It’s “Selling Season” here in Welly World - it seems there are are hundreds of lovely dressage horses for sale, and potential buyers are coming in from all over the world to try them. Buying your next dressage horse is a financial and emotional investment that can be devastating if it doesn’t work out well. Anyone who has been in this business long enough will have stories of perfect matches and also horror stories - this article will hopefully give some guidance on how to get more of the former and hopefully none of the latter. There are no “perfect” horses, and looking for a perfect horse is an exercise in frustration for everyone. If you can find a match for your riding skills, your goals, your situation, and your passion you will have a great chance at forging a successful relationship into the future.
Just like our human long term relationships, we should not expect love (lust) at first sight from our next horsey partner. Falling in lust with a horse because of superficial things like extravagant movement, luxurious mane and tail, color, eyes, or dishy face has happened to all of us - but it’s not what we should base a long term commitment on! While lust can cloud our judgement, you must “like” your potential partner right from the beginning - which means exactly what liking your friends means - your future partner should have an enjoyable personality and demeanor. Be honest with yourself to assess if his/her personality and physical strengths and weaknesses are compatible with yours.
Trying horses is like speed dating - you get a few moments to see if you can work together. These moments should tell you quickly if you are comfortable with the level of training and the ability of your new horse. I never recommend to a client that they buy a horse that is uncomfortable or unbalanced (many people buy a new horse thinking they will “learn” to sit the trot in the near future). I know from experience that years will be spent on training for both horse and rider and it may never happen, which can be frustrating for all involved. Try every horse with the thought that you must be able to ride this every day for the next 10 years and enjoy it, and you can’t go very wrong. Sit on every horse you try thinking “Can I deal with his/her training challenges?”. Try a short listed horse at least twice, in different circumstances (inside? Outside? Hacking? At a show?) if at all possible. Remember again that “there are no perfect horses”.
I highly recommend paying a professional to help you find your new horse. Your trainer and other agents work hard to find horses that may be suitable for you. I know there are problems with agents charging way too much, but you won’t have that problem if you are clear and upfront with anyone you work with, and let them know that you will pay them fairly. Agents and trainers will be more invested in your partnership before AND after the deal is done if you pay them - commissions are generally about 10% per person involved, but that is negotiable in many sales, and regulated in some states.
Once you have found a potential partner a good vetting should be done. Veterinarians should not be expected to “pass or fail” horses; they are asked to give a fair assessment of a horse’s soundness for the intended purposes on a given day. It’s best to have a trusted trainer help you discuss the findings on your vetting and decide if you can live with them or not. Remember again that “there are no perfect horses”.
At the end of the day we all want a horse that is truly fun to have around, rewarding to ride and/or watch develop, and will make the money, time and emotion we invest worthwhile. Horses are a risky business any way you look at it, but the rewards are priceless when we can develop a good partnership.