You Better Shop Around

A good horse is hard to find. After tagging along on her instructor’s equine shopping quest, Jessica Fox feels better about her current polyamorous situation.

From Jessica:

At the moment, me buying a horse is out of the question (board is not cheap in Los Angeles County! I’m a writer!). But, despite my grown-up Very Responsible Decision to stick with leasing, I spend an unhealthy amount of time on

So, when my instructor asked me to help her look for a Combined Driving Event (CDE) prospect horse, I was all in.

Jill’s decision to include me in her search was decidedly risky. Her criteria for a horse with the potential to perform at her advanced level are a lot more refined than mine. I’m that Adult Amateur who, convinced that with just enough love she/he could be the next Valegro, would bring home a three-legged, lobotomized horse.

But I am decent with a camera and will ride anything. Which was helpful for when Jill wanted to see how a horse moved under saddle. Sure, the prospect’s owner or trainer could ride, but watching your student try to do the same is infinitely more entertaining… and enlightening.

For both of us.

The night before our first test ride, visions of riding a beautiful above-my-pay-grade gelding made sleep impossible. According to his videos and pictures, he was perfect. I was sure he was The One.

After the ride, not so much.

Our next trip took us to see a mare who moved with so much suspension and fluidity you wondered at her price. She was even better in person. Intelligent eyes, the kind of ears you want to tug, and the softest nose you ever petted. Under saddle she was smooth and squirrely. I was in love. But Jill was hesitant. After giving Black Beauty a few more tries and a much closer look, we moved on.

Then there was the brown gelding whose confirmation might not stand up to the marathon portion of a CDE, the mare who lacked good dressage movement but had the quick feet and heart for marathon, and the bay who seemed a good fit but was sold before we had a chance to organize a vet check.

Finding the right horse was a lot harder than I’d imagined. Even for someone like Jill, a trainer who has the skill and experience to bring along a green or challenging prospect.

What, I wondered, would it be like for me? My ideal horse would come with a hefty price tag, and my budget is firmly in DIY fixer-upper territory. I am neither skilled nor experienced in horse training. Carrots and snuggling are my go-to relationship building tools.

My only experience in buying a horse was Honeycomb, who chose me when I was 12 and was my constant friend for over 20 years.

The more I thought about it, leasing wasn’t that bad. For a relatively low price, I get to ride Bailey or any of my instructor’s other horses… including my BFF, Playday the Wonderhorse. This is especially handy because, while Bailey is a dressage machine and enjoys off-campus promenades…

Jessica and Bailey at a show.

Jessica and Bailey at a show.

…he is not so much into reenacting Paul Revere’s ride on the Hansen Dam haul roads. That would offend his sense of decorum.

But not Playday’s.


When I need a lunge lesson or someone with whom to focus on my position, there’s Cityboy, whose smooth trot and canter is aces for no stirrups/no reins…



…or Lilly, whose patience is endless. Vet bills, chiropractor, supplements… though I care about all of those things, none of them affect my wallet. Instead, I throw my extra money away on lessons, horse treats, and the occasional unnecessary piece of tack.


Unnecessary tack items I purchase with the money I don’t spend on my own horse…


Why do I need a Rambo cooler?

Just like with people, there’s no such thing as a perfect horse. Though Jill eventually found her diamond in the rough (a liver chestnut who’s got dapples for miles and a fondness for mints), digging for my own no longer seems quite so urgent.

Unless there’s a lobotomized, three-legged horse with tons of potential and an in-your-pocket personality in need of a good home?


Bonus gratuitous mini-donkey pic!

Jessica Fox is a freelance writer and novelist-in-training who dreams of the day  she can sit a trot without flailing about. She currently lives in Los Angeles, CA where she writes as much as possible to feed her increasingly voracious horse-habit and almost rides Dressage. Read previous “Riding the Second Time Around” columns on Horse Nation and visit her website at


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