Horse Shopping 101

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Horse Shopping 101
I am getting an increasing number of inquiries from people looking for a new horse. So it is with no small amount of forethought that we did a Horse Master episode featuring a young woman looking to find her dream horse. She also happens to be a riding instructor and in that role she finds herself looking at horses for others as well—either a horse for a client or a school horse for the program where she is employed and the episode is about the horse buying process. (Tip: Visit http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/ to see a clip of Shop ‘Til You Drop or http://shopping.juliegoodnight.com to purchase a DVD of the episode.)

I love shopping for horses—one significant reason behind the sale horse side of my business. I just love the hunt for a good horse and I love finding the perfect owner for that horse as well. In this case, the buyer is looking for an all-around horse that she can do just about anything on—trail, arena, pleasure—but she also has a hankering for cowhorse events. Whatever your desires, it is first and foremost important that you decide what your goals are because it is critical that the horse matches those goals, particularly when it comes to cowhorse disciplines. Not just any horse is suited for that.

Next, it is important that you spend some time thinking about how much money you can spend and that you have an appreciation for how much horse that will buy you (consider looking at a few horses above your limit so you have a realistic frame of reference). You should stretch your limits here as much as possible, keeping in mind the old axiom—the purchase price is the cheapest amount of money you will spend on your horse. You can always BUY training cheaper than you can put it on a horse, so don’t get sucked into the mistake so many people make in buying a young, green horse. His board, health maintenance, farrier, etc., will far exceed the purchase price in a short time so spend as much as you can up front to get the best trained horse you can (but only if the horse is worth it).

I wish I had a dollar for all the people I have met that made the mistake of buying a young, green horse. I’d be retired by now. Some survive this mistake and eventually end up with a decent horse; some don’t. You know the saying: green plus green equals black and blue. But even if you are not a novice rider and you have the capability to train a horse, do you really want to spend your precious time at that? Do you really want months and even years to elapse before you can attain your goals? Or do you want to begin enjoying your horse tomorrow at a level that you’ve dreamed of? I wonder how many of you have bought a green horse and regretted it and how many of you have had success with that youngster?

Currently we are in a buyer’s market, thanks to the recession and the glut of unwanted horses. While the economy has not greatly affected the high-end horse market, it has impacted the mid and low range horse market. The horse you would have paid $10,000 for a few years ago, you may now get for $7500—so it’s a great time to parlay your money into more horse, no matter what price range you are in.

In the end, you should spend your money on training and temperament. Conformation follows closely as a must-have because it has a bearing on performance, soundness and longevity. For my sales program, I rarely look at a horse under 10 years old to buy. I try to find those “cream puff” horses that are safe, solid and fun to own and ride. To have the experience, training and seasoning they need to be a solid, “bomb proof” kind of horse, they need some age on them. No matter how well trained that 4 year old is, he cannot have the life-experience he needs to be a sure bet. It’s amazing how quickly training can be un-done in a young horse, or any horse for that matter. I get emails on a daily basis from someone who bought a horse that seemed very well trained when they looked at it (or they took the word of the seller that he was well trained) and a month later the horse has major problems. Have you had this experience? I cannot always fault the seller because any horse can become untrained quickly with mishandling—here’s where temperament comes in.

Depending on your goals and pursuits, breeding (pedigree and type) can also be a big factor. If your ultimate goal includes endurance racing in the Tevis Cup, you’d be well advised to stay away from draft horses. The more specific and more demanding your riding goals, the more important breeding and training is. The frustration of an unsuitable horse and/or a poorly trained horse trying to do something he’s not ready for or capable of is real for both horse and rider. We do horses a huge disservice trying to make them into something they are incapable of or asking more of them than their training allows.

If you are currently in the market for a new equine partner, where are you looking? Where have you found the greatest success? Word of mouth? Classified ads? Internet? Trainers? Has it been frustrating and impossible or easy and successful? How many near-perfect horses flunked the pre-purchase vet exam before you found the right horse? Was the horse you bought everything you thought he’d be or did you find holes in him after you got to know him? It is certainly not an exact science and to some extent, being in the right place at the right time is priceless, when it comes to finding the perfect horse. The best horses don’t stay on the market for long. But the more you know, the easier the buying process is to navigate.

If you’re in the market for a new horse this spring—good luck! And there’s even more advice on my new Buyer’s Guide. Search for “buyers” on the search page.

Until next time,
–Julie Goodnight

Buying A Horse

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In “Shop ‘Til You Drop,” the Horse Master episode taped at my ranch in Colorado, I helped my friend Sddita Fradette begin the horse shopping process. She’s a skilled rider and NARHA riding instructor but doesn’t have her own horse at the moment. She wants to make sure she has the know-how and strategy to start shopping with confidence. We talked about the importance of conformation, breeding, size, temperament, training, sex and more during the show.

Be sure to watch the episode on RFD-TV, log on to watch the extra footage at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ghGuPH_bLOI then read on to find out more about finding your own perfect horse. The show is part of a new series of episodes shot at my ranch (we’ll shoot in Colorado again in late summer 2010 if you’re close and would like to apply to get help for you and your horse: http://www.horsemaster.juliegoodnight.com/apply.html). In the new shows, there’s help if your horse refuses to approach obstacles, if you’re a new rider and want help learning how to work with your new horse, if you’re horse shopping, if your horse won’t accept a bit and bridle without raising his head, and if you want help finding the proper bit for your well-trained horse. Here’s more about horse shopping….

