Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Finding a Horse

by Laura Crum

Or perhaps the title should be, “Helping a Beginner to Find a Horse”. I’ve written on this blog before about how to find a bombproof horse, and I’ve written quite a bit about the two bombproof geldings (Henry and Sunny) I found for myself and my son to trail ride. Nonetheless, it is not that easy to find such a horse—one that is sound and has some years of use left in him. When, back in June, a woman I know through our homeschool group asked for my help in finding such a horse for her family, I tried to be helpful, but in truth, I don’t think I did her much good.

Of course, had I known of a horse like Henry or Sunny that was for sale, I would have recommended said horse at once. But I didn’t. I knew of a gray horse that was said to be that gentle, but I didn’t personally know the horse, other than seeing him once at a practice roping. Nonetheless I told “Nancy” about this horse, and put her in touch with the owner, reminding Nancy that I didn’t really know the horse.

Nancy drove an hour to try the horse, along with her teenage daughter, who is a fairly competent rider and the main reason the family is in the market for a horse. Nancy herself is very timid and fearful with horses and has no desire to go faster than the walk on a very gentle horse. Apparently on the day they tried the gray horse, the wind was blowing and the horse was jiggy and even the normally fearless daughter was uncomfortable riding him. Not at all suitable said the mom.

I apologized for leading them astray, said again that I just didn’t have time to accompany them on horse hunting expeditions, and (with conditions) recommended a young guy I’ve blogged about before (I call him “Bill”) as a helper. Bill is a struggling young horse trainer. Always short of money, always trying to make a dime. You probably know the breed. Young and charming, basically well-intentioned, a pretty good hand with a horse. Nonetheless, always trying to make that dime. You have to watch him. That said, Bill’s niche is finding gentle horses for beginners and he is good at it. My Sunny horse originally came from Bill, and Bill, though he never owned him, was a huge fan of my son’s horse, Henry. Bill knows how to pick them.

I told Nancy about Bill, and told her just how I saw him. “He is really competent at finding the sort of horse you want, but I would at least vet any horse he recommends, especially if he’s selling it to you or getting a commission on it. I would definitely ask Bill for help (and I did) if I was looking for a family horse.”

So Nancy meets Bill and really likes him. She also likes the older gelding named Walt that Bill wants to sell her. I watched her try the horse—nervous Nancy looked and felt pretty safe on old Walt. The teenage daughter rode him competently. Unfortunately, it didn’t look like Walt was sound. No bob, but an odd shuffle behind. Bill concurred that Walt definitely had something going on high up in the rear end. Bill didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the horse. Walt was in his late teens. The price was fairly high, all things considered. I told Nancy that Walt might be the right sort for her, but I would vet him and try to find out what was wrong with him before I bought a lame horse. If his problem deteriorated, he migt become unridable or worse. It just depended on what the problem was. I also said that if it were me, I might use Bill as a consultant, paying him his fee for this, rather than buying a horse from him. That way Bill’s best interests would be Nancy’s best interests.

I’m not sure how all this affected Nancy. Perhaps it offended her. Perhaps she saw what I consider business as usual in the horse world as consorting with a bunch of double dealing crooks. Who knows? I left on my month long trip shortly thereafter. When I returned, I saw Bill, and he said he had never heard back from Nancy. Nancy has never called me back, either. I have considered calling her several times and I just can’t make myself do it. Call me selfish, but it’s a thankless task trying to help non-horse people find a horse.

No matter how good my intentions are, and how much experience I have, if I don’t really know the horse Nancy is considering, my opinion on him won’t be worth much. Its just an educated guess. And if that horse doesn’t work out for Nancy, or it goes lame, or worse yet, hurts her or her daughter, she’s likely to blame me, or at the very least, think I’m an idiot. Its not easy to find the right horse, even if you have a lot of experience. Thus my reluctance to call Nancy back.

