Spinoff: How many mature horses abound with little/no training to ride or even handle?

Mature-age horses – say, 4+ yo – that have very little or no introduction to riding, in some cases to even basic handling, are at greater risk of neglect. This became a side discussion in the thread about the ‘crazy horse market’, with big $$ being asked for show-type horses with no advanced training.

These mature, untrained, primarily grade horses represent probably most of the classified-ad backyard horses in this part of the country. Over the past years, many owners purchased horses to live in their pasture, planning to use the horses, but almost never doing it. It’s become a sort of demographic in rural areas that now have a lot of new-ish farmettes and owners inexperienced with farms.

How big of a problem is this in your area?

In this part of the country, grass tends to be abundant and grows throughout mild winters. So if they are on enough acreage, many of these horses just live out their lives at pasture.

But many of these horses get into serious neglect situations with owners who lose interest or can’t afford to continue caring for them. They may be in dirt lots or seriously over-grazed pastures. Some owners think that if a small lot has “green” growing there, that is horse food. Often the horse grass is long gone and it’s just non-nutritious weeds. The horses are bony on top but with a swollen belly, which the owner (and often law enforcement) thinks means they are ok.

This is no fault of the horse, it is entirely about owners who don’t/can’t/won’t work with them. Owners are very distracted these days and that started long before the pandemic. Career, school, other activities & sports … and let’s face it, the attractions of the internet & mobile phone … eat away at what might have been horse time.

For example:

    • Here is a list of hard-to-adopts listed by a local rescue that I work with (that need extra placement help to get them adopted). These horses are all law enforcement seizures for neglect. (No “kill pen pulls” – those are just marketing ploys to sell horses.) All are now in good shape thanks to feed, care, farrier, vet and other services provided by the rescue. But they have little training.
  • 5-6 yo bay paso fino mare. She is reportedly broke to ride, but very green. Will probably need an experienced rider.

  • 5 yo mare. Is halter broke and a gorgeous mover, could be an English prospect. Has been working on basic ground manners.

  • 8 yo stock type mare. Is halter broke and has been working on ground manners.

  • 2 yo stud colt. Is semi halter broke, and needs to lot of ground work and to be gelded.

  • 6 yo bay Part Arabian gelding. Is halter broke, but not been ridden.

That’s just the few that are halter-broke and are the most ready for new homes. They are all on pasture at foster homes for now, and not getting much interest from potential adopters.

This rescue has another 20 or so mature horses with little training that are now in the hands of fosters who are volunteer trainers. These horses have been with their trainers since spring, and the goal is to have them ready for a productive new life by October.

But we all know that 6 months of basic training and riding, while helpful, will not last long in the new home if the new owner does not continue riding and working with the horse. So given the propensity of many owners to not follow through with their horses, those horses may someday be back in the same cycle.

Mature horses with little understanding of human expectation for handling, not to mention rideable, can be at risk of not getting good care. And become a problem that is hard to solve. Even by rescues.

How big do you think this problem is where you are?

1 Like

In our urban area horse keeping is expensive yet this still happens, especially with homebreds or OTTB restart projects, that people postpone doing the hard work and leave on pasture.

I wouldn’t consider a 4 year old too late to start.

In our back country we have a big feral horse population on First Nations band lands, and also lots of back country pasture. There’s lots of room for unbroke horses.

Training is relatively expensive and most owners aren’t competent to go it alone.

1 Like

I don’t consider 4 or even 5 to be old at all. They are still sponges. A horse in the teens that’s not broke or touched is a different story but still doable.

I wish I had the time to take a project and give them the basics and rehome to a good spot. I’m maxed out on my current 3 due to work, kids, etc.


Bureau of Land Management has about 60,000 mustangs " with little understanding of human expectation for handling, not to mention rideable, can be at risk of not getting good care. And become a problem that is hard to solve."

1 Like

With all due respect, I didn’t intend this to be a mustangs discussion. Rather, a ‘backyard horse’ due to owner inaction discussion. :slight_smile:

The large quantity of untrained mature horses are from owners who do not have much background in training – and unfortunately they tend to be in the same situation in their next stop.

I’m talking about the Craigslist / classified horses. Even those on the random horse sales sites that have some of everything.

So that may not be a discussion that is of interest to those who are well able to start a mature horse that isn’t solidly halter-broke. I know many COTH members would not have a problem with such a horse. But that’s not why there are so many of them and why they are clogging rescues.

Sorry, but a horse that doesn’t lead worth a dam at age 4 or 5 may not be ‘old’ to you, but it is much too much for most horse owners.

The backyard horse owner, the when-I-get-around-to-it horse owner, the owners with limited background in training, are over their head very quickly with a full-grown horse that doesn’t know the basics of ground handling. Before even getting to riding.




