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Distant horse purchase

From: Lynn Cominsky

Hi Jessica! I was so thrilled to see that excerpts from your book are being featured in Horse and Rider. Congratulations! And now on to today's question. After much detective work (made easier by the presence of the AQHA and the APHA on the Internet), I have succeeded in tracking down a seven year old gelding, who is the son of my beloved almost 22 year old mare, Hannah. His name is Ed, he is a "breeding stock" paint (but won't be doing much breeding!), whose father was a champion performance horse named Tommy's Doc Bar. And of course, his mother is (in my humble opinion), the world's best trail horse. Ed is for sale, to a good home, and I am interested in buying him. The problem is that he is located about 400 miles from where I live, and it will be difficult to get to know him before deciding on the purchase. He is reputed to be smart, strong, agile and as smooth as Hannah (who is extremely comfortable.) I have pictures of him, and although he is not in shape, and slightly overweight (mostly evidenced by a large-ish neck and stomach)), his conformation looks excellent. Good strong legs and nice sized feet, short back. nice shoulder and pastern angles, etc. It is also possible that since he wasn't gelded until he was 3, his neck will stay rather large. Anyway, since all I do is lots of 15-20 mile trail rides 3-5 times per week, and Hannah can't really go out that much anymore (she does better on 1-2 per week), it seems a good time to think about another horse.

So my husband and I have come up with a plan: which I am going to write his owner: 1) First agree on a purchase price 2) Then have the vet check done by a local vet (who I have talked to on the phone) who is not Ed's vet, and has never seen Ed before. 3) Then if the horse passes the vet check, haul our trailer up there for a visit. But due to time constraints, the most we will be able to spend getting to know Ed, and trying to ride him and handle him will be about 1 day. Also, it is likely to be snowy up there, and that may limit our options for riding. (Something we don't have to worry about down here in the San Francisco Bay Area). I am concerned because we got to know our other 3 horses for about a month before deciding to buy them, and and had ridden them all many times. So, even though I am a more knowledgeable owner now, can you suggest a checklist of things for us to do with Ed to be sure that he will work out in both temperment and rideability? He is rather green, even though he is 7, because his owner is not well, and he hasn't been ridden much. He is broke, and has had some training, and has herded some cattle. But he hasn't been on the trail much. I don't mind training him somewhat (or getting help with this if need be), but how can I can tell if he will love the trail as much as Hannah?

In other news, Beau is maturing into a wonderful trail horse, and Ziggy's miracle recovery from his fractured pelvis continues. The vet saw him yesterday and couldn't believe how sound he was. We are riding him more and are about to take him out on the trail again for short rides to see how he does with hills. Thanks in advance for your words of wisdom. - Lynn Cominsky

p.s. and if there is any way you can comment on the plan sooner than next week's posting, I would appreciate it, as I am about to draft the letter to the owner (who doesn't have a phone).

Hi Lynn -- thanks, Horse&Rider is doing a nice job with the excerpts! I'm very pleased. Keep checking your issues, there should be more in the January one, and perhaps something in the February issue as well.

You're in an awkward situation, buying a horse you haven't had much chance to visit or play with. But it seems to me that you're taking good precautions, arranging for a vet check with a vet that is NOT the seller's vet, etc. And you WILL have a day with the horse!

What's the main appeal of this animal? Continuity, right? You've seen the photos and you like Ed's conformation, you know what his reputation is, and the worst thing you know is simply that he hasn't had much training or even very much riding. This is NOT a disadvantage, as long as he's green because his owner hasn't had the time or health to spend hours in the saddle. (If he's still green because nobody has stayed on long enough to get him trained, that's another story!)

If Ed is quiet and sweet and reminds you of Hannah, that will be great. If he stands for mounting and dismounting, carries a rider easily, and understands the fundamentals of steering and stopping, and seems willing -- not EDUCATED, but WILLING -- then you may have found your new trail horse.

Being green is the most fixable problem he could possibly have -- you want to train him your way anyway, he's old enough to begin doing some real work, and no matter how well-trained a horse is supposed to be when you buy it, I always recommend that you run through EVERYTHING you want him to know, from standing/leading/tying up through under-saddle work. That way, you'll know how much he knows from the get-go, and you won't have any of the problems that come from making assumptions... It's always best to do this, EVERY time, with EVERY horse.

One man's "broke to death" or "kid broke" is another man's "green as grass." Assumptions can be dangerous, both physically, to you AND the horse, and mentally/emotionally, if you get angry or frustrated with him for not doing something that you ASSUME he should know how to do.

If Ed looks like the horse you want, sounds like the horse you want, and the vet thinks he's the horse you want AFTER he's checked him out with your particular wants and Ed's potential life with you in mind (trail-riding with other horses for work, living outdoors with other horses the rest of the time), then why not go for it? It's not easy to track down and buy foals from a particular mare, and this one is the right age, the right size, the right build, and sounds as though he has the right attitude. And that's something you'll be able to assess even if you're just with him for one day -- it's not as though you were going to buy him without ever seeing him at all.

If you wanted a horse for show jumping or upper level competitive dressage, or cutting, or reining, you would need to spend more time before you purchased it. But trail-riding should come naturally to this horse -- he's got the build to handle the terrain, and he's supposed to be smooth (you'll find out when you spend the day with him), and he certainly has the heritage! Trail-riding comes naturally to most horses, if they haven't been stall-raised and worked exclusively in an indoor school (and sometimes even those horses can become good trail horses, it just takes them longer). In fact, I suspect that trail-riding would be the # 1 career choice for most horses if they were given a choice! If Ed has herded cattle, then he should already know how to work outdoors, over terrain, in the company of other animals. I'd say that if the vet likes him and you find him appealing "in person," Ed deserves a try.

The fact that his owners aren't asking much money AND want a good home for him may mean that they would be willing to work out a trial period with you -- say two weeks or a month, during which Ed would be at your place and you would be completely responsible for him, and after which you would make the purchase final OR bring him back at your own expense. Some people will allow this, some won't -- you can always ask.

I hope this helps -- let me know whether you buy Ed, and how he works out. Knowing the kind of people you are, and the kind of work you've accomplished with Beau and Ziggy, I'm sure that if Ed is even an average-Joe kind of a horse, you'll be able to turn him into a happy member of the family. If he's the type of horse you would want even if he WEREN'T Hannah's foal, then GO for it!


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