Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Attention, Shoppers! There's a Blue Light Special in the Intelligence Aisle!

I've done, I think, a fair job of picking apart the horse you're looking at, so I think it's time to turn the spotlight on you. Let me start with the biggest of all Big Questions: Why are you buying a horse?

There's no right answer, but at least four wrong ones. To wit:

1. I always wanted to join the horsey set so I can wear breeches and boots to social functions. [If you picked this one, you need to find a hobby that doesn't involve sharp instruments.]

2. I like the sound of "I have horses". [If this sounds like you, try buying a show cat. "I have a Maine Coon" is nearly as impressive and not as dangerous.]

3. I have property, and a horse would just complete the picture of Landed Gentry. [So would a koi pond.]

4. I keep buying horses, but none of them seems to be quite right for me, so I'm giving it another shot. [Time to take some lessons or a training clinic or two before you buy yet another wrong horse.]

If any of those sounds good to you, you need to stop horse shopping now and go find a new interest. Buy a plane. That will impress your friends even more than a horse would, and you can still walk around in boots and breeches since folks will expect that kind of lunacy from you.

Better reasons would be:

1. I've been riding for years on school horses, I have plenty of money and time, I'm leasing now, but my trainer says I can't progress without my own horse, so I'm biting the bullet and buying one.

2. I've already got a horse (or several), but I need one that can take me to the next level.

3. My horse died, got sick, became permanently lame, or is simply too old to continue to cart my chubby butt around.

4. I'm changing disciplines and need a horse that is bred for my new purpose.

5. I had a horse when I was young and want to get back to riding now that I can afford to do it again.

Those are just a few I've heard. There are as many reasons as their are horse folks. I bring up the issue primarily because why you're shopping will determine what types of horses you should be looking at.

Many disciplines require horses that are bred to move in particular way. Training can make minor adjustments in a horse's movement, but it won't change his basic athletic ability, so be sure you know what type of horse works best for what you want to do. And for the sake of everyone involved, don't be a tire-kicker. Don't force some beleaguered owner to drive many miles to show you a horse you know up front isn't the right type for your needs. Sure, we all love looking at horses, but we can curb the impulse if we try.

Here are a few shopping rules:

  • Call ahead, at least the first time. If you're suspicious, you may want to sneak back for a second look without warning the seller, but start on a positive note.
  • If you don't intend to ride the horse on the first visit but want to see him ridden, tell the seller that up front so he/she can plan around you.
  • If you do intend to ride, make that clear as well and arrive dressed for the occasion and carrying your very own helmet.
  • Bring a digital camera or cell phone so you can take whatever pictures will help you mull over the decision when you get home.
  • Ask in advance if you'll need to bring your own tack--this is especially important if you are an odd size.
  • If you're at all leery of the horse, don't ride him. But do give him a second chance if there's a chance you might both be having an off day.
  • Bring your checkbook so you can leave a deposit if you're interested in the horse.
  • Be polite! The barn owner and/or seller didn't invite you in to critique his operation. You're there to look at a horse. And even if the animal does look like a cartoon character, the seller may truly love the beast and will not take your laughter kindly.
  • Don't look at horses far out of your price range in the hope that the buyer will negotiate. Ask up front if negotiation is even an option and stay within about 20% of your buying limit.
I can say from experience that that last rule is possibly the most important. If the buyer has a price of, say, $12,000 on a proven show horse, she probably expects to get close to that amount. The least-favorite buyer at my farm was the one who saw that price on a jumper/dressage horse, called and asked for all the details, then sweetly offered to take the horse "free to a good home" if we didn't get any better offers. If you only have $2000 to spend, you don't need to say that up front, but you should not be bothering the sellers who are trying to unload their high-dollar show animals for many times that amount. Look instead in the $0 to $3000 range. You'll be more likely to be successful there.

Next: That crucial test-drive


Anonymous said...

Hi JM...
Due to my own sad attempts (over the last 2 years) at finding horses for my family, I had to shake my head and laugh along with your post. I'm starting to wonder if I simply need a brain transplant instead of horses. It seems like EVERY owner/seller I've spoken with has 'the best horse' for sale (until I actually arrive and take a look at it or try to ride it *SIGH*)

Funny thing...almost all of them are for sale due to 'too many horses, not enough time'- however, a google search has periodically shown that said owner was the 'high buyer' at Nags'R'us Auction the previous weekend. They usually also have a tendency to (accidentally) omit that good 'ol Lightning is pigeon toed and runs like a giraffe, or has a history of bucking off riders for sport (I've learned that the sly request for an autograph on a liability waiver is a dead give away.)

Funny enough, many of the '1D barrel horses' listed for sale will turn out to be a '3D' horse that got a '1D' time last weekend because there were 3 riders competing and the other two were DQ'ed (Oh how I love that little Google button!)Another of my favorites is the 2/3D horse that 'could make a 1D Pro horse with the right rider' (yeah, and a visit from speed, agility, and talent fairy...but we don't want to discuss we???)

Wouldn't it be nice to change the program just a little? If the seller has what I am looking for, they are welcome to bring it to me for a showing. If they have been honest about their steed fitting the bill, I can reimburse them for their fuel. If they've fudged a little, they can have a nice trip home on their own dime- taking 'Alpo' with them.

All of my horseshopping experiences have me beginning to wonder if its safe to turn me loose with a bicycle, much less an equine. *Head-desk,head-desk,head-desk...*

Joanne Friedman, Freelance Writer, ASEA Certified Equine Appraiser, Owner Gallant Hope Farm said...

Shannon, from your keyboard to the horse public's eyes! I love the idea that the seller should take more of a stake in the process. Could lead to a little honest marketing! Wouldn't that be a hoot.