We have more horses than we have good homes for them. It’s a conundrum for sure.

1 Like

Tons. I work for a rescue that focuses on training, since I am a trainer… these older and unstarted or started and unfinished horses are the majority of the ones we take in. With training they are adoptable without they are completely unadoptable because most of them have learned how not to be handled. And the older they get absolutely the harder they are to start. There are very very few homes for unrideable horses. And most of those that are unrideable and are adopted out by other rescues find themselves in recurring bad situations or return to rescues. A horse with training is a much safer animal.


hip deep in “unhandled but friendly” 2 yr olds and “9 yr old, had 30 days as a 3 yr old, nothing done with him since” mostly stock horse types in pretty colours, in this area. With the hay shortage I expect the fall auctions will be busy


I don’t really see this problem in my area currently. I actually think we have a shortage of horses at the moment. Absolutely nothing of interest even as a project locally on Craigslist, FB or local advertisements. Well, nothing sound that is.
Honestly, as much as I like the idea of “horse rescues” I would never “adopt” a horse. I buy a horse. No contracts. We don’t have to be FB buddies afterwards for updates. And, this may not apply to your rescue, but, no “crazy rescue” horsewomen.
I have owned horses for 30 years, and I realize that this does not apply to everyone, and due diligence needs to happen, but, I don’t want a rescue dictating what I can and cannot do with a horse I have taken in.


Many rescues have a process that is not much different from buying a horse. The one I work for requires two trial rides, some references, and a basic farm inspection, but once adopted the horse is yours to do with as you will, and resale just proves that the horse has graduated to being a valuable animal. The adoption fee/purchase price goes to a vet fund. There are of course crazy rescue people and contracts out there, but not all adoptions come with hoops to jump through.


I think in some cases people have big pets and just assume they will keep them forever. You often see it when someone passes away and suddenly their teen or 20-something horses need a home. Either they were never ridden or it was 10+ years ago and they are so bonded that you can’t take one out of the pasture without the other. Sometimes they aren’t even handled with any regularity - they live out, food gets tossed over the fence. People don’t look beyond today and see that someday their horses might need a new situation and that untrained pasture puffs don’t have tons of options just lined up and waiting to take them. (My unhorsey relatives and friends love to share these with me - ooooh look, here are some free horses!!! :roll_eyes: )


While I’m not seeing a whole lot of that right now, the drought and hay prices are going to push them out. Most commonly, it seems to be mares that have had a foal or two (or more).
Drives me nuts because the lack of handling is such a disservice to the horse. I won’t consider anything older than 4 that hasn’t been started under saddle with the basics. If it hasn’t been handled at all? My ability stops at yearling. I’m really not interested in a horse left to their own devices that hasn’t developed work ethic early on.


I see it fairly frequently in my area, as the county I live in is not well off by any stretch. I have neighbors, who have approximately a dozen unhandled horses on their place, that were bred there “by accident”- ungelded sons in with the mares. The owners are older, almost elderly, and are in over their heads. They occasionally sell a youngster, but maybe only 1 or 2 every couple years. They got in touch with a rescue to take them, but the rescue will not touch them unless the studs are gelded.

I am a long time horse owner, with 40 plus years of ownership experience, so buying or “adopting” an older horse that has not been started is not an issue. In fact, I did it twice this year. Both the horses I bought came from Craig’s List or a local sales page similar to Craig’s List, or a social media ad.

I bought a 2 year old paint in February, who had been haltered about 5 times and didn’t really lead. It took the old owner and I about 15 minutes to get him loaded onto my trailer when I picked him up. He is smart, sweet and very willing. He now leads, ties, behaves to get his feet trimmed and we are working on ground work and desensitizing. My plan is to send him to a trainer I use for 60-90 days, but probably not until he is closer to 4. I picked him up for $1,000, and will have less than $4,000 into him with training. That does not include vet work, feeding or the farrier.

I bought a 6 year old QH/ paint/ Arabian gelding in July, from someone who had bought him as a flip project. They got him in February, unbroke, ungelded and skinny. They had him gelded, put weight on him and put 6 rides on him. They did all his vet work- shots, gelding, teeth, deworming, feet, DNA testing to see which breed he really is (although I seriously doubt the accuracy of it) plus put weight on him. I picked him up for $2600. He will also go to my trainer for at least 60 days.

For me, I like the fact I know how these horses are being handled, and we are not fixing problems created by humans. I trust the trainer I work with and know what I will get back from him when these guys come home.

Plus, I will have much less invested in them than what I would in a finished horse based on current market prices. I have bought from a university breeding program in the past, and got a great horse for $2100 13 years ago. A similarly breed horse through the same program this year went for over $15K. And these horses are not “finished” by any means.

