Saturday, September 27, 2008

Pick me! Pick me!

Which of these horses would you buy?

1. Middle-aged QH gelding, papered, no notable scars or injuries. Digs holes in stall floor. Owner selling because he is unmanageable--rears, bucks, refuses to leave the barn area, claustrophobic in the trailer (loads and trailers but works up a sweat just standing there). During test ride, horse rams into the gate, rears on canter cue, trips and falls on corner. Owner of former boarding establishment reports he is "a wingnut". Sale only, no lease, as owner does not want liability for injuries to riders.

2. Middle aged gelding, papered, noticeable impact scar on chest. Reportedly purchased for child who decided to change disciplines. Unridden for most of past 18 months. Spooks in the ring during test ride. Otherwise unremarkable. Attractive horse whose history is sketchy.

3. 9-yo OT mare, papered, foundered, pregnant with first foal. Former owner will not respond to contact. Fine during test ride, but rears on back-up cue.

4. Unpapered gelding advertised as TB. Age possibly 10 years. Tattoo has been altered. Over at the knee. High-withered. Reportedly shown by youth jumper but outgrown. Former boarding farm owner reports horse has had no veterinary issues during his tenure at that farm. Jumps well. Very strong during test ride. Bolts after second jump. Distal ringbone on right fetlock. Early history unavailable.

5. Papered breeding stock Paint gelding, 6-yo. No scars or injuries. Moves nicely. Reported to have worked as a cow horse in the stockyards in TX and FL. Prior owners liked his attitude and hard work ethic. Quiet, sane, no vices.

6. 12-yo greenbroke QH broodmare, papered, being taken out of breeding rotation for throwing twins. No training to speak of. Nervous. Unaccustomed to noise and confusion. Hasn't been away from home since she was 2. Toes in in front, toes out behind. Cow-hocked. No notable scars.

If you chose #5, you made a good, obvious choice . . . except for the fact that within a couple of months you'd have been in the ER. Nice horse, had a violent reaction to spring grass.

The other five all turned out to be fine horses. The number 1 horse became a beginner lesson horse, and eventually also did low-level dressage. The number 2 horse was a quiet lesson horse and a fine trail horse. The number 3 horse produced a top-notch foal and was a trustworthy trail horse until she was retired due to illness. The number 4 horse became a well-known winner at local shows, over fences, on the flat, and running barrels. He retired to become an advanced-beginner lesson horse until he died.

How good was your guesswork? Looking over the specs, objectively all six horses had potential, both positive and negative. It's the individuality of the animals and their ability to change their spots in the hands of different owners that makes the whole horse-buying experience so traumatic. Add to the essential silliness of most horse owners (and some horses) the fact that there are unscrupulous sellers who will drug animals or lie about their histories, and we appear to be right back full circle to the "What in the hell are we doing?" question.

All of these horses (and a bunch of others), by the way, are or have been mine or my daughter's. Number 1 is my BFF, Leo, in the picture above. I didn't talk about number 6. She was my all-time favorite horse, who within a year learned to do miles on the trail alone, ponied babies at a breeding farm, and went to every show I could find to put her in right up until she died of cancer 9 years later. Ribbons for English classes and barrel racing are still on my wall.

And again, we're back to Square One. The horse that appeared to be the best prospect of the bunch was the worst in the end. The ones that were questionable at best turned out just fine with a little work and lots of compassion.

What's a buyer to do?

More on testing for trainability coming up.

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