And there’s another aspect to this. Maybe I’m over reacting, but I feel responsible for the horse when I am the one who has placed it in a home with someone who is not a horseman. About a year ago I wrote on this blog about placing a retired team roping horse named Harley (retired because of a suspensory tear) with a woman who wanted to “get into” horses, but, though a good, responsible animal owner, was certainly not a horseman. Lots of people wrote in and said I should give it a try—how else do any of us become horsemen without starting out as beginners? Fair enough. I placed Harley in this home, and they have done a fantastic job with him, rehabbing him and riding him lightly. All seemed well.

However, it was the woman’s twenty something son who was doing most of the work with the horse and now that son is leaving home. I was made aware over the course of the year that this woman who wanted to “get back into horses” was actually quite timid, and was never brave enough to ride Harley, though she let her son lead her around on him. She even seemed a bit afraid to handle him on the ground. And, as I said on the blog, Harley is not really a beginner’s horse. He’s a very well broke horse but he has a fair amount of life.

So now I find out through the grapevine that the woman is trying to decide whether to give Harley back or not. She isn’t sure if she can cope with the horse without her son. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if she can cope with Harley, either. I don’t know what I hope—that she keeps him (she is giving him a loving home and he looks great) or gives him back (because I’m afraid she may get hurt or at the very least frightened and the horse may get hurt or badly spoiled). However, I really, really do not want to try to find another home for this horse as we tilt into fall, when all knowledgable horse folk are thinking of paring down their herd, not adding to it. So I guess I hope she keeps him. But aaargh! I feel all too responsible for the whole situation, since it was me that arranged for this horse to come to these people. I am thinking that I just don’t want to be involved with hooking up any more non-horse people with a horse. Is that totally selfish of me?

So that’s my question for today. Have any of you been in the position of helping a beginner to find a horse? How did it work out for you? Any suggestions?


summersmom said...

I was new to horse ownership about 3 years ago, bought a green horse when I was green myself, an regretted it. A year later a family friend and her 12 year old daughter decided after leasing a super broke schooling horse that they wanted to buy their own. I started searching for an older teens, beginner safe horse for them when another girl at the barn found a younger horse for them. He was decent enough, had been used for drill and gaming, ridden and trained by a knowledgeable horsewoman. He was also only 5 years old and very sensitive, still didn't give to the bit and seemed to be way too athletic for a young girl who barely had a year of riding under her belt. The family refused to look at anything older because they wanted a horse she could grow up with and girl from the barn said she would never need a trainer for the horse.
Well after about 6 to 8 months the family was coming out about twice a week to clean the stall and ride the horse and he started to become difficult. He was spooky, disrespectful, and ran through the bit. Nobody that had helped her buy the horse was around to help and he kept getting worse. I tried what I could, but being a beginner myself there wasn't much I knew to do. Almost 2 years later they have yo-yoed back and forth with this horse and haven't had much improvement. I no longer offer any help but I have heard the previous owner regrets selling the horse. He rarely gets ridden, they don't take lessons to improve their horsemanship and I'm afraid someday this girl will get burnt out on a horse she is always fighting with and lose her love of horses.

Laura Crum said...

summersmom--Your story is a perfect example of both why I have always tried to help beginners who ask me for help (I don't want them to end up like the girl in your story, or worse yet, badly hurt), and also why I just don't want to do it any more (because a lot of the time you can't help them--they won't listen). It is so typical for such a beginner to insist on a younger horse, when 90% of the good horses for beginners are in their teens (at least).

I happened to see "Nancy" yesterday, and learned that she had bought a horse over the summer. Rejecting the slightly off Walt in favor of a mare that she and her daughter rode once (from a seller who was unknown to them) that cost several thousand less, she has now owned the horse for a couple of months and it is showing "a bad attitude". I made a few simple noises about them needing to work with an experienced horseman, and she said they were doing this. And I smiled and said "Good," and walked away.

This situation is so typical and so frustrating. Having rejected experienced help to pick out their horse, they are now faced with a horse who is pushing them around (which most horses will end up doing, given a novice rider), and must look for experienced help to correct the situation. I feel for these people, but I don't know what else I can do for them. The bottom line is that they need (and always needed) experienced help, and hopefully they are getting it.

Shanster said...

Finding a horse is hard work!