Horse Shopping 101
When it’s time to look for a new horse, you want to be an educated buyer—understanding what to look for and what questions to ask as you shop for your dream horse. You’ll want to find the safest and best-trained horse that your money can buy. You will love a horse that makes you feel safe; get one that you can build confidence with instead of constantly re-building.
It’s very important to identify exactly how you plan to use your new horse because you cannot fit a square peg into a round hole. Spend some time thinking about what your short and long term goals are; be realistic in terms of your time commitment and physical ability. If your time commitment is limited, you’ll need a very well-trained and seasoned horse that can stand around for days or weeks and still ride easy, not a “project” horse that is young or poorly trained. If your goals include competitive riding, you’ll need a horse that is the right type, with good athletic ability and solid training. The more demanding the competition, the more type, pedigree and training play a role.
It may be that you want an all-around horse that you can do a variety of things with, from casual trail riding to dressage, both English and western. If so, realistically rank all the activities you plan and what is most important to you and set up a list of priorities so that you can evaluate individual horses and rate their best qualities.
Realize that one horse may not suit your long-term goals and you may out-grow this horse, particularly if you plan to compete regularly. If you are just starting out as a beginner, you need a steady, solid mount that has a lot of patience; these horses are typically not the sharpest athletes. As you reach higher levels of riding, you’ll need a horse that can move up the levels with you. Maybe you’ll need a starter horse and in a few years you’ll be ready to move up to a highly bred and trained performer that will propel you to the highest levels (start saving your money now!). Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking you’ll keep every horse you have for the rest of its life; horses are not like dogs. While it is possible that you may keep one horse forever, you may find that the horse you buy does not turn out to be the best horse for you in the future and you may need to sell him and move onto another.
In a booklet I wrote for the Certified Horsemanship Association (a non-profit organization that promotes safety in the horse industry, http://www.cha-ahse.org) called Ready to Ride, I cover when to buy a horse, purchasing vs. leasing, and the many and varied breeds and disciplines to consider. I also cover finding a riding instructor and trainer, setting realistic goals, etc. If you haven’t owned your own horse before or are looking for a horse for a young rider, the booklet helps you consider all the aspects of horse ownership—costs and extras you might not have added to your budget and plan. Here’s information from Chapter 10, “Should You Buy a Horse:”
“When you consider the purchase price, boarding, health care, and equipment needed, owning a horse is clearly more expensive than simply riding school horses. Owning a horse requires a substantial investment of time and energy and a serious long-term commitment.
Owning or Leasing a Horse Many stables offer leases and half-leases on horses, which gives a good introduction to horse ownership, without the capital investment. Often leases are available for the cost of board and maintenance, so it is a more affordable first step to horse ownership, without the long-term commitment. However, the purchase price may be the least amount of money you will spend on a horse; the maintenance costs can be considerably higher in the long run….
Many naïve horse lovers make the devastating mistake of buying a young horse for their first horse. Horses are not like puppies; you cannot effectively train a young horse without years of experience and a young horse is much more dangerous than a little puppy. Between the horse and the rider, it is imperative that one of you knows what you are doing. Unlike puppies, horses can become big dangerous animals in a heartbeat; it requires a competent and experienced horse person to raise and train young horses.
Horses are not really mature until they are about eight years old and they are in their prime in their teens. Most good beginner and novice horses are 14 or older, although some may be younger. The older a horse gets, the more he has learned about life, humans and his job. You want a horse that can teach you; not a horse that needs an education.
Look for a stable with a program that teaches good horse care and knowledge as well as riding skills. Volunteer for horse chores at a stable; allow your child to take advantage of the opportunity for character development. Horses are not machines and one of the most important things a child can learn is personal responsibility.
Some stables offer full care only, while others give you the choice of providing some of your horse’s care yourself. There should be a regular schedule for feeding, watering, stall cleaning/manure disposal, farrier, and veterinary visits….”
It’s crucial to consider all the costs and think through where you’ll keep your horse and how you’ll keep him safe and healthy before you buy. And no matter if you’re shopping for your ultimate dream horse or your first horse, take the time to research your purchase and seek out support for your shopping trips. Find a trainer that specializes in the discipline you’d like to work in or seek out a friend that has more horse experience than you do to help you weigh your options throughout the process. There are seller’s agents and buyer’s agents. You need a buyer’s agent that you can pay his/her regularly hourly fee to look at horses with you. Or you could engage a trainer to look for horses for you for a finder’s fee (be wary of commissions for buyer’s agents since that encourages the trainer to look for an expensive horse). Most often what you encounter is the seller’s agent (like with real estate), who is receiving a commission on the sale (usually 10%); therefore you may not get all the info you need about the horse. Be very leery of double-dipping agents (taking a commission from both buyer and seller). It’s best to have an objective third-party agent who has no motivation other than to give you his/her honest opinion.
Check out even more horse shopping tips and strategies in my Horse Buyer’s Guide PDF available free at www.JulieGoodnight.com. And visit the horse sales page on the site: http://juliegoodnight.com/horses.
–Julie Goodnight