Horse-Shopping Etiquette 101

Mar 16, 2014 - 9:42 AM
Is he "the one?" A few good manners go a long way in horse-shopping.

In this digital age, we’ve all come to expect instant information—whether we are looking for the temperature at precisely 3:27 a.m., or when we want a tidbit of information about a horse that caught our eye. 

I sell and place a lot of horses, and I meet a wide range of people—most of whom would make their mommas proud in the manners department. 

But there are a few of you that need a smacking with a heavy purse, and I think it’s time I let you know who you are, or at least tried to educate the people that turn my typical smile into what I call “Poo Face.” 

Poo Face is beginning to permanently damage my being to the point that I’m certain there will be people with burros offering guided tours through the crevasses in between my eyebrows. Please don’t make me buy more anti-poo-face cream, that stuff is spendy.

I get the point that shoppers will likely be crying out upon reading this. You are tired of seeing misrepresented, lame, 17-hand horses that are more like 15.3. You are tired of people insulting you for not buying their horse. You are probably tired of not getting responses to your inquiries. 

You are tired of driving seven hours to see what you think will be “the one” only to have it buck it’s owner off and hearing “he’s NEVER done THAT before!” I’m going to validate your complaints and say that you are right—there are some sucky folks out there selling horses. But on behalf of my mom and all moms out there who want to think of their children as good, polite creatures that would never behave in a manner that gave other people Poo Face, I give you:

Ms. Good Horsemanners Guide to Horse Shopping.

The No. 1 rule of ALL horse shopping is: don’t ever, EVER, ever ever ever ever insult a horse because of how it looks.

Don’t ever call a horse “ugly,” or a “puke,” or “funny looking,” or “pig-eyed” or “ewe-necked” or whatever insult you come up with while looking at it.  

A horse is exactly what it is. It did not choose to be put on the earth, it does not have ANY control over its physical appearance, it doesn’t know it’s homely, it only knows how to be one thing—a horse. 

And if you find its appearance unappealing, keep it to yourself.

Here’s a simple test when you feel something unfair might be slipping by your lips. Would you say it to your sister’s new boyfriend? 

No. No you would not. I’m not saying you wouldn’t pull your sister aside at the first opportunity and say “WHAT THE WHAT WITH THE PICASSO FACE!??” but, just avoid direct insults to horses in front of their owners. 

A horse you find as ugly might be the light of someone’s life. It might poop rainbows in their eyes. It might be the horse that a kid grew up on and has to sell in order to afford college. Insulting a horse is insulting a person who loves that horse, and it’s flat-out uncool.  

If a horse has a physical or conformational defect that means it will be unsuitable for your use, you can say, “I’m concerned that the length of his back will be a challenge for the type of riding I do, but thank you for showing him to me.”

Easy, polite, mom would be proud.

(Sidenote: Oddly enough, the people who insult a horse the most are more often than not the people who come back and try and buy it. Insults do NOT make me want to knock a price down, it just makes me want to karate chop you in the shin for insulting my sweet babies who try so hard.)

No. 1b:  Don’t blow people off.  I had a hard time ranking this because it’s right up there with No. 1, so we’ll call it 1b.

If you have an appointment to see a horse, BE THERE to see that horse when you said you’d be there. 

 If you can’t be there, call. If you can’t call, text. If you can’t text, get a carrier pigeon or for crying out loud, a fax machine or smoke signal. 

If you are going to be more than 10 minutes late, call. The absolute second most annoying thing in the world to me is people who don’t show up when I’ve taken time out of my day to get a horse ready to meet you, or put off another buyer that knows how to communicate in an effective manner.

Communication is easy there days; there is no excuse for not doing it. 

No. 2:  If you ride a horse for sale, be kind in how long you sit on it’s back. If you brought a friend or trainer and they want to ride it as well, let the seller know. Do not bring five friends to ride the poor creature.  

No. 3:  Don’t insult the training on the horse or the trainer’s skills. Yes, the horse travels as straight as RuPaul, but you don’t need to point it out. Doing so only makes you look like Captain Obvious or a Know-it-All snob. 

Can you deal with it and fix it? Great! Do you not want to deal with it? Also great.

The response to such an issue is the same—keep it to yourself. If you can’t keep it to yourself, there is one response that mom would approve of: “He’s very (insert kind adjective, go on, get creative!) and I appreciate your time in showing him to me, but I am looking for something a little further along in it’s training.”

No. 4: So, you see a horse you’re not in any way, shape or form interested in. TELL the seller. 

Go on, you can do it! If they insult you, those are their bad manners, but the fear of someone else showing their ass shouldn’t defer you from having manners.

It doesn’t matter why the horse isn’t a fit, there is always a one-size-fits-all response to sellers when you are not interested in their horse: “Thank you so much for taking the time to meet me and show me Yodercrietz O’Dunklestein, but he’s not the exact horse I’m looking for. Good luck with him!”

Done! That was easy!  Pat yourself on the back, because your report card has a gold star next to “plays well with others.”

No. 5: So, you see a horse you ARE interested in. Tell the seller!

That’s easy, right? “YAY! I like this horse! He might be a fit! Can I leave a deposit? Can I set up a vetting?” All pretty self explanatory. 

What not to do: “Hey! I LOVE THIS HORSE! Let me talk to my trainer and we’ll be RIGHT BACK to see him!” and then….crickets.

See rule 1a. I’m here to say it’s OHHHH KAYYYY if you don’t want to buy a horse, even if you’ve said you wanted the horse previously. You are allowed to be dissuaded by trainers/friends/random equestrian memes that you feel speak to you, change your mind, have a change in circumstances, decide you want a Unicorn, or take up tennis. 

The seller will live. They won’t punch you in the face (I don’t think so at least!), they won’t wish you riddled with shingles, they won’t trash you around town. 

IF they have any manners, they will simply say “OK, good luck!” If they don’t? Well, add them to the list of folks you won’t do business with again.  

No. 6: The last bit of manners is more of a suggestion rather than a rule—send a follow-up email/text or phone call with a thank you for showing the horse to you and BAM! Good Manners Karma will be sure to follow you like Linus’ dirt cloud! 

Horse shopping is hard and time-consuming and disappointing, but it doesn’t have to be rude.  

Allie Conrad is executive director of CANTER Mid Atlantic, which provides retiring Thoroughbred racehorses with opportunities for new careers. Allie founded the organization in 1999 at Charles Town Racetrack (W.V.) after purchasing her beloved Thoroughbred Phinny, who had more than 60 starts at Charles Town, at the infamous New Holland Auction in Pennsylvania.

A resident of Southern Pines, N.C., Allie also works full time as a project manager for a Washington, D.C., consulting firm. You can learn more about CANTER Mid Atlantic on their website,


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