Smith, who took up riding after
retiring from a successful
consulting career, was thrilled
to be learning about natural
horsemanship and dressage.
Confidently following the advice
of her overbearing trainer, last
year she purchased a Paint she
was assured would
"absolutely go Grand Prix
While a more savvy
horseman would have seen, within seconds,
that the Paint would make a beautiful
Western Pleasure mount, but
neverevera dressage horse,
Kelly trustingly paid her trainer nearly
$10,000 for the horse that, one year
later, she has now put up for sale.
Grand Prix level, this horse doesnt
even want to do training level
dressage," Kelly observed sadly,
rubbing her beloved pal behind the ears.
"After finally switching to a new
trainer a few months ago, I now know the
problem is my horse, rather than my
riding, as Id been lead to believe
by my first trainer. Clearly, she took
advantage of my inexperience."
Melanie, an advertising executive who
started taking lessons two years ago.
After deciding she was ready to take the
big plunge into horse ownership, she
found a lovely Quarterhorse about two
hours north of her home in the Bay Area.
At the vet check, she told the seller
that, as a last precaution, she wanted
her longtime horseman pal to try the
horse out. Even the vet was shocked when
the seller flatly refused. "Im
selling the horse to you, and youre
the only one whos going to ride
him," she snarled. "I
dont care what you want."
month later, with a horse that clearly
has some mental issues, and a former
owner who refuses to discuss the
horses history, Melanie reflects
back on that moment with enormous regret.
"It was a huge clue that there was
something wrong with this horse,"
she said. "Im so green, and
felt so bullied. I didnt catch
Last, meet Patricia,
a trainer who prides herself on making
great, honest matches between horses and
riders. She recounted a recent phone
call, in which a man who wanted to buy
one of her horses threatened a lawsuit
because she sold the horse to someone
brought his 12-year-old daughter, who did
great with the horse. The dad promised to
call in two days time to let me
know if they wanted to go ahead with a
days later, Patricia finally called him.
Yes, they did like the horse, but would
she take payments? After agreeing to a
payment schedule (something nearly
unheard of in the horse world), Patricia
then told the man he needed to vet the
horse as soon as possible.
I told him that, until I had a show of
good faith, such as a letter of intent
with a deposit, the horse would continue
to be shown to prospective buyers,"
Patricia explained. "Well, no letter
of intent ever showed up and the vet
check was two weeks away. So when this
wonderful woman showed up, cash in hand,
and I knew my horse was going to have a
great home to retire to, I took it."
the phone call from the irate father,
threatening a lawsuit. "When you
want to buy a horse, just as in any other
transaction, a deposit and a letter of
intent goes a long way," Patricia
said. "Angry as he is, he
didnt operate with integrity."
finally, meet Sally and Bob, in search of
a jumper for their daughter. Despite the
fact that the vet check revealed major
lameness along with a cancerous skin
condition, their trainer frantically has
insisted this is the perfect horse. As
Sally and Bob ruminate over spending
$16,000 on a horse their vet advises
against, the trainer has turned up the
pressure, telling them the horse is
leaving the barn to parts unknown, so
theyd best act quickly. Could this
be a classic case of the trainer being
paid a fee by the seller, as well as by
Bob and Sally?
these examples of unsavory and unhappy
horse transactions occur far too often. I
like to think that the majority of people
selling horses are primarily interested
in finding a loving home for their equine
pal, but thats not always the case.
I like to believe that most of us
recognize we have a certain
responsibility to the industry, and heck,
as plain old human beings, to operate
with integrity and honor. But thats
not always the case.
buying or selling, having a little savvy
can make the difference between a
positive transaction and a disaster. Here
are just a few main points to help ensure
all parties are protected in the business
of horse buying.
your abilities. Being a responsible buyer
means asking a few basic, but very
important questions, not only of the
horses seller, but also of you.
