Finding the Perfect Horse…

Is a bunch of bullshit. How else do you think I’d wind up with this beast?!

Don’t get me wrong, I love Hamish…. most of the time.   Well, those first 3 months I didn’t. It was a combination of he was is a bit of an asshole and the fact that I didn’t want get too attached in case it was to be determined his asshole-ness was too much for me to handle that we weren’t a good fit and I’d have to sell him on. If horses were like clothes I’d be wearing him with the price tag tucked in just in case. I’ve finally moved on from that point, but sometimes I still have my doubts.

Originally, I was looking for something older. A “schoolmaster” as they say. Maybe around 11 years old, but considered all the way up to an 18 year old. Something who can do a course of wee jumps and show me the ropes. Something kind and forgiving that will take care of their rider. And what I got was a cheeky, green 5 year old that’s a real “chancer” as they say. To be fair, Hamish does seem to be a pretty honest boy and quite forgiving of me which is really impressive…I digress.

My last horse post was about how deciding to get a horse wasn’t a decision I took lightly and why/how I decided to get that horse. This post will go a bit more in depth on just how much of a process it was to get a horse. And even after this wordy post (really should get an editor) you’ll most likely have no idea of the HOURS spent weekly on: trolling horse sale pages, reaching out to sellers, chasing down videos, emailing my livery yard manager potential ponies, driving across Scotland, and crying (so. many. tears.) that was done in the horse search process.

I started horse shopping July 19th, 2016. I got Hamish November 24, 2016. 4 months doesn’t sound like that long of a time…but it was. Facebook sale pages don’t sort by date added, so I was literally spending 3-4 hours a day combing through the various Scotland horses for sale pages and reaching out to sellers to get answers to my initial questions. My full kind of list of questions was as follows:

  • How long have they had horse?
  • Why selling?
  • Does it have a birth passport or is age estimated on passport?
  • Does the horse live in or out?
  • How is it to hack on own/in company?
  • Did they vet it when they bought it?
  • Does it come with tack?
  • Does it travel in trailer/lorry or both?
  • Who are the horses farrier and vet?
  • Is the owner a member of a pony club/riding club?
  • Does the horse have any insurance exclusions?
  • Has it competed, if so in which disciplines?
  • What name does it compete under?
  • Is it shod all round?
  • What type of bit is it ridden in?
  • Has it carried a variety of riders before?
  • How does it behave in group situations – lessons/hacks

If it seems like the horse would be at least kind of a potential fit (doesn’t need to live in, okay to shoe/vet, doesn’t need a Dutch gag bit), I would then ask for some videos of it on the flat, and hopefully jumping. I would then assemble the answers and the videos to send on to my yard manager (YM) to look over and tell me what she thought.

I found 28 different facebook conversations when I searched “bit ridden” as it was one of the most basic questions I was guaranteed to ask. And a couple of those conversation threads were dealers so I had contacted them about multiple horses over the months. I’d guestimate at least 5-7 others wanted to speak on the phone so no record of that conversation.

In the next step of sending videos on to be judged by someone who knows just a bit more than my, “Yep, has four legs and a tail” I see that I sent YM 23 videos of different ponies. Most of these videos came back with a reason why the horse wasn’t a good fit for me. For example:

  • Too buzzy
  • Too small
  • Too big
  • Too green
  • Too on the forehand
  • Too short of neck with too long of back

The list could go on…. I wish I could I explain to you why the short neck with long back is a no go…but alas, I can’t. And to be honest Hamish has a short neck! But I’ll just trust the expert. Some of the 23 ponies that got a video sent were ones that I did end up riding. In some situations they sounded good enough on paper or others were last minute and convenient to where I was to crack on and get my own video (you’d be amazing how many sellers refuse to send you a video for some reason), or if I hadn’t heard back from YM but was feeling cheeky and just went for it.  Because that’s a risk in itself.

Here’s just a sampling of ponies I looked at…you have no idea…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Within that grouping of 23 ponies that got video emails, twice I got rejected! As in the owner told me no. As if finding a horse wasn’t stressful and upsetting enough…throw in a little rejection for good measure. One horse that seemed a real school master, ex competition horse that was looking for a quieter life and was ideal on paper – the owner demanded to see a video of me riding (after multiple emails and phone calls) before she’d arrange me to come up. After I sent my video she iced me out and didn’t reply to my emails or answer my calls. To be fair, I’m a shit rider. But in my defense, I wasn’t going into this alone. Sucks for her though as I saw her horse listed for months and months after I was rejected. Beggars can’t be choosers hoe!

