Sunday, April 12, 2009

Buying a Horse

I posted last week about my frustrations with horse shopping. After the trial with “Louie” fell through, I started seriously looking at horse ads through various resources. I answered a bunch and Ann (one of the trainers at my barn) also sent me a bunch. I followed up on quite a few of them and in pretty much all cases, all of the horses I had found in my price range had something wrong with them. In particular were the horses that actually had a record with the US Eventing Association -- horses that never cleared cross-country and were thus eliminated from every competition (not a very good sign, you want a horse that you can trust on cross-country). The horses that didn’t have any kind of USEA record were even more concerning because then that really becomes a crap shoot. Might be a nice horse, but you just don’t know how they’re going to be. Plenty of perfectly nice & reasonable horses suddenly freak out when faced with being out on a cross-country course alone, or asked to ride through water or up / down a bank or to jump a ditch. Or maybe a horse who has performed well in hunters but will never achieve a respectable dressage frame. You just don’t know. But I was looking quite a bit and responding to ads, corresponding via email with people, Ann and I both were looking up USEA records (and both being scared senseless by what we found!)

And then on Monday Alison forwarded me an ad for a horse down in Aiken. Between my & Ann’s searching (and maybe some searching online by Alison as well) she had determined that there wasn’t much for sale up here in my price range -- at least there didn’t seem to be any suitable eventing horses in my price range. So she had been looking around down there at the same time. She found this reasonably-priced Irish Sport Horse mare who is relatively young (five), she had been doing some fox hunting and then had been introduced to eventing this Winter. She’s competed in a few horse trials (at Beginner Novice level) in the South over the past few months, always going clean jumping and even coming in fourth at one sanctioned event. I liked the price and the look of the horse and I liked how she seemed on the video they had of her, so Alison went off to see her.

The sellers trailered her over to a neutral location that the horse had never been to before, the seller’s rider rode her around a bit and then Alison tried her. She ended up liking her quite a bit, found her reasonably easy to get on the bit (especially given that this is still somewhat new to the horse), a willing jumper, and a quiet and sensible ride. She then called me and spoke to me at length. Alison knows how I ride, knows what my goals are and knows what my strengths & weakness are and therefore has a pretty good feel for what I need in a horse. As a professional, she also knows Eventing very well and what is needed in an adult amateur horse to event -- for me, at least, at the lower levels for now. We discussed the horse and what I want. We both came to the conclusion that she is a lot of horse for the money and I was particularly attracted to the fact that she’s young (like Gambler was). I like the feeling that I could have the horse for many years, that we’re both just starting out our riding careers and could potentially have a great partnership in many different things for a very long time.

The sellers were extremely agreeable and arranged with Alison to have the horse out to her farm in Aiken for a couple of days. This was so that Alison could test her out some more, and also hack her around some, to make sure the horse wasn’t stupid or crazy or reacts horribly to new circumstances, etc. The big question that remained was whether I was going to run down to Aiken for a day to also try her out. I went back & forth about it for a few days and then finally decided not to, but to trust what Alison felt about the horse after trying her some more. I’m still a little conflicted about the decision not to go, but I felt that it was going to cost me a lot of money and time for just one ride, where it was very unlikely that we would completely click on that first ride anyway. In my experience, it takes months to even start to click with a horse, certainly with Lulu I didn’t start really to do so until recently -- and I’ve been riding her for 6 months! It’s also very rare for me to get on a horse and just hate him/her. I can’t remember the last time that happened (it would have been over 22 years ago) so really the point of the one test ride would be a matter of, did I feel like the horse had the potential to be a good partner for me? If Alison seems to think so, I’m actually inclined to trust her judgement more than my own! Anyway, Alison also said that the mare is so nice that, even if I don’t click with her and I realize down the line that it’s not going to work out for us, that I really would have no problem selling her for at least what I paid, if not more (and given that she will have more training and some more competition under her belt, it would be reasonable to assume that I could get more). Given what little I’ve seen for sale in the area, I have to agree. But, like I said, it’s pretty unlikely that I wouldn’t like the horse anyway.

Alison took possession of the mare on Friday and spent a lot of time with her, on the ground and riding her. Rode her around the farm, introduced her to some spooky stuff, tried her over some jumps that she hadn’t seen before. Apparently the only jump she gave her a hard time about was the ditch, but after schooling her over it, she was able to bring her back to it much later and the horse popped over it nicely, she didn’t stubbornly hold on to her original objection to it (a good sign). She also hacked her down the road and she seemed fine to hack out alone and didn’t mind leaving the farm behind. Her spooking consisted of slowing or stopping to take a second look at scary stuff, but not the crow hopping, leaping sideways or fleeing-type of spooking that is hard to deal with (and might make me think twice about wanting to trail ride a horse). She said that she had a little trouble balancing her before some of the jumps when cantering to them, that she would sometimes break to a trot. But she feels that this is an experience issue, in fox hunting she was probably just used to being able to gallop at everything and just doesn’t understand that a balancing half-halt is not a request for a downward transition -- she just needs a little more training and mileage. The horse was also very nice on the ground, cross-tied, hung out quietly in a stall (without cribbing or weaving or showing any anxiety) while other horses were out in the paddocks. So Alison came to the conclusion that the mare was sane, sensible, sweet on the ground, has some nice eventing potential, is green, but not “hot” green (in other words, she still needs some training and experience, but is not the explosive type of green that would be dangerous for an amateur) and will therefore be a nice match for me. We spoke about this all at length on Friday morning so I said, “Let’s go ahead with the vetting”.

The results came back very favorable from the vet on Friday night. Alison was actually a bit amazed as her vet down there has a tendency to be very conservative, she says that she’s never been able to buy a horse down there before because he nixes everything! So the fact that he was extremely positive about the results of everything in his exam of this horse (including x-rays) is remarkable.

So, I’m going forward with the purchase! I know it seems a bit strange that I haven’t even met the horse yet, but I felt like I could make a reasonable leap of faith here. I just hope I love her as much as I’ve loved Lulu, and as much as I felt that I was going to love Gambler. I sure am looking forward to having a horse that I can compete with as well as a horse I can take trail riding, to hunter paces, do conditioning work with, etc.

The mare’s current name is “BeBe”, which I don’t like, so I’m going to be changing it. She is a pinto-colored Irish Sport Horse, so I was thinking of names with an Irish theme. I am kind of playing with a barn name of “Mackie”, with an official (“show”) name of something like, “The Colors of MacDuff”, but I’m not sure (any opinions or ideas are welcome!)

The plan at the moment is to have her on training board for the first couple of months to give her a bit of a finishing. Training board means that Alison (or perhaps Ann) will ride the horse in training 5-6 days a week (in addition to the riding I’m doing). This should polish up her dressage and jumping skills. Alison will also ride her in a few sanctioned events in New England this Spring & Summer to give her some mileage and I will do some schooling events on her. By the end of the Summer or early Fall, hopefully I will be ready to start taking her to some sanctioned events myself.

Here is a short video of her -- isn’t she cute?

She is coming North with Alison this week. I'm not sure what day they're arriving, probably Thursday or Friday. I need so much stuff!


Anonymous said...

Congrats on your new mare!!!! -Sarah

J said...

She is really cute!