by Laura Crum
I don’t know about you guys, but I hate selling horses. When I was younger, I kind of enjoyed the buying/selling routine, especially buying. Like many people, I suppose, I always hoped that the new horse would be the perfect, special, just-right one. I didn’t mind selling, thinking that I would find a horse I liked better than the one I was letting go. But this all changed as I got older.
Now I’m far more careful when I buy, knowing that I’ll want to keep the horse forever. And as for selling, why I just don’t. I’m tormented by the thought of the horses I sold when I was younger. Horses that I had trained myself, that I owned for many years in a few cases. I never once sold an old horse that had given me his best years (thank goodness), but I did sell several horses in their prime. And I wonder now if some of them ended up at the killers. I’ll never know. It haunts me.
So, any more I don’t plan to sell horses. The two that we re-homed in recent years both went for free to a very good home who has promised to retire them when their riding years are done. I trust these people and I also keep in touch. I feel fine about these horses. But selling, not so much.
Still, two years ago, when my friend and horse partner Wally bought a black horse that he thought he could use for a backup heel horse, I agreed that we’d sell the horse if he didn’t work out. Wally boards his horses with me, but I couldn’t take Coal, the black horse, at my place, as all my corrals were full. So Wally boarded him with our friend Mark, a young horse trainer/team roper, in exchange for Mark getting to use the horse.
Coal was/is a pretty horse—absolutely solid shiny black, very refined. More refined than I would prefer, actually, he looks more like a TB than a QH. He is taller than I like at 15.2 (I like 14.3 or shorter, thank you very much). Coal was nine when Wally bought him and sound and gentle and very smooth gaited—and cheap. I rode him four or five times in the arena and agreed he was a nice riding horse. He had the smoothest trot and lope of any horse I’d ever ridden, I think. He carried himself in a nice frame and was a very polite, obedient horse to ride. I thought that if I lost the use of Sunny or Henry, maybe my son and I could use Coal as our backup. Wally thought he could use Coal if he lost the use of Twister.
So we went along for a couple of years. Mark roped on Coal and trail rode him and mounted lots of people on him and the horse did OK. He didn’t turn out to be a very good heel horse, though, and Wally didn’t like him. This last summer Wally began lobbying to sell Coal, and, of course, I protested. I just don’t like selling horses.
But I had nowhere to put the horse and no time for him. One horse is all I can keep ridden these days. In the end I agreed to take Coal on a trail ride and make up my mind if I really wanted to keep him as a backup for Sunny and Henry. So last weekend I did that. And sadly, he flunked.
We went on a very easy ride, a logging road that winds up from my uncle’s place through the redwood forest to the top of the ridge. Its an up and back. Takes about two hours at an easy place. About five miles total. Its pretty steep in the first mile up the ridge. But good footing.
I had promised to take my son’s friend for a trail ride, so I put the friend on Sunny, my son rode Henry, Wally rode Twister and I rode Coal. Coal was a touch cinchy, which I knew about—no problem, though. He looked at stuff from time to time but for the most part walked with his ears at half mast—very slowly. Now Sunny is not a fast walker, but Sunny, Henry and Twister all outwalked Coal—quite dramatically. Still I wasn’t really bothered. I trotted to catch up and Coal had a lovely trot. Smooth—seemed absolutely even. We made it to the top of the ridge with me thinking the horse was OK. I didn’t love the way he walked so slowly with his ears flopping—both Sunny and Henry, though not fast walkers, walk alertly, with their ears up. Its easy to see that they enjoy trail rides and like looking around as much as I do. Coal, however, gave me no sign that he was enjoying this expedition. And then we started back down the ridge.
Right away Coal’s already slow pace slowed further—to a snail’s pace. He also, rather alarmingly, began taking “bad steps”, where he would suddenly stumble. We fell further and further behind the others. I remembered Mark telling me that Coal was not a good “downhill horse.” Now I could see what he meant.
I didn’t want to hurry Coal, and I could not tell what was causing his problem. So I just asked the others to wait periodically. My horse Sunny also walks (in my eyes) quite slowly downhill, but Sunny was leaving Coal in the dust. I had the sense that Coal was uncomfortable, and he became more so when the hill got steeper. I was uncomfortable riding him. As soon as we got to a level spot I trotted him out and he trotted absolutely even. Whatever was bothering him, it wasn’t an easily detectable lameness. But I knew for sure I wouldn’t be using this horse as my trail horse.
We made it back to the barn in time, and everybody had a lovely ride—except me. I was sad about Coal. I knew I had to tell Wally to go ahead and sell him, and I just HATE selling horses. Coal is in many ways a very nice horse—he’s just not a good trail horse. It would make me feel awful to think that he came to a bad end because I didn’t keep him. (For those who think I’m paranoid here, I have just known too many horses that were sold to a supposed good home that ended up somewhere not good at all.)