I got one other solid rejection, I mean really solid. I went out to see him with one of my instructors. Horse was a lot bigger than I anticipated and I had to ride him in a field (which I’m not used to). Now is the time to note just how nervous I am trying out horses. SO NERVOUS. As a shit rider normally, even my instructor commented just how extra shit and nervous I was when we were driving back. I didn’t love the horse but was tired of searching and when it was decided he was quite sensible, but YM wanted to see him inside a school (as he was pretty big and stuffy) I reached out to see if it was possible to arrange him to come visit the riding school. This time I at least got a response…and it was something along the lines of they didn’t think I was experienced enough for him. Even though I told them how much help I’d be getting, lessons on him, support, and brought an instructor for god’s sake.

There was one more rejection when I said it was a livery yard and riding club. I guess sometimes there is “working livery” where your horse is used in lessons as a school horse to get discounted/free livery. And this girl refused to believe that I would be the only one riding him…oh well.

Also in those 4 months the YM also put an appeal out on all her facebook pages to find a horse for me, as well as on a trip to the Ireland/Cavan Auctions where she was horse shopping for a lot of horses, but also keeping an eye out for a horse for me. Still nothing.

Then there was the time I thought I found my horse- She’s a Lady. I saw her on a facebook group page. The guy that was selling her was a right dodger….but I decided I was just being a snob. For the first time in test-driving horses I jumped on and did a little walk, trot, and even stepped it up to a canter. I could have easily gotten on this horse and started popping jumps. She was a schoolmaster. I showed YM the videos, told her I was pretty smitten and she agreed that she looked like a nice type and the price was fair. I did mention that she seemed a little girth shy…so it was determined that I should set up a vetting, go down and ride her again, groom her, tack her up, watch her alone in a stable to see how she acts, make sure the girth thing isn’t a issue, hack her away from the stable alone…spend some real time with her.

Well to start, after my 3 hour drive I got there to find out she had lost a shoe which means I was unable to do the vetting (the imbalance would throw her off and make her seem lame even if she was sound). So I was pretty pissed off. That’s when the dodger got even dodgier. Because of course then he insisted I didn’t need the vetting. And that’s when I learned just how girth shy she was…. when I went near her girth area to groom her she started stomping her feet and twisting around to bite me. I realized I wasn’t fully confident in tacking her up so asked the seller to do it and I’d watch. He first tried insisting we tie her up first, but I didn’t want a horse that HAD to be tied up to tack. He then suggested she get tacked up outside the stabl for some reason. We went back and forth. Needless to say, as soon as he reached under to get her girth she kicked out and became a monster. As a wanna-be first time horse owner, her behavior terrified me. I called the YM to give an update of how my morning was going and it was decided that a) this guy was dodgy AF and b) She’s a Lady is extremely girth shy and unpredictable and she might become She’s a Monster if forced into box rest for a few weeks. It was the right decision, but sometimes even now I think back a little sad I didn’t get her just for the been there, done that part of her.

So, the next trip to Ireland for a sales auction (with a list of about 5 horses to look for already) I went too. I’m really not sure if I was invited, invited myself or told I was going. Whatever the case, the morning we flew out I had serious regrets. I had gotten back from 3 weeks in the US (which was my MIL’s death, running a marathon, playing nurse for my mother’s hip surgery, and the Saturday before leaving- my MIL’s funeral) on Monday and flew out to Ireland on Tuesday. With 3 people I barely knew (despite the 23 videos sent to my yard manager I really didn’t know her too well). I was honestly exhausted and sick to my stomach with nerves. Probably not a great start.

First ones in both mornings….we won’t miss a horse!

I’m told an obligatory photo…

We got in on Tuesday afternoon and would be at the auctions all day Wednesday and Thursday, flying back Friday early afternoon. It’s crazy, fun experience that I recommend to anyone…and there’s horses for all abilities. Ponies in my budget, but I also saw a bid win at £20k only for the reserve not to be met. But don’t be fooled, it’s wicked hard work. Being new to horsing in general I was pretty overwhelmed with about 250-300 horses to look at, with 3 different arenas they travel through and then the auction ring right next to the jumping arena with auctions going all day long. Not to mention it was freezing cold and you’re on your feet from about 8am-5pm, running up to the stables, back down to the arenas. Trying to follow a horse you’re interested in, but also wanting to see if you can meet it in the stable beforehand or chat with the owner when all the horses arrive at different times. We had gone through the catalog and starred quite a few that sounded good…but you quickly go through that list. Maybe the horse is a jerk in the stable, maybe his conformation is shite and prone to injury, maybe it’s jump is massive, maybe it’s canter is too difficult to sit to, maybe the dealer lies and tells you the horse has been out and jumped around the arenas when you know for a fact that the horse has sat in the stable all day. It’s a total crapshoot. I don’t know if any of the 3 I was prepared to bid on were ones initially starred from the book.

