Evaluation Protocol

Many ask us how we evaluate our horses. The following pictures will demonstrate what we look for as we determine the suitability and temperament of our new horses before we offer them for sale.


How to evaluate a horse

            By Pat,  (Gran and Mom)


My Indian friends used to say,   “Listen to the song of the horse”. 

Riding is a partnership. A good horse is a special joy that no horse person can really explain, a bad partnership is dangerous and a nightmare.

An old horseman’s adage spoken by President Ronald Regan is:” There is nothing better for the inside of a man, than the outside of a horse”.

Many ask us how we find our horses and how we evaluate them. We have only one buyer that is our partner.  She is the key to our success and it is her job to find our special horses, evaluate them and determine if they are a Tonkawood candidate.  She delivers our new prospective horses and Pam evaluates along with her, their suitability for our riders and customers.

 If you refer to the “bomb proofing” section we show you what we look for.  This information is for our prospective buyers.

Each horse is an individual with a distinct personality.  Some are bold, some are timid, some are quiet and some are nervous.  I can assure you that most folks you meet will exhibit the same characteristics.

When you meet one of our special horses, the most important thing to do is introduce yourself.  Go up to the horse and pet them on the neck. A horse has two sides to their brains and the approach to a horse from the front is confusing and you will generally see them pull away from you.  If you speak to them, pet them on the neck and honor the fact that that is how they perceive you, you will get off to a good start.

After grooming the horse, an important part of the experience, he or she gets a feel for this particular human’s touch.  You also can relate to the horse, by watching his body language, and eyes.  A calm horse will love the groom and be very thankful.

It is important to talk to the horse and let him or her hear your voice.  Voice commands are important in riding and they will “get acquainted” with you.  Much the same as a “first date”.  (We do say we are a dating service for horses).

The first time in the saddle, use a mounting block as it is much easier on the back and withers of a horse.  Think of how you would feel if your first date grabbed you by the throat, and pulled you to the side.



After you get up, take a moment to adjust your saddle, and make sure both feet are even in the stirrups.  If you are off on one side and ride sideways, the horse does not have confidence in his or her balance and yours for that matter. The weight should be on the ball of your foot, thus giving you good balance, and flexibility to “dance” with your new partner. You should be settled directly over the back of the horse with the horn comfortably on the withers.  Make sure that there is space between the horn and the back.  An ill fitting saddle can cause a world of problems as pinching and rubbing make a horse “very crabby”.  Make sure the bit is settled comfortably in the mouth.  The horse should not “smile”, but the big should be snug against the top of the mouth. The teeth are not present at this space, allowing comfortable bits to be inserted. If the bit it to low, it clangs on the teeth, NOT GOOD!

The heels should always be down.  If you cannot put your heels down, then your stirrups are too short, or you are “crunching” your leg.  That we can assure you is very uncomfortable for you and gives the horse a cue in the side that you want to go fast.  Perhaps you do not! A good loose leg at the bottom and a good solid comfortable grip at the thigh is the proper position to ride a horse in.  Heels down, back straight, butt down in the saddle, legs comfortable and free is the way to ride and the way to assure the horse that you have balance and are in tune with him.

The next thing we recommend is to pet the horse on both sides of the neck and speak to him.  That gives him your touch and your voice that assure him that you are in command, but will respect him. It gives you a chance to do a pre ride check and get a big breath and be calm.  The horse feels your body and your senses. Just take a few moments to get settled.

Sometimes we watch riders get on, give a big kick and the horse will flinch.  They have really not gotten acquainted with you and do not know your style. Take some time to explain by your voice and soft hand that you respect them and they will respond.

You need to make sure that your reins are the same length on both sides.  The reins are attached to a steel bit, and that is a very important part of your understanding of the horse and what you are asking.  If one rein is short and the other long, it is like trying to drive a car down the road with you wheel turned toward the ditch.  Your horse responds to the turn and the stop by pressure and if it is all off center, then who knows where you may go.!

There are many different types of bits, like shoes for people, some fit, and some do not.  After you adjust your reins, pull gently back and see where that horse responds.  Then you know how much tension to place on the bit, generally however NONE.  Our horses are free rein horses that do not require pulling in fact they do not like constant pulling and pressure.  A pull usually means STOP, and release means go forward.  Also remember that the bits have chains that act much like a lever or in some cases an emergency brake.  Pulling back hard on the bit activates a lever like feel to the bottom jaw of the horse and too much can really hurt. (This can be a good thing with a run away). When you pull back, you really mean to STOP!

One trick I used to do with my riders was to put a bridle on my students head, and the bit in their hands. The reins are behind the rider.  I then as the instructor, tell my “rider/horse” to go forward by a gentle tap on the back. If I hit my rider, they are startled, much like kicking a horse too hard in the beginning.  By being in the horse’s position, you can understand what it feels like.  I then pull and yank the bit, and they can see what it feels like.  A gentle hand and good commands generates confidence in the horse.

Horses are very sensitive and introspective.  A good horseperson will watch, observe and listen.  They will tell you what they are thinking if you take the time to listen. 

Now you are ready to ride.  Ask the horse by gentle pressure with the bottom of your leg to walk forward.  If you get little response a gentle nudge with your heel is required.  NOT a major kick and bolt technique.  As you walk off, adjust yourself to not only proper balance in the saddle by weight on both stirrups evenly, but a nice loose  rein and a gentle “click”.  The horse knows your voice by now and he will respond. If a horse flips his head, and acts uncomfortable generally you the rider are too rough and they are telling you ouch!  If the horse does not respond, then a gentle pull back and correction is in order.  Wait a moment to see what their needs and response is!

