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3 Ways Horse Shopping is just like House Shopping

3 Ways House Shopping is the same as Horse Shopping

About a year and half ago I embarked on one of the most exciting, frustrating and difficult experiences of being an equestrian: horse shopping. I’ve written about my personal trials and tribulations and even given some advice on the subject. But now, I’m going back through and re-reading all of those posts for an entirely different reason: I’m house shopping. Right about now you’re probably asking yourself what the heck horse shopping has to do with buying a house. Well dear reader, I’m really glad you asked because I’m going to tell you just how similar they are!

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horse shopping 101 by fly on over

Horse Shopping 101

I searched for four months before I finally found Miles, and my experience was nothing like I expected. Many equestrians approach buying a horse with careful consideration, like I did, but many also just happen into a horse; by which I mean they were not necessarily looking to purchase at all but ended up with one anyway (they’re like potato chips, right?! You can’t just have one!).
Throughout the process, I had a lot of ups and downs, but I learned a lot along the way. Here’s a list of what I did right, and what I did wrong.

Plan, Prepare, Budget

Set a budget from the get-go and stick to it.

My search was made easier by the simple fact that I knew what I wanted to spend. I didn’t stress about spending too much money because I had already allocated a certain amount and I promised myself that under no circumstances would I waiver from that.

Prepare a list of what you’re looking for. And then be prepared to compromise.

I prepared a list of what I wanted vs. what I needed, and told myself I would need to compromise. Unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand what that meant until I was in the middle of it all. But eventually it did sink in, and I thought long and hard about what I could (or could not) live with.

Set a plan and communicate it.

I knew I did not, under any circumstances, want to horse shop by myself; I always knew I wanted the help and expertise of a trainer. So I made sure I had a good relationship with a reputable professional that included my budget and my list of must-haves.
Where I fell short was communicating. At first, I only discussed what I saw as the important stuff. The problem of course was that I am a novice horse shopper who cannot be trusted to know what’s important. So don’t make my mistake and keep in touch every single step of the way, even if it’s just to say “I made that phone call and I’m still waiting to hear back.”
money tree

Trust Your Instincts

Listen to your gut.
As horse people, we are “in-tune” with horses; and most of us get a gut-feeling when things are wrong (or right!). So if you feel that twist in the pit of your stomach, don’t ignore it. By all means try to figure out why you’re feeling that way, but don’t gloss over it either.

Know and trust your trainer.

If you are working with a professional, trust them too. Sometimes the person just outside of the bubble gets the most accurate overall picture of the situation. But beware: knowing how your trainer operates and being aware of this is crucial. My trainer doesn’t want to make a big decision for any of her clients. She will tell you her opinion, but in a way that leaves you to give the final say-so. Unfortunately, her actions always give her away. The day she gave Miles some hay from her own private stash, I knew she was completely smitten, without her having to utter a word.
schooling ring with trainer

Don’t Sweat the Logistics

I was very thorough in my search, requiring not only a trial period at my farm, but also a clean bill of health. Up front this caused a lot of work: getting the sellers to agree to a trial, agreeing to the terms of the trial, setting up short-term insurance, finding time to transport the horse, making vet appointments and negotiating additional follow-ups. While it was stressful at the time, I’m so glad I stuck to my guns and made 100 percent sure I was comfortable with everything I agreed to because it ensured that I made the best decision and was happy with it.

All in all, horse shopping at age 16 was much more fun and a lot less stressful than it was this time around. But just like back then, I knew what I wanted, went after it guns blazing and came out on the other size with a partner who will take me to new heights of success.

Trial Horse Goes Home

I know all my readers have been waiting on pins and needles to hear about Trial Horse (TH)! Okay, maybe you’ve not been quite that upset that I haven’t posted, but things went downhill quickly.

Thursday Lesson

My lesson last Thursday was terrible. Unfortunately, it was all my fault, which makes it even worse. We rode outside for the first time, and TH handled it great. He was a little up and looky, but didn’t spook once and as soon as I put him to work, he was fabulous. There was a lot going on: different horses in and out of the arena, trailers pulling in, horses unloading, etc. and he handled it all perfectly.

We started with some small crossrails, and my goal was to keep my leg on and get him over the first time — no refusals. It was a success! Not a single refusal all night long. We did a line of crossrails and a single diagonal crossrail. All of these fences went well — not perfect, but pretty good.

Then we moved on to a small gate and a small jump with boxes. TH was good — and I sucked. I could not flow over those fences to save my life; I bounced on his back, didn’t fold my hip, forgot to release. TH handled all that with class, only getting upset twice, to which he got fast and cow-kicked once. But who can blame the guy? It can’t feel nice to have a big sack of potatoes flopping down on your back.