Horse #1 was a slow moving gal from a private seller. Definitely something that I could be riding away on immediately. The opposite of buzzy. Problem was, she looked like hell. Definitely had worms, no condition, they didn’t clip her, a mangy beast. I wasn’t excited about her but knew I needed to be rational and she would be a safe bet for a first pony. The YM thought her worth to about £2,500 TOPS. So we bid on her and had a £2,000 winning bid didn’t meet the reserve. We found them afterward and they wanted £3k. We tried to negotiate and give them £2,500, but they weren’t having it so we let them walk away.

Horse #2 I really liked. Probably because he wasn’t a damn grey! We were all set that we were going to bid on him and I was stoked. But the owner was a friend of a friend and we told him how novice I was and he discouraged me from bidding because he thought the horse would be too green for me. Funny enough he claimed he had the perfect horse for me and then I saw the freaking thing and was terrified of it- a massive horse with a MASSIVE jump…. that ended up going for over £8k anyway (WAY out of budget!)

Horse #3 is Hamish. Actually, his official name is Corker Creppello and he had no barn name. Yeah, that’s right, I named that damn grey Irish horse a Scottish name. It was near the end of the last day and he was a bit of a last ditch, hail mary effort. He was in my budget and he’s a nice type. Being only 5 he is VERY green, and to be honest, I’m not really even cantering on him yet. But the nice thing about a young, green horse is that there is LOADS of growth potential. And honestly, he’s made such a better rider of me and given me so much more confidence already (not without knocking it down frequently as well). It’s a bit backwards that we have to stumble in the dark (okay, not totally dark, I take about 3 lessons on him a week, get him schooled by my instructor, and get loads of help from staff…so maybe stumble through poor lighting is a better description) and learn from each other what works and what feels nice.

It’s funny how things changed. I started with a budget of £2K to MAYBE £2,500. That went up to £3,000 – which Hamish just snuck under (and to be honest I would have gone £3,500 because at this point I was so exhausted I just wanted to move on from horse shopping). But my budget wasn’t ever including things like vetting, sales tax (in the case of the auction), transportation home (more expensive when he is coming from Ireland of course), personal transportation to see horse (again, more expensive involving flights and hotel rooms).   It makes me wonder, what if I just had a £4-£5k budget from the start?! Ah well….I did learn a lot in the process! (I am learning that horse people are fantastic and finding some sort of positive out of horse shit and are exemplerary at ignoring blaring truths, most commonly: horses are stupid money pits).

And then beyond budget, Hamish is definitely not an easy schoolmaster. And he is a stupid (but totally handsome) grey. And I know we’re not riding off into the sunset or anything. And though my confidence is up he is a total bloody chancer and every month or so tests the boundaries that unfortunately, sometimes still results in me being a bit scared of him. But almost every horse would do that. Schoolmaster or not…horses aren’t perfect. And I appreciate Hamish’s cheek…He’s got personality and it’s never almost never mean spirited. And maybe it’s my complete naive-ness talking (or just ignoring the blaring turhts), but I’m super hopeful of the future I have with Hamish. Actually, I was just told given a little encouragement to sign up for our first Intro Dressage test to give us something to work towards. Which is a whole new level of terrifying exciting…

Don’t worry, I can’t imagine there won’t be an epic blog post on how right before Hamish and I fell into a pile of shit and then went into the arena where he spooked at a funny looking plant and took off across the highlands dismounting me with a broken rib…or something like that. High hopes right?

 

 

 

 

3 Comments

  1. Andrea

    Ah lovely Hamish. Money pits. Don’t sugarcoat it ?

    I loved the post. I would LOVE to have my own horse. But I’m struggling to just find a new barn that doesn’t want $80 a lesson. I’m having a heart attack over that price point.

    Reply
    1. Lauren (Post author)

      That price would just make me sick!! I can’t imagine trying to ride in London…I’m sure there riding is for the uber rich. Here it’s 48% rich, 48% poor where their whole life is their horses. I’m just the average 4%. Thought might go to the poor side as just has the emergency vet called out for Hamish last night…fingers crossed it’s just a wound and the bones are okay.

      Reply
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