, sure! Some horses are just born quiet and forgiving and some people are really good at finding and recognizing them. But SO MANY MORE are agreeable and easy at 3 or 4 and then turn into hellions from 5 to 7 or so and suddenly the rider who needed that quiet forgiving horse is in way over their head.

    Your point about knowing what you're buying is really important on a bunch of levels.

  12. I agree! I love those older horses...says the girl with a baby. Haha.

  13. Having just come upon my own seasoned older horse, I agree with all your reasoning above. I do understand that it varies from person to person, but I don't think having a horse that knows what it is doing is ever a bad thing. Schoolmasters help build confidence which we can carry over to the greenies the next time.

  14. Having a horse of my own again is probably a few more years off, but a lot of what you said hit home as I have been slowly trying to narrow down what I want when I do start looking seriously.

    I love the challenge of a greenie, but between 3 years with an on-again off-again lame mare, and almost a year since I've even sat on a horse, I'm pretty sure I'm now an "adult re-rider." :(

    Anyway, I think I would appreciate a been-there-done-that packer a lot more than a greenie, at this stage in the game. I'm rusty and I don't bounce anymore when I fall off! So, I want something I can just jump on and go, that is going to take care of me and anyone else I might throw up there...and let me get my riding legs built back up more than weekly lessons will. I also want to have FUN.

    1. Just wanted to make note elaborating on my "shades of grey" (OMG NOT THE HORRIFIC NOVEL!) comment below -- it really is not an all or nothing question. Schoolmasters in your discipline are AWESOME, they can teach you so much about feel and confidence. However, because of that, they really are priceless!!

      I think of Solo when I first purchased him as a middle-of-the-road horse in this continuum: he was 10, had worked as a track pony, done a little foxhunting, trail riding, but didn't know what a circle was. So not green to a job or riding, and quiet, safe, sensible, well-built, and kind, which were my priorities! He could sit around for a couple weeks and I could still just hop on and do whatever with no worries. I was 26 and grew up taking weekly lessons and hopping on random horses when I could, so I was an experienced rider, but never had my own horse before!

      Sure, I had to teach him the technicalities of dressage and jumping courses, but he already knew how to jump a log, how to be a general pleasure horse, and how to be, well...awesome, hee.

      So throw that into your mix and really take to heart Wofford's advice of "make sure you buy the face you want to see every day when you get to the barn!" Combined with my dressage trainer's adage of "all amateur training is trial and error;" sure, I could have advanced more quickly with a finished horse, but I learned SO MUCH from our erratic journey!

  15. Well said! If I could do it all over again... you never know... My next one will be different, I hope! ;)

  16. A LOT of people think they're the exception to the green-on-green-makes-black-and-blue thing. They almost always aren't. Everyone needs that first green horse, sure, and help with that horse. But getting that horse before you're ready is hell. Especially on the horse.

  17. Fit draft crosses CAN buck, scoot, slide sideways, twirl, and do lots of naughty head shakes!

    I don't know if I would get another green horse or not. My biggest problem in my horse search was that $2000 was just barely getting me half broke horses that I knew nothing about. So, I went with a half broke horse that I had the entire history on and had been able to spend a few months playing with before buying!

  18. Interesting post. I agree with most of the above comments. I had been riding for over 12 years before I sought out Houston and he actually wasn't what I was looking for. That said I evaluated the situation and knew I would either be spending the money up front for a more seasoned horse of his quality or I could buy a younger greener horse and put the money and time in along the way (and then some). Hue and I have had our trials and tribulations but I knew what I was getting into and didn't expect any ridiculous turnover. 2 years later we have had plenty of set backs but I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

  19. I agree, I'm in the position of wondering if I've bitten off more than I can chew right now. Before Wiz I was running around events on a seasoned Mustang and let me tell you, that was way more fun than the uncertainty going on right now. I probably would've gone for a horse with more experience if Wiz hadn't been given to me free... I mean I've a decent rider, have been riding consistently for 20 years (wow I now feel old) and have ridden many a greenie, but boy, taking responsibility for training your own from the ground up is TAXING. And slightly terrifying at times. Rewarding at others...

  20. Schoolmasters rule the world!!!!!!!! Nothing like getting on a horse that feels solid, knows his stuff and loves his job

  21. I like it has less to do with being an ammy and more to do with your riding abilities, confidence, and experience. It is a professionals job to bring along young horses and they are obviously good enough to do so. I know plenty of ammys who have the ability to bring along young horses just fine! I think it is personal preference as to putting the time into making a horse or strictly focusing on your own riding.

    In my opinion, if you dont feel 100% safe, comfortable and are not having a total blast on a school master then you shouldnt even consider anything less. But if you are up for the challenge, are confident, and wont get scared then babies are so much fun to bring along! On the other hand, if it is going to have negative effects on your riding then its totally not worth it. Like you said, being realistic with your abilities is SO important!

  22. Great post!! If I could have afforded a schoolmaster I totally would have gotten one. I actually almost did, but turns out he had issues... I'm glad I ended up with Chrome. It's been a blast raising and training him, but I am definitely ready for lessons now!!

  23. I do agree with Tarra in that there are a lot of shade of grey, but I totally agree with your overall message and I love some of the points you've included -- it has been SO much fun watching you grow on your journey & I think what makes this post even awesomer is that you never would have written it when you first had Izzy!

    One of my favourite things about horses is that every single one has something to teach you (even if it's OMG NEVER DO THAT!) and it's a lifetime journey of learning. I know every time I think I have things figured out, the horses LOL and throw me curveball!!! (or you know, decide to go all suicidal, let's not talk about that, I'm exhausted...)

    One of my rules is that there are no perfect horses, but there IS a perfect horse for YOU. :D

  24. Great post and comments! Love the young ones but so enjoyed my lease on a packer in between!

  25. Great post. Great comments. I don't know if this is a big factor for many others in deciding between the schoolmaster or the greenie, but for me the decision came from the horse's age - namely, the number of years you can reasonably expect to have left with the horse. After my first horse (and heart horse) passed away of old age after we had ~10 years together, I knew that next time I'd buy a younger horse so I could have more years before old age would part us.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...