DON’T: Go, See, Buy
The typical horse buying process goes something like this:
A trader or trainer offers up a horse that he is often looking to sell quickly, or you might pick up an ad. If you are getting assistance from a trainer, he (or she) will have first sat down with you to discuss your needs, your objectives, your availability to ride, your budget and your level of experience. He will have seen you ride and will have been able to evaluate your ability. If this critical part of the process has not been done, you should get another agent, because the trainer has no way of knowing what might be a suitable match for you.
You make an appointment with the owner of the horse to try it. The seller has plenty of advance notice to ‘prepare’ the horse for your visit. When you arrive at the farm, the horse is usually already groomed, saddled and ready to be ridden. Most often, the owner or seller rides the horse in front of you. You look on for a few minutes, and if you like what you see and feel the horse is safe, you might ride it yourself. Oftentimes, this step is skipped. If you do try the horse, it lasts anywhere between 5 and 20 minutes, rarely more. In exceptional cases, you may have the opportunity to try the horse at your favourite discipline: jumping, trail riding (how many sellers let you take the horse out on the trail?), reining or dressage pattern. In some cases, you might have already seen the horse ridden by an expert rider at a horse show; you have never seen it in its stall, in the aisle, with the vet, out to pasture… You go home, and if you strike an agreement on price with the seller or trainer, you buy the horse. A few days later, your new friend is brought to the barn with a halter and if you are lucky, notes on feeding! Your adventure begins…
What motivates over 90% of buying decisions made by amateur horse enthusiasts? EMOTION! The buyer ‘falls in love’ with an animal about which he knows nothing about. Most of the time, appearance is the determining factor, typically and in that order: color, height and presence. Unfortunately, beauty is no substitute for suitability or character and does not guarantee a harmonious partnership…
Think about it: would you buy a house without having it inspected, acting simply upon the recommendation of a real estate agent (whose salary depends on the sale), or by the seller? Would you be assured that the house suits your needs, that you will be comfortable in it, that it is in good order, that it will not cost you a fortune in unforeseen repairs, that it was built right? ‘Falling in love’ is part of the process, but don’t you also need an objective opinion by a unbiased party before making that kind of commitment, to help you make an educated decision? Or would you let emotion drive your judgment?
Buying a horse is not unlike buying a house, the expense is comparable, if you take into account the total cost of ownership and the time you will spend on it! It is an important decision with long term consequences on your quality of life and wallet! Don’t be blinded by first impressions, or worse, yield to pressure by a vendor.
Inexperienced rider buys a yearling or a green horse.
This is often a dangerous combination. It is not true that you will ‘grow together’. You will most likely end up frustrated, injured, scared and unable to manage your young horse. Young horses have not yet learned to tolerate human error. They react quickly and often very strongly if they don’t understand or feel forced. They are super sensitive, quick, easily scared. They can just as easily become dominant, disrespectful and pushy.
Starting a horse is a specialty and requires alot of savvy and experience. The risks are real. It is also imperative that whoever starts the horse endeavors to preserve the young horse’s confidence, curiosity, sensitivity and dignity at all cost. Good horsemen know how to play for and with the horse, and never feel obliged to dictate their ideas and do things to it. Colts and fillies are perfect at birth. They need a lot of feel, understanding and savvy because they learn so fast and are so easy to spoil with bad hands. Educating a young horse on the ground and in the saddle is much more difficult than riding a made horse.
This is why Pat Parelli recommends waiting until you have Level 4 before attempting to educate a young horse. Only then do you start to acquire a mastery of the formula Love, Language and Leadership in equal doses!
Recreational trail rider buys an Arab or other hot blooded breed.
Arabs, like Thoroughbreds, are hot blooded horses, bred for stamina and for being able to go fast for very long distances. This is why endurance riders love them – they can go forever. Thoroughbreds were bred to be racing machines. This is the equivalent of buying a Ferrari to go grocery shopping twice a week! The problem is, these types of horses can also go forever when they are scared! It’s not an ideal combination. Those types of horses are fast, very athletic, smart, easy to excite, and are often owned by middle aged people who are not fast, athletic and can’t really handle all the adrenaline and speed.
If you want a quiet, reliable trail riding horse, think about getting something that was bred to be more that way.
Kind heart rescues an abuse case.
Yes, we’d like to save them all. But adopting a rescue case can be the beginning of a long process of spending money, getting frustrated and painful heart ache. These horses are often so far gone mentally, emotionally and physically that the investment required to make them better and useful is tremendous. Most people underestimate what these horses will need from them. They can even be dangerous if they have a lifetime of abuse and negative patterns to draw on. You have lots of time, money and land – then maybe this could work. But if you think you will be saving money by getting a rescue horse, you’d better put your thinking cap on. These horses may never be sound or sane enough to be ridden or driven.
This is a choice that requires careful consideration. Then again, some wonderful people are able to rehabilitate rescue cases, but they also spend time and money on it and have the experience to do it. Unfortunately, not all rescue cases make it through.
Buying a mule or draft breed.
Pat Parelli says “you must treat a mule like you should treat a horse. Mules are like horses, only more so”. Mules are extremely intelligent and a lot less forgiving than horses. Draft horses, despite their apparent calm demeanor, but because of their strength, size and breeding to oppose pressure, are a challenge for most riders. These are breeds that should be reserved for after Level 4 because they require alot more savvy to be trained successfully. Miniature horses, although very high on the cute factor, also fall in this category.
Owning a stallion.
This is definitely a no-no situation, unless you have lots of horsemanship experience and ambitions to set up a large breeding operation and require a stud to produce the foals that you will raise and sell. Stallions are very high on the challenge scale, and many stallions should be gelded anyway because they don’t have the qualities to produce good offspring. Stallions require very careful management, cannot be kept easily around other horses, and many barns don’t want to board them. They can be extremely dangerous because of their hormones, strength, instinct to fight, and constant state of deprivation from social contact.
We recommend waiting until after Level 4 to handle stallions, and even then, it should be done by professionals.
DO: Obtain an evaluation from an independent professional
As for any property buyer, you may be using the services of a certified trainer to help you identify your requirements and to search for a horse (the agent). Or you may prefer to do everything yourself. In both cases, and without jeopardizing your agreement with your trainer, you have the additional option of consulting with me to get a neutral opinion and to benefit from my experience.
You have already ‘shopped’ for your horse and found a candidate. Once you have found a potential horse, how do you have it ‘inspected’? This is where I can come in as an independent professional and help you by performing an independent profiling of your prospect. You have the choice of being present or not, depending on distance and your availability, but it would be best if you could spend some time playing with the horse as well. I would have no incentive in the sale (no commission) and should be hired by YOU to work in YOUR interest.
I find it important to be able to observe the horse in as natural as setting as possible during an evaluation visit, which will follow your initial selection trial – in the barn, on line, at liberty, under saddle, and to use specific tests to determine the horse’s aptitude, behavior in different situations, its motivation, its reactions to pressure and to learning challenges. The profiling method uses various training and handling techniques acquired over 30 years of experience with all kinds of horses in all kinds of environments and disciplines. The evaluation visit usually lasts 2 to 3 hours.
The different elements that are profiled are noted using a checklist, and the results are made available to you after the visit.
You may also contact me to go over any details or clarify any results. At no time will you feel any pressure from me to carry out the transaction: the final decision is yours and you can take all the time you need.
If it is possible, you can also ask to take the horse on trial for a few weeks. That way, you can test him or her outside his regular environment and discover any unsuspected vices or problems that were not obvious during your first visit.