As you watch Pam and Darci ride, it looks like they are not doing anything. The commands are subtle and direct with no jerking and no kicking. Pam  will watch you ride our horse. She is a incredible observer for that partnership. She lives and breaths horses, and knows what is working and what is not.

A nudge of the leg usually will suffice. A command to turn is done with the neck reining method.  If the horse does not respond for some reason, you can reach down and pull gently on the reins the way you want to go.  Then reestablish the communication and the neck rein will work.  When you nudge with your leg, be sure the nudge is direct and kind.  The same is with a kick.  Take a moment to see what works.

If a horse acts “hyper” then you are too tense, too ridged and they feel it.  Relax and trust and the horse will too.  If you are a rider that is tense, this is ok, and we change horses to find you one that will accept your body language and fit you better.

Now you are ready to dance with a new partner.  Each person and each horse has their own rhythm.  It is the JOB OF THE RIDER TO ADJUST TO THE RHYTHM OF THE HORSE! Take a minute to see how he feels, and what the cadence is at the walk.  When you have adjusted your rhythm to his, then proceed to a gentle jog trot.  You can now see what that rhythm is and adjust your seat and legs to that cadence.  Again, you are dancing with a partner and you need to see who he or she is. When we see folks that get in the saddle and want to run off, generally this is not our owner and we will not sell to you.

Now ride off and get to know your horse.  After you feel confident, then go forward with a lope and discover what the horse is looking for in his rider.  Most horses are looking for direction and confidence in their rider.  If you are not confident, take your time with the horse.  Tonkawood specializes in horses that are not going to overreact to mistakes however and that are why our horses are so special and hard to find. 

After a ride, on hot days, a nice bath is much appreciated by the horse.  We use a hose here at Tonkawood.  When you give a bath, make sure your horse is cooled down a bit as the shock of hot water on a hot body is not great!  Start with the legs.  The blood flow begins here and you need to adjust the temperature of the horse by legs first.  The same applied to getting into the water in the pool.  Adjust a minute and your body will accept and welcome the cool water. We do not recommend a bath in cold weather however and colds can occur just like humans.  Think of how you would react to a bath. That is what your horse thinks also.

Riding is a joy, and the job of the prospective new owner is to demonstrate that the right partner is yours and you too dance well together. We need to know what the horse thinks of YOU!

I have taught riding for 25 years and seen all kinds of riders. The most important thing I ever could teach was that riding was a partnership.  Confidence on the part of the horse and love and confidence on the part of the rider makes a life long love and joy for both. In my lessons I often played music to relax the rider and the horse and demonstrate the dance.

Our job at Tonkawood is to match you up with the right partner for safety and fun, companionship and love! We have met so many wonderful folks here at Tonkawood and our greatest joy it to make a match. We love our horses, and respect them. To see a good owner, a nice family and wonderful match for the kids or you is fun and rewarding.  We need to be sure and thank our many friends, customers for their love and care of our special ones. That is what made Gran/Mom come out of retirement,  what makes our Dad/Pop, Bill work so hard on our place. The greatest joy I have personally working with my beautiful talented daughters. We have now introduced Mike, grandson , into the business. He is learning and “being paid” to help here for the summer. Bill and I are proud of them, and their calling to the horse world.  It is a beautiful thing and we are blessed. We are a family that loves horses and wants to make sure they are served!

                                    What happens after you get your new horse home.

Be aware that they need a little time to settle and organize themselves to a new environment.  After you turn out your horse, please be aware of any obstacles that they can get hurt in. Horses seem to take great joy in getting into things such as ill fitted fences, barb wire( we encourage you NOT to put horses in barbed wire unless it is very well made and tight). Show them the water source.  Also allow them to meet their new pasture mates if there are some.  If they must see a horse across the fence line, make sure that the fence is secure or better yet an space between the two. Be sure that there is no space that the horse can put his foot through.  They will if they can. This can cause trouble as the foot can get caught and cut.

We generally check with the new owner or prospective buyer to see if the you have other horses that will interact with the new horse. Many times a mare and a gelding do not do well, as some attachments form and the horses we sell you could change his or her attitude if the mix is not right.  Please make sure that you inform us what the home dynamic is so we can evaluate our horses ahead of time for the particular need and home environment. The horse needs to get acclimated to a new environment.  We do not ride our horses the first day, but let them see where they are.  You on the other hand may elect to ride as they should be able to adjust. When you saddle and bridle, make sure that everything fits the horse.  Remember the pinch scenario, it hurts, aggravates and causes unexplainable behavior. This is not good!

After all is well, follow the above procedure for your ” pre ride check list”, then ride off and have fun, as actually that is why you bought the horse in the first place! Do not be in a hurry, but take time to make sure your equipment fits, your bits are correct, you are settled in the saddle correctly, and your reins are even and loose. We recommend however that you give the horse a chance to make sure he understands his job, you and his environment.  Sometimes we encourage you to walk the horse around his environment the first day to get him comfortable and focuses on YOU! Note: No horse is always perfect and riding has an inherent risk associated with it, therefore it is the job of the rider to make sure that he or she is tuned into the horse, pays attention to any signs of  disconnect or lack of communication between the horse and rider. If you feel a disconnect and are not making a good rider horse connection, our advice is to dismount, regroup and see what the problem is.

For all of you that know this already, sorry for the time, for you that don’t, take a minute to read and follow.  It will make your horse life much easier and fun!

After all is well,  Enjoy and Love!


Pat (Mother/Gran)