Horse shopping is a topic that has been covered by millions of equestrian writers. This article is not to give you advice on what horse to buy or how much to spend on it. I want to share with you the experience that I had with a friend/client today while horse shopping. Reflecting on it, I think it would be ideal if the first horse everyone tried out was an experience like this one.
What Was She Looking For?
We were on the lookout for a registered Quarter Horse, one that was quiet and well trained enough to be shared by my client and her granddaughter. They preferred a gelding, which this horse was. There was no color preference (remember, a good horse is never a bad color). They also needed it to be tall enough for the granddaughter to grow into. She is a long-legged 10-year old, that will obviously need something in the 16-hand range. This particular horse was advertised at 17.2, but I think he was more like 17 hands, but that's irrelevant. You get the point! He was big! He was within driving distance and within budget, so off we went to check him out.
My first impression of the horse was that it had a kind eye and quiet demeanor. My sixth sense told me that it was a good-hearted animal. I liked what I saw.
He was well put together, well mannered, and obviously well fed and cared for. He stood quietly being tacked up and took the bit easily when bridled. So far, so good.
My friend who was shopping was pleased with what she saw but was definitely apprehensive about his size. Even though he did nothing to indicate he knew how big he was or how to use it, seeing him in person and seeing 17 some hands in person was a bit shocking I think.
The Seller Rode Him First
The seller got on him and rode him first. As I said, he is a registered Quarter Horse, so she rode him as she would have if he was in an English class at a Quarter Horse show.
He kept his head very low, was in a frame that was much different than the way we ride our horses, and preferred to go on pretty much no rein contact. He went obediently and was very pretty as he did it, but as soon as I saw him go, I knew that he would not be the horse she was looking for.
My Friends Ride
When my friend got on him to try him out, she felt pretty comfortable on him because he was calm, but still was wary of his size. Our style of riding is very different than the way they ride on the Quarter Horse circuit, so they were having trouble communicating.
It was hard for her to tell how much contact to use, or how much leg to use. As the seller coached her, she explained the cues that the horse was trained to. All the cues the horse was used to were different than what we do.
She followed the sellers instructions and was able to get him going nicely, but it was hard because it was like they were speaking a different language. It was nobody's fault, he just wasn't trained to do what we do. Considering they were both confused, they did great and really did have a pleasant ride.
Why Is It The Ideal Experience If It Wasn't A Good Match?
For one, it is always a good experience to ride new horses. Time in the saddle is never wasted.
She was able to have a good, successful ride, while also realizing that though he was a great horse, and most certainly quiet as advertised, but was not a good match for her.
He was well trained in the style of riding that he was used to, but it would have been confusing for both of them to try to retrain him to go differently.
She realized now that she doesn't want a horse that is quite that big. Yes, a 15-hand horse is probably too small, but 17-hands and over, that's a big horse, and not necessary for them.
It was a good experience because the seller was very honest and advertised the horse appropriately. She also was a great coach when horse and rider were having trouble trying to figure each other out.
The seller was also not at all pushy about wanting to sell the horse quickly. She knew that we had planned to see others and didn't press for any sort of answer or decision.
She Got Her "Feet Wet"
It can be nerve-racking going out to different barns and riding in front of different trainers. Today's experience went great, despite the fact that she was nervous and cautious when she arrived. And rightfully so! It was a confidence builder. It was a very different ride but she got through it.
A Good Comparison Point
The horse met all the qualifications that she had when she began horse shopping. He was just as advertised. She had a good ride on him and learned more so she can refine her search.
Now she knows that she wants something smaller, and also that though she wants a Quarter Horse if she can't find one that is trained to go the ways she knows how to ride, that she is open to other breeds or unregistered horses.
Now when she sees the next prospect, she has something to compare to.
Never Buy The First Horse You Look At
I never encourage my clients to buy the first horse that they look at. You need to look at a variety, see what's available, what you like and what you don't before making your decision.
If after you look at a variety of horses that meet your specifications, and still think that first horse is most appropriate, you can always go back and try him again and decide.
There is a lot of fish in the sea! You might have to check out a bunch before you find the one for you, so plan on taking your time and don't be in a rush.
What's The Point?
I think in a perfect world everyone's first horse shopping experience should be like the one we had today. The horse was what it was advertised to be. The seller was professional. My student had a good ride and learned a lot about what she wants and what she doesn't want.
It was another step on her horsemanship journey, a step that is hopefully heading in the direction of horse ownership!