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Discipline: LD/Endurance, CMO, Trail Rider, Cartoonist, Writer, Co-Director/ Green Bean Endurance

June 6, 2011

Horse for Sale

I've been bamboozled, mystified, and amazed for the past few weeks as I've looked at a string of horses in a very bad horse market that were in the $1500 + range.  In many people's world a horse for $2000 is what you pay for a new foal or a nut case.  In mine, the price I pay means the difference between a barn full of hay come July, or not.  So my budget of necessity has been very frugal.  If I can't keep the barn full of hay, I don't need a horse.  The chestnut arabian gelding I liked so well and potentially would have been a great horse for the job at hand was $3000.  I could have bit the bullet, and spent the money if he was indeed what was offered, but honestly? This is a hobby...not a money making pursuit. Even a horse "worth" that money, is not worth it to me.  I have priorities.  Eating, a roof over my head, transportation (I gave up dressing nice in favor of horses). My price range has teetered downward with each bad horse lead ever so slightly as the cost for fuel and meals out snowball.

Granted, I put my standards pretty high with my dreadfully small budget.   At least I've been told that my standards were too high considering my budget.  But frankly, a lot of nice horses are out there "somewhere" just begging for a home (with a barn full of hay) and some grass to run on.  The problem is the frustration of weeding through the mess.  I've been offered free horses too in this process.  But what I've been looking for is this:

A horse that loads and unloads without any hassle. 
A horse that will tie and stand still without pulling back.
A horse that is under saddle enough not to get upset about a saddle or rider on its back.
A horse that "thinks" rather than "reacts".
A horse with some steering. Please ...just go where I point you.  I ain't asking much.
A horse with a willingness to move forward.  (not race)
A horse that can have it's legs and hooves handled without taking out my husbands knee joint.
A horse with try.
A horse that is not sick, or lame.

All pretty basic stuff.  I didn't go see any of the horse's without asking a lot of pre-questions to try and weed out the bad choices without making the drive.  The first gelding that I looked at was amazingly pushy, high headed, half blind, and his owner thought he was the best thing horse ever.  He proclaimed the horse's professional training.  Professional training doesn't mean squat if you don't take that horse home and work the program.  The horse will loose all that professional polish mighty darned fast.  Just because he learned not to push on the trainer doesn't mean he's not going to push on you if you can't show some leadership.  It doesn't mean the horse isn't going to buck again when you throw an unbalanced rider on his back.  The next two horses were at a rescue, and they were adequately described, but I felt they were much greener horses than was my expectation.  It felt like driving a car with the power steering fluid all dried up.  The closest good advertisement was probably the KMSH mare, but the owner under estimated the horse's go.  She was a fine little horse, and she may have possibly been built into a completion horse, but she didn't seem like she relished the trail.  The gelding this week in Kentucky by looks had all the right stuff, but he was another horse that would be a constant ticking time bomb.  No way you could enjoy the ride, because as soon as you let your guard down you'd be getting hammered.  I know that wild eyed look all to well...the arthritic parts of my body all still function somewhat, I'd like to keep it that way thank you.

Maybe the real problem lies in the perception of what an endurance horse is.  Those uneducated in the distance sports tend the think it is "just another trail ride" or that you are a card carrying member of the yahoo club and all you need is a runaway horse and a trail to point it at.  A good endurance horse is neither of those things.  It is hard to get across to an outsider that you may be riding that horse 6-24 hours over difficult terrain, depending on your venue.  They don't understand that getting thrown on the ground with your horse galloping off into the wilderness is not the goal!  When I tried to explain to one person this week she started off into how "they" (her group of riders) don't believe in yahooing horses.  Okay lady, neither do I.  A horse that can walk, trot, and canter is not yahooing, it is basic training.  People honestly amaze me.

Of the group, the lady I spoke with yesterday gave her appy the toughest critique. I felt she was being as honest with me as she could.  She said she'd taken the mare as far as her novice hands can go.  I wasn't enraptured by this horse's beauty. She isn't a pretty face, but I saw very hopeful "qualities".   I never thought that muscle tone and a heart rate number would make my own heart go pitty pat.  Even though I haven't done the trail ride part of it, I'm full of hope on this one.

And no...I'm not so smart.  I've waded through the crap so deep I've needed not only hip boots, but scuba gear and an air tank would have been a good idea.  If there is one thing Phebes has taught me it is what a good horse is, and what a good horse isn't, and we learned it all the hard way pretty much.  But if I were selling Phebes ($20,014) tomorrow, I would try so hard to be truthful to a prospective buyer.  That way the right home might end up with her, and maybe she wouldn't end up being swapped into a dry lot somewhere with her ribs hanging out.  If I thought Phebes would be a prospect for something, it would be lower level dressage.  She is such a sensitive horse, and she is at her best concentrating on what the rider is asking, moving off body position, leg, and such.  She likes a static environment (no turkeys, 4-wheelers, flapping buzzards), then she shines.  But!  I'm not a dressage rider, so-see? what do I know?

What would I tell a prospective buyer? 

