I began emailing people last week about horses.
Image’s previous owner, B, kind of kick-started me in that direction on Thursday morning when she forwarded me a Craigslist ad that sounded promising. That didn’t pan out to be anything worthwhile, but the fact that I was even interested (and a little excited) made me start actively going through sale ads.
I am dreading this a little, to be honest. I rather abhor horse shopping. Believe it or not, I don’t actually like most people (hah!) and trust them even less. The buyer/seller politics are exhausting to me. I hate the sugarcoating (and sometimes blatant lying) that can come with someone who is desperate to move a horse. I got really, REALLY lucky with B. She really was a first time horse owner’s dream of a previous owner. She was easy for me to converse with via email and in person, and was honest about what she knew about Image and his background. She very much only wanted what was best for him, and that endeared me to her immediately. When I took him home, I was very happy to hear that she wanted to keep up with Image and I. I have been grateful for her presence via the Internet as a sounding board and cheerleader for these past seven months. That being said, I know very well that the relationship I’ve cultivated with B is the exception, not the rule. Hopefully, because of the type of horse I’m looking for, I won’t run into the kind of horse owner I truly can’t stand. The horse shopping game is not a game I like to play, but it’s likely I’m going to be involved with it for a little while…so time to cowgirl up, and deal with it.
I’m keeping my search to private owners, word of mouth, a daily Craigslist search, and, once I get my act together, I’ll be posting a wanted ad to a few gaited Facebook groups. I will not be attempting Camelot or New Holland. I don’t have the money or energy to play Russian Roulette with a horse. Right now, I’m a bit soured on taking a big-ass risk on a horse. Yes, all horses are a risk, no matter which way you look at it…but, I’d like to limit that risk juuuust a little, by my next one having a bit more background available for me to scrutinize. I’m a chicken. More so now than ever. I loved Image to the moon and back, but I really don’t want to go through this again anytime soon. Someday, when I’m a famous photographer (hah) and I already have a well established riding horse, I will reach out to a critter in need with a bunch of unknowns for me to puzzle out. Right now isn’t the time for that, though.
So what, exactly, am I looking for? I figured it would be best to outline it as much as possible, with as much detail as I could get out. I don’t expect to find something EXACTLY like what I want, but I feel like putting as much down in one spot as I can will keep me a little more focused.
Anyway, without further adieu…here’s “The List”:
Pony must be these things. Simple as that.
* GAITED. I have a cranky, ruptured disc in my back and the last doctor I spoke to about my back “suggested” I stop riding. I told him, politely, to eff right the hell off. Provided I can keep my balance and am not in pain all the time, I honestly don’t care. That being said, to prolong my riding career, gaited sounds like a good idea. I also like the added extra challenge of conditioning for the gait. It takes a lot more energy for a horse to correctly hold a four beat intermediate gait that it does for them to trot. There’s no cooler feeling than getting a horse you’ve worked with to move out into their preferred intermediate gait. I didn’t even ride Image, and I still squealed with glee every time I pressed the right buttons on the ground and got that lovely little rack out of him! Anyway, I’d prefer to go with one of the spicier “Paso” breeds — a Paso Fino or Peruvian Horse (also known as Peruvian Paso). They’re a bit hard to come by in this neck of the woods for anything close to what I can afford, so anything with a decent natural gait will work provided all the other little duckies are in a row. I do not want a five gaited Saddlebred or Morgan — they usually come from hot, kind of crazy show lines that don’t fare too well on the trails. Fox Trotters, Walkers, Kentucky/Rocky Mountain Horses, and the two breeds mentioned above are probably the ones I’ll run into the most on my search.
