Thoroughbred Logic, Presented by OTTB United: Buying The Appropriate Horse (A Seller’s Perspective)

“… if that barefoot, forage-only Thoroughbred needs shoes as the ground gets harder, or needs grain to help supplement their hay and grazing, I want to make sure mine are in a position where the owner will simply run to the feed store or call their talented farrier and make sure they get what they need.”

Welcome to the next installment of Thoroughbred Logic. In this weekly series, Anthropologist and trainer Aubrey Graham, of Kivu Sport Horses, offers insight and training experience when it comes to working with Thoroughbreds (although much will apply to all breeds). This week ride along as Aubrey discusses her logic on finding the appropriate home and rider for Thoroughbreds she sells.

Spinning off of my review of the OTTB United App from last week, I realized I had a good bit more to say about selling and buying Thoroughbreds. Okay… I have a LOT to say about all of that, but this is just one more installment. This one takes on the seller’s perspective of getting horses to appropriate homes.

Part of my business is not just retraining, but also re-homing/selling off-track Thoroughbreds. With my team here at Kivu, this means we get to make glossy photos and short, effective videos of the “available” kids. We showcase their talents and write descriptions that detail their personalities, quirks and limitations. While these things help highlight the horses, they also help buyers to find one that is appropriate. Appropriate is a key word here for so many things.

Nieko (Love that Ink) is an example of a lovely sales horse who is not in the hunt for any home, but rather, for a solidly good, appropriate home. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Worth noting here, I use the term “we” a lot in this article because one one hand, the art of marketing horses is a team effort here at Kivu. There is media to be produced, horses to be bathed, and training rides to be done. Ever tried to take conformation photos by yourself? Yeah, you get why this is a multi-player game. But also, on the other hand, I use “we” because I know a number of other “sellers” and “rehomers” who have the same goals and similar processes. And despite everyone being in the same business with similar clientele, it is a largely friendly group of folks who, for the love of these horses, have created a yet another supportive community.

So besides making the horses look and go the best we can, part of the process is ensuring they end up at a good home. That is absolutely paramount. A good home does not just mean green pastures and peppermints all the time — in my opinion, too many treats only make these smart horses spoiled. A good home is an appropriate home — one where the horse has access to what it needs to be healthy physically and mentally, and where the owner has the horse’s best interest in mind when it comes to care, riding experience, and access to training.

Recent sales horse Tiz So Fine, found herself an amazing home, conveniently, with a good friend. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Sometimes finding that appropriate human and good home takes time. Hush (Out of the Silence) was a bit of a challenge to find a match. She was little (15.2-15.3h), feisty, sharp as a tack and had a few physical quirks (but no limitations) from her track days. Folks inquired about her for a kid’s hunter horse — nope. She might have an auto change, but certainly would have taken them for a bit of a wild round. I had a set of two-star riders who came through used to Warmbloods, who found her too catty, too challenging.

Hush (Out of the Silence) learning to lunge. Photo by author.

And then she matched with her now owner (yep, it almost feels like a dating game). The new owner watched her go, laughed at her outbursts, and hopped on and piloted her around for a bit and then came back to try her again later. The filly is consistent. She is the same in the field as she is under saddle. And all of what Hush was and what Hush was not made that human happy. I am thrilled that this lovely, super talented critter is headed for a life with someone appropriate, who does not just want A horse, but wants THAT horse — wants Hush. That folks, is why I do this.

Hush clicking along for her first post-track training ride. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Recently, I have had a couple stunning grays on the market. Their flashy looks tend to draw potential buyers who commonly might be struck by appearance first, but who in the long run are a crap shoot as to whether or not they might or not be right for them. It is funny how color and chrome tend to skew the market and the game. Chestnuts (my favorite), comically, tend to get the reverse treatment as the folks that consider them are usually pretty appropriate for all they offer, as the color tends to be secondary to their other attributes.

Snaps (Mr. KW) being little and red and all, will take a little longer to find his human, but I have no doubt he’ll end up in the perfect place.

As I mentioned a couple weeks back, Tuck (Louisiana Bling) after months of trial rides and discussions with many, hauled to Kentucky with me at the RRP’s Thoroughbred Makeover and by sheer luck and happenstance, landed in the absolute best possible home. He has an appropriate rider, an exceptional farm, knowledgeable vets and farriers, and a super trainer to help out along the way. The set-up is ideal to make both horse and rider happy. And with all of that coming together, to say (again) that I am excited about his future is a massive understatement.

