Thursday, January 13, 2011

Just Haven't Met You Yet!

I've got the green light, the search is on. It’s official; I’m looking for a new horse to ride and I’m SO excited!

My husband’s blessing probably had to something to do with my wistful sighs (and occasional tears) while flicking through photograph albums dedicated to my recently retired ultra-wonderful Kwintus’. He probably also picked up a subliminal message or two from the old dog-eared copies of “Dressage Today” strewn randomly around the house. I’m also guessing he noticed my obsessive compulsive trawling through dozens of “Horses for Sale” sites on the Internet like a woman possessed. In fact, the way I’ve been carrying on, the webmasters of British “Horse and Hound Online” probably think they have a stalker. Over the past few weeks I must have viewed hundreds of adverts boasting the likes of “Superstar in the Making”, “Stunning All Rounder”, “Dream Ride”, “Eye-catching Performance Horse”, or “Impressive Talent”. I’ve read them all, studied the photographs, viewed the videos on You Tube over and over and over, checking out hind leg action, sussing out attitude, mulling over suitability, and converting British Pounds into Swiss Francs. Which is silly really, not to mention a complete waste of time as my new horse is most likely to come from Holland or Germany seeing as that’s where my trainer has her contacts. But I don’t speak German, so can’t read their equivalent of “Horse and Hound”. Bummer.

With Michael Bublé’s “Just Haven’t Met You Yet” stuck in my mind, I’ve spent hours day-dreaming, thinking, trying to pin-point what I’m looking for in my next horse, which is probably also totally pointless as my heart will recognize “the one” the minute he or she appears in the arena. Who I bring back will also depend on the vet check. But what can I say? I’m like a kid waiting for Father Christmas! In fact, it’s all I can I do stop myself from cantering around the garden, hands holding imaginary reins, like I did when I was about six. Well, yes, I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.

So what do I want? Let’s see. I don’t want a youngster. I’ve been there, done that, fallen off, hurt myself. If I had the financial resources to have my trainer come over several times a week, and if the infrastructure of my riding stables were more enclosed (talk about the great wide open!), I might possibly maybe perhaps consider buying a four-year-old, as someone I know is selling a gorgeous German warmblood. But that’s not the case, so case closed. And please place me in restraints if, over the next few weeks, I give the slightest indication of caving for a baby. Actually, I’m pretty sure my trainer would talk me out of such bubbled-headed behavior, so not to worry.

Obviously, it's going to be a Warmblood. Ideally, I’d like an eight-year-old. But then, everyone wants eight-year-olds. Eight-year-olds are often perfect; they’ve come out of that silly adolescent stage, and are ready to settle down. Eight-year olds also tend to be the most expensive, so I may have to up the age counter a little. Or maybe I’ll have to down the age counter a little. A six or seven-year-old with a nice, easy character could be manageable. Also, I figure I don’t need a horse with a big, extravagant movement as I’m not a competition aficionado. I’d like a comfy trot, and a round, rolling canter. I’d like something big, preferably over 16.3 as I’m tall, big boned, with long legs. I’d like a horse with a quiet mind (as Laura so wonderfully put it in one of her recent blogs), not a wiggly worrier. I’d like a horse that enjoys working, but also enjoys a quiet ride through the country. I’d like a friendly, inquisitive, people-horse, one that likes to be groomed and stroked and fussed over. And I’d kind of like a nice thick tail so I can play Barbie-horse!

Coming back to the age issue, I’d rather not go into double figures as the years really do zip by, and I’m hoping for a long-term riding relationship. In fact, last week, just before my daughter went back to England for University, I suddenly had a disturbing revelation: I’m going to be 50 at the end of this year, so this could well be the last “somewhat prancy” horse I ever buy! I mean, I know that the great thing about riding is that people can do it well into their golden years, but still. Will I really be considering a somewhat “prancy” horse when I’m 65? Maybe I will, but right now I don’t know, and the realization came like a blow to my stomach. When I mentioned this to my daughter she rolled her eyes and tutted, and gave me the “oh mama!” treatment, but I was so perturbed by this that I talked it over with one of my best friends, Ian, also turning 50 at the end of the year, when he called me out of the blue from London the other day.

Amusingly, Ian described a similar brain-slap while shopping in a high-end shoe shop last week with his ten-year-old son. There he was, trying on a pair of expensive, good quality shoes, mulling over whether or not to buy them, when his son said to him “You know what, Daddy? These shoes will probably last you for the rest of your life. In fact, they might be the last pair of shoes you ever buy.” Ian and I giggled about it, and then proceeded to reassure one another that we’ll be buying plenty more shoes and horses in the coming decades, but still… Good grief! The time is always now, but suddenly it seems like my almost fifty-year-old "now" is even more now-ish.

What do you think? If you were setting out on a search for your perfect horse, what would you look for?


Anonymous said...

I've just gone through a long horse search for my next horse and had to think long and hard about the things you mention - I'm older than you - almost 60 - and have changed what I want to do with horses quite a bit from when I was younger - I used to do the hunters and one of my daughters did the jumpers. Over time, I wanted to do more trail and all around riding, so as my old horses were retired, I shifted over to QHs. I wanted something between 4 and 10 with a good mind, good balanced confirmation and great feet and legs with no soundness defects. I found a wonderful horse last fall - he's only 4 but has had a great start and is very sane - and will also be getting another one of the horses I looked at during the search later this spring - he's 9 and will need some retooling but is also a great horse. The next 15 years or so are going to be fun, fun, fun!

Have fun on your search

Francesca Prescott said...

