Before you have a chance to fall in love with any of the many beautiful horses you will see advertised, take a step back and ask yourself: “What do I really want?” The question might seem basic or even ridiculous, but writing down your answer will help to keep you on the right track and minimise the chance of emotion overruling logic when your search commences.
When answering this question, some people immediately list the breed, age, height, gender, performance level, and even colour of their desired horse. These are important considerations, however, defining what you want also involves an honest assessment of your goals and desired outcomes. Do you want to have fun? Do you want to compete at a certain level? If so, now or in five years’ time? Do you want to try your hand at a range of disciplines? How confident are you; is safety and therefore temperament, a key consideration when searching for a new horse?
At this point, it’s worth preparing a list with two columns; Column A for desired horse traits such as age, height and breed, and Column B for desired outcomes, such as performance levels you are aiming to achieve. Next, choose a colour for “must have/be” (let’s use green), and a colour for “nice to have/be” (let’s use pink). Now shade every attribute and outcome that you believe is a “must have” in green, and shade all the “nice to have” attributes in pink. This will create a matrix for assessing each horse that catches your eye.
With your matrix prepared, discuss its contents with someone – or some people – you trust. Asking your instructor or a knowledgeable friend to populate or colour code the matrix for you, without first seeing your version, could provoke some interesting and insightful discussions! We all know that horses are not objects, and the relationship most horse owners share with their steed involves a strong emotional connection; so it’s no surprise that we struggle to be objective when deciding what we really want. Sometimes we confuse our ambition with our ability, or buy the right horse for the life we hope we’re living in two years’ time – not the life we are living right now. A reality check from someone you trust and respect could help avoid disappointment and heartache, and instead guide you towards finding a wonderful equine partner that you will enjoy for many years to come.
Your instructor or friend may suggest considering some attributes or desired outcomes that you have missed, or challenge you as to whether a maximum age of 10 is a “must have” or a “nice to have”. Height and age are two criteria that some people are fixated on, yet arguably some flexibility should be applied. Not all 16hh horses are the same size; a solid type will feel much bigger, and a narrow horse, much smaller! Likewise, ruling a horse out because it’s deemed slightly too old can be a mistake; remember, it’s not uncommon for Olympic horses to be in their late teens!
You won’t know for sure whether a horse is safe, or has the potential for higher levels that you may seek, simply by reading an advertisement, so you will need to make an informed guess at the preliminary stage. However, assessing each horse this way before you pick up the phone or message a seller will potentially help to refine your search and keep you on track, without wasting your own or other people’s time. If a horse doesn’t get a tick next to every box you have shaded green, i.e. “must have/be”, they are not likely to be the horse for you, even if they sound and look wonderful! You may find, for example, that the stunning blingy horse gets a big tick for colour, but in reality that horse is too young, and unlikely to meet your performance goals for the next two years, whereas that plain chestnut meets all your “must have/be” requirements, and has plenty of ticks in the “nice to have” column too, even though it doesn’t make your heart flutter!
THE FUN BEGINS
Once you have clarified your preferences, it’s time to start the search and the fun begins! The prospect can be overwhelming, particularly as there is a range of platforms where horses are advertised and sold, and there’s no set template sellers follow when advertising a horse. Some sellers will post a tantalising photo on social media with scant details, a request to “Private message for more details” and perhaps the comment “no timewasters or photo collectors” to go with it! On the other extreme, some sellers will write an advertisement so detailed and prescriptive regarding the kind of home that their horse requires, you feel that you may offend by even suggesting that you could be a suitable applicant. Everyone has a different definition of what a quiet horse is, or what skills a rider needs to have in order to be considered advanced or experienced. Fortunately, most sellers are reasonable people who simply want to find the best home for their horse and will be more than happy to answer your questions.