Thoroughbred Logic: The Joy of Selling Thoroughbreds

“Part of my job — and where the joy lies — is in finding the definition of ‘safe’ in order to promote the fun. Not everyone needs the upper level horse that jumps the moon, nor does everyone need the super duper cute easy-going plodder. But some absolutely do.”

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 the joys of selling Thoroughbreds.

This is not a snarky title. I actually mean it. And that in and of itself may make me certifiable.

Most folks take a look at the idea of horse sales and run the other way — you can’t pay them enough to do it. The non-stop all hours messages with questions that were answered in the ad, the demands for “Video” or “Info” with no politesse involved, the no-shows and tire kickers — all of those things keep people out of the business (or only dipping into it briefly when they absolutely have to).

Rikki (Tiz So Fine) standing up nicely for her sale shots. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

But when you get past all of the “ugh… people” part of horse sales, there is a lot of beauty in it. And all of that comes from the ability not just to sell a horse to a new home, but to make a quality match. Maybe this is just a ridiculously fortuitous melding of a strange skill set: Anthropologist and Thoroughbred-Oriented Trainer/Eventer. Maybe I just like that doing sales means I get to hop on more Thoroughbreds. Maybe both.

So here’s the fun of being an Anthropologist in this case. While most folks think Archaeology and Indiana Jones when it comes to that academic field, what I do/have been trained to do is quite different. I mean, a bull whip and a revolver would be a really cool tool kit for field work, but mostly I have a notebook and camera… same, same, right? I digress. My field of Anthropology (Cultural) examines often contemporary people and aims to understand how they see their world through their own eyes (to the best of our ability). In that way-too-brief summary, this means that a lot of what I have been trained to do is to listen to the stories people tell and line that up with their actions and interactions to create a form of comprehension. Basically, it is a lot of professional reading between the lines.

Tetris (Not A Game) clicking around during his first post-track assessment ride (First rides are literally my favorite part of all of this). Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Here’s how that is helpful in horse sales: Pairing what people say with how they ride/move around horses is critical. Listening to the stories they tell of their previous horses or the ones they sold can provide a set of red flags… or green ones. And gaining insight into who this person is, their equine goals and how they function with and around horses helps me figure out which of my happy weirdos in the barn would fit them best — if any.

And on the horse side of things, it is a similar challenge and joy to listen to them and figure out what type of career they could have and who they might want to take them on for that literal and figurative ride. That means factoring in all the things: their physical ability, their personalities and mental states, their levels of soundness and maintenance requirements, their track jewelry, their limitations (or lack there of) and how they ride.

Findings like this screw are never fun, as they never make sales easier. However, knowledgeable assessment shows that this is seriously unlikely to cause any damage down the road. Finding a talented, appropriate rider and trainer who understood that with this mare was a welcomed relief. Radiography courtesy of Countryside Veterinary Services.

I have horses like Louis (Unbridled Bayou) who are sound, sweet, capable and stunning. But Louis doesn’t seem to want to be a super upper level horse. He *could* do it, but his joy comes from having a human to dote on him, play with him, compete without the huge pressure of moving up the levels fast. I’d rather see him with a solidly good riding teen who wants to do all the things, or an adult who wants to compete and just have fun and love their horse than in a strict competition home where there will be pressure to show all the time and escalate up the levels while winning… fast.

Louis (Unbridled Bayou) being his ridiculously cute self. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Conversely, I have known many others who fit those competition-home needs. Those horses are hunting for the flags on cross country or ears all the way up and taking you to the stadium fence. They’re not just enjoying it, they want it. Cool — when I find riders that want the same thing, those matches are easy and exciting.

Hudson (Primetime Spy) makes a heck of a nice upper level prospect, with his flag-hunting and scope jump. Photo by Audrey Mecklenburg.

The tough ones are of course the horses with “special” personalities, jewelry or limitations, where finding the right home means even more seriously assessing the skills, knowledge and needs of the future buyer. And part of that is asking the buyer to share parts of their world that they might not deem necessary — their previous Thoroughbred knowledge, videos of them riding, their stabling, fields and facility. Folks who readily send info along are wonderful (yay, green flag), and folks who refuse or are grumpy about being asked are simply taken off the list. Ain’t no one got time for that when trying to get it right for the horse.

No jewelry or limitations here, but Wolf (Louisiana Moon) does have a particular personality that will take an equally particular match. I love him, but he is a “particular” kiddo. Photo by Kimberwick Visuals.

And I’m not alone; I know a ton of Thoroughbred trainers and sales experts who put the same enormous effort and care into each equine in their string. Here’s why it is not just selling but match-making; here’s why that matters: If I (we) don’t figure out the ride the horse needs and match it well to the new owner (and their goals, abilities, and proclivities) then sure, it won’t work. But I have said this to folks in the past, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: When selling a horse, the horse is the one I care about. Sure, I don’t want humans to get hurt or be unhappy or have to quickly resell something they don’t love. But if the horse is not matched well, they will bounce. They’ll bounce from home to home, for less and less money until they end up in the wrong hands, hungry in a field or at auction.

(Here’s the reality: if I wouldn’t be willing to grab a drink with the buyer (beer preferably, but I’ll settle for Lemonade for the younger crew), I probably won’t be comfortable selling them a horse. I do well with polite, forthright and kind. So, as it turns out, do Thoroughbreds. And in matching that up successfully, there is nothing but joy.)

As I see it, vetting the humans and assessing the horses is the best I can do to keep them on a trajectory of a positive set of second career(s). Not everyone needs a Thoroughbred. And not everyone needs THAT Thoroughbred. But I love when folks come in and are willing to explore options, take the time and really size up what they need (or have a trainer help them with that whole figuring out thing). And then when the match works, man is it awesome.

Too handsome not to include: Cryptorithm remains on the hunt for his lower level-aspiring human. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

There are so many good examples, but a recent favorite was the sale of one of my client’s horses this summer. This little horse with a big jump was kind and easy under saddle. But, he was maybe not as flashy or powerful as a few of the other horses the teenager hopped on. She wanted an all-around horse, one that could do jumpers and play around bareback in the fields at home, one who would trail ride and go to local shows, maybe even dabble in eventing (yessssss, come to the dark side…). While the good-riding teen went away with stars in her eyes about the bigger moving Thoroughbreds, I chatted with the mom, mentioning that the one she seems to be overlooking is really the one that is going to be safe — and, therefore, fun. Months later, they still love him.

And that was something that stuck. Part of my job — and where the joy lies — is in finding the definition of “safe” in order to promote the fun. Not everyone needs the upper level horse that jumps the moon, nor does everyone need the super duper cute easy-going plodder. But some absolutely do.

Curry (Curlin Lane) is a particular ride, and while beyond lovely, will take just the right match. Photo by Alanah Giltmier.

Hell, I love a fast, catty, t0o-smart-for-their-own good horse who inevitably is tough in dressage but a machine on cross country. For me, they’re my version of fun because that is also where I find my notion of safe — quick and careful. Everyone has their own version. And it is on us sellers (in obvious conjunction with the buyers and trainers) to assess what safe might look like for each rider. Then we get to help make the matches that promote the reason we all do this in the first place: that joy that first got us on a horse’s back and kept us there, way back when.

Quick and catty is Rhodie’s (Western Ridge) modus operandi. Nothing beats XC on this kid. Photo by Cora Williamson.

So while most sane humans ought to hate sales, putting the horse + human puzzle pieces together is always worth it. Because in the end, it is in that quality match where the joy originates. Go ride, folks. Or better yet, go enjoy the ride.