Buying horses of any age is a risk. A lot of people have written beautifully about the rewards and dangers of buying youngsters, but I'm just as concerned about the risks in buying mature horses. I sell horses for a living and I have a constant fear that I won't be able to find my next good prospects. For that reason I've begun breeding.
In buying mature horses I've been lucky. Not one has failed to make it as a useful horse in some discipline. But I often feel that my horses would be better had they not raced, or had they not been handled by their previous owners. Even once I sell them on they don't always work out for their next owners. A couple have ended up with soundness problems, and some have been resold to more appropriate riders. Price and the horse's track record don't seem to have anything to do with the odds of future success.
A few years ago I sold a home-bred unbroken two year old to a fifteen year old timid rider. She'd rejected many made horses through a year of shopping, and seen this filly as a yearling. A lot of people tried to discourage her, but it's what she wanted. The filly turned out to be a bit opinionated, and was quick to buck. I worked with them twice a week for the first six months,and the girl had to confront her fear every time she got on the horse. They did some good work together but never jumped and never showed. Two years later they brought the horse back for me to train and sell.
Did they make a mistake? Absolutely not, according to the whole family. That filly taught the girl so much about life. She managed to do what she wanted, which was to hack across country on the most beautiful horse she knew of, a horse that she had taken risks with, and had learned to trust. Sometimes after a ride she'd be so overcome with emotion that she'd give me a big hug. She and her mom, who would accompany her on rides, got so much more out of this project than they would have going to horse shows and winning ribbons. When it was time for the girl to go to college, they were able to sell the five year old horse for a good price. It was a sad thing to do, but another valuable growing-up experience.
I'll never forget the first time I saw the foal that was to become my horse when I was about twelve, and I'd never try to discourage anyone else who has the dream of raising and training a young horse.
I think those of us who are professionals should accept the fact that not all horses will have professional training throughout their careers, and that's OK. People and horses are always teaching each other, whatever their age or experience. Telling people to avoid young horses is not feasible, and not even necessarily right.