If you follow the advice in parts I through IV of this series — and in the parts yet to come — you’ll be as prepared as you can be to find the right horse for you.
The horse that will end up in your backyard (literally or figuratively), may not be waiting for you in your backyard. You may have to travel to find your Prince or Princess Charming.
If you follow my advice (and the advice yet to come), you’ll have pre-qualified your potential equine matches a lot better than you’re able to pre-qualify human matches on match.com. The horses you’ll want to see will be horses that are worth seeing, which fit your selection criteria. By the time you hit the road, you’ll know where you may have to compromise and you’ll be able to make decisions more like a bond trader (“Done!”) than like a horse trader (“Really? I never noticed that [insert defect]”).
Depending on how much information you’ve been able to gather and how trustworthy the sellers and their agents are, you may experience all sorts of surprises. Some will be delightful, if you’re lucky. Some will be disheartening or even angering. And some will make really great stories that will make you and other people (especially anyone who’s shopped for a horse) laugh out loud. The stories will get funnier the further in the past they become.
My Yankee-Irish horsewhispering boyfriend says, “He who has little expectations, has little disappointments.” That’s fine and dandy, but I say, influenced by Etienne Beudant, “Expect much, be satisfied with disappointments, laugh often.” The more horse shopping you do, the more this saying may comfort you.
Don’t let it stop you, though, from enjoying the challenge and channeling your optimism. Set up your horse shopping trip as if you were a talent scout. You are, in a way. Your future star could be anywhere.
Because we know that horse shopping is hallmarked with expectations matched only by their disappointments, don’t travel to see just one horse. Set up an itinerary, like one of those “See 6 Countries in 11 Days” European tours. If you plan it right, your itinerary will make that European tour look like it was designed for slackers.
That’s right, this is work. Just like riding well is work. But just as work can be fun and riding well is fun, horse shopping can be fun. So make your trip — even if it’s a day trip — a working vacation. Pack a cooler. Bring a still camera and a video camera, and your notes. It will be interesting to review your potential matches onscreen in the evening or in between appointments — you’ll see things you might not feel — unless, of course, you find a horse that you know is right and whom you want to vet out. Bring all and any gear you might want or need. Don’t forget your stick, even if you don’t usually ride with one.
You may want to limit your travel zone to a particular area, rather than going from Massachusetts to Nevada to British Columbia and back. But if all the horses you like are a hike, why not plan a few days of horse shopping wherever they are? Whatever your itinerary, make good use of Exxon’s profit margin and see as many qualified candidates as you can while you put miles on your odometer. Or fly and rent a car. Think of it in terms of your boarding bill…or if you keep horses at home, your feed bill for the month — and put a dollar sign on your labor.
On your horse tour, you can easily visit four barns in a day and then some. Plan on an hour if you’re looking at one horse. Additional horses at the same location will take less time. Put some “air” in your schedule, but be aware that, in all likelihood, there will be horses that will make you shake your head, because they bear no resemblance whatsoever to the horse you thought you were going to see. That may be because you were misled or misinformed. Or it might be because it’s not the horse you were going to see. That one sold and they didn’t call to tell you.
It’s easy to fit horses into your itinerary that you may have had trouble getting to know via email or phone. Some people have great horses but are terrible salesmen. Some people are busy. Some people have problems you know nothing about which affect their ability to act on their own behalf. Their horses can all be great (or they can all be awful). But scattered sellers or agitated agents shouldn’t keep you from uncovering your dream horse in an unlikely locale, whether for you, that’s a show barn or a shed row.
I advise steering clear of the real crazies…but I’ll leave that up to you. Real crazies sometimes have great horses, but the difficulty of the negotiations and the delusions that make it nearly impossible to separate truth from fiction — or to figure out whether a horse is actually for sale or not (it’s often not) — make it a zero sum game to me, and I choose to pass.
Many people shop for horses in Europe because they can look at so many horses in such a small number of hectares. Here in the US, we’re spread out and it’s expensive and time-consuming to get around. If you have the money for a European trip and you’re working with an imported horse budget, and you don’t want to keep your dollars in your native economy, I say go for it. Just make sure you’re working with people you trust on both sides of the trade, and pay your vet at home to be involved. If you don’t have a vet you trust enough to be involved, take three steps back and forfeit your next roll.
Whatever you do, don’t be in a hurry (unless it’s to make arrangements to vet out the horse you really like). You have time to find the right horse for you. What you don’t have time for is the wrong horse because nothing takes up more time and expense than the wrong horse.