Choosing a survival horse is in many ways the same as selecting an assault rifle or other survival equipment. There is no perfect survival horse for all uses, and you must decide what things you need and what you can do without.
A Percheron is great, if you need to plow a field, but is far from ideal for making a fast ride over a mountain range. An Arabian may get you over the mountains in record time, but not even be able to budge the plow.
Why do you need a survival horse?
The first thing that you need to decide is, what is going to be your primary use for a survival horse? Are you planning to keep it just as transportation to your retreat? Do you intend to use it for farming after you arrive, or do you plan on doing both? Each of these uses is best suited by a different type of horse.
Other factors, such as climate, terrain, how far you live from your retreat, your riding skill, whether you plan to carry over equipment with you or make caches, are important in selecting what type of survival horse is to be your survival partner.
Options you have
There are basically three classifications of horses. The draft horse is the largest and best suited for heavy farm labor. The light horse includes the greatest number of breeds and is the most popular and versatile. The last classification is really several groups combined. These are the asses, mules, and ponies.
Mules are all born sterile. For this reason, I feel that they are not suitable for long-term survival. There are far too many individual breeds of horses to go into much detail here. I will briefly cover several of the more popular ones later. There are also many cross-breed horses. Registration papers do not assure you are getting a good horse.
Many of the crossbreed horses are excellent, and some very poor horses are registered and come from good bloodlines. Draft horses were originally bred for the farmer and drayman. Later some breeds were bred for the armored knight. Their heritage as war horses does not mean that they would be good choices for the survivalist who anticipates a lot of fighting.
These horses were needed to carry the weight of a knight in armor. In order to gain the strength to carry such a heavyweight, they became too heavily built for speed and endurance. They are, however, the best choice for the person who needs a horse primarily for plowing and pulling heavy loads.
Draft horses weigh between 1,600 and 2.000 pounds, with some individuals that are either heavier or lighter. Their weight gives them better traction in soft sand. The draft horse is usually bred for a calm and docile disposition. They are generally easier to manage than a riding horse. On the negative side, they require more feed and are slower and less nimble than the lighter breeds. A draft horse is definitely not the right choice for a fast break to your retreat.
The light horse breeds are far more popular than the draft homes, asses and ponies. The light horses are the most versatile. They can be used for draft work, but are not really as suited for heavy pulling as the draft horse. For other purposes, they are a better choice. They range in size from the 800 to 1,100 pound Arabian to the large coach horses that can weigh almost as much as the lighter draft breeds.
Asses and ponies are the lightest of these classes. As a general rule, people get small ponies for children rather than themselves. They seem to feel that since it is smaller, it will be safer than a full-sized horse. I think that this is incorrect. The small size of a pony does not make it more gentle and tractable. In fact, many ponies can be quite nasty. Although some ponies can be surprisingly fast, the majority of them have little chance of keeping up with a full-sized horse that is running hard. This is particularly true over longer distances. Another disadvantage to ponies is that it is harder to find one that has been well trained.
Ponies can be a handful
More time and effort is spent training a horse because more is generally expected of it. It is also difficult to get good quality tack to fit a pony. Most of the tack available for ponies is designed to sell for the lowest possible price. It is not intended to last under hard usage and fit comfortably for the animal and its rider on extended rides.
Last, the ponies gaits are generally rough. This is particularly bad for a child or beginning rider. Asses are just as bad, if not worse. The asses are even slower than ponies. On the positive side, they are very sure-footed and there is quite a bit of good quality pack gear available to fit them.
Your Choice for a survival horse
If you talk to horsemen about what type you should select as your survival horse, you will learn a number of things. First, you will be told, with great sincerity, that their favorite is the most versatile of all breeds. Another thing they will be likely to say is that it has great endurance.
Getting the truth about endurance is simple. Look at the finishing list of the longer endurance races. You will also be told that their breed’s disposition and intelligence is the best. I feel that no one breed of horse can be expected to do all things well.
You are going to have to make compromises. If you want a survival horse that is capable of covering great distances in the fastest time, then you should expect it to be less than perfect as a draft animal. A horse used for heavy roping stock is likely to be too heavily built for endurance.
An ass that can get you over seemingly impossible terrain should not be expected to do so in record time. The following are some of the most popular and readily available breeds in this country.
The American Quarter horse
The most popular horse, especially in the West, is the Quarter Horse. The Quarter Horse was originally bred as a short distance racer, specifically the quarter-mile. For short distances this is the fastest of all breeds.
The Quarter Horse is heavy and muscular. The same heavy musculature that gives them their speed and power makes them tire more quickly than the lighter breeds. One of the primary uses of this breed is working stock. The Quarter Horse’s quickness makes it a good choice for cutting cattle, particularly in confined areas. The speed and strength also make this breed a fine choice for roping.
The Arabian is one of the lightest of the full-sized breeds. Originally bred by the desert tribes as a warhorse, this breed has the greatest stamina. This is the most popular choice for endurance racing. Despite their lightweight, the Arabian can carry heavy loads.
They can be used for anything from stock work to light pulling, but their lightweight makes them a poor choice for roping heavy stock and pulling large loads. Because of their stamina and intelligence, this is my choice as a survival horse.
