The Perils of Horse Shopping

Lila Gendal shares some things to keep in mind.

Photo courtesy of Lila Gendal.

In theory, horse shopping ought to be one of the most exciting experiences you’ll ever have. The potential lifelong partnership you could develop. The eagerness and anticipation of searching, and then finding THAT special and unique horse you’ve been waiting your whole life for. It’s like Christmas morning… except a lot more exciting — and, most likely, a LOT  more complicated.

Many of us have experienced challenging horse shopping experiences. If you basically know what it is you’re looking for in an equine partner, where do you start? How do you begin this trying process? Which ads do you steer clear of  and which do you dig deeper into? How do you know what’s real and what is not when looking at an ad? How do you decipher between false advertising and the real deal?

Unfortunately, there are no clear-cut answers. But here are are a few guideposts that might help smooth out an otherwise rocky road:

Beware of odd phrasing and disclaimers in ads.

I’m no expert, but there are certain ads I would not look at twice. If it smells fishy, it probably is.

Honesty is a virtue but don’t downplay outright disclaimers. Take note of phrases like needs aggressive and/or strong rider, or doesn’t like dressage, or can be tough on cross-country. There’s a story behind all those disclaimers, and while training issues don’t have to be deal-breakers (NO horse is perfect), if you are considering a mount with some “issues” be sure that you and/or your trainer have the experience and resources to address them.

Remember that downright false advertising exists.

Have you ever read an ad that sounded absolutely perfect — but when you actually drove the 300 miles to see and try the horse, you were shocked at what you saw? In other words, have you ever seen an ad for a horse that didn’t actually meet the actual description of the horse? If the ad says “sweet disposition,” and you walk into the barn expecting a cuddly and gentle horse but instead find a horse that bites and kicks, how does this make any sense? How would someone normally define the words “sweet” and “gentle”? Are these words open to interpretation?

Obviously, there’s no way to know with 100% accuracy what you’re in for until you go look. But you can increase your chances of seeing through blatant lies by doing your homework before: fact-check the horse’s breeding and show record and ask for seller references, or even better…

Buy from a seller you trust.

This point goes a long way. There are certain horse salesmen who are truly good at their job and have the reputation — a track record of happy buyers — to prove it. They are consistent and trustworthy, and they produce horses that are capable of being good partners for the riders who buy them. These are the folks you want to have on speed dial. These sellers go out of their way to make sure they have made the right match. They are helpful, courteous and honest, and they DO exist. You simply have to have the right connections. Ask around for recommendations!

You never know until you look.

It’s the bitter truth: Not everything you see on paper is going to match what you see or feel under saddle. This can obviously be a negative — but in certain circumstances it can be a positive as well. Just because you have a specific horse in mind, even down to the most precise detail, does not mean that that exact horse is perfect for you.

For instance, an eventer might say, “I am looking for an OTTB, gone training level, ready to move up to prelim, 16.2, bay for four socks and a blaze, must be quiet but forward, balanced and a superb mover.” Well, maybe that’s what you’re looking for, but who says the Clydesdale cross who is going beginner novice isn’t actually the perfect horse for YOU? You just never know until you sit on a horse. Keep an open mind and give it a chance!

There are a remarkable number of horses out there in the world, and figuring out which horse might suit you seems daunting at first, but if you can accurately vet ads, find a trustworthy seller and perhaps someone to help guide you through the process, you just might be able to find exactly what you’re searching for.

What kind of interesting horse shopping experiences have YOU had?

My name is Lila Gendal and I am 29 years old. I am from Vermont and have been riding horses since I was 6 years old. I have been eventing since I was 10. I have been riding and training with Denny Emerson for the last 7 years. My goal is to compete at the upper levels someday. I’m currently leasing an awesome ISH gelding named Theatre Royal (owned by Gayle Davis), and we are going Prelim. When I am not on a horse or in the barn I am likely working in my office on what I like to call Equine Media… or social media for equestrians and equestrian websites.

Vinnie fall jump school 2014


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