Monday, April 16, 2012

The Horse Search Begins!

(No photos in this post, or probably the next few, either, as I don't want to post photos of other people's horses without their permission.  I didn't think to ask the sellers I've dealt with so far, and probably won't bother asking any future ones (oh, please, I hope there's only ONE more!), so no photos for you.  Sorry!)

When we left off, I was happily riding various horses on trail rides through a local program for horseless riders...

But soon I wanted to buy a horse of my own.  I had to get some finances in order first, but finally I was ready to start looking.  The first horse I went to look at was a Dutch or Danish (I forget which) Warmblood, supposedly worth tons of money, but hadn’t been out of her pasture in forever.  She was a sweetheart, but the owner didn’t seem to thrilled with letting us try her off the property, and I wanted a trail horse, so that fell through.  

 I saw a Quarab I really liked, but I think the seller didn’t like ME, and sold her to some other people instead.  

 I saw a horse that crowhopped the entire time I was on him and one that had his head sky high and ignored the bit the whole time I was on him.   

Then the friend who’d been tagging along patiently to see all these horses with me told me she knew of a horse I needed to see.  The owner of the place where she was boarding had bought a horse, nearly sight-unseen, and it wasn’t working out for her and her husband to ride, so she was hoping to sell him. 

He was a bit of a handful—didn’t like to stand for mounting, and pranced the whole way off the property, but once he settled in on the trail, he didn’t spook at anything.  He wasn’t much of a trail horse—you had to steer him around every little bend in the trail or he would just wander off.  He was very “looky” at strange things, but never spooked.  He refused to cross water.  But I figured I could deal with those issues, and I liked his personality, so I had him vetted.  He failed—he had ringbone.

After that, I gave up horse hunting for a while.  This was in September, and I knew I’d be going on a two-week vacation in December or January, and wanted to see how my finances shook out, plus figured at that rate, I’d find a horse just in time to abandon it for two weeks.

However, that same friend knew of a horse for sale through different connections, and suggested I check him out.  He was sweet, and REALLY well trained, and also worth a ton of money back in the day, but needed corrective shoeing and supplements, and as tempting as it was to have a nice horse to ride, I need a horse that will be super sound in order to do endurance, so I passed on him, too.

After I got back from my vacation (Thailand—it was wonderful!), that same horsie friend gave me a lead on a horse.  Her boyfriend is a horse trainer, and he had worked with the horse in the past, and the owners had let him know they were interested in selling.  I went out and tried him, and he was pretty good.  Big and bulky (had been gelded later in life), and clearly well-trained in his past, he seemed to be a steady eddy.  The owners were going on a three week vacation, so I didn’t have time for another ride right away, and in the meantime, some friends suggested that buying a 17-year-old horse probably wasn’t the best plan for me—by the time a couple of years went by and he got into decent shape, if I realized he wasn’t working for me, it’d be much harder to sell a 19- or 20-year-old horse if I needed to.  I will be boarding, so I need to have ONE horse that meets my needs, and can’t afford to keep one and buy another if the horse doesn’t work out for me.

I'm actually starting to get mixed up as to the timeline, but somewhere in here, a different horsie friend of mine recommended I go see a friend of HERS who had a horse that was a little too much for her.  (I don't know why people think I'm so competent I can ride horses who other people think are too much, but I guess I'm flattered.  I think.)  I went and saw it, but even I could tell it was off at the trot (and I'm no expert, which is why I pick horses that flunk vet checks--if I could tell they were lame, I wouldn't fork out the dough).  It also reared and pawed in her general direction while she was trying to lunge him.  Not in a viscious "I'm going to kill you way," but in a bratty "I don't have to and you can't make me" way, which is still nearly as dangerous, when it comes right down to it.  Rearing is bad, no matter the reason.

I started hunting on Craigslist and DreamHorse again.  This time, I printed off all the ads, stacked them up in order of the asking price, lowest to highest, and went through them until one jumped out as more than proportionally better than the others.  $800, eh.  $950, eh.  $1,100, eh.  $1,200 Oooh. 