* PHYSICALLY APPROPRIATE. I ain’t small. I’m probably never going to be small. Being smaller is something I’m working on, but there are some roadblocks in the way I need to deal with before I can truly get to work on that. That aside, even when I was lighter, I preferred a stout, well built critter that’s a smidge bit lower to the ground. 15-15.1 is about perfect for me, provided the horse is built well with good bone, a shorter, strong back and decent shoulder conformation. I’ll admit, I’m vain — I want the whole package pretty. I like hair (looooots of hair!). Gender and color are the last things on my mind, but if we’re going for ideals here, I’d prefer to avoid the lighter colored horses (really light palominos, greys, cremellos, ect) and would prefer a gelding. There is no such thing as a bad color on a good horse, so that’s just a “if I get really lucky” kind of statement! I would prefer a horse younger than 15 but old enough to have already been backed with your basic buttons installed: go, whoa, back, left, right. Would also like barefoot and an easy keeper, along with a good history of being sound and medically unexciting.
* SANE. I loved Image. He was a nearly perfect gentleman on the ground and almost nothing bothered him. I did not love, however, his tendency to go all explodey under saddle. He had every reason to be, mind you, but it doesn’t mean I liked it. I, however, do not want to play the explodey-bucky game again. I hate bucking more than anything, but I’d like to avoid the big three: bucking, rearing and bolting. I can deal with confidence issues, provided they manifest in ways that aren’t any of those. I would consider myself an advanced intermediate rider (when I’m riding consistently…sigh) and can deal with most naughty behavior…but that doesn’t mean I want to! Horses are horses, and they will react to things in “undesirable” ways no matter what…but I’d prefer to avoid a horse that has chronic issues with any of the above. I’d also prefer to avoid a horse that has truly serious confidence issues under saddle…see above re: spooking 🙂 All of this applies to working with the horse on the ground as well. I do not want to deal with an animal that can’t be handled safely on the ground due to aggression or fear issues. That’s not my idea of a good time.
* CONNECTION. If I don’t have that spark of connection, game over. It could be the best horse in the world, but if I look at him/her and I’m not thrilled to be in their presence? Not happening. I want a horse to bond with and have as a partner and friend. I had it with GP. I had it with Image. It’s really important to me to have that connection.
These are qualities that aren’t “hard and fast” rules on what I want/need. There is some wiggle room here. No horse is perfect. No human is perfect.
* SMART and WILLING. I like smart horses. I like horses that when faced with something new, thinks it through and then reacts. I value level headedness quite a bit. I like horses that have a lot of “try” and want to give me the right answer, even if they don’t understand what I’m asking. I love horses that do their job with joy and don’t have a sour, unhappy look about them every time I saddle up to ride.
* BOLD and ADVENTUROUS. I go out alone a lot. I explore new territory a lot. I want a horse that LOVES the trails, and likes to go play, regardless of who they are or aren’t with! I have great trail systems right down the road from L’s, but I would love, love, LOVE to start being able to trailer out with friends to go ride elsewhere. I’d love a horse that is just as happy as I am to go on an adventure that could include riding down the road, weaving through the local trails by the gun club, and then yanking off tack and going for a swim in the river. A level headed horse that doesn’t have a lot of spook to him is ideal in my little world. Horses spook, there’s no getting around that…but I don’t want to feel like I’m a ping pong ball because my critter is peeking and eek-ing at everything in sight!
* FORWARD and RESPONSIVE. I hate having to constantly nag a horse to keep it’s pace. I’d prefer to hold back instead of boot forward, but! I want a horse that doesn’t need anything more than a snaffle in it’s mouth. Lightness and suppleness is important — there is nothing better than simply closing your hand on a rein and having the horse respond accordingly. GP’s mouth was rock solid and while I loved him to the moon and back, I hated having to use a big bit with him. Forward, mind you, doesn’t mean hot. I don’t want insane, out of control forward motion…just a little more get up and go than chill out and slow 😉 I don’t like having to “get louder” if my request is being ignored, and I prefer a horse that is sensitive to body language. By the time I lost Image, I was able to lead him without a halter, bring him into the barn, and set him up on the cross ties, all through body language and voice commands, even if there was grass under his nose. I don’t mind if the training for these things is already in place or not — just the inclination to be more in tune to things is the important part.
