by Laura Crum
Awhile ago I wrote about a woman named “Nancy” who had asked me for advice on finding a family horse for her daughters. Nancy knew nothing about horses and was very timid. I introduced her to a competent young trainer I know named Bill. Bill had a horse he thought might fit her—a gelding in his teens named Walt. I watched Nancy and her daughters try the horse and Walt seemed suitable. However, it was clear that the horse wasn’t totally sound—no bob, but an awkwardness in the hind leg action. I thought, and Bill agreed, that Walt had something going on high up in the rear end. Still, he was servicably sound as a kid’s horse and quite gentle.
Anyway, Nancy passed on the horse and did not choose to use Bill as a helper. I left on vacation shortly after that, and when I saw Nancy again several months later, she had bought a horse and a pony—sans advice. She seemed quite happy with them and had chosen to board them with a woman, I’ll call her Sally, who had agreed to “help” her. Well, I knew of Sally by reputation, and I didn’t think she was a terribly competent helper, but, as I pointed out in my last blog post on this subject, I also didn’t think it would be all that useful to Nancy if I chimed in with some unasked for advice at this point. Nancy was happy with the situation—I felt it best to keep my thoughts to myself.
OK. Fast forward six months. Nancy’s daughters are in my homeschool group and I heard them talking about how their pony had bit and kicked at them. This alarmed me and I asked Nancy how it was going. I’m sure you all can guess what had happened.
In the intervening six months, the pony had gone from perfect manners to offering to bite and kick. Sally had done nothing to help them, just pointed out that the pony was having issues. The horse had had soundness issues. And, to top it off, Nancy could no longer afford to board the two animals with Sally and was looking for some place cheaper and closer to home—so far with no luck.
I have to admit, I stared at the woman in consternation. I like Nancy. I love her daughters. I wish only the best for them. But the number of problems contained in this five minute blast of information struck me as pretty much impossible to solve. Why had she chosen to buy TWO horses when she couldn’t afford the board bill? Why had she elected not to work with the competent person that I had steered her to but instead chosen Sally, who was charging her a very high board and lived an hour from her? Why had she selected her animals without the advice of an experienced helper?
Once again, I recommended to Nancy that she get a competent helper. At this point Nancy had decided for herself that Sally wasn’t much help, and seemed open to this suggestion. But now Nancy was also looking for cheap board, and I knew Bill would not be interested in this. So I recommended another woman I know who is a good horseman and teaches a lot of beginners. Unfortunately, I don’t think she offers cheap board either. And to make matters worse, this was a month ago, and since then it has rained pretty much non-stop. All horse people in the area are impacted by this. Experienced horse people with good situations struggle with mud. What in the world is going to happen to Nancy’s poor horse and pony? With an owner who has no experience and essentially no place to keep them.
I wish I could wave a magic wand and solve this problem. But I can’t. I told Nancy to feel free to come to me with questions, but I could neither board her horses nor help with their training. I am happy to advise her the best I can, but I think she’s put herself in a tough spot. Even if she wanted to get rid of the horses, nobody’s buying right now.
So, in the interests of preventing someone else from landing in a similar predicament, I’d like to offer some preventitive advice. If you are new to horses and think you’d like to buy one, select a competent horseman to help you. Ask your friends who have horses for advice on who to choose as a helper. Offer to pay said helper by the hour. Try to avoid a helper who makes a commision on the horse you buy or who only wants to sell you a horse. Don’t get into horse ownership without carefully considering where you will keep the horse and what this will cost.
In Nancy’s case, she had originally told me that she meant to keep her horse at her home. And she does have some land. However, when I asked her the specific question: “Do you have a fenced horse setup?” she said that she “meant to build a fence”. When I asked her what kind of fence, she clearly had no idea. I gave her some suggestions, and she declined them, saying they were “too expensive”. And, so far, it appears that she hasn’t built anything.
So, build the corral first—before you get the horse. If you can’t afford to build the corral, you can’t afford the horse. Or, line up the place where you will board. Make sure you can afford it and that its close enough to be workable. If you can’t find a suitable place then you’re not ready to buy a horse.
Consider the pitfalls of horse ownership. They are many and expensive. I love my horses dearly, but almost the first thing I say to a prospective new horse owner is “Are you sure you can handle this? It’s a lot of work and very expensive and you will need to work with a competent helper--at least for awhile.”
I don’t mean to discourage prospective new horse owners, but I have had a lifetime of experience learning how to deal with horses. It is totally impossible for me or anyone else to simply hand you this body of knowledge. It will take you many years to acquire it. And even then, there will be fences to build and vet bills and many other expenses that you didn’t know would be so high, as well as mistakes made—and yes, we experienced horseman make plenty of mistakes, too. I guess the big difference is that we more or less expect that we’ll have to deal with some expensive pitfalls. That’s the horse business.
So my advice to new horse owners would be to expect the unexpected. And expect it to be expensive. What advice would you offer?