So this Part 2.
I will undoubtedly be crossing lines and annoying folks with this explanation of why things are the way they are.
Purchasing a horse
I mentioned buying a horse with training rather than a young horse. Breeding, raising, training and observing sales have been a part of my life since I was tiny. This farm is after all, a business. But there has been a dramatic shift in the mentality of folks who come in the driveway over the past 20 years. And for the record - I own 1 horse. Just 1 retired horse who is not for sale. So I have no dog in this fight beyond giving up training time on the other horses to show a buyer the horse(s) they have picked out from an internet ad. That means several hours of grooming, training and handling have been set aside from the day’s schedule to focus on the buyer and presenting our sale horse(s) in the best possible way on this particular day. I enjoy showing our horses that are for sale! I am proud of the 40+ years of hard work, the agonizing decisions of who to breed to whom, the training, the feeding, the farrier, the veterinary care...it is like going to a competition and showing off your training methods but at home.
Numerous times I have heard A) “I spent a ton of $$ buying a youngster from Mr. Fancypants Studfarm and now only have $x,xxx to spend since I spent $xxx,xxx trying to train it/it went lame and the vet bills destroyed my savings. You need to convince your mother to cut me a deal.”
Wow. Just wow. Let me refer you to the above paragraph in which I hope it clearly states the fact that I own 1 horse. How precisely should I approach the owner, breeder, trainer of the horses and work a magical spell that will cloud her mind for weeks/months/years over the amount she is willing to accept for an equine into which she has invested a serious chunk of change? ‘Cause maybe I can convince her to put in some other luxury features in my life without sacrificing anything else...hmmm, what will I go out an buy first - a fancy boat? A Ferrari? Think she’d notice? You never know, right? Perhaps I’ll find this magic memory dust in the yard near my hedge or out by the garden’s edge! Time to go out and check!!! NOW!
I’ll let folks in on a secret and my tact is non-existent on this topic. My mother is a human being. Grow a set, talk to her yourself and explain your situation like an adult. Leave me out of it. Do NOT drag me into a situation that does not concern me. It’s is none of my business.
Or B) “I want a horse with FEI training and the ability to progress to Grand Prix, child safe so my cousin (who’s never ridden before) can work it after school for me, sound, a perfect vetting, less than 10 years old for under $20K and it needs to go cross country alone, hack on the buckle, live out 24/7, still have the ability to knock out a 75%+ at PSG/I1 and be a black/dark bay gelding with lotsa white.”
Ok! Sign me up! I want a few of these too! Cha-ching! Money in the bank!!! I can sell 100 of them for a small profit and retire!
C) This is the real kicker of watching sales and something I struggle constantly with to understand - “I (the buyer) will not look at chestnut horses.”
I’m really going out on a ledge with this one but will say it any way - A good horse has no color. This is an old horseman’s saying which really means that if you are looking for a horse to ride - the color should not matter. Now I know that in this day and age, people are presented with all sorts of options of what color would they like the color of their laptop cover, car interior, rugs, coffee cups, plates, wall coverings, curtains...it’s all able to be customized to meet precisely what the consumer wants. Horses are not cars. They do not have a key that can be turned and they are not born with gears that anyone can learn to operate. They have opinions, personalities and can frequently act out in an unpredictable manner.
A breeder does not have a button that they can push at conception to select markings, color and gender. It just doesn’t work that way. In a sense it would be fun to have the ability to generate a custom colored, gendered foal and hand pick which characteristics of a particular ancestor will come through - but it doesn’t work that way. Chestnut is recessive. Our breeding program has a lot of Absatz blood in it. Absatz was chestnut and an extremely important sire in Hannover. We will always have chestnut horses. It is the way it is. There are sires out there that repress chestnut but we have not seen enough of their produce in the competition ring at a level high enough to sacrifice the talent that is coming from our chestnut gene carrying stallions. It would downgrade our stock to breed only for dark coats. A good horse is a good horse and all that.
Bottom line to all the buyers out there -
Expand your horizons and look at horses based on their abilities. Negotiate prices with the owner of the horse. Leave the rider/holder of the lead rope out of the financial matters.
Commitment is a dirty word. Apparently.
