Back in July 2021, I wrote about my horse-shopping struggles in “What the Heck is Going On In The Horse Market Right Now?”
Now I’ve finally found a horse (and I love him!), but my search took more than six months and was very stressful. Looking back on my horse-shopping journey provides useful insights—and some thoughts on what I could have done differently.
I started looking for a horse in March 2021 and tried about 16 horses, even taking a couple trips from Baltimore to Pennsylvania. My trainer Holly Gilmore encouraged me to get a young horse off the track, as I had successfully done with my senior horse, LJ, back when I was 13. I wasn’t sure I was up for that, so I tried some horses with more mileage as well as horses right off the track. I thought being open-minded would help me find the right horse, but perhaps my lack of focus made it take longer.
I started out thinking $15,000 would get me a horse with a year of solid training, but the market was so hot that when one of these horses appeared, it was often snapped up within hours. I work part-time and have a toddler, so I couldn’t move that fast. Between vacations and child care issues, trying 16 horses spread across tarnation felt like a lot, but it was definitely a more casual search—I was looking for the right horse that I could keep for the rest of its life, not a horse to get me through the show season or to ride for a few years before moving up to the next horse.
In May 2021, I watched the Mid-Atlantic Horse Rescue All-Thoroughbred Benefit Horse Show at Tranquility Manor Farms, where I board. There, I bumped into Erica Gaertner, who coached me at Pony Club Show Jumping Nationals back in 2004. Of course I mentioned that I was horse shopping. Her friend Suzanne Stettinius mentioned that she co-owned a race horse who she wanted to race one more time before retiring. She said I could come try him as long as I knew he wasn’t for sale yet.
I took her up on that offer and loved the horse. He was comfy and happy, and popped over a few little jumps very bravely.
I became the No. 1 fan of The Quantico Kid, aka “Kid,” a gray, 4-year-old who had already won over $100,000. I drove up to Delaware to watch The Quantico Kid race. I bet on him to win, place and show, thinking that if he did well and didn’t get retired, I would at least happily win some money.
Well, I didn’t win my bets, but Suzanne and her co-owner wanted to race him one more time. I watched him run again at Pimlico. He didn’t do well there, either, but it seemed like he was rallying at the end, so Suzanne decided to try one more time.
I gave up, thinking he might never retire, and tried some other horses—but I kept checking Equibase to see if Suzanne had entered Kid in any races. I told her to let me know when she was ready for me to call the veterinarian for a pre-purchase exam.
I noticed Kid would be racing at the Maryland State Fair on the same day that my toddler was entered in a leadline pony race (the cutest thing ever). My whole family stuck around to watch Kid come in second to last. I didn’t approach Suzanne after the race; she knew I was there. (Her human kid did the leadline race, too.)
To my delight, I soon got a simple text from Suzanne: “Schedule the PPE.”
I would love to say my waiting was over… but …
I booked the vet for a week later. In the meantime, I popped on Kid for a delightful ride in an open field and through the trails at Suzanne’s farm.
I was so excited about the vetting that I first sat down to write this post the night before it took place, Sept. 8, though I worried I was jinxing myself. I’d wanted Kid for so long, it felt like fate!
Within minutes of the vet arriving, we discovered that Kid had an abscess, although he’d never been lame at the walk. We rescheduled—and rescheduled again—before he finally had healed enough for a full vetting. On Sept. 28, Suzanne dropped him off at Tranquility. I paid her $5,000, which felt fair considering OTTBs seem to sell off a jog video alone for about $3,000 these days.
Again, I would love to say my waiting was over, but…
Kid still had racing plates on, and I wanted to let him settle in and see my farrier before riding. Besides, I had my eyes on the 2022 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover, and I couldn’t do more than 15 rides before December if I wanted Kid to stay eligible. The farrier suggested pulling Kid’s shoes to let his hooves grow out. Kid was super ouchy barefoot, but I could tell that the shape of his hooves was changing for the better, so I kept up his Farriers Formula and Keratex and waited some more.
Stupidly, the day after he got shiny new front shoes, I thought it would be smart to ride Kid the half mile up to the ring by myself. After all, he had been fine in that open field! Well, let’s just say he went slightly feral with his time off. When a group of six ponies walking back from a lesson approached, he froze—heart pounding—and I began to regret my life choices. I stuck some terrifying antics, then dismounted. At which point he exploded, kicking me as he took off, leaving me flat on my back—in a puddle.