When clients come to me with the dream of
owning a horse, I do a "needs
assessment," in which I evaluate
their riding skills, the type of riding
they want to do, and their budget. Simple
points perhaps, but somehow getting them
out of your head and onto paper can make
the picture clearer.
you do not go to a qualified trainer to
have your skill level evaluated, then at
least be brutally honest with yourself
about your abilities, including your
personality. Many a bold, but very green
rider has come to me towing a horse far
beyond their skill level. But the
riders personality allowed the pair
to persevere to success. However, very
few timid riders ever conquer their fear
when starting with an over-matched horse.
In fact, fear being the powerful instinct
that it is, too much horse is usually the
death knell on a riding career.
what you want. The next thing I do is
have the client create, on paper, their
"dream horse," with such
details as color, size, ground manners,
and abilities. You may think you know
what you want, but this exercise often
reveals some surprising clues.
example, one client discovered that she
could overlook the very annoying habit of
cribbing if she could just find a horse
that could take her to third level
dressage. Another client, deadset on
finding a palomino, discovered that what
was actually most important to her was
that she feel safe on the trails. The
point is that you may think you know what
you want, but writing it all down ensures
the right questions. Like a skilled
courtroom attorney, asking the right
questions can reveal a lot about the
horse and the horse seller. Here is a
list of just a few basic, but pointed
- How long have
you had the horse?
- Why is it
- What are its
ground manners like?
- What is the
horses history, including
injuries and how it was ridden?
- Would you be
willing to let me call your vet
and your farrier to discuss his
history? (Anyone who balks at
this request must have something
to hide, so no matter how much
you like the horse, walk away.)
- And the most
important question: Since I
dont want to waste either
my time or yours, will this horse
pass a vet check?
vet out any prospective horse. A basic
pre-purchase exam can run anywhere from
$150 to $300 (without x-rays), a fee that
can prevent financial heartache later on.
Even if you know the horse well, have it
a second opinion. Unless you are a
professional, get a second opinion. Have
a knowledgeable friend or professional
offer an opinion. If this threatens your
trainer, it might be time to look at a
Your Time. No matter what, dont let
anyone pressure you. This is a huge
decision affecting not only your life,
but also that of the horse. Think it
down a deposit. If you find a horse you
like, show your good faith by putting
down a deposit and writing a letter of
intent pending a pre-purchase exam. Even
if the seller tells you its not
necessary, do it anyway. It protects you,
and it protects them.
SellersOperate with Honor
am a big believer that horses add value
to our lives that far exceed some nice
exercise and a little fresh air. Among
the many things I have learned in thirty
odd years of riding is the ability to
push myself, not only in my riding, but
also in my professional and personal
goals. I have learned to think of
something other than myself, to value
teamwork, and to be patient. I have also
learned the importance of integrity and
nowhere is that more important than when
selling a horse.
representing the buyer as well as the
seller (no lawyer ever represents the
prosecution as well as the defense), to
recommending inappropriate horses just to
make a dollar, the stories of
unscrupulous trainers are myriad. For the
good of horses and the health of the
industry, it is imperative that trainers
and horse seller raise their standards. I
implore any trainer or horse seller
reading this to make a commitment to
representing the well being of the horse
and the satisfaction of the rider first.
Put the dollar last.
rules are easy. Dont take advantage
of novice buyers. Dont tell them
"This is the perfect horse,"
when you know its not. Disclose all
vices. Disclose the correct age. Disclose
all injuries. Be honest!
youre a trainer helping someone buy
a horse, support the notion of getting a
second opinion. If you have faith in your
own knowledge and teaching ability, and
you are operating with integrity, you
should not be threatened by this request.
If you are threatened, I can only advise
that you check in with your ego, or
upgrade your teaching skills so that you
have more confidence in your ability to
hold on to your clients.
art of buying and selling horse has many
more fine points than can be discussed in
this space. But the advice given here is
a good foundation from which to start.
Above all, remember that the purchase of
a horse is an enormous commitment, and
one that is worth pursuing with great
care and forethought.