The Ups And Downs Of Online Horse Shopping

Jun 20, 2018 - 1:34 PM

Horse-shopping is an uncertain business. A bombproof horse might shy for the first time while a buyer is in the saddle. A nervous horse might be too tired for the jitters on a hot day.

The idea of A Horse With a Good Reputation from People I Personally Know is pretty comforting.

A professional’s perspective is nice, of course. But more than that, I crave a sense of history with my horse: He was born here. He was trained there. My friend saw him every weekend for a whole hunt season, etc.

When my former trainer told me she had a horse in mind for me, my heart started to race a little. Then the news came back: I’d have to more than triple my budget if I wanted that gelding.

“Like I said, casually looking for the right horse at the right price,” I reminded her, feeling sheepish. 

I’ve been watching the draft cross sales ads for years, and I knew my price was very, very low for what I wanted. Was it dumb to even ask her? But if anybody would know of the right horse at my price, it would be her.

That didn’t excuse me from doing my own homework. Clinging to my thinly calculated budget, I hit the sales ads hard.

A lot of horses sound great in an online ad—but how do you know which ones are really sensible?

I found a few I was interested in, some pretty far away, some close to home. I made arrangements to try a horse that was about two hours from my house.

And then, a couple weeks after the first email, I got another email from my old trainer: The horse she had in mind for me was coming available at a much lower price due to a minor pre-purchase exam issue.

(This all happened while I was in the middle of pitching this blog, and none of the parties were on notice that I might write about it, so I am writing vaguely about his issues out of fairness to the people and the horse.)

I’ve said before that I trust my old trainer’s judgment about a suitable mount for me better than I trust my own judgment. But a suitable mount is not the same thing as “a horse whose health you must commit to for life.” 

Sure, I’ve given Epsom salt baths to abscessed hooves, put salve on wounds, given shots to a mare recovering from founder, observed foaling signs, walked a horse on suspicion of colic. But that’s all been coincidence, not design. I’ve never managed horse health over the long-term. 

So I Googled, a technological event that now marks all major life decisions. 

To anybody who’d asked about this issue before me, the advice was nearly uniform: run. But I take internet advice with a giant salt lick, especially if it’s about horses. With horses, it’s: sane, sound, cheap: pick two. With internet commenters, it’s: sane, informed, polite: pick two. 

Haha! Just kidding! You only get one.

Horse pros I trust told me the horse’s issue could be managed.

Moreover, for A Horse With a Good Reputation, what minor flaw wouldn’t I entertain? I’d certainly look at a horse two inches taller or shorter than my target if it came highly recommended. I’d look at a horse slightly greener than I prefer if somebody I trust vouched for his brain.

Then I stumbled across another area rider on a statewide horse forum. We started texting, and I told her about my horse search, mentioning the Horse With the Good Reputation’s issue. She urged me not to buy him.

Spooked, I decided to consult a vet sooner than I’d planned (side note: bless horse shoppers who share PPE results). The vet looked over the paperwork and said that my horse pros were right: The health issue was minor.

After much of this vacillating between “yes” and “no,” I was leaning toward “yes, and I started planning for shipping, anticipating that the call would wrap up in a moment.

And then came the “but.”

There was something else a little off, something that means a little something different in Northern Michigan than it does in Virginia. 

If I bought him, I’d be taking a horse that is managing perfectly in Virginia and moving him someplace where winters are far longer and colder, where he’d get different food, and where he’d be worked in different footing.

To top it all off, The Horse With the Good Reputation is used to a lighter, pro rider. And I am not that.

I’d have bought him if I lived in Virginia, where the only thing that we’d change is his rider. But here, where so much would be different, if the issue worsened, we’d have a hard time isolating the reason why.

I passed on The Horse With the Good Reputation. Doing so made me anxious, worried that I’d never get another chance at owning a horse that came with a good recommendation from somebody I trust.

Instead, I’ve had to rethink what it means to trust myself. 

I got my first taste of what that meant a few days later when I rode the horse I’d arranged to try during the time when I thought The Horse With The Good Reputation was too expensive. I’ll tell you more about that later; next time, I want to tell you about two incidents that started me on my horse-shopping journey.

Karen Hopper Usher is returning to riding after several years away. She’s sharing her perspective and experiences as a plus-sized rider with The Chronicle of the Horse. By day, she is a reporter at a small newspaper in northern Michigan. She is horse-shopping like it’s her second job.


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