A Journey

Buying a horse isn’t like buying a car. You may like the test drive, but unlike a car (unless it’s a second hand car sold by Harry Wormwood) you are only beginning the journey. A new horse will be affected by changes to his environment, diet, tack, routine, and needs to build a relationship with their new owner. The first few months are always a journey, and I get such satisfaction seeing a pair coming together and developing a relationship, especially if I’ve been involved in the purchasing process.

In October a friend and client bought a little cob. Emphasis on the little. He’s only about 13.2hh, but is wider than he is tall, so easily carries a small adult. He hadn’t done much in his previous home, but is a safe and sensible leg at each corner type.

We started by gentle schooling and hacking, to build his fitness. Poles and little jumps as necessary. He also had the usual checks and changes – saddle check, chiropractor, clip etc. In hindsight, we probably rushed this process, as he was quiet and accepting but in reality they were all new experiences for him. He had a new saddle within weeks, we changed the bit to discourage him from going behind the vertical, he was fully clipped.

Then he started broncing. Not the odd buck, but head between the knees, coiled like a spring, and not what he appeared to be when he arrived. We stripped everything back to how he came (with the exception of his clip), and came to the conclusion over Christmas that his cheeky behaviour was a combination of being stabled for the first time in his life, being a little too attached to his neighbour, and being clipped – his behaviour was better on calm, milder days. He also had his teeth rasped in January, which were definitely overdue so that was possibly a contributing factor.

Unfortunately, you can’t stick hair back on, so we’ve had to ride out the freshness, and let the clip regrow. He definitely doesn’t like being completely naked so in the autumn, he can just have a blanket clip, which I think will be better suited to his work load and living out.

The last three months have been a steady progression of building his confidence out hacking, having him shod because he got a little footsore, and encouraging him to lengthen his compact little frame.

I’ve been really pleased with his and his owners progress. They’re developing a strong relationship, he’s working nicely for both her and me. He feels stronger in the school. Right canter was non-existent and left very unbalanced, but now we get right canter more often than left and both are three time and rhythmical. Below are two photos to show the difference in the pony’s posture and condition. His neck has muscled up nicely and his short back has become strong, with toned hindquarters. He’s a curvaceous type so will never look like an event horse, but he’s definitely more muscle than fat now.

It’s not been the fastest or smoothest transformation, but the pair have a solid foundation for the next few months as we look at sponsored rides, more jumping, and maybe some online dressage tests…

Buying Horses

One of my clients is currently on the search for her first horse, moving up from her share pony.

I forget how much of a minefield buying horses is. I’m very lucky that all of ours has just happened. Mum asked my instructor to keep an eye out for a youngster I could bring on and she had a friend who had bred Matt. Not going to lie, seeing a feral 2 year old colt on the side of the Welsh mountains one blustery day didn’t strike me as a perfect pony! But he’s turned out pretty good. Otis was also from another friend of hers. Phoenix, I’d decided we’d look in the spring and her advert appeared on my social media a couple of days later. Fate? Perhaps it struck three times for me.

But when you’re actively looking for horses, there’s a lot of dross to sift through.

I’ve often helped clients look for horses, or been to view them, or been sent videos for feedback. It’s not my favourite job because I feel quite a lot of pressure to get it right. I also feel that entering the world of horse ownership is often underestimated, and not without potholes, so it’s not only important to find the right horse, but also nurture the relationship as it develops. I’ve had several experiences of people asking my advice, bought a horse, then neglected regular lessons or supervision from a professional before getting into a pickle and losing confidence in each other.

How best to start the search for a new horse? I tend to have the conversation about what the rider is realistically looking for. Sometimes this involves some home truths in that the horse a rider is dreaming of is not what their abilities and ambitions needs. I’ve seen a purchase go wrong because the rider has insisted on overhorsing themselves, so I am not afraid to try to talk sense into prospective purchasers. However, I do usually let the purchaser lead the search. They can send me the adverts for feedback. This allows me to get a feel for their likes in a horse too.

I will also ask my contacts, to see if I can find a suitable horse through word of mouth as we go along, and keep my ears to the ground if anyone tells me about a horse.

In the initial browsing of adverts, I tend to encourage purchasers to look beyond their budget and outside the travel zone. This allows them to gauge the market, get a better understanding of adverts and the points to look for.

Once adverts start coming to me, I’ll feedback as to whether more info is needed, and if not, what I don’t like about the advert. After all, I don’t want to turn down a dozen adverts which all say “sharp” for a novice rider. Better to explain the meaning of the word and let them filter other sharp horses out. It’s an educational process as well. For example, my client sent me an advert for a 16hh Clydesdale cross. 15-16hh is our height criteria, but a chunky horse at the top end of the height will be too much horse for my rider. Therefore when she’s looking at horses she needs to consider breed/type as well as height.

The next learning curve for prospective purchasers is speaking to the owners of the advertised horse, asking the relevant questions and interpreting the answers. We also look at the videos. When I feedback on adverts I’ll often suggest questions to ask and what information is missing or incomplete.

It’s amazing how quickly you learn to read an advert and write off a horse due to vague blurb, missing information, photos only of the horse’s head or when stationary, or poor videos. By the time you’ve whittled down the unsuitable ones, the ones too far away, and the ones with unsaid problems, then unfortunately you aren’t left with many to choose from!

Next up, is viewing a horse. It’s always recommended that you take someone knowledgeable with you, and for those not used to viewings or riding different horses then I think the most useful person to take is your instructor. They can ride the horse as well, and they can effectively give you a lesson. I find that just me standing in the middle of the arena will quell any nerves from the rider, and I can talk through the horse’s behaviour, subtle signs I’ve spotted, explain what assessments the rider needs to make, and get them talking about what they’re feeling underneath them. I can also tweak my rider so that hopefully they get a better tune out of the horse, which is realistically more like what they will be working on at home. Then I also get a feel for the horse’s trainability. It doesn’t matter if they encounter a problem, such as refusing a jump, but rather how they both deal with it afterwards. Often the first jumps aren’t the best as they’re getting used to each other. The prospective horse should be ridden in the arena first, from a safety point of view, and then if it passes this test, out in the open and on a hack. I also like my client to have some time on the ground with the horse, to get a feel for them as a person.

Once the viewing is over, I remind my client that they don’t have to like this horse. There’s no pressure for it to be “the one”. No time wasted, nothing lost but an experience gained. I then try and get them to evaluate and analyse the horse, giving their likes and questions or worries. We talk about what the horse needs – for example, if the jumping didn’t go as planned, would the horse benefit from gridwork, or polework? What can the prospective owner expect from the first couple of months of ownership? I also want to know the rider’s gut feeling, and if they “clicked” with the horse. After getting the purchasers views I’ll add mine, and then we follow up with any new questions, possibly arrange a second viewing and make a decision before organising vettings and other new horse preparations.

As with any major, life changing decisions, it is worth investing the time and effort into doing the research, asking all the questions, necessary or unnecessary. Asking for help and guidance, and then being prepared to ask for help over the next few months as your new horse settles in and you settle into horse ownership.