But logic prevailed. I told Wally to go ahead and sell Coal. I just asked that he do his best to be sure the horse went to a good home. We agreed that he shouldn’t be sold to be a rope horse or a trail horse, as he clearly wasn’t enthusiastic about these events. And Wally told Mark to find the right sort of a home for the horse (giving our conditions).
Now there’s every possibility this story will have a happy ending. Coal may get a home that is far better than the home I could possibly have given him. And I have to admit, there is no way I want to ride Coal on the trails. But still…I worry. What if? What if years later I realize that poor black horse ended up at the killers, or starved to death. And this happened to some horses I once knew and liked. They didn’t belong to me (like Coal) and they were sold, and I only heard much later what happened to them. It still bothers me.
Too bad Coal's not closer to me as I think I could find him a decent show or schoolie home around here. He sounds like he might make a kid a nice packer ring pony, and he's probably happier as an arena horse. Or he might be like my girl and have ouchy feet, with funky soles.
He's the kind of horse my trainer would probably use in his lessons and college classes, from the way you describe him. Steady and good-minded.
Joyce--Mark thinks he can find Coal a good home with a young girl who mainly wants to do arena riding, just as you suggest. He would make a good lesson horse, though my concern would be whether he'd get a good forever home that way. Coal is happy to lope endless circles, and is a pleasure to ride in this setting. He doesn't like to run fast, as required by team roping, and will crowhop if asked to do so. And though very quiet on the trail, he walks VERY slowly, especially downhill.
All you can do now is try to keep track of him with the new owners, and offer to take him back if it is not working out. You could get their email, Facebook or cell phone and periodically text them for news. We adopted two collies from a person in Arizona in January. I send her a photo every once in a while and she always replies to me so I know she is still interested.
We are the same way with selling our horses. We usually give them away, loan them or adopt them out only if there would be a better home than us and then try to keep track of them for life. So far so good.
We have a lovely pony now, that we originally got from a rescue when he was a yearling. He was a naughty bucker in his younger days and we could not find a child that could safely ride him so we gave him to a trainer that was small enough that she could school him herself. She used him for teaching children mainly on line and walk trot. I kept in touch with her on her website and kept an eye on Bay Area Equestrian and lo and behold, six years later found him listed for sale. I called her and inquired about him and she told me her business partner was selling the pony. I explained to her that the contract we had was with her, not the partner and that she could return the pony to us if she was not keeping him, so she brought him back. We now have several children riding him and are glad he's back.
There are only a couple of horses that passed through our hands that I don't know their fate, but I don't feel bad about them because I gave them their BEST chance with training and medical rehab. A much better chance than if I had not involved myself at all. I intentionally did not keep track of one of them because he had very bad herd behavior (caused the death of one of our horses and the severe injury of another by kicking and biting through the pipe panels) and also bucked under saddle. He went to a 20 something experienced cowgirl who was succeeding in gymkhana with him and that was the last we heard. The other was lame before I got her and remained lame after lots of surgery but lucked into a wonderful pasture home as a pet. I put the new owner in touch with the prior owner and stepped back out of the deal at that point.
I did lose track of one horse about 10 or 12 years ago. I had adopted him from a rescue to train/rehab but he turned out to be very dangerous. When I obtained all his history by calling the breeders and researching every owner he had had I found out he had actually caused a fracture or hospitalization to about everyone that owned him (six people that I know of, including me) and eventually I decided to send him to a Sanctuary down in Paso Robles where he would live out his life on acreage in a herd without anyone riding him. Well, someone (I have my suspects but no proof) took him from there without knowledge/approval of the CEO of the non profit that was running it. I heard that he was packed in the Sierras for a season and then sold to a muleskinner named Eric in Bishop. Still kind of waiting for news of him someday because he has a microchip registered to me and is listed as stolen on the NetPosse site and the microchip registry.
Hmm.. you've got my lameness interest up here Laura, with the discomfort traveling downhill and crowhopping when asked to move forward faster in the arena...
But I'm with you. Selling horses SUCKS. The turning point for me was not with one of my own horses, but one of my best friends. She had gotten a TB for free as a weanling. Raised him, trained him, showed him, bred him and got some wonderful babies from him, gelded him in time and continued to use him. The time came though when she HAD to make a decision and that gelding drew the short straw. He was sold to a family near her, that she trusted to do right by him. One day, on a trail ride together, we wound our way past the home where that wonderful TB gelding was. I almost threw up all over my horse- the TB was nothing but skin and bones. We returned home poste haste, hooked up the truck and trailer, pooled our cash and bought him back that very day. I helped nurse him back to health, and I'd like to say the story had a happy ending-- but it doesn't. The horse was never the same and in fact turned from being a sweet horse whom I would trust around new riders and kids to one I didn't trust not to attack ME. He went after my best friend a few times and she made the decision to put him down. We don't know, other than the obvious starvation, what happened to that awesome guy-- but whatever he went through It had to be pure Hell.