You did what you could for Nancy and I hope you don't shoulder any more responsibility. It's up to her now. You gave her a good trainer contact should she need help. Other people get into situations and they do follow through with the work. If she doesn't, that is her choice. Hopefully she will for the horse and for herself.

Geez - that is a tough one! Hard to know what to wish for with Harley. Hopefully this woman will seek help and step up to the plate. My fingers are crossed! Not that it makes you feel any better about the situation at all while you wait to see what happens!

Nope - don't blame you a bit for not wanting to get involved. It can be hair-pulling levels of frustration! I've only witnessed it on the sidelines...not been involved directly. And that was frustrating enough for me!

Francesca Prescott said...

Oh dear, Laura! I know just what you mean. The thing is, people are always going to do what they want to do in the end, and then learn from experience. I was in no way ready for the first horse I bought, many many many years ago. I thought I could handle a young horse, thought it would be fun for us to "learn" together! Well, I learnt the hard way! It turned out okay, I kept that mare for close to ten years, but there were some hairy moments. Then I went and did something even more stupid: I allowed myself to be talked into exchanging her for four year old gelding. Within a year I'd had a bad accident and quit riding for seven years. I was lucky to be able to convince my daughter to go for an older horse when we decided to dive into horseland again three years ago, but it took some serious convincing as she was pretty bent on buying a flashy youngster. I knew that if we went for something other than a schoolmaster we'd end up in trouble, as we couldn't afford to have our trainer on call 24/7, which is basically what even good amateur riders need when buying a young horse. We were lucky to find Kwintus as he's restored my confidence, and taught both my daughter and me so much.

Michelle said...

I think you did the very best that you could....I wish Nancy had taken your opinions more seriously. I hope when I buy a horse one day, that I have the forsight to listen to those more experienced than I! I am always surprised that new/novice riders are in the market for young and flashy, or green horses. I see it all the time, but for me (a rider of three years), I want a schoolmaster that is patient and kind, and will help me be comfortable and confident, as well as a good rider. I would be afraid of messing up a green horse, at my level. Hearing people wanting their children to "grow up with a horse" scares me. Horses are not puppies!

Laura Crum said...

Michelle--You are so right. And there is something else, which I bet Francesca will attest to. These older, experienced "bombproof" horses are so much FUN. Instead of being scared, or at the very least anxious, one feels confident, relaxed and enjoying every moment. Let alone that the experience these horses have had enables them to cope with situations where I am not totally sure what to do. They know what to do, and come through. I have a lifetime of experience with horses, but I am in my fifties, took many years off from riding, and don't want to come off. I don't even want to worry. I love, love, love our two bombproof horses and would no more swap them for a fancier, younger, but less reliable horse than I would swap my husband for an 18 yr old. I know what is more fun for me.

And Shanster--I saw the woman who has Harley this morning. Her son has left, she's keeping the horse, has ridden him a couple of times and is feeling positive. I am keeping my fingers crossed.

Shanster said...

What good news - I'm jumping up and down for you! And yeah - the FUN part about older horses is what so many people forget. Absolutely. They are worth their weight in GOLD and more!

Alison said...

Interesting past as always! Just to mention: older horses can equal big-time problems as well. It's the well-trained and well-loved horses of any age that are the best. Too many older horses have been passed around from crappy rider to crappy rider developing horrendous attitudes and behaviors. I always tell eager beavers "Don't buy a horse until you've had at least a year of lessons on different horses with a competent teacher." Even then, lessons do not teach someone how to handle a large, strong animal that can have many quirks.

Jan said...

Laura, I agree with how frustrating the situation is. You want to help, but when others don't really want to do the work (of finding good professionals) you are not responsible for their inaction, but still feel bad about it. I think some people really only listen to advice that they have already decided to do anyway. With that in mind, it is probably wise to no longer offer assistance; it just gets too complicated, and you, with your broader understanding of things, end up feeling bad. I really agree with Alison, to advise a long period of riding lessons before one ever gets their own horse. I have often been grateful that I listened to a wise horsewoman, and got a gentle, experienced school horse - an older horse- as my first horse.