A young horse will require a certain level of commitment from their new owner. Not just financially but in the amount of time it takes to teach them new skills. Mom and I will joke about our jobs being similar to working on an assembly line - 2000 repetitions to ‘set’ a new skill. You want nice canter to trot transitions - Ok! That’s 25 downward transitions per day for 80 days. A nice half pass - well, stretch that out to 150 days as it is both a stretching and compression and power movement, so not necessarily something to do each and every day with a green horse. Horse training requires a mindset of “time to make the doughnuts.” It really does. It is an exercise program where you get to build fitness, strength, power and flexibility. Monotony is the name of the game and to keep your horse balanced, there is cross training involved and a team effort of modalities.
So this is the perfect moment to explain pricing a horse. In B) above, I listed what would be many people’s dream equine with an out of this world reasonable price. In the paragraph above, you got to read the secret of how to get nice downward transitions - 25 per day for 80 days. No shortcuts, no gimmicks - just hard work for the horse and the rider developing the dialogue of how-to. An average, run of the mill, no frills car costs around 15K. A slightly nicer car with more features (i.e. horse with more training), say 25K. A really fancy car with loads of features (leather, power everything, heated seats) - say 80-100K. Apply that methodology/mindset to pricing a horse with undersaddle training. Instead of leather seats and a walnut dash, you get flying changes and pirouettes. Power windows are replaced by expressive lateral work with loads of power and crossing. The no frills horse will have the ability to advance beyond their current level but will require the commitment of time, energy and effort from their owner. Does this make sense?
A horse is an animal. It is not a machine. There is no crystal ball to their future. There are no absolute guarantees. The buyer will be getting a snapshot of where the horse is at that moment. What they have lived with thus far in their lives. Nothing more, nothing less. Radiographs are going to show many details that might frighten you with their clarity and detail but a clean set of x-rays does not guarantee future soundness.
Mom has a wonderful story (see, this is where folks should approach her and talk to her) of a famous veterinarian who was a teaching professor in regards to x-rays from back in the early 80’s.
-Good cartilage is the be all and end all of a horse’s career. A tough, sound horse will be able to overcome/ignore many bony defects and still compete, work, train at a high level. Dr. Whomever would hold up some frighteningly horrific films of a three year old for a group of new students. They would pontificate on all of the findings, OCD’s, chips, arthritic changes, and the massive amounts of degenerative joint disease at great length. At the end of the class, he would then produce photos of the horse’s 2 Olympic medals. In three day eventing.
I am not saying that spending a serious chunk of change is a small matter. Quite the opposite, actually. Nor am I saying that a vetting is useless. I tend to think of a vetting as a snapshot and a quick glimpse into what luggage a horse can carry with them and still perform. A prospect is a gamble - no way around it. A horse with proper training, a good feeding program and history of working hard for a living will have wear and tear just like a human’s knees and ankles do if they are a distance runner. The manner in which the horse copes with their personal jewelry is the important factor. If their sire and dam worked for 15+ years and stayed sound, that is a positive sign. If the horse has siblings that have stayed sound in training for several years - that is an even better sign! In other words, look beyond the horse directly in front of you! Do your homework and research what other direct relatives have done in sport (and not just the oolala fancy big name sire)! And do not expect perfection - it isn’t out there! All mammals are handed (left or right) and there will be asymmetries and imperfections in their bodies.
Life is short. Find the best, most suitable horse for your current situation, skill set, ambition and schedule! Revel in all that makes a youngster adorable if that is your chosen path! Enjoy learning what a trained horse has to teach you and do not look to the veterinary community for absolutes. That is not fair to them, the horse or to yourself. Buying a new horse is a balancing act - weighing pros and cons just like everything else in life. Keep the car analogy in mind when it comes to prices. If you want an ATV, a commuting vehicle or a luxury sedan - adjust your budget accordingly. If you want a young horse with the the movement for the international competition arena - be prepared to pay for it.
So I’ll take a breath, organize my clothes and go out and work some horses with full awareness I have torpedoed a few more sales, offended some veterinarians, horse trainers, undoubtedly a few big name breeders, sales agents...you name it!
There are still more rambling musings and thoughts bubbling away in my minds cauldron. I’ll get them out eventually! The ever exciting topic of ‘Breeding for Profit’ still needs attention!
Time to make the doughnuts!
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