When do you give up on a horse?

Thank you all for your positive, encouraging comments about Gina on the last post! They got me thinking, though: when do you give up on a horse?

Gina is a horse that came with some major problems from somewhere. For those that haven’t been reading for a long time or don’t know, I bought Gina in 2011 from a therapeutic riding center where I worked. She had been donated by a family whose teenage daughter had ridden hunter/jumpers on her; (It’s beyond me why the center accepted Gina, as she was wildly unsuitable for therapeutic work in ever possible way.)

Before me, Gina’s days consisted of eating, sleeping, and pooping.

I incorrectly assumed Gina was a reliable jumper because she’d been stabled at various well-respected H/J barns in Tulsa and had a relatively recent competition record. I also saw pictures of her jumping.

It’s okay, Gina, no one is judging you for looking like a carousel horse here.

At the time, the only access I had to an arena was a very small indoor used for therapeutic riding lessons which didn’t have jumps. Before I committed to buying Gina, I dragged out some bright blue plastic barrels and some poles; it took a lot of convincing to get her over them, but I blithely wrote it off as Gina being unused to seeing such…creative jumps.

It only took me a few months to realize Gina was not the horse I wanted, or the horse I thought I was buying. I was determined to fix her problems. I didn’t count on it taking years
There have been many times when I have considered selling Gina and giving up on the idea of making her into a horse I like to ride. Here’s what stopped me:
  • Fear for Gina: she was 14 when I bought her, and as each year passed, I became more and more worried Gina would not find an appropriate home. Part of this fear is due to a nearby horse auction that kill buyers are known to frequent. I wouldn’t send her to an auction, but her next owner might.
  • Guilt: I felt very guilty for a very long time for buying this horse in the first place, without a thorough assessment of her ability to do what I wanted. I felt like I needed to keep trying with her, because I’d wanted her so badly.
  • Progress: Gina isn’t all bad; she’s really pretty good. We made a lot of progress in dressage, and enough (admittedly slow) progress over fences to keep me feeling optimistic.
  • Gina wasn’t dangerous: Okay, so rearing over ground poles isn’t exactly safe, but I’ve never felt unsafe on Gina. Sure, she can be an idiot, but it’s always in a “jump sideways and snort and back up” way- never bucking, bolting, or rearing (since the ground pole incident). I’ve always felt I can handle her silliness, and it’s never totally random.
  • Gina is healthy: She has hooves like iron, doesn’t let a fat hind leg or windpuffs stop her, and doesn’t have any major soundness issues. She’s a little stiff when she starts out, but she works out of it right away.
All of my friends and my trainer have been extremely supportive; no one has ever seriously advised me to sell her. (Although it’s a popular joke topic.) 
I’m curious to know when or if you give up on a horse. Do you exhaust all your resources? Do you sell them right away if they aren’t working out? Do you just keep going, trying your best? Has it worked out for you to keep something you probably should have sold? Has keeping a problematic horse gone horribly wrong? 

Author: Stephanie

Equestrian, amateur cook, people person.

22 thoughts on “When do you give up on a horse?”

    1. I think safety is a huge factor- if you are unsafe on a horse, you do not need to ride that horse. If someone else can be safe on the horse, I say sell it. If not, I think you're obligated to euthanize it or retire it to a non-riding career. We have a horse at the barn who isn't safe for anyone to ride; she's a pasture pet who keeps the minis and broodmare company.

  1. I'm pondering this topic a little (not selling, but maybe giving up the ride) and your reasons for continuing on are very similar to mine. Agree with Lauren though, there's always 'the grass is greener' mentality or the odd frustrating day, but if progresses to where it's just not fun anymore then it's time to stop. Life's too short 🙂

    1. It's a hard to decision to make, especially when progress is there. It's much easier when the horse has some major health issue or like…tries to buck you off every time you get on!

  2. Kika is my first horse and even on the worst days i never considered selling her as the problems we were having would have made it unsafe to do so. Plus she wasn't a bad horse, I just had to figure out what was wrong and since I have we have been clicking more often than not.
    Selling her was never on my radar as i couldn't have done so in good conciousness nor did I want to give up on her. I knew my good girl was still in there, I just had to find a way to get on the same page as her again

    1. YES! I had some of those times too, where I thought I couldn't sell Gina in good conscience. I had these nightmares of selling her to someone and being honest with them about her jumping issues, and that person ignoring my warning and getting hurt. (That's the situation I always imagined leading to Gina at the auction.) That wouldn't be my fault, per se, but it's also not Gina's fault.

  3. My self-preservation sense is pretty strong, so if I ever feel like I'm consistently in danger, that is a big "SELL IT" moment for me. But realistically as long as I'm progressing (no matter how slowly) and enjoying the rides…I won't give up. I also honestly believe that a lot has to be said for the relationship that you create with your horse, whether it is positive or negative.

    1. Reread and the last part doesn't make sense….basically I'm a 10 year girl at heart. If the relationship is positive I'd want to push harder, avoid giving up. If the relationship turns sour, I'm much more willing to throw the towel in.

    2. I know what you mean- it's much easier to be like "UGH THIS HORSE SELL IT SELL IT NOW" when said horse is like…refusing all the jumps and spooking at nothing for weeks on end. Harder when the horse is relatively pleasant and has a good attitude, but just isn't doing a great job.

