Ah, spring. The weather is slowly getting warmer, the mud is visible beneath the snow, and regular riding has recommenced for those of us not participating in the snowbird tradition. Spring is also a great time to buy a horse, and many get spring shopping fever, excited by the possibility of a new horse to go with the new year and the new competition season.
There is almost nothing more thrilling than the idea of finding “the one” that will take you to new heights and fulfill all your needs and become your best friend and confidante.
I was inspired to write this semi-serious post by none other than the Australian jokester, Kate Chadderton. She posted a status to Facebook a few days ago that went something like this:
ISO: experienced young horse with definite potential to win a gold medal at the Olympics. Must have excellent movement, clean and correct jump, as well as very brave. Ground covering, light gallop is another must. Will only look at geldings. CCI 3 star winners preferred although will look at horses with a high placing. Must be between 7-9 years old. Not fussy on color, although no paints, palominos, appaloosas. If grey must be very good at staying clean. Budget: looking to stay under $5000.
I got a giggle out of that, as will most of you. It seems absurd, and very exaggerated. However, after thought, it seems only a little crazy, and not far away from some requests that I’ve gotten before. I’m completely small fish in terms of selling horses and making matches, but even I’ve heard some ridiculous things.
Let’s get real — when buying a horse, your budget dictates how picky you can be, and that’s a bottom line. If you don’t have a limit to your budget, you can write down a list of every single characteristic you desire for your dream horse, and somebody, somewhere, will find it for you. But that’s not the case for most of us!
When spending thousands of dollars on a horse, you should definitely know what you want, and what suits you. You should also know what categories are most important to you.
Is color more important than temperament? Where are you willing to compromise? There will always be a compromise, unless you are a very, very lucky person.
So in order to be reasonable about expectations within a budget, let’s consider the categories that define value for a horse, or at least the major ones.
I propose these: age, height, sex, current and future soundness, natural athletic ability & style over fences, elasticity and movement on the flat, temperament, intelligence, rideability, professional versus amateur/junior suitable, color, ease of management, number of quirks, current level of training, and potential to be successful and competitive at any given level.
Given those categories, the Unicorn is this: a 7 year old, 16.1 hand bay gelding with a blaze and four white socks, even temperament and good work ethic, winning at Preliminary with the ability to go to Rolex, rideable by a beginner but also desired by Boyd Martin for the Olympics.
It passed a vetting two weeks ago with not a single blip on his x-rays, tight and accurate style over fences as he chooses the perfect distance himself with no assistance, scores under a 25 every time out in dressage, has beautiful ground manners and requires only a scoop of grain and a few flakes of timothy hay per day.
If I just described what you’re looking for, God bless, and good luck.
The rest of us are left to compromise on our dream horse, and figure out what we can live with, and what we can improve. Part of this is knowing yourself as a rider, and having a realistic grasp on what is a good match for you in the long run.
Before you shop, know your style! Do you like a horse that is light off the aids, or one that forgives your swinging lower leg and mis-timed pull before a fence? Do you like the idea of a Ferrari but when you get one, it’s a bit frightening? This is my personal pet peeve.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: there is no shame in riding an average horse if that is what makes you comfortable and happy! Powerful and athletic horses, while beautiful and impressive, are harder to ride and usually require more from their rider. They aren’t for everybody.
When on a tight budget, it is very tempting to get a green horse that fulfills all the other categories except for the level of training. This is also not a good idea for every rider.
I can’t say that I disagree with the idea of a green horse and a green rider, because that would be hypocritical of me, but it’s got to be a very good match.
Green horses aren’t well behaved because they #wokeuplikethis, they are good because they are ridden consistently and with intentional purpose by a trainer and not just a rider.
I decided a while ago that there are three things I don’t compromise on, and the rest I’m pretty flexible about. I need the soundness and the solid build for longevity, I need an intelligent and reasonable brain, and I need a horse with decent obvious athletic ability.
Everything else in between, I can probably deal with. I don’t care what height it is, what color it is, if it bucks, if it’s unbroke, or what sex it is. I have preferences obviously, but when it comes down to it, I know my limits.
So if you’re shopping this spring, be realistic about what makes sense for you, your budget and your goals. As a seller of horses, my goal is to make the best match possible, and I think that’s true of most sellers. However, we can’t help you much if you want a Unicorn that won’t roll in the mud!