Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Horse Buying 101: Heart verses Head

Easy...this is not about me buying another horse... even though I am now down to three horses (actually two and a half horses, really), so I do have room for one more....

Stop it, Alison. Stop that now....

One of the internet bulletin boards that I frequent always has a thread or two about buying a horse. It can start as a "Hey, critique this horse to be my next dressage... what do you guys think?" and inevitably dissolves into a "I LOVE THIS HORSE! WE'LL SHOW YOU MEANIES WHEN WE'RE PSG CHAMPIONS!".... because - say it with me now- every horse can do dressage. 


Now the realm of buying and selling horses has so many rant-worthy topics, I could write a blog... But there's only so much that I care to rant about on any one topic, so I'll have to limit this to a post or two. So what buying pitfall am I going to focus on today?

Buying the horse based on a totally emotional response instead of buying a horse that fits the bill of what you need, rationally. 
We'll have the same relationship as Alec and the Black!

I get it, really, horse's are more like pets and sometimes there's a case of love at first sight. I'm just as guilty of it as anyone else... of course, by this point in my life I can curb that impulse when I see an absolutely adorable quarter horse, or flashy pony. I know that the horse has to be able to do what I want (and do it well) for our 'relationship' to work out, otherwise it's unfair to both me and the horse. So, let's take a little walk through memory lane and see when and where I lead with the heart verses head....

Horse #1: Opie.
Don't we all buy our first horse because we love them? Maybe not as adults, but let's face it, 99% of little girls are madly in love with their first horses, and I was no exception. Opie was a unhappy lesson horse that I felt special to be allowed to ride. She bucked, she darted, she bit (other horses), she kicked (again, only horses), but I loved her. My little 12 year old life would forever be incomplete without her. 
Did it work out? Yes, I did everything with Opie and loved her the whole time. As a matter of fact, I still love Opie, 15 years later... We did barrels, driving, pleasure (poorly), drill teams, trail rides, dressage- You name it, we did it. We were the jack of all trades, master of none. 
Should it have worked out? On paper, buying a green broke, sullen 6 year old quarter horse of questionable breeding for a young, newish rider with no real goals. In hind sight, I think that it was only the lack of any real goal that made our partnership work. If we didn't do well, we just changed tracks. 

Horse #2: Arlberg
Again, the young girls love for the horse outweighed the rational, intelligent side of things. Of course, a shifty trainer doesn't help. So in came the conveniently for sale Arlberg, a 15 year old AppendixQH (yeah, he had a QH great grand parent back there. The horse was 98% TB). 
This time I did have goals. I wanted to do Dressage, and had been told that my beloved Opie would never be able to do Dressage. I would need to have a horse like Arlberg, the polar opposite of everything Opie was, to start my journey in Dressage. And like all teenage girls, I treated Trainer's word as golden and immediately fell in love with tall, lanky, pampered Arlberg. 
Did it work out? Not really. On one hand, I found a new trainer who helped me improve myself and my new horse and earned some decent scores at shows. We even dipped our toes in to the recognized shows to play with the big dogs. On the other hand, my new Dressage Horse was crippled. As soon as the check cleared the bank, the bute wore off and Arlberg moved like any other used up former race horse, so we were introduced to the wonders of modern veterninary science. The other (major) downside of this  was that Arlberg really damaged my confidence. Where I felt invincible on Opie, I never knew when Bergy would 'explode' and run away. 

Horse #3: London

I'll admit, at first I did not love London. I didn't even like London. I distinctly remember the first time I saw him as a working student, taking him up for the trainer to ride and thinking "I'll never own a horse with a neck like that. Look how low it ties in!"
Then when Arlberg tore a tendon while turned out, my trainer more or less said "this is your new horse, don't even bother looking around". He met all of the rational criteria that I needed, and my trainer knew it. He vetted clean (lesson learned with Bergy!). We had the typical love-hate relationship often seen between frustrated beginners and their schoolmasters. I love and appreciate him now, even if he wasn't what I wanted at the time, he was certainly what I needed.

Horse #4: RC
OK, this one doesnt count. He was Opie's first baby and my first foal, of course I love him! But since I bred instead of bought him, I put up with all of his quirks (and probably installed a few myself). 

Horse #5: Delight
Delight's sales ad picture
This time I had a list. I was an adult. I was only going to look at young sport ponies with dressage potential. I looked at hundreds of ads. I called on one, vetted her and brought her home. I liked her when I saw her, but I like her more now that I've trained her. 

Horse #6: Chantilly

This horse I bought for resale, and to fine tune my training. I was actually looking at a different horse, but Chantilly fit my bill even better. I ruthlessly squelched the inner voice that argued for the flashier mare (chrome! so much chrome! and a belly spot!) in favor of Tilly's superior natural gaits. 

I guess the moral of the story is that it's easy to fall in love. I love all of my horses, to varying degrees. But both horse and rider are happier when their goals and abilities are in line with each other.

And for pete's sake, listen to your trainer!

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