  4. For me, it has to be fun. If it's not fun, why am I doing it?

    I think that way too many adult ammies (myself included) can get swept up in that I CAN SAVE HIM/I WUV HIM SOOOO MUCH/I'm a badass mentality and they loose sight of the end goal. I'm not talking about trading horses in every year (that means you need to make better choices), but if something isn't working for you, that's ok. Let it not work. Let the horse find something that works better for him.

    For example, Courage and I had a really rough fall. He was still safe and I was riding fine, but I wasn't enjoying him and we were fighting a lot. I put him on a timeline–I told a few people that I trusted that if he and I weren't on the same page by spring (March-ish), that I would sell him.

    This winter has been fantastic and I'm starting to think long term with Courage, but I'm not one who believes that horses/trainer/boarding facilities are relationships that must be maintained FOREVER. If something doesn't work, just let go.

    1. I think putting a timeline on it is a good idea; I plan on doing that with my next horse and should have done it with Gina. I agree with you that these types of relationships don't have to be (and sometimes shouldn't be!) permanent.

  5. I need to be having fun. I'm not rich enough to keep them all and if they're not happy in my situation – no pasture, limited turnout, trails and ring riding required – then they need to go. I had one horse who needed pasture time and she was miserable where we were and that made all of our rides miserable. She's living on a ranchette with 14 acres and a guy who takes her fox hunting. I had another who really only wanted to do trails, he disliked arena work. I want to be able to do both. He's now a us park police horse.
    I'm also incredible fortunate enough to be able to afford 2 because I want to keep Dijon for emotional reasons, but I can't do everything I want to with him. He actually would be better off at a different home – some place with no/fewer hills. But I'd only ever sell him to someone I knew personally because he's older and injury-prone I don't trust him not to end up at an auction down the line.
    I think you should be enjoying the experience. If you enjoy the challenging horse go for it. If not, get a different one.

  6. I'm stubborn as the day is long when it comes to horses. Very few other things. I think its great you accepted who she was and now it has surprisingly repaid you well. That is awesome and shows what good care love and trust do.

  7. I have never given up on one or sold one because we couldn't get on the same page but there are situations I have witnessed at barns were I thought, if that was me, that horse would be gone. My breaking point would be a dangerous/unsafe horse. There are a couple horses that I can think of that I have seen at barns I have boarded at that just straight up had no respect for humans. They will run them over or hurt them without any more thought than flicking their tail at a fly. That would be completely unacceptable for me.

    I have had my struggles with my little POA mare and it has taken me 2.5 years to figure her out but that's part of buying a horse with a history that you don't know. I got Klein as a 2 year old blank slate. Mochs was 9 when I bought her and has had a couple homes that I know of. She is just the sweetest little mare though and I just always felt like I was missing a piece of the puzzle for her and was determined to find it. I finally found it recently and we are on the right track now and I am excited to progress with her. She is so adorable and quirky that I had decided if I couldn't figure her out I was totally ok with just keeping her as a pasture pet. I doubt a mean thought has ever crossed her mind, she would die trying if you asked her to. That is something else that scared me about selling her. If she fell into the wrong hands that didn't know when to say when, she would be in danger and someone could end up hurting her by just literally running her into the ground.

  8. In the past I havent had a horse where I've ever considered it. With Bacardi this winter though (as many bloggers know) we were having extreme issues. Unsafe issues. But yet the thought barely crossed my mind to sell him. I bought him for a reason and I was determined to figure it out. I think it really is up to your personal goals. If I had bought him to show and be successful right away, then yeah I made the wrong decision. But I bought him as a project. I knew it going in he had issues.
    So I think it really gets down to, "What are your goals with Gina?"

  9. You have to trust your gut but also I think if my trainer said it's time, I'd know it was time.

    There are so many nice horses out there! You should be having more good then bad rides, yes if you are pushing yourself to get better it'd going to be hard but there will be good in there too 🙂

  10. Thank you for this post and thanks to everyone for commenting. This is really relevant to my journey right now. All this is so good for me to think on.

  11. I think it is absolutely ok to sell a horse if you are not on the same page. For many of us, it is an unfortunate financial reality that we can only support one horse.

    It doesn't have to get to the point where a horse is dangerous or unsafe, sometimes a horse really is just not happy doing a specific job.
    If my horse only wanted to trail ride, but my heart was in the show ring, I would find him a home that was a better fit.

    I feel like there is a new mindset out there that every home has to be a forever home – that *I* am the only person in the world that can provide this horse with a good home, and therefore I must own this horse for ever and ever, until he/she dies of old age, even if that means giving up my own riding goals and happiness.

    I don't buy into this. That just isn't my reality. If my current horse turns out not to be physically capable of, or does not want to do the job I am hoping to do, I would most likely find him a nice home doing what he does best.

  12. Ugh! Such a hard decision! I agree- there's something very uncomfortable about selling a challenging horse because once they leave anything could happen (ask me why Wilbur lives in a field)!
    It sounds like Gina has been making great progress!

  13. it's questions like these that make me feel oddly grateful that i'm not an owner yet… i'd echo what everyone else says about it needing to be fun, first and foremost. part of me wants to say that, given my limited resources and riding goals, the horse also has to be capable of helping me with my riding goals (changeable tho they may be)… but i also tend to be pretty sentimental so… yea i really don't know haha

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