I called on that horse, he sounded good.  Up until this point, the same poor friend had come with me for every horse visit.  But she wasn’t available, and neither were any of my other horsie friends.  I’d talked to both the husband and wife multiple times, and felt comfortable going to their house alone, even though they were strangers (from DreamHorse, at least, and not Craigslist).  The guy already had the horse tacked up and was riding him in the pasture when I arrived, which is a red flag (maybe the horse is hard to catch, or obnoxious with groundwork, touchy with his feet, or needs a good hard workout to calm down—you won’t know that if they catch, groom, and ride him into the ground before you even arrive).  The owner was also riding the horse in draw reins, and I asked about it, and he said he liked to get him to keep his head down.  I’m not a fan of gadgets, but the owner indicated that he didn’t always use them, but since it was early spring and he hadn’t been ridden over the winter, he wanted them for the first ride or two.

The guy seemed genuine, and the horse seemed plenty calm (though THAT could also be a red flag, if they’d drugged him), so I watched him ride for a bit, then had my turn.  The horse behaved very nicely.  If anything, I was worried he was too much of a slowpoke for me.  I wanted to check him out again, but again, no horsey friends were able to come with me.  This time, I asked the owner to leave the horse out in the pasture and let me catch him, which went absolutely fine.  I rode him without the draw reins, in the arena this time.  He backed up crooked (which could totally be my fault), and didn’t listen to my legs very well (the seller uses spurs), but otherwise seemed like quite the gentleman.

I wanted to try him on the trail, as that’s what I would primarily use him for.  The seller didn’t want me to take him alone (or with a friend but without him), so we went for a ride/hike.  I rode, he walked alongside.  The horse spooked a couple of times, but I kept him under control, and figured more wet saddle blankets would help that issue, so I scheduled a vet check.   

And...he had bad conformation in one foot that caused him to be lame.  The vet said for casual trail riding (which is what the seller used him for), it would be fine, but for the level of riding I was hoping to work up to, he didn’t recommend purchasing him.  Bummer!

My next prospect was advertised as a Quarab who had done extreme trail competitions (they are held in an arena, but include all sorts of bizarre obstacles and maneuvers, so a horse who can compete should be pretty bomb-proof and also know how to sidepass and back around corners, for example).  She was in Eugene, which is a couple hours away and over a mountain pass (in March, and still snow-covered), and I wasn’t really interested in driving that far to go see a horse, but she sounded perfect, and none of the local prospects sounded as good as her, so I planned a weekend with the kiddo and headed over there.  It POURED the entire drive over, and the rest of our first day in Eugene, but luckily that wasn’t the day we were seeing the horse—we went to an indoor swim center and to the movies, so it was fine.  The next day was overcast, but not rainy, and in fact, the sun came out when we visited the horse.  (It poured again as we were driving home, but I’m getting ahead of myself.)

She was, of course, shaggier and muddier than in her photos, but it’s spring in the valley.  When we were brushing her, I noticed she had rain rot on her back.  Probably not uncommon for the valley, and my later research showed that it needn’t be a dealbreaker, but means not riding for the month or so it takes to cure it, since the rain rot is under where the saddle would go.

The young gal who helps the seller out rode her first, and had a hard time getting her to go down the driveway, away from the barn area.  We ended up finding a leather strap for her to use as a crop.  She eventually but reluctantly went down the driveway, but didn’t seem incredibly happy to be ridden.  Of course, who knows how much of that is because she’s a mare (known for being tempermental) or Arab (also known for being tempermental, and it turns out she’s at least ¾ Arab, not just ½ as the owner originally thought), because she’d been sitting in the pasture all winter, or because that really is her personality.  It’s also unknown whether her attitude would improve with regular work or get worse and harder to work with the more in shape she got.

She tossed her head quite a bit, which could be attitude, could be due to pain (due to the rain rot or something more serious), or could be because she needs her teeth floated.  She also limped at the walk by the time I got on.  Again, it could be due to needing trimmed, or could be a bigger or more permanent issue.

If I had a crystal ball and knew all those issues would be fixable, none of them would be insurmountable, but with so many questions, and so many different issues, I needed to pass on her, especially since she’s so far away, and making further trips to see if a trim and maybe teeth floating helped would be impractical.

This brings us to...[tapping fingers]...ten horses I've seen up through this point of the saga.  Not counting ones I've called or e-mailed about, or all the hours I've spent poring through Craigslist or Dreamhorse, compiling spreadsheets to compare the pertinent qualities of each horse.  No, this is TEN horses I've taken time out of my life and spent gas money to go meet in person and have at least one test ride on, two of which I've spent over $200 each for a vet check.

To Be Continued...

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