by Marilyn Munzert
Although experts recommend hiring a buyer’s agent to help locate and evaluate sale horses, most people purchase animals without help. To locate prospects, people typically scan bulletin boards at local tack shops, read classified ads, and call stables or breeding farms. High-tech shoppers might surf the Internet, where many ads are accompanied by descriptions, photos, and pedigree.
These are perfectly legitimate methods for finding sale horses – probably the same as those employed by many agents – yet people should buy horses with the same amount of skepticism and caution they have when dealing for used cars. The problem: It’s easier to use our heads than out hearts when buying used cars because they aren’t friendly or cute or equipped with large, soft eyes.
“Let the buyer beware” is not an overly cynical axiom to apply to purchasing a horse. Even sellers who have no intention of deceiving you can do so out of ignorance or a difference in perception. For example, a seller may maintain that his horse is well-trained and cooperative. That may indeed be the case for a person who exclusively rides trails. However, you may believe a well-trained horse easily performs a canter from the walk and flying lead changes.
Our ideas about what constitutes “a good horse” are subjective. When you’re lucky enough to ride or own a good horse, your perspective changes so much that finding another good one becomes a challenge. I conducted a casual survey among some friends to discover if my experiences were similar to theirs…the results are shared below.
Horse #1: Even though the owner sounded a little odd on the telephone, Wendy went to see this horse because she loved Morgans, and always wanted a chestnut horse with a flaxen mane and tail (if all other qualities were there). The farm itself was an experience – cats, dogs and rabbits running around and under rusty implements that were presumably yard ornaments. The horses were in a small pen and up to their knees in mud. While singing his virtues, the owner saddled the horse. Just as Wendy was ready to mount, the man said, “Oh, there is just one thing. He won’t stand still to be mounted.” While the horse snorted and pranced the man hollered. “He’s just trying to scare you.” By this time Wendy was very nervous.
Wendy rode the horse sideways around a hayfield for a while, just so the horse wouldn’t get to end the ride on his terms. To be polite, Wendy told the owner she would think about it.
Horse #2: According to the owner, this bay Quarter Horse gelding was a “confidence builder,” steady as a rock, and cooperative. Although the mud lot where he was turned out with a companion was dry, Bill saw both horses trying to bite ice out of frozen buckets because they had no water available, nor snow on the ground. If that wasn’t neglectful enough, both horses had serious vertical cracks in their hoofs, some up to the coronet band. Bill probably should have left right away, but that seemed rude somehow, so he agreed to ride the gelding.
As Bill was mounting, the owner decided he might need assistance, so he shoved Bill from behind — right into the horse, whereupon Bill kicked him in the butt swinging his leg over. After that, it was all downhill. The horse was so confused by the riding style that at one point he pawed the ground in frustration. This “English” riding horse didn’t like contact on his mouth, but he didn’t neck-rein either. The horse pretty much trot-hopped and refused to do anything else.
Bill gently told the disappointed owner that the horse’s gaits didn’t suit him very well. With a puzzled look on his face, the owner said, “I don’t understand. What do you mean by gaits?”
Horse #3: Gladys called on an ad for a 6-year-old Quarter Horse. The owner mentioned that the horse was somewhat thin because he was recovering from a “deep virus” that he’d suffered over the winter, but that he was a good, steady, do anything horse. He was easy to identify in the pasture full of horses. This horse was so thin that his flesh actually sunk away from his backbone and he had a 6-inch dip in front of his croup. When the owner offered to saddle him, Judy said she thought it would be cruel to tax him while in this kind of shape.
One would think that buying a quiet horse with good conformation and basic skills for trail riding would be a simple matter. No wonder it takes riders at the top of their disciplines months, even years, to find horses to match their skills. Perhaps their professional networks allow them to avoid most of the foregoing pitfalls. I doubt it.
For those in the market to buy a horse, which is going it alone, I strongly recommend the following to smooth your way.
Don’t buy a horse until you test him at what you are buying him to do. If he’s to be a trail horse, ride him on the trails. Don’t simply assume that a horse that is quiet in an indoor arena will be quiet on a trail. If it’s raining out on the day of your visit and you only ride in the indoor arena, go back for a second ride when the weather clears up.
Insist on a vet-check contingency before you commit yourself. Even if you think you are dealing with reputable people, you could get a “second-generation” lie about a horse’s soundness if the current owner has been misled by a former owner.
Buy your horse with the same amount of caution you use in approaching car dealerships and tax audits.
Make a list of requirements and stick to them. Owners with several horses are notorious for trying to sell you something other than what you inquired about. “No, I don’t have a trained gelding, but I have a…”
Don’t assume that the asking price for the horse will necessarily guarantee quality or character of the horse or the owner.
Don’t buy the horse solely because he is beautiful or a certain color.
Be skeptical if an owner says someone else is really interested in buying this horse, or tries to pressure you in some other way to make a quick decision.