Horse Shopping? Make A List

There are thousands of horses and ponies out there, all over the world, and many of them are for sale. There are thousands of potential buyers. There are numerous methods of putting these horse buyers in contact with the horse sellers, the internet being the big new game in town. There`s also word of mouth, and print advertising, but whatever the method, at some point some of the shoppers actually find themselves in the physical presence of some of the animals which are for sale. Now what?

There are two very broad, often overlapping methods of thinking that catagorize the horse shopping experience, which I will call “Rational Thinking” and “Fairy Tale Thinking”, RT and FTT. Most of us use both. Even the most hard bitten, cynical, “been there, done that”, curmudgeonly old pessimist will find something to hope for in the occasional horse. Even the most Black Beauty-ized, dream struck, “I love his cute little ears” fantasizer doesn`t fall in immediate love with EVERY horse. But if we used a one to ten scale, a one being the straight realist, and the ten, the total dreamer, it might be a useful exercise to try to figure out where we might fit on this hypothetical scale.

Why? Because buying the right horse brings great satisfaction and joy, and buying the wrong one brings just as much disatisfaction and distress, and even though choosing wisely can still lead to mistakes, choosing foolishly is more likely to turn out badly.

If you know, deep in your secret little heart, that you are an eight, nine, or ten, prone to gasp in delight at a glorious forelock, hiding two bright brown eyes, and overlooking the crooked left pastern, you might want to get a “three” friend to go with you! Even more important, sit down with that “three” friend, someone who knows you pretty well, and do the single best thing you can do. Write a LIST.

Probably the most important question to struggle with before you get started on your list will also be the hardest question to face honestly: How competent a rider and trainer am I?

The next hard question to answer honestly is:What are my goals with this horse?

If you fake the answers to those two questions, God help you, because nobody else can. Example: You are in reality at this point in your riding,(which you refuse to face), an inexperienced rider, who lacks stability, hasn`t done much jumping, hasn`t spent long hours hanging around barns and warmup rings, so doesn`t know much about horsemanship, and isn`t very physically fit. Every one of these facts about you can be remedied, but they have not been addressed AT THIS TIME.

But you fantasize that you want a horse that can jump 3 feet, eight inches, and allow you to compete at the preliminary level of eventing. He must be a splendid mover, have a great gallop, and be beautiful and “electric” in dressage. Your goals are not in synch with your riding capabilities. NOT YET.

 And if you buy a horse that`s too far above your capabilities, and who won`t let you fumble around and make all kinds of mistakes while you gradually become a better rider, you may get scared or discouraged, or injured, or all of the above, so that you may never become the rider that the right horse, for you, AT THIS TIME, might have allowed.

So make a list of the things in this new horse that you actually NEED, instead of the things that you WANT. Obviously, if  you are Philip Dutton making the list, or some other great rider, the qualities you want are also those that you need, but that`s not the case for most horse shoppers. So try to list those things that YOU need, in reality, for this particular stage of your riding, knowing that in a few years, or less, you may need something very different. Or not.

The list: Here are some of the subjects that may or may not be included in your particular list:

1.Breed. Does this horse have to be, say, a Quarter Horse? If your goal is to show in Quarter Horse shows, then it obviously must be.

2. Sound. How sound does this horse have to be to suit my purposes? A beginner horse to learn on may not have to be as sound as the Rolex horse, but that`s your decision, how much risk you are willing to take.

3.Temperament. How much “octane in the tank” are you competent to deal with? Be careful! Hot horses tend not to get less hot, and most of us can`t ride hot horses with high levels of success. Calm horses tolerate our mistakes, as we learn. The temperament issue is key.

4. Athleticism. If, realistically, you`ll be jumping two feet, six inches for the forseeable future, does this horse have to be able to jump four six? Maybe yes, maybe no, but decide.

5. Price range  (Maybe this should come first, for many buyers)

6.Size. Big riders can often successfully ride small horses, and small riders can ride big ones, so get a sense of what YOU think is ok.

7. Age   Think through the various ramifications of this one.

8. Color   It may not matter one bit, or, say, to a palomino lover, it may be crucial.

9.”Pretty”  How much does this matter? It`s a very personal choice.

10.Mare, gelding or stallion. This matters hugely to some, little to others. Gelding an older stallion has some risks attached.

11.Training. Green, totally schooled, somewhere in between.

13. Other—there are probably a few I`ll think of later.

The point is to try to figure out in advance what this horse should theoretically possess, knowing that you will almost never get everything that the list contains in one horse. Which is why it`s so important to buy more than one!!! Good luck!


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