What to know about Big Horses

What to know about Big Horses

August 03, 2021 4 Comments

Don Jessop

Big horses are... well... big! But I love big horses. Apart from a few minor deterrents outlined below, I tend to think big horses are the best kind of horse for a tall gentleman like me. In part, because it's easier to get the weight ratio right. Generally speaking it's not wise to ride a horse, of which, you weigh more than twenty percent of. If you have elite level performance in mind, you shouldn't be more than about fifteen percent total, all tacked up, but twenty percent will generally suit the population and the horses needs.

Besides finding it easier to find a suitable partner, big horses have a few more qualities I love. A big horse, given a good natural physique, commands presence like no other animal. There are beautiful, well balanced horses in every breed, but when you run into a beautiful, well balanced horse of the "big" variety, you find yourself staring into the eyes of a noble variety,

For me... there is such a thing as too big. For instance, as a rider, I don't prefer draft horses because they aren't quite sporty enough for my riding disciplines. It's not that I don't like draft horses, I do! I like all animals, especially those of the equine type. But, like you, I get my kicks from the horse that makes me look out the window and nearly drive off the road, while cruising past the farm with the shiny warmbloods, or thoroughbreds. 

I grew up riding Arabian horses, long distance. Fifty miles, in four hours was my fastest endurance race. Those were fit, strong horses, that I'll never forget. All my early horses were great teachers and I don't know if I'll ever feel that kind of natural stamina in any other breed. But if you found a picture of me on my little Arabians, you'd sense I didn't need a stepladder to get on, if you know what I mean. In an emergency I'd often just put my feet on the ground like Fred Flintstone and drag the party bus to a stop. (I'm joking of course. I'm not that tall.)

Then, over the years, as a clinician, teacher, and coach, I found myself riding all kinds of horses, from quarter horses on trails, in reining classes, and even cutting, to mules in the back country. Then one day, I met a horse named St. Pauli's Girl. She wasn't the first big horse I met, she was just the most incredible big horse I had ever met. She was balanced, commanding, stunning, standing just over seventeen hands high. My jaw dropped when I looked at her and when I peaked at my neighbors, their jaws were dropping too. And amongst all the drooling, I found myself begging for a pathway to own such a horse. Thanks to my dear friend in Sacramento, at a lovely ranch in the foothills named "Silverhorne Sport horses," that opportunity came. Through hard work, and some big decisions that juggled our finances and time, she finally found herself in my horse trailer, bound for Montana. Here is a picture of her and I in our early career. 

As promised, I said I'd highlight a few deterrents to owning big horses. I don't want you to think It's all peaches and cream.  First... they eat more. Get ready for it. They eat a lot more! Way more than I was ready for, coming from a world of mostly smaller horses. I know each horse has a different metabolism, but you can basically count on a big sporty horse like Pauli to eat you out of house and home. If you're ready for it, it won't shock you. For some people, that's all they know. 

Second... they aren't robots, or playthings, or toys. Like all horses, they have a big heart, a brain, and emotions that run hot and cold. In fact, the term warmbloods kind of sets you up to see just how they operate. Hot and cold. It depends on the environment, then on the training to how well they find the middle. When a big horse jumps, they jump bigger, higher. When they spook, they often spook bigger. Not quicker, just bigger. When they don't want to move, it's harder to move. It's just physics. If they spook while you're on the ground, you'd better be ready to stop that big train coming down the tracks because they are much bigger than you and can jump right over you, given the wrong choices in your communication.

Related to them not being toys or playthings, you also need to know their body mass puts more stress on their joints. So don't go in the round pen and circle, circle, circle. I've found over the years that any horse is susceptible to injury if all you do is circle. But bigger horses are often more susceptible to injury. Big horses need clear leadership on clean, straight lines and elegant arcs. In a safety situation, all bets are off, but in general training, it's wise to consider the horses physical limitations regarding their bones, joints, and muscle development. Take your time building up those big horses. Well... all horses, for that matter.

Third, and last deterrent... you will often need a stepladder to get on. I'm quite tall and can, in a pinch, get on from the ground. If I do, I try to get on from both sides alternately, not just one, to avoid stressing the horses muscles in one repetitive way. The advantage to the height is that all you friends look up to you. Literally! But be careful on the trail, you might find you don't fit in the same small spaces you used to go. I nearly got peeled of my horse by a low hanging branch once when all my friends slid right under it. I still have a small scar to prove it. Oh, and one more thing, it's further to the ground if you need to get off in a hurry. Make sure your feet haven't been cut off from your blood supply or else you'll be feeling pins and needles in your toes when you hit the ground. But again, generally speaking, I'd still have to say, I love a big horse.

Regardless of size, all horses need a good foundation if you intend to ride. I teach these foundation classes in my Mastery University. I'd love for you to check it out. 

Oops, I forgot just one more thing. If you're married, your spouse might want your big beautiful horse for herself. Just saying...

I'd love to hear from you, read your comments and share in your journey. Comment below!



4 Responses

Teri
Teri

August 07, 2021

Funny, i was thinking as i was looking at the picture jumping, oh look he’s riding Rachel’s horse… Love my Draft/x’s, and yes they eat a lot.

Bevis
Bevis

August 05, 2021

Thanks Don, I love my 16.2 AQH Liam. He is not only tall but big and muscular with a lot of forward. I learned to respect that early in our relationship; the hard way. But now I wouldn’t trade him for anything.

Lyla R Spencer
Lyla R Spencer

August 04, 2021

I love this article Don!! Will share it with my friend who is a novice and just learning about horses. She was given a16.5 hand warmblood. She is stall and thin and YOUNG, I have to agree with Jean Audet, I will stick with my Arabians and possible a small quarter horse. You know how tall I am AND how old I am Don!!! lol

Jean F Audet
Jean F Audet

August 04, 2021

You can love the big ones but I will stick to my Arabians and Morgans. I don’t have to duck too much with those low branches. :)

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