After that, I was very discouraged and down on myself — hence no post sooner. I try really hard not to be a total Negative Nancy on here, so I opted to wallow in misery by myself.

raindrops on leaves

Saturday Lesson

TH got Friday off, and by the time Saturday rolled around I was determined to jump again and try my absolute hardest to just ride better. In order for us to work, we have to be able to jump together. Not that Thursday was any fault of TH’s, but regardless, that can’t happen every lesson.

I had a private lesson scheduled, so I was happy for the extra attention, and hopeful that we could get things worked out. TH came out of his stall very looky-loo. He fidgeted more in the crossties than usual, and Trainer told me he kicked one of the workers on his way to turnout this morning. Not cool. So I mounted up prepared for anything, but as Trainer and I chatted, he was fine and stood like a perfect gentleman! After a few minutes, we got to work. We trotted around, and he was just a little ouchie in the front. His head was bobbing, and he just felt uncomfortable. Definitely not three-legged lame, but not sound either.

Insert total devastation here.

But I put on my big girl panties, checked him for heat, swelling, abrasions, etc. to no avail. We put him away and decided to see how he looked on Sunday.

Sunday Hack

Trainer met us at the barn Sunday afternoon. Again, checked TH’s legs for any reason for lameness, but found none. Mounted up, and we got the same response: just not comfortable in the front. I was pretty upset — I felt like there was so much about this horse that I really liked, and that I didn’t get a chance to make a final decision my way. I was so looking forward to jumping him again.

Of course, I also feel terrible that this happened at all — if this was my horse I would be so upset. But I know I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary or contrary to instructions. But it still sucks all the way around.

So Sunday afternoon, Trainer graciously trailered him back home. The end.

chestnut jumper trotting

Hacking Around

I did my first hack with Trial Horse (TH) yesterday. During the ride I wanted to focus on three things: (1) trying out the new bit (swapped the full cheek corkscrew for a D-ring snaffle) (2) canter leads and (3) transitions to the canter. Also on the table were lead changes and ground poles.

Grooming and tacking up went well — he was less ticklish today, probably because I was more aware of it and made sure to stay light, especially around his belly. Overall, he stood very well, and hardly moved around in the cross-ties.

We again had to ride inside (stupid rain — doesn’t Mother Nature know I have a horse on trial that I need to ride outside?!), but this time we were all by our lonesome. I was actually happy about this, because I usually ride in the evenings and during the week, there are not a lot of people out at the barn at that time. So this was a good test. But again, TH didn’t care — yay! During our ride it rained a few times, which can be quite loud on the roof, but again, no cares. TH is definitely turning out to be even more quiet than I anticipated, huzzah!

We got to work, and he was a little stiff and locked throughout his neck and body: he has trouble truly bending and maintaining that bend. But he will do as you ask without complaint, so I feel strongly that this is something I could improve over time. Overall, he was pretty lazy–I can see why his owner sometimes rides him in spurs. I put that on my list to try later in the week. Since I never ride in spurs, ever, I need to make sure I can ride him in them myself!

After trotting, we moved on to working at the canter. Leads are still a bit tough for us — we got most of them, but they were not pretty. I need to remember to stretch up through the entire transition and not relax until we are a few strides into our canter, especially to the left.

We also practiced a few lead changes, since everything else was going okay. Plus hammering TH on his transitions and leads isn’t what we need — we need time to figure each other out, so I figured a change of pace would be good at this point in the ride. His change from right to left is almost automatic, but I couldn’t get a clean one the opposite direction. To me, this makes sense since it means switching to his weaker lead. Plus I really don’t know what I’m doing when it comes to asking for flying changes, since I’ve been riding a horse that doesn’t have them. But in the end I have confidence that it will be there when we need it. I’ve seen him do it, so it’s not like the change that direction doesn’t exist.

We finished with some ground poles, both trotting and cantering. The first time we did them, TH looked at them hard, but I kept my leg on and he jumped it. Oops! But after that he was fine and did them well. He was very responsive to both lengthening and shortening aids, so it was a piece of cake!

Overall it was a good ride, and shows me that his personality is what I’m looking for and that we have some things to work on as far as flatting goes. Both of those I like, because I feel confident I can help out on the flat and I love that I will be able to contribute to his skill-set. This whole sucking back and being looky at poles and jumps I don’t like. Our lesson on Thursday and Saturday will be good tests to see how that issue progresses.

Schedule

  • Wednesday – Off
  • Thursday – Lesson
  • Friday – Off
  • Saturday – Lesson
horse shadow

First Ride

I had my first ride on Trial Horse (TH) last night and overall it went pretty well. I felt pretty comfortable on him, considering it was only my second time ever riding him. I’m going to describe the ride in ridiculous detail, so here are the highlights for those that don’t care to read the entire post (which I don’t blame you!)

