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Is this horse too small for me?

From: Kathleen

Hello Jessica,

I hope you can help me. I am considering the purchase of a horse, and I am now concerned he may be too small for me. The breeder is in another state so I cannot actually mount the horse to check. I am purchasing out of state because I want to buy a Rocky Mountain horse, and they are hard to come by where I live.

He is a 4 year old Rocky Mountain gelding, weighs approx. 850 lbs., and is 14.0hh. I considered him because the ad said he is 14.3hh, and the trainer said he'd grow to about 15.0hh. The vet who performed the pre-purchase exam now says he is only 14.0 hh, and won't grow any taller. I've already invested over $100 on the exam, but $100 is a small amount to lose considering the total cost of the animal plus shipping costs if he is the wrong choice!

I've ridden Rockies that are 14.3hh which seems to be a perfect fit, but .3hh can make quite a difference -- especially if I'm constantly bunching up my legs to signal. I am an adult woman (riding level is advanced beginner), 5.4" tall, weight is 118 lbs, and my inseam measures 29". I will be riding primarily on the trail so proper height and comfort is paramount. I will probably choose a western or australian saddle (if that makes any difference).

This is my first horse so I am a bit green regarding all this. Can you please advise as to whether this horse will be too small for me? Thank you so much for your time and help! I really appreciate it!

Best wishes, Kathleen

Hi Kathleen!

According to the breed standard, a Rocky Mountain horse should be between 14.2 and 16.0 hands. If your vet is right and the horse is only 14hh and won't grow any taller, that isn't necessarily a problem. If you're primarily interested in trail-riding, a 14.0hh horse should be quite tall enough for someone of your height, provided that you feel comfortable on him. 14.0hh isn't tiny... think of other small horses and ponies that are excellent weight carriers. Icelandics, Haflingers, and various native ponies (e.g., Shetlands and Fell ponies) are tough and strong, and routinely carry full-sized adults.

Also, although it's quite true that many small horses STAY small, this horse is only four, and it will be two or three years before he is fully grown. there's no guarantee of this, but it's quite likely that he could add another inch to his height by the time he is seven.

If the Rocky Mountain Horses you've ridden have felt "right" to you at 14.3hh, then yes, the three inches could make a difference - but truly, barrel size and stride length are much more important than whether a horse is THIS many inches or THAT many inches at the withers. Ask the horse's owners - and the vet - whether the horse has an average or a wide barrel, and if the answer is "No, he's actually quite narrow", then this probably isn't the horse for you. On the other hand, if they say "Yes, he's exceptionally wide", then I would definitely not cross him off the "possible" list just because of his height.

That said, you are left with two important questions. Even if the horse is up to weight and your veterinarian believes him to be sound and well-suited for your riding plans, you will still need to know how you will feel riding him! The first question isn't how tall he is, but whether his barrel will fit your leg comfortably, so that you'll feel secure and be able to ride with relaxed, open hips. The second question is whether this is a horse you will ENJOY. I know it will cost more to do this, but perhaps not a lot more - airfares are very low just now. I strongly suggest that you go out and visit this horse, try him, and make your final decision based on YOUR impressions. Compare the cost of a couple of days and a few hundred dollars to the amount of money you'll spend buying the horse, shipping the horse, and maintaining the horse for all the years you plan to own him. The visit cost is trivial - but the visit is important. Matching a horse and rider is like matching a couple - there needs to be a connection, a spark, or at least the clear possibility of developing both! Even a detailed description and an exhaustive list of "on paper" qualities won't make up for that in-person, face-to-face meeting. (Has anyone ever set you up on a date with someone who SOUNDED "just perfect for you" and proved to be boring or extremely annoying...?) There's nothing wrong with purchasing a horse from another state, but in practice, videos and photos can help you ELIMINATE certain horses, but they don't tell you everything. They're useful as tools to help you narrow your list of choices down to the horse or horses that you are seriously considering purchasing... at which point you need to get on an airplane (or a bus). Catalog-shopping is only practical when it's convenient and inexpensive to return items that prove to be unsuitable. Bottom line: You DO need to sit on this horse. ;-)

This horse may be wonderful and he may even be the horse for you. It sounds to me as if you're a sensible person who thinks things through carefully and does her homework. Do ALL your homework - go and find out if this is your horse! Obviously you won't know instantly if the two of you will be best friends forever, but you WILL, very quickly, get a "feel" for whether you want to take the horse home.

If this horse is wonderful and you buy him, the trip will have been a good investment. If you don't buy him, it will have been an even better investment. If he's NOT wonderful, or if he's wonderful for someone else and just not right for you, you'll want to have your money available and your stall empty when the right horse DOES come along.


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