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The Obligation of a Horse Seller: An Editorial

“Although buyers need to take all necessary steps to protect themselves, sellers … must take all necessary steps to protect the horses placed in their care, the buyers with whom they are working and their own reputations.”

 

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We’ve all heard the horror stories — you know the ones. Susie goes to buy a new horse. When she first goes to see the horse, it is quiet, forgiving and generally everything for which she is looking. When she gets the horse to its new home, it’s a completely different beast.

Gone is the patient, amateur-friendly mount Susie thought she purchased. Instead, she has a high-strung bronc that charges her in the field and does its best to buck her off when it’s not three-legged lame. Instead of the 10-year-old she thought she bought, Susie is now strapped with a horse that is at least 18 years old  and requires quite a bit of maintenance to manage its advanced arthritis.

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Buyer beware. Never is this more true than when one is horse shopping. When we are looking for a new horse, it is up to us to do our due diligence by vetting the horse, asking educated questions, properly representing ourselves and our riding abilities and taking every possible measure to ensure that we are bringing home the horse we think we are and that is properly suited to us.

Horse buyers are under the obligation to be honest about their experience, their riding ability and the level of care they are able to provide. They are under the obligation to admit when they are outmatched and choose a horse that is appropriate for their skillset and temperament.

BUT (and this is a big “but”)

But we should not overlook or misrepresent the importance of the obligation of a horse seller. Although buyers need to take all necessary steps to protect themselves, sellers — whether they are private sellers, professional trainers or dealers — must take all necessary steps to protect the horses placed in their care, the buyers with whom they are working and their own reputations.

Horse sellers are under the obligation to be honest about the behavior, level of training, health and age of their horses. Shirking this responsibility is no less than a base, money-grubbing move that preys on the ignorance of a potential buyer.

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That said, I won’t fault someone who honestly sells a grade horse and isn’t sure of its exact age. Or someone who has multiple horses and, as a result, sees the vet regularly and forgets if a particular horse has had its front left foot radiographed. Or a dealer who moves a number of horses and is not familiar with their histories.

Being upfront with a buyer about a horse being “around 12,” needing to double check vet records to be sure of available films, admitting that the horse’s background is unknown or acknowledging a mismatch are part of the process and part of responsible selling.

Innocent mistakes do happen and sometimes we forget things or simply do not know them in the first place. Similarly, everyone rides differently and horses will pick up on a rider’s energy or perform differently from rider to rider. Issues such as these generally are not anyone’s fault and are all part of adapting to a new horse and finding one that suits you.

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However, there are dishonest and, therefore, dangerous sellers who knowingly misrepresent a horse or withhold information. These sellers aren’t just the urban legends of the equestrian world. Unfortunately, they are close to home for me. And — as I’ve learned in my time in the horse community — if it’s an issue in my neck of the woods, it’s not a unique problem. It’s happening elsewhere.

Believe it or nor, the point of this piece is not simply to rant about the rank sellers out there or to take responsibility off of the buyers. Instead, the point is to serve those sellers with a reminder of their obligations to their horses and fellow riders. The point is to remind all of us that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers.

There is not much we can do once the bill of sale and the papers have been transferred, but we can hold sellers accountable. The horse community is small, especially our insulated local communities. There are not that many degrees of separation between us. As a result, we hold quite a bit of power when it comes to accountability.

To be clear, I am not a proponent of public shaming.

I am not such a binary thinker that I don’t realize mistakes can be made and people are fallible. But we all know the difference between a mistake and predatory selling. We have the ability to warn off others, to choose not to feed into/give our money to such sellers and to make others aware of known issues.

All said, we still need to be wary as buyers. People will be dishonest and do what they feel they need to do to unload a horse or turn a profit. However, social pressure can bring about change. My hope is that holding predatory sellers accountable by putting some pressure on them will encourage change in a positive direction.

And hopefully karma will take care of the rest.

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