My horse shopping days could well be over. My daughter has stopped growing. We are perfectly happy with our current choices. So, in the absence of accidents or injuries (and this is by no means certain — last Christmas Day one of them tried to kill himself by running over a cattle grid), we may be shopped out.
Easter is just a few weeks away, and it’s the peak of the horse transfer window. So this feels like a good time to reflect on my shopping experiences over the years and to pass on my top tips. Let’s start not with buyers, but with sellers.
Firstly, if you are thinking of selling your horse, try and do a little preparation before you place the ad, to give him the best possible chance of ending up in a lovely home. Unless you are selling ‘from the field’ and pricing accordingly, get him into regular work, do a little jumping. I want to see a horse that is in his normal exercise routine so that I can assess his suitability in his normal frame of mind. I also want to see someone else ride him first, just to check he’s not a psychopath, before I place my own precious child on board. I have conducted lengthy telephone conversations asking all about a horse, then turned up to try him to be told:
a)that he hasn’t been ridden for three months.
b)if he has been ridden, he hasn’t been jumped for three months
c)that the daughter whose horse he was hasn’t ridden him herself since forever, ‘but I suppose I could ask her if she will sit on him first for you’.
The daughter, showing every sign of reluctance, was then peeled off her spot on the sofa where she was watching back to back reruns of Real Housewives of New Jersey/Cheshire/Orange County, encouraged to change out of her pj bottoms and placed on the horse. And frankly all this lack of preparation showed. He might have been a perfectly nice horse, in regular work, but how could I tell?
I drove away wondering what the sellers imagined would happen that day. That I would roll up, take one look over the stable door, go weak at the knees and write a cheque on the spot?
If you were selling your house, you’d have a bit of a tidy up before the viewers came. You would at the very least clear the dirty washing up from the sink and run the hoover over the dog hair on the carpet. Even better, you would paint the front door and fill the kitchen with the scent of fresh coffee and newly baked bread. It’s the same principle.
Next, if he has a major blemish that would only be missed by somebody who seriously needed to go to Specsavers, there is no point not telling me about it on the phone. I drove three hours to see a horse that had a splint the size of a cricket ball on his front leg. This wouldn’t have bothered everyone — he did go on to sell to somebody else — but it did bother me because of what I hoped to do with him. He was on a yard to sell, and when I said “why didn’t you tell me about the splint” the poor yard owner told me that the owners had forbidden her to mention it!
Then, try to avoid using the line “well he’s never done that before” unless it’s true. At one trial session, we had been told that the pony in question loved her jumping and ‘never, ever stopped’. We had driven to her local schooling arena to try her, so it was a familiar environment for her. We set up a small cross pole. The girl turned towards the jump whereupon the mare put on all the brakes and ground to a halt. At exactly the same time, with the precision of a duo of synchronised swimmers, the mother said “Well, she’s never done that before” and the daughter said “Oh, don’t worry, she always does that with the first jump”.
And then there’s the subject of trial facilities. If you are selling an 11h pony for a few hundred pounds, a corner of a muddy field and a jump made from a couple of buckets with a broom handle across the top might be adequate. But if you are selling a good competition horse/pony it’s not enough.
On lots of occasions I have asked about trial facilities in advance, been reassured they are more than adequate, and turned up to the bucket and broom handle scenario.
'This is not quite a Christmas story, but it was a moment of magic for me'
Finally, try not to insult your buyer, whether by accident or design. A friend of mine was shopping recently for a first horse for her daughter. They visited a local instructor who also brings on horses for sale, and tried a youngster she had. While the daughter was riding, the instructor turned to my friend and said “Of course, you would be able to ride him too”. “Do you think so?” asked my friend. “Oh yes,” said the instructor airily. “In his last home, they let all sorts of idiots ride him.”
If you are shopping this spring, good luck with that! If I sound smug, that’s because I am! It’s a jungle out there.