by Laura Crum
So not too long ago I posted about my friend Wally selling a black horse named Coal. I had mixed feelings about this—here is the link to that blog post. Last week I heard that Coal has sold—to a good home. And yet, I still have mixed feelings. Maybe this is just my problem—I’d like to put my thoughts out there and see if anyone else has some insights.
Coal was/is a pretty horse, with lovely smooth gaits and overall good manners. Wally bought the horse as a backup rope horse, but Coal wasn’t a very good rope horse, and he wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. I thought of using Coal as a backup trail horse, but the horse absolutely hated walking downhill (to the degree I wondered if he was truly sound, though he appeared 100 percent sound on level ground), and all our trails are hilly, not to mention I didn’t have an extra corral to put him in. So we all agreed that our friend Mark, a young trainer/horse trader, who had been keeping Coal, could sell the 11 year old gelding, with the stipulation that it must be to a good, appropriate, home. Not as a rope horse. Not as a trail horse in hilly country. Hopefully to a forever home.
I don’t have many photos of Coal, and, as a black horse, he was/is hard to photograph. But here is a shot of Coal and Mark bringing the roping cattle up the alley along with my son and Henry.
So Mark sold Coal to a woman in her sixties who has six retired horses—due to age or injury-- and wanted one she could ride. Just a sound, gentle horse. She lives in California’s central valley, where everything is flat, so no hills. She just wanted a walk/trot lope arena horse. She has a beautiful horse facility; all her horses are given the best of care. She fell in love with Coal, who is certainly as nice a walk/trot/lope horse as anybody could ask for. And Coal passed the vet check—which inclines me to think that he just doesn’t LIKE walking downhill, and doesn’t have soundness issues. The X-rays showed no incipient problems. Before this gal even hauled the horse home, she insured him for medical. She readily agreed that we had the right to buy him back if she sold him. But she has never sold a horse. Coal has a stall with an attached 100 foot run. There is pasture turnout. Does this sound like a good home or what?
But…despite the fact that this is obviously a good, loving owner, she is not a particularly knowledgeable horse person. And Coal, though well broke, has his “stuff” as all horses do. He is a bit cinchy and inclined to make faces when cinched, and to crowhopping when kicked up to the lope after time off. He couldn’t/wouldn’t buck anyone off, but he will hump his back and do those little dolphin bucks. He will spook occasionally. Mark says he gets grouchy if he isn’t ridden regularly. And Coal, by my own observation, though a polite horse, is not a particularly friendly horse. This all fits easily within my own definition of a gentle, broke horse, but then I think of my horse, Sunny.
Mark was the one who bought Sunny from a rope horse trader, maybe eight years ago now. Sunny was cute and gentle and well-mannered. He was not, however, a very good rope horse. Too slow, not handy enough. Mark tested the horse on the arena and the trail, and thought he was absolutely a solid, bombproof trail horse/riding horse, and that this would be a better life for him than being a team roping horse. (I saw Sunny during the two week period Mark owned him, and can attest to the truth of all this.)
So Mark sold Sunny to what seemed like an ideal home. A fairly experienced horsewoman, with several riding horses that she’d owned for years, who trail rode a lot, and dabbled in dressage, bought Sunny as a riding horse for her daughter and a backup trail horse in general. And to begin with, this woman loved Sunny. She thought he was perfect. But over the three year period that she owned him, the horse developed some bad habits. He kicked her daughter. He kicked her farrier. He tried to kick a friend that was tacking him up for a ride. He wasn’t always easy to load in the trailer any more. He didn’t behave very well (gate sour) in the arena, though he was still reliable on the trails. Etc, etc, etc.
Eventually she decided to sell him. At the time, I was looking for a replacement/backup for my son’s pony, Toby, because Toby’s cancer had reoccurred and I knew the pony’s days might be numbered. (See my post on Toby here.) I remembered Sunny as a really nice little riding horse and went to try him. Well…
The horse that I tried that day was a far cry from the well broke little gelding I’d seen three years ago. The gal had been riding him English, and all you English riders will probably yell at me, but from my point of view, the owner had taught him to pull relentlessly on the bit (I’m sure you don’t all do this). The horse had always been lazy, but now he felt reluctant, he bulled into the bridle, and he pulled hard toward the gate. The woman assured me I’d like Sunny a lot more on the trail, but I was looking for a riding horse for my son, and Sunny was far too much of a bully in his present form to be any good for a six year old kid. I turned him down.
But I couldn’t forget the cute little palomino horse. I bought the MUCH better behaved Henry for my son, and we started trail riding together. But my horse, Plumber, let me know he didn’t care to walk down steep hills any more (just like Coal). Plumber was 20, and had been my riding horse for many years—I decided to honor his wishes, and not insist on using him as a trail horse. And I remembered Sunny.
It was now nine months since I had tried Sunny and rejected him. In the interim the horse had been for sale. Many people had tried him. Nobody bought him. Mark had actually tried him for a client. When Sunny tried to kick Mark as he loaded the horse in the trailer, Mark rejected him, too. “That gal has him completely spoiled,” he said.
But I wanted a steady trail horse and I believed Sunny was that. I took him on trial. And yes, he had some bad habits. I had to be pretty firm with him. Here is my post about how I retrained Sunny.
You can see that I had to use some pretty “tough love.” But today Sunny is back to being a reliable riding horse, and is, as everybody agrees, once again a pleasure to be around. I really do love him and I think he is fond of me (see my post, “Love…and an Ordinary Horse”). But if I (or someone equally competent) hadn’t bought him, I have no doubt he would still be “Small Nasty,” as my friend Wally called him. A once nice horse that had been spoiled such that he was a bully. A horse nobody wanted. And I have to admit that I am worried about this happening to Coal.
Coal and Sunny are, of course, very different personalities. Even so, I can imagine that if Coal’s slight cinchiness intimidated his rider, that behavior might escalate. And it is SO much harder to retrain a horse out of “bullying” behavior than just to not allow it in the first place. And this is the pitfall in selling a horse, even a well trained horse, to anything less than a competent horseman.
I know, I know, I need to hope/trust it will all go well. And I do. I hope it works out wonderfully. I remember the horses I have sold or placed in good homes, and some of these were not competent horse people, but they are still giving the horses a good life (some of these horses don’t get ridden very often—but I think the horses are happy). I know I am not always the best home for a horse—some horses that I have placed have a much better life than they would have had with me—I really only have time to exercise one horse, and right now Sunny is that horse. But still…I can’t help the nagging worry. I want Coal to have every bit as happy a life as Sunny has today.
So, anybody have any thoughts on how horses do with less than experienced horse people for owners? I am hoping that we did Coal a favor…what do you think?
Also, in book news—this is the last week to get my most recent mystery, Barnstorming, as a Kindle edition for $2.99. After Nov 15th, the publisher will raise the price back to $9.99 or something like that—much higher than it is now. I don’t know if the price will get reduced again, so now is the time to buy this one if you want to read the whole twelve book series on Kindle. Here is the link.
And on a related note, the first two books in the series, Cutter and Hoofprints, are currently on special for a mere 99 cents each. Click on the titles if you’re interested.