The Riding School: To buy or not to buy

This week, the Riding Instructor outlines her thoughts on guiding students and their parents through the process of deciding whether to purchase their own horse.

From the Riding Instructor:

So the barn where I grew up riding took a somewhat unconventional approach to introducing its students to the joys of horse ownership.  Although there were some students who took the traditional find a horse – vet it – buy it route, quite a few of us acquired our horses directly from the barn.  The barn owner would keep an eye on what kids got attached to what school horse; if the horse wasn’t a popular one who was earning a good living, she would approach the parents and offer to give the student  the horse “because she loves it so much.” It took me years to realize that I didn’t acquire Fred, my 20+ year old, somewhat crippled first horse, through an act of astonishing generosity – as I thought at the time – but as a savvy business move.  Her “gift” turned a liability – a school horse who wasn’t pulling its weight – into an asset – a monthly board bill.  And when, inevitably, the riders outgrew their “gifted” school horses, it was their responsibility to sell or rehome them.  In addition, once a student had owned a horse, it made buying the next one, likely a show horse, seem a little more painless.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve got a couple of kids who are getting close to the point where I’m thinking about talking to their parents about that first horse.  They are near the end of what the school horses can teach them and they have started showing on the best of our crew.  They work at the barn and have shown commitment and dedication.  But part of what I like about my barn is that it is a reasonably priced, low-pressure environment, so how can I convince the parents that their children’s riding is worth a significant investment, not just in the purchase price of a horse, but in the monthly expenses?

The honest answer to this is that I can’t.  This has to be a family decision that they have the resources and the commitment to make that investment.  I’m lucky in that teaching riding is something I do more for fun that for profit, so I don’t have to think about the bottom line that pushes many horse professionals – but even if I did, I don’t think I could do what my former barn owner did.  In fact, I’ve discouraged a couple of over-eager parents who were ready to write a check before their kids were ready, because I knew I’d have to pick up the pieces when things didn’t work out.

So I’ve decided to put together an information sheet for parents, detailing expenses, typical purchase prices, costs of vetting and the like, and then wait for them to come to that decision themselves.  I firmly believe that no one should own a horse who hasn’t absolutely begged for it – did you all see some of the power points that HN put up a few months ago? – so when the kids have finally done enough to convince their parents that they have to have a horse, I’ll be ready and be sure they are as well.  And as consolation to the kids who can’t quite bring their parents to make that leap, I’ll point out that, when they are older and have jobs, they can buy themselves a horse.  Or two.

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