These are not horses for beginners. They are also not for those who are looking for easy and no challenge. There is no doubt in my mind that the more a horse knows, the easier they are to find a good home.

Part of the problem is many do not know or understand their limits- either knowledge-wise, time-wise or financially. They get in over their heads, and the horses suffer for it.

I also have no doubt the horse market will crash again at some point, and there will be more horses looking for homes. It might come a lot sooner than later!


It’s very common by me. Around here if you have the property you could possibly never feed a horse and it would be ok. The grass goes dormant for a few months each year, but if you have an easy keeper you aren’t going to go into an animal control situation. Also, you can get crappy hay for very cheap.
A lot of these horses end up at an auction when they are about 8-12. We have a lot of auctions around here and the guys running them through will muscle them into looking ‘broke’. If they can’t, they run through loose.

IMO any horse under 8 is a young horse and can be started pretty easily. Even older horses can be started pretty easily (usually). However a lot of these horses have bad backgrounds and come with baggage. I purchased a lovely Oldenburg mare in 2019 from a backyard mud pit with barb wire everywhere. The owners didn’t start her properly and used her as a pack mule. She started rearing, so they just turned her out and didn’t look at her for years. At 10 they put her on Craigslist.

I picked her up and her teeth were so bad, it was no wonder she was rearing. She didn’t know how to have her feet picked up or what a bath was. After some trial and error I got her going under saddle pretty well, but she died of some internal complications we didn’t know about.

These backyard horses can be very rewarding and you can find some diamonds, but you also have to be prepared that sometimes years of neglect causes serious lifetime issues that can’t be helped.

I recently got another mare, she’s a little firecracker. She ran through the auction pipeline and was kind of broke at 13 years old when I got her. I think at some point she was a bucking horse in the rodeo and failed. Her age doesn’t bother me; she will be showing by this fall and we should have many years of riding together. Her age gives her wisdom; she’s not afraid of much.


I can’t speak to my area in general, but at my boarding barn there are at least 3 mature horses who have had little to no handling. I have no clue what happens as far as vet or farrier. Not my business.

It’s endemic here, too. The favorite line of these sellers is “He’s a real nice horse, he just deserves more time than I can give him”.

Wish I knew the solution. I guess there isn’t one, and I’ll just take the best care and put the best training into the horses I have.


I’m in CA and there are tons of them. You can hop on CL, Dreamhorse, or EquineNow and pretty much have your pick of random green broke or halter broke horses for less than $3k: grade horses and QHs, OTTBs, yearlings, ponies, minis, and a decent amount of Arabs. I saw an ad for a lovely Arab, maybe 8 or 9… halter broke, used as a broodmare, never started under saddle.

I’m about to start riding a 7 year old green-broke pony that a friend picked up off Craigslist. He supposedly has a year under saddle, but he has a very loose conception of ground manners, is very anxious about things like the wash rack and fly spray, and under saddle has the general vibe of a 3 year old with 30 days on him… Hopefully with some time and patience we can set him up to move on to his own kid.

1 Like


It isn’t even just grade horses or poorly bred ones. There are a lot of decently bred horses in their teens + out there and they haven’t been ridden in years (or ever). Owner’s life circumstances sometimes are involved, sometimes it’s fear of riding, not seeking professional help with what may or may not really be a problem horse…etc etc.

I know multiple horses that haven’t been ridden bc their owners are not comfortable riding. It isn’t the horse, it is the rider’s fear. But having someone else ride the horse becomes a whole psychological issue, like they’ve failed. Also so weird jealousy thing. It may seem a strange reaction to some, but I can sort of get it.

Anyway, no one wants an 18 yr old horse that essentially needs to be re-trained from scratch.

Then I have seen cases of someone taking on one of these horses because they are looking for a ride, spend time (often money) retraining, getting horse in a great place, become attached, then owner decides they don’t want someone else riding their horse, or start riding the work someone else had done, etc. One poor girl showed up to find the horse she had worked with for 2 years was gone. It was right after she had done well at a schooling show.
Again I think it was weird emotional thing for the owner, who felt like the third wheel.

“My unhorsey relatives and friends love to share these with me - ooooh look, here are some free horses!!!”

I can’t even count the times this has happened to me. Some are genuinely besides themselves with glee, like they’ve snagged me an opportunity to get a lifetime of free rent or something.

Most recently it was a pasture full of donkeys - BUT THEY ARE FREE! Isn’t that AWESOME!!! and weren’t those ppl nice for just giving them away?

Yea, real nice of them to create a herd of essentially unwanted, unhandled animals.

Good grief.


And nobody believes us when we say there is no such thing as a free horse. :roll_eyes: