How to Buy a Horse in 6 Easy Steps

I just went through the process of buying my very own unicorn, and I am now an expert.

LAWLZ nope, I told my trainer I wanted to buy a horse, we tried a couple, we failed a vetting, we tried some more, and now I have a pretty pony. It seemed to be a pretty smooth process- smoother than usual.

BUT

I do think that a big reason this process went so smoothly is because of certain steps that my trainer and I took ahead of time. So I’m going to share my experience of buying a horse, in the hopes that it may help someone wondering how this whole thing works.

1. Took a long hard look at my budget. An honest look. I broke out my budgeting into two parts:

  • Monthly expenses: I did not want to be dipping into savings every month to pay board. I knew monthly expenses can vary widely: will I want to put my horse into full or partial training? Do they need supplements? Special shoes? Do I plan to go to shows? I talked to my barn owner about rates. For me, monthly expenses include regular board (which includes hay, grain, stall, turnout, blanketing, and a whole bunch of other things), lessons (I lesson once a week, hack 4-5 days, and get 1-2 days off), farrier, horse show expenses (including trailering, coaching fees, and entry fees), and insurance (you bet your butt The Handsome is insured). Of course these will change month-to-month, but I tried to be REALISTIC about these expenses. Here’s how I looked at it:

Monthly paycheck – necessities – fun money – savings = $ for horse stuffs

Necessities = rent, utilities, insurance, groceries, gas

Fun money = going out to eat, movies, entertainment, clothes, etc.

Savings = I know we all want to plug our ears and ignore the future, but my future self will thank me, even if  I just put away $20 a month. There are too many unknowns in life, and it is a huge comfort to know that I won’t ruin my credit trying to pay for those unknowns.

  •  Lump sum expenses: this is the stuff that came out of my savings up front: the horse itself (obviously) and all the gear I needed. If you already have most of the gear you need- great! I did not. So I did some research and figured out what I would need to purchase in order to bring home a pony. I also prioritized this list- the weather is getting warmer, so I’m not going to worry about buying a heavy blanket yet (unless there’s an awesome sale obviously). I also didn’t want to deplete my savings. What if the horse needs emergency vet care, or my car breaks down, or I need to go to the ER for something? I wanted to leave myself a generous cushion. Basically this is how I approached it

$ I currently have in savings – $ for gear – $ for cushion = $ for pony

2. Work with a trainer I trust. This trust part is huge! My trainer was my advocate in the process- it was reassuring to know they were looking out for my best interest.

  • Talk about the logistics of buying. What will my trainer be doing for me, and what am I responsible for? In my case, my trainer handled the whole process from start to finish. I sent her sale ads and she took a look at them, but ultimately she found my unicorn through her own industry connections and then arranged the trials, and also handled all the negotiations when I decided to make an offer. NOTE: any service comes with a fee. My trainer took a commission (more than fair given that she did all of that work!). I had to factor this into my budget! We also talked about other expenses that could pop up during the process: average PPE cost, partial board for a trial period, etc.
  • Once we established what all the “extras” cost, we talked budget. You may have $5,000 available in your budget, but once you factor in commission, vet exam, and all the other expenses, that may be closer to $4,000. Remember that $ for pony equation above? That really looks more like this:

$ for pony – $ for vetting – $ for commission – $ for random other stuff = ACTUAL $ for pony

  • Talk about what I wanted. Are you looking to break into the High Adult Jumpers (yes!), or do you want a trail companion (also yes!)? Are you planning on showing in the hunters (sure!), or do you want to move up the levels in dressage (why not?!)? Do you want to show (totally!)? Local or rated (all of the above!)? Are there any habits that make you nervous? What are your goals for the future? We all know plans can change, but having an idea of what I wanted to do with this horse made sure my trainer didn’t match me up with something who couldn’t take me where I want to go. I had to be realistic within my budget: I would’ve loved a 17.3 imported warmblood who could do the GPs and learn his own jumpoff course. Alas, my salary has not magically quintupled in the last few months, so we talked about what I could realistically expect to get in my price range.

3. Start trying horses! This is the fun part. My trainer hopped on every horse before I even saw them- mostly because I fall in love with every single pony I sit on because THEY’RE ALL SO PRETTY AND I LOVE THEM and she wanted to evaluate without me babbling on about how sweet and wonderful the pony was. Only after she gave the seal of approval did she even tell me about ponies to try. I went back and tried the Handsome out a second time so I could handle him on the ground a bit more to decide if we could be buddies.