Grooming/Tack

  • Doesn’t stand stock still in cross-ties, but it’s not as bad as I remember. Verdict: Livable
  • Very narrow horse, so I will need a new saddle (which is not shocking). Verdict: Livable

General Demeanor

  • TH is inquisitive and likes to look around at everything. Verdict: Livable
  • He is a sweet guy, likes to petted and loved on. Verdict: Like!
  • Not spooky, adjusts to new surroundings quickly. Verdict: Like!

On The Flat

  • He has smooth gaits, easy to sit both the trot and canter. Verdict: Like!
  • Likes to be straight. Knows how to bend, but is inconsistent. Verdict: Workable
  • Calm, will stand still in the middle of the arena with other horses going around. Verdict: Like!
  • Needs work on left lead canter — lacks impulsion. Verdict: Workable

Over Fences

  • Refused a few times, but it wasn’t dirty. Verdict: Unsure
  • Round jump, but smooth. Verdict: Like!
  • Very adjustable in the line. Verdict: Like!
  • Forgiving. Verdict: Love!

cute bay hunter

The Play by Play

Started out with a quick rinse of TH’s legs to get the rest of his poultice off. He walked right into the wash rack no problem and stood fairly well. He wanted to move around a bit and stick half of his body out (I suspect to see what was going on around him) but he was less antsy in the cross-ties than I remembered. By the time the ride was over, both Sam and I almost didn’t notice that he was moving around a bit anymore.

He stood fairly well in the cross-ties for grooming and seems thin-skinned and sensitive, especially his belly. I opted to just use the soft brush because I have a pretty stiff hard brush, and I didn’t think he’d like it. He was good for the grooming mit though, which I was happy about. TH was patient with adjusting tack, but it looks like I will definitely need to purchase a new saddle if I buy him (which is not a surprise considering I bought my saddle for the widest horse that ever walked the earth. No seriously – my saddle is 7″ dot to dot).

Unfortunately it rained all day, so we had to ride inside. Obviously, TH has never been in the indoor arena, so I tacked up and decided to hand-walk him first. There are mirrors at one end, a small door on one long side and then a big door plus a viewing hut at the other end, so it can be scary. Luckily, TH didn’t care. Strolled in, looked at himself in the mirror and thought “gosh I’m good looking!”

When I mounted up, he didn’t want to stand still at the block for very long, so that’s something we would need to work on. One of the other students was finishing up her lesson, so TH and I putzed around, and nothing phased him. Other horse jumping? Don’t care. Standing in the middle of the arena on the buckle? Cool. He wasn’t super thrilled with the liverpool, but didn’t do anything naughty.

We walked and trotted all around, and he was honestly kind of lazy. I guess he did just finish a horse show though, so we’ll have to see how the rest of the week goes as far as that is concerned.

TH is definitely weaker to the left, so his canter that direction was almost a lope. I am stronger to the left, so this is good for me. Overall, he could use some fine tuning on the flat. He knows a lot of things, but just isn’t consistent. I like this because it gives me an opportunity to contribute to the horse and feel like we learned something together. To the right, we got the wrong lead at first and he had a five second tantrum about it, in which he tossed his head and got a little hopped up with his front feet. Then he promptly switched his lead and cantered on like nothing happened. I was glad his “temper tantrum” was something I could handle, and that he didn’t hold a grudge. Obviously we need to work on our leads, but I didn’t have trouble when I tried him before at his barn, so I think we will get it sorted out.

After warming up and figuring things out on the flat, we moved on to trotting cross-rails. Trainer had a small line set up, but we started with just one. We trotted up towards the mirrors to the second fence in the line and he refused. It wasn’t dirty, he just slowed to a stop in front of the fence and looked down at it. He did that two or three times, so I grabbed a crop and waved it as we were approaching the jump, and he popped over. I got left behind and I’m pretty sure I didn’t release at all, but he didn’t care. We continued over the jump a few times until he was smooth.

Then we moved on to the other cross-rail in the line. It was a natural (the other fence was green and white) and coming up to it he sucked back a little bit, but I clucked (loudly) and kept my leg on and over he went! We did the line a few times, trotting in and cantering out. The first couple of times we did the line in six, with a few tough chips to the second fence, but he was good, went over and wasn’t upset. He even gave me a few lead changes! They weren’t nice, but I wasn’t helping at all, so I’m sure once we did them more, they would improve.

We ended the lesson jumping the line set at about 2′ (verticals). I was happy that I felt confident enough to raise the jumps on my first ride! His jump is round, but very soft, and so far I think it works well for me. I’m a little put-off by the refusals, but trainer said it could be due to a number of factors, and he might be a horse that just needs to school when he’s at a new place. Overall, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it — it’s good I have lots of lessons scheduled during our trial period!

Schedule

  • Tuesday – Hack
  • Wednesday – Off
  • Thursday – Lesson
  • Friday – Off
  • Saturday – Lesson