* PERSONALITY PLUS. I love horses that want to be with their people. Image was slow to warm up, and he wasn’t hugely demonstrative. The first time he ducked his head into my chest and sighed with pleasure as I rubbed his ears, I nearly burst with happiness. I never grew out of being that horse obsessed teenager — I like to hug my horses and kiss their noses and just spend time in their presence. Cuddle ponies are best ponies. I love horses with a sense of humor. I love horses that wiggle their lips happily when I get their itchy spots. I could forgive almost anything else if the horse’s personality is right. I don’t need a horse that is insanely goofy (my barn already has enough goofy…yeah, I’m looking at you, Gus and Ray!) or uncouth, but one that at least tolerates my attention is important!
The things listed above are ideals, but the horse that has the foundation to be these things with the correct training and riding? That’s good too. Nothing is really set in stone, outside of the physical attributes and the sanity! I don’t overlook potential. I’m okay with green, I’m okay with goofy, I’m okay with new to the trails, provided the temperament is there.
I should probably scribble down some info about me, and my riding career. 15 years in the saddle, 20 years of being horse obsessed (probably would have been more if I had been introduced to a horse before the age of 2). I would consider myself an intermediate/advanced intermediate rider. I have soft hands, an independent seat, and decent “feel” for the critter underneath me. I have go, whoa, back, left, and right down pretty well after fifteen years of riding, and can even make it look pretty sometimes 😉 I am not perfect and would never claim to be, so while I strive for good equitation, I prefer effective over pretty. I am balanced in the saddle (for the most part, a good couple of bucks send me flying, but let’s hope we don’t end up in that predicament again any time soon!) and if I do get knocked off balance, my go to is mane or saddle as opposed to yanking on the poor critter’s mouth. I have basic knowledge of asking for proper collection and bend through a horse’s body, and can teach those basics from the saddle. I know my limits and know them well, especially in the saddle. I am not a trainer and there is a LOT I have left to learn…thankfully, with L on my side and a whole crew of amazing horse people in my life, I have enough backup should I run into something I can’t comfortably handle. I am not afraid of turning to someone else and saying “aaiiieee help!” when things are beyond my knowledge. I’m not willing to risk my horse or myself just because of pride.
I’d like to think I’m a fair pony mama. I don’t tolerate bad behavior in any way, but I pick my battles and have a good sense of when enough is enough. I do think ground work is an essential part of laying the foundation for a good relationship between you and your horse, but I don’t subscribe to any particular “trainer”. I don’t like drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid, so I take bits and pieces from quite a few different big name “natural” horsemanship trainers, mix it with some common sense and horse psychology, and call it a day. There isn’t a “every horse” formula, so I’m willing to step back and re-evaluate if something isn’t working for the horse I’ve got on the end of my line.
I’m rational when it comes to care and feeding — my horse gets the best, but there is no “over doing” it. If a horse needs a supplement, I’ll research it and put them on something, but I’m not going to do six different ones just because. My horses are pampered in the sense that they get the best care that is right for them. I don’t like going overboard on anything (well…except maybe coat care products, but that’s another post for another day). Logical, sound care is key in my little world, as well at the horse’s well being coming first.
I am a “one and done” kind of girl. I don’t get a horse without doing a thorough evaluation, and I’ll be doing a vet check. I want the situation to be right for myself, but more importantly, for the critter. I’m not one to make snap, impulse decisions just because something tugs at my heartstrings. I also won’t get an animal I can’t lay my hands on first, and with my limited budget, that means my search is kind of confined to the northeastern coast — Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Vermont.
Speaking of budget: my budget is hovering right around $1,500 at this very second, but thankfully, due to many little side jobs, that is slowly increasing and I may luck out to around $2,000 come winter. I am in NO RUSH. None whatsoever. I want the right situation for all involved.
I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten. I’m sure I’ll be back to edit this. That being said, I’m curious: what are your “must haves” in a horse? What are your deal breakers? If you’ve sold horses, what did you look for in a new home? If you’ve bought horses, what put you on edge when speaking with the horse’s current owner?
Sidenote: if you read all of this, you deserve a cookie…or two. Or maybe even ten.