I caught him and survived walking him back down to the barn. When my trainer Holly asked me how it went, I said, “He’s for sale” and burst into tears.
Holly gave me a pep talk, but as my thigh ached from his kick, I wondered why I’d gotten a young Thoroughbred when I still had to take care of my human toddler no matter how hard I fell.
I made smarter decisions with my next ride—in the round pen near the barn—and Kid was lovely.
Yet again, I wish I could say my waiting was over…but…
His leg swelled up from what I had thought was a minor cut. He started a course of antibiotics and stall rest on my vet’s advice. He was never lame, but every time he left his stall the cut opened up, so I waited.
All of my worries about staying under the 15-ride limit for the Thoroughbred Makeover evaporated as the cut took weeks to heal. Finally, Kid went back to full turnout, and his training began again at the beginning of December. Since then, Kid has hacked back and forth to the ring like a champ, explored the trails, crossed water, and even jumped a bit! He now feels like the same happy horse I tried, and I’m feeling quite optimistic for the Makeover in October 2022.
I am glad I found the horse I did. However, if I hadn’t had time to wait, I would have proceeded differently. Here are a few things I would have changed in hindsight:
1. Buying off video: I was dead-set against buying a horse off video, but if things hadn’t worked out with Kid, I would have changed that approach. I attempted to try horses at Jessica Redman’s Benchmark Sport Horses in Delaware, but her horses sold so quickly, often off video, that it never happened. The first time I messaged Jessica, I was so naïve that I asked if I could come try a horse in a few weeks. Her horses often sell within a few hours! The more I followed the horse market, the more it seemed like the most exciting horses sold off video, and I would have to just do it. On the flip side, when Kid was injured, I was glad I’d already had lovely trial rides to remind me he was worth the wait. I snapped him up before he was ever listed for sale!
2. Focusing on Thoroughbreds transitioning off the track: I would have listened to my trainer from the start and focused on horses right off the track. When I struggled finding the right horse under $15,000, I considered expanding my budget. However, I was enjoying riding my trainer’s relatively green OTTB, and taking her to her first clinic, show and event. I wanted that pride and sense of accomplishment with my own horse, too. After all, every time LJ won, I had the added pride of knowing I had trained him. I realized I wanted to do all the work and take all the credit.
3. Worrying less about pleasing sellers: I would have tried—but probably failed—to worry less about pleasing sellers. Of course it’s important to be polite and communicate well, but I felt guilt and sorrow turning down horses after I’d enjoyed getting to know the seller. Bottom line, buying a horse is a significant business transaction, and I had to act out of my own best interests. I hadn’t expected these tough emotions when I started shopping.
I also slowly realized that sellers will criticize the way you ride before they admit to weaknesses in their horses. When a “bombproof” horse kept spooking, or a “show ready” horse went around with its head up, or a horse “jumping courses” stopped at a simple fence, I took the sellers’ critique of my riding very seriously, and my confidence tanked. I am very grateful for one seller who assured me a horse was just having a wild day (thanks, Rachael Lively!).
The more I shopped, the more I realized most sellers wanted me to think my riding was the problem, not the horse. While any horse is better for a rider who knows their quirks, I’m thankful to Holly for keeping me from buying a difficult project horse at the top of my budget.
4. Shopping with friends: I also would have loved to take Holly and/or horsey friends to more of my horse shopping excursions, but between busy schedules, my childcare needs, and the hot market, this was challenging, so we relied on videos. My mom came to see a lot of horses, and some friends came to see a few, which was really fun!
So that is my epic horse shopping journey, which worked out so wonderfully in the end! Keep your fingers crossed for my road to the Thoroughbred Makeover with The Quantico Kid.
Tracy C. Gold is a writer, freelance editor and mom living in Baltimore. She rides her ex-race horse at Tranquillity Manor Farm in Maryland. An alum of U.S. Pony Clubs and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she competes in local hunter shows and rides for pleasure now. She is the author of the picture books “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks and “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby” from Familius. You can learn more about Tracy at tracycgold.com.