First off, every horse, in practically every single ad is a bomb proof/kid safe/husband horse. How dead-broke a horse is lies on a spectrum and relies heavily on a person’s experience and perception. Some hell-bent-for-leather cow hand may consider a horse bomb-proof and husband safe because the horse will go all day and only gives the occasional crow-up to let you know he’s tired of working. But unless your husband has the same level of grit and laissez-faire attitude, a horse with an occasional crow hop during every ride is not going to work for him. And that kid safe horse? Take a long hard look at the photos, is the kid just sitting there? Is an adult leading the horse around? Is the child a passive passenger as the adult commands the horse? If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, that’s not really a kids horse. That’s a horse that doesn’t mind kids. A horse that packs around a 40 pound passenger without complaint while an adult leads, does not a kids horse make. You need to see photos and videos of an actual tiny human directing the horse’s actions, walking, trotting, turning, with zero assistance from a regular sized human. That’s a kids horse.
Oh yes, and there is the occasional ad in which the owner admits that the horse does have a little spook, a little trouble with running (but of course he can be stopped really quickly and comes right back to you). Please interpret those admissions as a downplaying of the full-on one mile bolt the that rivaled Exaggerator’s win at the Preakness. I hope if you’re exploring such a horse you have your jockey skills polished up and have a big saddle horn to hold on to. And wear a helmet. And an eventing vest. And have good health insurance. Or just keep looking.
Some ads boast about how the horse bathes/Loads/Clips and has no bite/buck/bolt. Unless they are talking about a green horse, or an un-broke horse, these things should be a given on a broke horse. And if the ad really only lists those things and not much else, just. Keep. Scrolling. It likely means the horse doesn’t have much else going for it. Okay, let me say that with a caveat. If you are looking for a project horse, a horse to train yourself, a horse that hasn’t had the miles and time put into it, then definitely look for the well-priced sweet horse that has these basic tenants of respect down. But if you actually are looking for the bomb proof/kid safe/husband horse, this is not that horse. It’s just not. The ad would be telling you all about the rodeos the horse has been to, the mountains they’ve camped, and a moose the horse fended off. Not just that it can be bathed and clipped and won’t immediately toss your ass off.
If there are all kinds of stipulations on the ad, if it says just putting feelers out there, not sure… steer clear. Buying a horse can be a long drawn out exercise in patience. Don’t make it harder on yourself by engaging with sellers who may not be ready to sell. These people can be identified by their high priced but average horse. They can also be sussed out by the stipulations they put on getting to see the horse, how to manage its care, what you can do with it. If I sold my horse tomorrow, I sure as heck wouldn’t want him to be barrel raced on, I think it would fry his little anxious mind. But the fact is, I would have zero control over what the would-be next owners, or the owners after that, choose to do with him after the check has cleared.
But owners who request the first option to buy back should be regarded with respect. This is a sign that the owners know the horse has value and want to make sure he or she has a safe retirement and doesn’t make a mysterious descent into the auction world and head south on a meat truck for a Mexican slaughterhouse. Sorry, that got dark quick. But it is a real possibility.
Like I said, the horses in the ads always sound like a dream but are a little less sparkly in person. If you’re new to horses, I highly suggest you work with someone who isn’t. Work with someone who doesn’t benefit by you purchasing a horse. The same way a saleswoman is going to tell you every single piece of clothing you put on in the store looks “Amazing, brilliant, simply ravishing” because she wants to make a sale, anyone who is benefitting from you buying a horse can’t be trusted. This includes any horse-crazy children you may have who might tug on your sleeve while looking at said dream-horse and whisper sweet nothings in your ear about how he or she will clean the stall and groom the horse and make sure it’s always cared for. Every. Single. Day. Let me give you a spoiler alert that you probably should have seen coming, at some point you’re going to clean that stall, have to call the vet, or arrange other types of care.
If you really are looking for a non-fancy, unflappable trail friend, a good horse for your kids to play on and build their confidence, I think you should look for an ugly old plug that’s been with its people for a while. People will keep a pretty looking palomino that’s a jerk to ride whereas they won’t hold onto a jug-headed long-back that’s ugly as sin and is hell to ride. Well how the hell do you know if you’re getting the sweet jug-head or the jerk? That’s where you find out how long the owners have had the horse. If they’ve had it for several years (longer than three) that’s a good sign. Look for people who are selling because of a change in lifestyle (divorce, selling property, kid went off to college) instead of just because they need to focus on their other horses. If they’re focusing on their other horses, it means the one they have up for sale is the least talented and shows the least potential of the pack. That’s not a good sign for you. Again, unless you’re looking for a project horse, otherwise, keep moving.
Oh, and one last thing, a mare is a mare is a mare. At some point, she’s going to have an off day. Maybe several off-days in a row. She’s a mare. She’s going to act mare-ish at some point. It’s statistically improbable that the number of ads that claim a horse is non-mare-ish are actually accurate. They’re biologically engineered to have an attitude. It’s just gives them personality!
*Except for those people I mentioned who aren’t ready to sell yet and have all sorts of requirements for the sale of their horse and ongoing care.
Good luck horse hunting! Please share your horror stories, and follow me on Facebook so you never miss a mediocre post or the occasional gem!