That was years ago. In the time since, I've had to rehome 2 horses, and one died of old age. It was a long time (for various reasons) before I got another horse, and he turned out to not be the right fit. He went back to the lady I got him from-- but now we have Phat Boy and Tatertot. And they're going no where :) I don't care if Tater never gets fully trained, and Phatz is never fully sound again-- they're here until the day they die. I couldn't bear not knowing where they were or what might have happened to them.
I agree with you, Laura. Letting them go off into the sunset is really hard.
That's why, even though Hana really isn't a good horse for Jim anymore (her occasional spooks REALLY hurt his back), we were prepared to keep her forever because she's too good a horse to throw away, and we didn't want her in a home with loving children who would want to run barrels on her when THEY got old enough to run them. Hana's hocks just aren't up to speed/turning work, although she's perfectly sound for trails and arena, including showing.
My friend Duana came along, and she is the PERFECT fit for Hana. Du will never be a barrel rider, and she isn't worried about those spooks. She likes the pretty pony who can do trails and shows, and so Du will probably buy Hana in spring, when Du's hubby finishes his doctorate. We are thrilled...it means that Jim can eventually find another horse who suits him (and his poor back) a bit better. Cross fingers that it all works out that way!!!
If Coal were my horse, I'd investigate his hocks. There could be some pain issues there that a vet might help...worth looking at, anyhow.
Aarene and Mrs Mom--Yes, if Coal were my horse I'd have to figure out what was going on with him soundness-wise--I agree. When Wally bought the horse it was one of those deals where the guy NEEDED to sell him right away--he'd lost his job and couldn't afford board. The horse was cheap and Wally had seen him at ropings and believed he was OK. He didn't vet him, but we trotted him in circles on hard ground and he was absolutely even. Good enough. He has not been "lame" in the two years Wally's owned him. He came to Wally with the reputation for crowhopping, and Mark says that Coal has walked downhill in the uncomfortable way he did for me the whole time Mark has had him. MANY different saddles have been tried. Doesn't seem to make much difference. Same for the cinching--loose back cinch-no back cinch--doesn't seem to matter. Anyway, Mark is trying to find him a good home where he won't have to run fast or go on long trail rides.
Kerrin--I know you are a good, responsible home...that's why I trusted you to take care of Lester and Smoky. Now that really was/is a happy ending!
I have had horses for the past 33 years and have never parted with one of them. Anything I commit to is with me for life. I can't breed to sell or do any leasing as there are too many people out there who don't treat them the way they have been treated.
Glad you liked the cane I sent to Brett and hope you can connect with Al. I spoke to him on the phone and forwarded your message.
Lori--All my own horses (two riding horses and two retired former riding horses) are with me for the rest of their lives. And I kept two previous riding horses until they died (they are buried here). But I am limited by space on how many I can have--I've got no room for another one. So its no use my wanting to take one more on.
Thanks for the info on the cane!
I wish you could convince Wally to have him vetted because whatever is wrong will probably get worse and in a few years he might end up being dumped because of it. I also can't see a young rider not wanting to go on trail rides eventually. :( I'm sorry that he has to be sold.
I still dream about past horses that I sold (due to moving, too many etc)
and worry that they eventually ended up in bad homes. Most are dead now due to my old age, so I should quit worrying. The last two we buried on our property, which was hard enough (and illegal so don't tell) so I totally understand your own anxiety.
One of the worst things I ever had to do was sell two dozen horses from my former trail riding business when the economy went belly-up. I kept the two that I could afford. One was retired to a good home. One was euthanased, which was the right decision for him. Half a dozen went to another riding operation and are still there in good shape. All of the purebreed mares went to a stud, and looked well cared for when I saw them later. The failure was selling five horses to a wealthy man for his wife, because these people - with the most resources of any of the buyers - proved to be lazy and careless. They 'forgot' to put out food and water for these horses. Within a few weeks the horses were stolen, probably for immediate slaughter. I'd have taken the horses back had I not left the country with no possibility of returning.
Of the two that I brought with me, one has gone out on loan now that my wife has given up riding. He is lovingly cared for by a kind lady who has a lot of fun with him.
From all this I learned that, whatever checks one might make before selling, things can turn out badly for a horse. The people with the most money and the best land may be the worst owners. Sometimes a nice horse brings out the best in a person, and sometimes not. There are good people everywhere if one seeks them out.
Thanks Garand Gal, Alison and WHP. We have all agreed that Coal will be sold with a right of first refusal if he is ever sold again. Mark, who has kept the horse for the last two years, has said he may buy him himself, since he likes Coal. He will also keep tabs on the horse if someone else buys him. So we're trying to make sure he does well.
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