Perfect Pair

The Many Advantages of Age-Appropriate Horses
Finding a suitable horse is the first step in a safe, enjoyable and successful team roping career.
Little Trevor Brazile, 9, spinning one on Frito for young Kory Koontz at the World Junior Team Roping Championship in Allen, Oklahoma, back in the day. | C&B Moore Photo

Riding a horse that suits you—your style and stage of riding and roping—has so much to do with both your success and how much fun you have. Horsepower is everything at every level of the game, but the right fit between horse and human can be even more important than having what might technically be considered the very best horse. And for ropers young and old at each end of the age spectrum, riding the right kind of horse is an important safety factor also. 

Affordability is a major factor when shopping for a horse. The good news is a horse doesn’t have to be fancy or super expensive to be of value to a kid or older roper. We all want the very best horse our money can buy. But I sometimes see parents pull the trigger too quickly on a horse that’s not what their son or daughter needs in the early going. 

While everyone wants their kid to have an edge, overmounting your young roper is one of the most common mistakes I see parents make. Most kids don’t have the riding skills to handle a high-powered horse in the beginning. If your first horse is too aggressive and strong, you’ll be pulling all the time and will learn to be heavy-handed, which is not the goal.

READ: What Makes a Good Team Roping Horse?

If your first horse is too old to want to move much, and a kid has to whip and spur to get him to even untrack, it can teach that kid to be too aggressive. I like to see kids get some riding experience and horsemanship skills before they ever rope horseback. It’s just a safer, more successful way to go about it.

My first horse was a Shetland pony. There are some good ones, but based on my childhood I’m not generally a big fan of those little outlaw suckers. They’re hard to get broke, a lot of them are runaways and it can be dangerous if a kid rides up behind a big horse and gets kicked. 

There’s nothing much more important than a kid’s first horse, and a basic model that teaches a kid how to turn and stop is a good place to start. A lot of kids want to run their horses everywhere, but without basic horsemanship skills they don’t know how to operate the brakes. Everyone wants their kid to be the next Trevor Brazile, and to ride the best, fastest horse. But I think if you look all the way back, Trevor rode some safe, basic models as a kid that taught him the things that took him to the top. 

READ: Top 10 Traits of a Horse for Lower-Numbered Headers
READ: Top 10 Traits in a Horse for Lower-Numbered Heelers

When the goal is a safe, suitable horse, it’s buyer beware on online bargains that really are too good to be true. Some horse traders are more reputable than others, and as parents, it’s our responsibility to weed through the lies that could be dangerous if you don’t see through them. 

A lot of the same traits apply to horses for older ropers. As we get a little longer in the tooth—I turned 65 this year—it’s not quite as cute if a horse crow-hops. If a horse grabs his butt at my age, I’m puckered up and reaching for the saddle horn. I don’t want any part of hitting that hard ground. 

Depending on riding and roping level, an older roper might want a little more run than a kid’s horse. But I’ve always been a fan of horses that are a little older, in that 12 to 20 range, and I’m no longer willing to spend hours loping one down to take some of the spunk out of him before we rope. I’ve had two knee replacements, and have aches and pains now, like everybody else. I want a horse I can just go run a few on without having to keep him saddled all day. 

READ: Do Not Disrespect Older Horses

A horse that isn’t chargy and is just nice and smooth to ride around makes it so much more fun. And if I don’t ride one today, he better not be fresh and humpy tomorrow. I have no interest in a horse that spooks at every trash bag that blows across the parking lot, or is scared by the sound system at the roping. So an older horse that’s been there, done that and seen all the sights makes sense. 

There were times in my career—like the early years I rode Bullwinkle, who acted more like a bulldogging horse than a head horse—when I made some sacrifices for a horse with quirks because I could win on him. There were times in my life when I tolerated trade-offs if a horse was talented. If I needed to spend all afternoon scoring, steer stopping and pulling a log, so be it. But conquering a renegade is of no interest to me now.

—TRJ—

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