*She is dominent, and you will have to work to keep her respect.  Once you get it, it is a beautiful thing, but your kingdom may only last a day, and then she will test you again.
*She is not a childs horse.  She is not a beginner's horse AT ALL. She requires a confident rider who will do the driving.  Quit driving?  Well then, she will take the wheel.
*She will kick.  Maybe not today.  Maybe not tomorrow.  But someday she'll be all hormonal.  Always watch your space, never trust her completely.  I follow that advice religiously.  She flew by in the field a few months ago and cow kicked me, just because she could.  Remember the who's dominent thing?  We re-schooled.  We do that a lot.
*She can spin back so fast you will have a Wiley Coyote suspended in the air moment just before gravity hammers you.  It will hurt when it happens.
*She is a very reactive horse.  (at least until she has been desensitized to the thing).
*If you hit the ground and loose the reins, she is going to gallop off in the sunset with your water bottle, cell phone, and heart rate monitor.  Wave...the walk back will be long and hot, and you will be limping on one of your extremities most likely. 
*She needs a fly mask with UV protection all summer, and on very bright days in winter.

Now you are thinking why would ANYONE ever buy this horse.

*She has nice conformation, is well nourished, fit, and B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L.
*She is chock full of nice polish lines and it shows under saddle.
*She has power steering.  Just look where you want to go, at worst...twitch a finger, or close your hand.  You don't need a bit to ride this horse.
*She is forward, has super impulsion.
*She is smart.  Teach her, she won't forget.
*She is an awesome little trail horse at trail speed.  If she knows the trail she is an awesome little trail horse at ANY speed (barring flapping monster birds, and motorized vehicles).
*She can go all day.
*She is 14.3 hands.
*She can be ridden year round on trail or in the arena bare hooved.  Boots recommended if you do a whole lot of crushed rock as it might chip her hoof wall.
* For the right rider, and the right sport Phebes would be a Lil Bit of Magic (her real name).

Just not this sport, or any revved up sport like barrel racing.  I could see her doing well in dressage, trail trials, ACTHA, Texas Trail Challenges, and Cutting, maybe even reining under the right trainer.

Only, she is not for sale.



  1. This rescue is in IL. They have some nice horses you may want to check out. I follow them on FB. They seem to some on there that I don't see on their website.

  2. Your post is right on the money. After three years of trying to find the right endurance horse I concluded much the same that you have. Most sellers have no true concept of the caliber of their horse but that won't stop them from letting you and the world know its the best darn horse you ever did see (if you can stay on when it rears, bucks, or exhibits its other charming tendencies). Here's a little anecdote: A friend and I took a road trip to look at an 8 yr old Morgan mare advertised on Craigslist. The mare was, according to the owner, non-spooky, TONS of trail experience, ridden by the whole family all last summer, etc etc. We pulled up to see a fat whale of a mare with an irritated look in her eye. I wasn't very hopeful but thought I should still at least tack her up and see what happened. Long story short, the mare barely "steered" and REARED when she didn't want to do trot in a circle in the arena. Oh yeah and I went home and amended my "Looking For" advert online to emphasize what I wanted (I was dead irritated, but I WAS polite in the ad) and the owner of said Morgan privately emailed me from that ad and screamed bloody murder about what a spoiled bitch I was (??) and that I had way too high expectations for the price range. My price range was about the same as yours, E.G., and you are absolutely right that there are good horses out there needing a home in that price range..its just a matter of finding them! My beloved gelding I am doing LD with this year was $400 and I will have him til the end. I really hope you have a great trail ride on that mare!

  3. I don't think your list is unreasonable. We're selling one of my husband's QH's for $1500 that meets *most* of your criteria.

    He loads, ties, will w/t/c for someone who he thinks is serious (i.e. anyone but a rank beginner). He's not spooky on trails, will lead or follow. He doesn't give a hoot about other horses (he's always off by himself) so while we've never ridden him alone, I doubt he'd care. He steers reasonably well. Its not extremely precise, but he'll follow a trail and not run into stuff. He also manages to complete flag and barrel patterns. No real vices other than being kind of pushy on the ground if he thinks he can get away with it. He's not aggressive and would never deliberately harm you, he'll just push on you and stuff like that if he thinks he can get away with it.

    I think he'd probably be far too lazy to want to trot for 25mi and his feet aren't the best (he'd definitely require boots) or I'd have offered him to you. Then again, he's a game trail horse and has never refused to go anywhere Eric's pointed him, even if we'd been camping all weekend and were on day 3 of making him go up and down steep hills. You'd be more than welcome to try him out if you wanted though.

  4. Phebes sounds a lot like my first horse, a mare and even shares some personality traits with my current horse, also a mare. My current mare is great on the trail and a blast to compete on in ACTHA rides. She tales it all in stride and has a lot of try.
    But on the ground, I can't quite trust her. I've been kicked twice (once on the hip and the other time in the face) and been threatened once.
    I'm curious as to how you handle that with Phebes and what you do to reschool her to get her past the dangerous habit of kicking.


  5. Lisa,

    Whenever Phebes starting resorting back to push dominent behaviors I put her in the round pen and start working her in there. I watch for a change of attitude, head dropping, ears pointing at me, eye looking at me. Once that is established, then we do ground exercises like side passing along the fence line, backing up when I wiggle the rope, until I see lots of low head,and chewing, and a soft eye. Then we are done for the day. Phebes has been through the process enough that she gets it, at least for a while. She has mellowed out a lot over the past four years, but once you've been kicked it really wises you up to not wanting kicked EVER.