You’ve got the space in your barn, you’ve saved up a reasonable budget, and your current string is all old enough and civilized enough that it’s time to begin again. The search is on for a young horse.
You start with the obvious sources: breeders and trainers of young horses. You make your phone calls. You watch videos. You talk to the riders. You know what you’re looking for, the qualities you like and don’t like, the bloodlines you’ve been successful with before, your height requirements, what you will and will not tolerate. You want good feet. You want good X-rays, including neck and back. The veterinary bar is high because if, in a few years, you identify that the horse isn’t going to be what you need it to be, it has to be sellable to someone else. That pre-purchase exam is going to run you $3,500, give or take, so you factor that in, and off you go.
You find a stunner. You love it. It flunks the vetting. You drink. Your budget is now $3,500 less.
You watch more videos. You rule out a bunch, because they’re not good enough. You rule out a bunch, because they’re too expensive. You rule out a bunch, because they’re not tall enough. You get lots of videos of super horses from Europe, but you’re just a little squiggy about buying something without trying it.
You find another stunner, in the U.S. You love it. It flunks the vetting. You drink. Your budget is now $3,500 less.
You begin to really despair. You turn to Facebook, which is, of course, a terrible idea, because what many people think is “international quality” really wants to be a B-circuit show hunter. You watch more videos. You start to wonder maybe if the walk on that one is really so bad. You’re a trainer, right? You can fix stuff. Or the one that drags its left hind—maybe it just needs more strengthening. Maybe the feet on that one aren’t so bad, right?
No. You’re not going down that road. You keep watching videos. You call people you don’t know, and they tell you about a horse that sounds interesting and promise a video. Three weeks later, it has not yet shown up. You ask for more footage of the one with the icky walk. It never comes. You reach out to a guy five times asking for him to reach out to you about an interesting one on his website. He never returns the call.
You revisit the ones that were astronomically expensive, and you start to think that’s maybe what you have to spend to get what you want. Maybe if you borrow a little. Maybe if you skimp on the vetting. Maybe if you spend every penny you have, defer your taxes, and hope that nothing goes wrong for the next six months because you’ll spend your entire cushion.
You call one of your coaches. “Don’t do that,” she said. “Things go wrong. You do not have to go broke to do this. You have to be patient.”
Patience is not your virtue.
You go to try one. It bucks you off.
While waiting for the ibuprofen to kick in, you get a video. Right size. Right type. Good breeding. It’s with friends of a friend—in Europe. But you find another friend of a friend who can try it, and you take her through what you normally do when you try a young horse: You make sure you can close your leg and your hand at the same time without getting in trouble. You see what happens when you use the stick. You always ask for a flying change each way, not because you expect a 3- or 4-year-old to know its changes, but because you don’t want to bring one home that’s extremely happy staying on the wrong lead in the wrong balance; it often means the changes will be hard for them to learn. You want to be able to get on with a mounting block. You want something that is happy to go when leg is applied but doesn’t act like you’ve fired him out of a cannon. You take a deep breath, swallow your fear and tell her to go see it.
She does. She likes it. You vet it. It flunks (though, mercifully, on the clinical exam, so you don’t bear the expense of X-rays). Your budget is now $1,000 less. You’re too sad to even drink.
Your “Buy-It-Sight-Unseen-From-Europe” cherry popped, you go back to video watching. But because of the more than $8,000 you’ve spent on vetting, now the majority of the super ones from abroad are priced out of reach. Do you keep looking? Do you hold off? Do you accept less than the quality you want? You could put six months into a good 3-year-old, take it to some shows, try to add $15,000 to the price, and then you’re whole. But sometimes they step in holes, or colic, or get a 55% at the first show because they hold their breath for seven minutes.
OK, that’s what you’ll try. A resale project. You find one of those that you like. It’s a charming looking creature. You ask your person to go see it. She makes an appointment. It sells before she can get there.
You find another. Your rider makes an appointment. It sells before she can get there.
You find another. It has a full set of X-rays. You send them to your vet. They’re not good enough.
You consider cosmetology school, or paralegal school, or literally anything besides the job you currently have.
At home, the person who has strung you along saying she wants to sublet your barn bails, leaving you with a month before you leave for Florida and a devastating financial blow. The smart thing to do is stop looking. The smart thing to do is to hold the cash you have—now essentially half of what you started with—in reserve, to stay afloat during weird financial times. But you are in your mid-30s, and if you get a 3-year-old now, it will be good in 10 years, at which point you will be in your mid-40s. Not ancient, by any stretch. But what you really want is to be seen as good, so that people will want to invest in you, send horses to you, help you. You can’t do that unless you’re already good. So you don’t want to settle, and you don’t want to wait. Time is ticking. The earth is rapidly spinning on its axis.
The videos keep coming. The X-rays keep coming. Your vet, who deserves a trophy, keeps looking at them. And the X-rays keep having problems, mostly, in an interesting sidenote, chips or arthritic change in the neck that, down the road, can mean neurologic deficits. Is it possible that big gaits walk a fine line with neurologic qualities? Absolutely. But that doesn’t mean you want to volunteer for them, so you soldier on.
Your cross the $10,000 line in vettings and paying someone to try things for you. Ten. Thousand. Dollars. And you vow to look at one more and then stop the search.
A video arrives. Big gelding, 6 years old. Lots of Grand Prix horses in his pedigree. Fabulous hind leg, bit of a normal front leg in the trot still, but lovely in the connection. Stellar canter, still big and moosey, but potential abounds. There are X-rays, and they’re… normal. Refusing to let your hopes get up, you send someone to see him, and he’s… lovely. Refusing to get your hopes up, you schedule a vetting. And it’s… banal.
Really? Really really? You own a horse?
You own a horse!!
There’s a tremendous queue for travel, so his arrival takes a few weeks, but early on a Tuesday morning, you hook up your rig and drive to Miami to boost him from quarantine.
It doesn’t feel like it normally does, and you can’t tell whether it’s because it’s been five long months of searching, or because it’s sight unseen so it’s hard to get excited about something you’ve never met. But it is hopeful, and it is the beginning of a new journey, wherever that journey goes. And certainly something will go wrong, probably more than one thing. But it’s done!
Lauren Sprieser is a USDF gold, silver and bronze medalist making horses and riders to FEI from her farm in Marshall, Virginia. She’s currently developing The Elvis Syndicate’s Guernsey Elvis and her own Gretzky RV, Kingrose and Ojalá with hopes of one day representing the United States in team competition. Read more about her at SprieserSporthorse.com, or follow Lauren Sprieser on Facebook and Instagram.