Tuck (Louisiana Bling) hanging out at the RRP TB Makeover. Photo by author.

Amelia’s Map, my nearly 16.2h 2019 gray filly that looks like a unicorn prototype, is still drawing the crowds though she has yet to find her perfect human. That said, a message I received about her yesterday inspired the direction of this article. The message went along these lines:

“Is she completely sound and healthy? Is she shod? […] how much grain is she getting a day and is she on any meds?”

I squinted, and knew where this was going but politely responded with what I feed (a beet pulp, alfalfa cube, senior feed, flax, salt, and Madbarn Omneity mix with free choice Alfalfa and Timothy hay), that she wears four shoes, and that she is sound to my knowledge, healthy and not on any medications.

“Due to the amount of grain and the shoes, we’ll pass” was the response.

Amelia’s Map looking like her unicorn-ish self. Photo by Kelly Robison.

I wished them luck and offered that perhaps they should look at other breeds.

Because sure, Thoroughbreds can live on a grain-free forage diet if it is properly managed, and some can do well barefoot, if also properly managed. But if those are the requirements, there are other breeds that do all of that better in general — think drafts/-crosses and quarter horses. Because if that barefoot, forage-only Thoroughbred needs shoes as the ground gets harder, or needs grain to help supplement their hay and grazing, I want to make sure mine are in a position where the owner will simply run to the feed store or call their talented farrier and make sure they get what they need. I’m OK with that type of spoiling.

Former sales horse, Classy Cowboy, now “Bowen” hanging out in his absolutely fabulous, appropriate new home. Photo by Kirsten Lavasser.

And I’m grateful for that person’s communication because it was direct and we saved a lot of back and forth. In the end, their question was good information — but there are better, clearer ways to get at figuring out if the horse and rider are a match. So, if you’re shopping and you want to help a seller figure out if the horse you’re interested in is appropriate for you (because, honestly, this is what we want to make happen, and we’ll try to figure this out anyway) here are a few hints of what we want to know:

  • Your name (please be human and politely introduce yourself — no one likes getting messages that say, “Amelia, videos.” Like, literally, no one likes that.
  • That you read the ad. Please read the ads. Let me say that again — please read. We take the time to write them not just to make the horses sound amazing (they usually are) but also to detail who we think they are appropriate for and lay out any issues, limitations, or quirks. At the end of the day, I’m an academic, and I can’t tell you how many times I find myself saying, “oh for f*&$ sake, it’s in the syllabus” when someone asks for info I have already written out.
  • What you realistically hope to do with the horse (will you event? do hunters? aiming for the 2′ or the 3’6″). Keep in mind, not everyone needs an Upper-Level horse to make mid and lower-level dreams a reality.
  • Your current experience and riding level (we might ask for videos to see how you ride to see if said horse is a good match)
  • Your experience with green and off-track horses, specifically.
  • If you have a trainer and their comfort level with often very green off-tracks.
  • And finally, if you have any care limitations — like “must live outside 24/7, must be barefoot, must not need much grain.” Yes, those are all helpful too.

New sales horse, Quality Step, will be on the market soon, so I’ll be gearing up to answer all the questions and hope that folks read the ad first. Photo by Anna Sasser.

And at the end of the day, a good match is a good match. Good information (like that bulleted above) helps us sellers get you to the right horse faster, even if that right horse might not be the one we have available. In other words, despite needing to run a business, I’m not a fan of trying to “spandex” sales. This is a term a friend and student of mine uses for situations where “sure, you can, but maybe you shouldn’t.” The right owner always comes along eventually, and I get to be excited about watching the horse and rider grow together, ride out the ups and downs, and figure each other out along the way. Yeah, yeah, yeah, horse sales is definitely more glorified match making than used car selling.

Happy horse hunting, folks. It is a wild ride, but the right horse – the appropriate horse – is absolutely out there.

Thoroughbred Logic is proud to be supported by OTTB United, the premier virtual marketplace for retired racehorses built by equestrians, for equestrians. The OTTB United app unites organizations, buyers, sellers, and trainers in one interface. Download the app and give it a whirl by clicking/tapping the banner below!