Kate: thanks for your input. Yes, great feet and legs and soundness are very important to me, too. Thing is, Kwint's legs and feet are perfect; you'd never guess he's 19 - there's no sign of swelling or lumps or anything. It's his neck that has problems :(. I'd never have thought of x-raying a horse's neck during a vet check but maybe if we'd done his at the time we'd have seen his lack of cartilage. Not that I have any regrets. Just saying.

My trainer always says that Kwintus has the character of a QH, and I guess she's right, so I may be in for a shock when I get on some of these more high-strung warmbloods. QHs are too small for me, and not so common over here. Also, they don't tend to be suited towards dressage, although my trainer took one to a pretty high level when she lived in the US. She still speaks fondly of that horse, he was clearly very special.

Brave of you to buy a 4 year-old! But as you say, it's all a matter of character.

Anonymous said...

I bought my dressage horse at the end of August last year. I started with a broad net of 6 years to 12 years, schooling at least 1st Level, warmblood of some type (or solid non-raced TB), forgiving of my leg as I'm still educating it, talented enough to move up to 3rd Level, excellent feet, under $15,000 and a mare. (Ideally I would find all these things in a Friesian).

I started my search in March, scouring the online ads and traveling up to 4 hours away to sit on everything that came close to my search parameters. I tried out around 30 horses, before I fell in love. What I bought was a black, 10year old TB/Perch, schooling 3rd level gelding for $10 G and amazing feet. He is quiet but forward, smooth as silk, with his only vice is I have to keep his attention on me, or he can spook (in place). It's really a testament to the slow market in the US that I got the horse I did for the price I did, even though he came without "papers" or sport horse registration.

I was able to compromise on breed and gender, but what I couldn't compromise was on training ultimately. I learned as I tried more and more horses, that I didn't want to train a horse to half-pass or do flying changes while training my own seat/leg. I quickly came to the realization that a lot of sellers would market a horse at first level, and all that meant was the horse was able to w/t/c and leg yield (and not necessarily on the bit either!).

Before I purchased my gelding, I took a gorgeous Han mare on trial. In the pocket sweet, quiet under saddle, still learning the lateral movements, but then around day 3 of the trial physical problems started appearing. I firmly talked myself out of love because I knew I did not want to chase a mysterious soundness issue in the back or hind end. So broke my own heart and returned the mare, before the mare broke my budget. After that experience, I was solid in my goal of great feet, sound/clean vet out, and well trained.

I highly recommend the 10 percent rule when it comes to vet pre-purchase exams. Good luck with your search! I'm jealous of your pool of talent for European warmbloods....

Alison said...

Francesca--love your story about horse searching! I know we will want lots more installments as you start the actual search. Kate and anonymous--both of you were incredibly wise and patient in your search and it obviously paid off.
What fun!

Francesca Prescott said...

Anonymous: loved reading about your search. It's exciting, but nerve-wracking at the same time, isn't it? It's such a big decision, such a big investment of love and energy and time and money, making it so important to get it right. I've seen some TB/Percheron crosses advertised in the UK, but never seen this type of horse up close; sounds like a nice combination. Friesians are beautiful, but a little too solid looking for me. There was a time when i was interested in Spanish horses, but the ones with nice flowing movements tend to come with stratospheric price tags.

Also, where I live, it's hard to take a horse on trial because if you find one, say, in Germany or Holland, and have the horse transported all the way to Switzerland, the one way trip is already going to cost you a small fortune, so you're not going to be too happy if you have to send it back!

Alison: I'll definitely be keeping everyone informed on horse shopping developments! By the way, my niece was thrilled with your signed books; you should have seen her face when she saw what you'd written inside! Thanks so much for that :)

Laura Crum said...

Francesca--I'm excited for you. I have done the "great horse search" in the past, coming home with possibly the best horse I ever owned and rode--after many months of searching(this was Flanigan, who was seven at the time). My input would be to go older rather than younger, but that's just me. I don't want to train anything any more, and horses younger than eight can go through big changes. I have known several horses that were very sweet and quiet at 4-5 and "woke up" big time at 6-7. I agree with you that eight is often the "watershed" year, when a horse more or less becomes the individual that he will stay (if that makes sense). As for soundness, I have had my best luck buying horses that someone I know has "known" for awhile, and perhaps your trainer could be a help there. If that isn't possible, here's something that has helped me, and saved me a lot of money in vet checks. Before you take a horse home to try it, or vet check it, be sure to trot it in small circles on hard ground first. Can't be the arena--hard packed gravel or pavement. Most horses you are looking at will longe, I expect, so it shouldn't be difficult. If the horse shows any sign of a bob, or any stiffness or uneveness, don't go further. Doesn't matter if they say he was just shod or has a bruise or whatever. This has saved me a lot of wasted time. If you want to go further, you can do the flexion test on the hind legs, which is not that hard to do. You will be sorting out a great deal of what can be sorted out in a simple vet check.

I hope you keep us posted with installments on the horses you look at and what you think of them. That's always interesting. Good luck!

Class 2b said...

I will help you Barbie the tail!

Shanster said...

Horse shopping sure can be fun... what personalities are out there? Who will be the next horse that will become your partner. Good luck!! Excited for you!

Francesca Prescott said...

Thanks, Laura, for your advice on pre-vet check checks (!), and Class2B and Shanster for your enthusiasm.

I'll definitely be sharing my news as it develops. I've seen a couple of videos of potential candidates already; there's a very nice grey 8 year old gelding in Holland, and a gorgeous liver chestnut Holsteiner in the UK. I'm waiting impatiently for more infomation :)

Linda Benson said...

Francesca - I'm so excited for you! Can't think of anything more fun than "horse shopping." Good luck, and keep us posted!