The Morgan horse
My second choice as a survival horse is the Morgan. This breed was developed to be a dual-purpose animal. They were intended to be used for riding or pulling a buggy and also for plowing and other farm work. This breed is somewhat heavier than the Arabian and lighter than the Quarter Horse or the draft breeds.
The Morgan is a good compromise if your horse must be used for pulling heavy loads yet still have good endurance. Like most compromises, this isn’t perfect. They do not have the power of the pure draft horse or quite as much long-distance speed as the Arabian.
The Thoroughbred horse
The Thoroughbred was developed for racing. They are a tall horse and lighter in build than other breeds that are as tall. The Thoroughbred is very fast in races of moderate length, but doesn’t have the endurance of the Arabian or Morgan. In the shorter endurance races, some have done quite well. They were used extensively by the cavalry.
Despite their apparent size, they are a poor choice for draft work. Some strains, racing bloodlines, in particular, are highly nervous and erratic. Some Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse crosses make excellent working horses.
The list goes on
These are just a few of the breeds of horses. There are many others, and each has its followers. You have to decide what you need. If you live near or on your retreat, then you may not need great endurance. Perhaps you have a farm and need a horse just for draft work. If you live in mountains or a long distance from your retreat, then endurance and sure-footedness may be the most important considerations.
Finding your survival horse
Once you have decided what breed or breeds you are interested in, you will want to look at as many horses as possible. Looking at the classified ads should give you at least one breeder worth looking into unless the breed you want is uncommon in your area.
Another way to find a breeder is to talk to horsemen. If you don’t know anyone who keeps horses then try going to rodeos, roping arenas, riding stables, even western stores. You are bound to meet someone who can give you an idea of where to go. The way that will give you the best selection of breeders is to look at the ads in horse magazines, preferably those devoted to the breed that you are considering. If the breeders you go to show their horses, they will probably try to impress you with their wins. This is fine, but it may not be very important for the person who wants a working horse.
Many of the show classes are judged primarily on conformation. Good conformation depends so much on the taste of the judge that many big breeders simply travel to shows where there is a judge they know favors their horse. There are also performance classes. These test the horse’s abilities. Even these are also sometimes a matter of taste. They do provide a better indication of the horse’s potential but do not really show as much as the owner would like you to think.
Related article: How To Integrate A Horse In Your Survival Plans
A horse that does very well in a cutting class may be useless for herding cattle over unfamiliar terrain. The more people you bring along with you to ride the horse, the better. Some owners may object to this, but it’s your money. It can take a good rider to appreciate some of the more highly trained horses.
This does not mean that a beginner shouldn’t choose such a horse. It just means that they will need to improve their riding skills to use all of their horse’s training. For example, if you are not able to sit on a horse well, then it would be difficult to assess how well the animal responds to subtle cues made by slight leg pressure or weight changes. It is also good to have an inexperienced rider try the horse. Some horses will behave perfectly for a good rider and be unmanageable for someone who is less experienced. There are also horses that are sexist. They may work very well for a woman, but hate men, or the other way around.
One thing that can tell you quite a bit about a horse is watching the owner catch it. This is a good reason for leaving the time that you are coming unknown. Watch to see if the horse comes willingly or has to be trapped. If it comes readily, it may be simply hoping for food, or it may want attention. In either case, it is showing that it is not afraid.
A horse that likes attention and human companionship is almost always easier to train and handle than the one that is standoffish. A horse that runs could be just playing, or it could be afraid of people.
Find out exactly what the horse has been trained for. Ask for a demonstration. Better yet, test the animal yourself. Often, you will find that either the seller has a different idea of what “trained” means, or that the horse is just not as competent as it was represented. It is very easy for a highly skilled rider to forget how difficult it can be for a novice, or even a moderately skilled rider, to make a horse perform well.
Go ahead and ride your survival horse
This is one reason to make sure that the person the horse is being purchased for rides it. If you intend buying the survvial horse for yourself, then you should ride it. The same is true if it is going to be ridden by your wife, husband, or child. The time to find out if you can handle the animal is before you buy, not after. If it is possible, you should ride in an area that is new to the horse. This will tell you a great deal about how suitable it is as a survival companion.
After a disaster, you may very well be riding in strange places. You need an animal that accepts new smells, sounds, and sights calmly and sensibly. A horse that behaves perfectly in a pen can become unmanageable when confronted with something new.
Here again, the time to find this out is before the horse is your problem. The best way to do this, if you’re truly serious about the animal, is to take it on a trial basis. Most breeders do not like to do this, but it is about the only way to really get to know the horse. A trial period will let you see how the horse does for the type of riding that you intend to do.
One last advice
One last thing to do before buying a survival horse is to have a veterinarian give the animal a thorough examination. The veterinarian should be able to give you an estimate of the animal’s age. They are able to pick out faults that are all too easy for the layman to miss and even point out things that may cause trouble in the future.
If you take your time and select your survvial horse carefully, you will have an extremely valuable asset for survival and a great hubby as well. If you choose an animal that doesn’t suit you then, welcome to that old and well-known club of the horse trader.