Buying is a horse is a huge investment. I wanted to make sure we got along! I had my priorities- for me it was super important to find something I could have fun on. Yes, I want to compete, and yes, I want to win, but I’m not headed to the Olympics. 90% of the time we’ll just be riding at home, and I wanted something I could feel safe on and play around with.

4. Get the vet out. Check out magic pony’s health. Will he need supplements? Injections? Special shoes? Does he secretly have a broken leg he’s been hiding? Get all the facts. My vet was a great guide about how in depth to go with the vetting. With one vetting we didn’t bother with any x-rays, but we got a few x-rays for the Handsome to act as a baseline in case anything happens in the future.

5. Negotiate. Time to start figuring out what number I’d be writing on that check as I numbly signed away my life’s savings! This can be as simple as deciding on a number, or it can get a little more complicated. Is the owner willing to consider a payment plan? Maybe you’re willing to pay asking price, but only if they throw in the horse’s blankets.

6. Stuff my new unicorn’s face with cookies. I have now successfully bought the pony of my dreams.

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Introducing the Handsomest Pony!!

As you all know, a few weeks ago I had The Talk with my trainer, and we decided to go on a search for my very own unicorn. We very quickly found a super cute chestnut, and just as quickly realized that while he was a FANTASTIC pony, he wasn’t our pony.

So the search continued.

And we found Frankie.

I won’t even keep you in suspense: Frankie is perfectly perfect in every way. I’m totally not biased or anything, that’s just scientific fact.

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Happy pony has the sweetest face!!!
He’s a 10 year old Oldenburg x TB, 17hh, dark bay without a single bit of chrome (and it looks like his summer coat has some lovely dapples), and I LOVE HIM. 

  

  
He’s been a foxhunter for a couple years a.k.a. SUPER brave and nonchalant about everything, and has been doing some lower level eventing lately. We think he’s going to be the perfect jumper.

Side note to the eventers out there: do you know the name Phyllis Dawson? She went to the Olympics for the U.S. back in the day. She’s the one that sold us Frankie, and she called him a “jumping machine.” So yeah, no big deal, an Olympian just called my boy a jumping machine. Super casual.

On the flat, he’s super duper comfortable. He could use a bit more polish before we step into the eq ring, but he’s very willing to do whatever I ask of him. He really gets swinging beautifully over his back in the canter and is very easy to leg up into the bridle. He also has the rhythm of a metronome- you could seriously set your watch to the consistency of his stride.

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Covering SO MUCH GROUND

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I don’t know if you can tell, but this is on a pretty loose rein. I think we’re gonna be able to do the eq just fine.

Which makes it really easy to see a distance on him. It doesn’t matter what the jump looks like or how high it is, he approaches it with the same steady stride. Which is a POWERFUL stride- even when I got tight to a one stride, he powered out with very little assistance from me. He’s a little rusty on his changes- because he’s been a foxhunter, he’s never really been asked for them- but I got a couple and I don’t think it’ll be a problem to install them. He’s got the brain, the balance, and the muscle.

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Like, SUPER nonchalant about this oxer. Which was out of a one-stride combo.

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Because I am an ammy, I totally buried him to the base of this big wide 3’3″ oxer. And then accidentally jabbed him in the side with my spurs. How did he react? By jumping it without a problem, landing and loping away, and giving me a clean lead change. Homeboy does not hold a grudge.
He’s also a big sweetheart. He loves scratches and snuggles and has fantastic manners. It was so important to me to find a horse than I could be buddies with, and Frankie fits that bill perfectly! So let’s see what my checklist was:

  • Good attitude. Yup. He’s kind, he’s friendly, he’s sweet, he’s willing.
  • Safe. Yup. He’s super sane and bombproof.
  • Able to jump. YUP. He basically took a slightly bigger canter stride over a 3’3″ oxer. We may want to teach him to use his  body a bit better, but he has scope for days.
  • That “X” factor. You know that feeling when you sit on a horse and something just clicks into place? Like not only could you be partners in the future, but you’re already partners. He’s got that.

The vet came out Tuesday and loved him just as much as I did. He’s sound, maintenance-free, an easy keeper, and ready to get to work. Less than 24 hours after the vetting, Frankie is home and settling into his new life with me.

Already mooching for treats. He knows a sucker when he sees one.

This big brown boy is going to be spoiled rotten. I can’t wait for our adventures together.

2016 Goals

I’m a little late to this party, aren’t I? But better late than never!

Let’s start by taking a look at my 2015 goals:

  • Get comfortable schooling full courses at 3’3″. Yep! It’s rare that every single jump in our lessons is a full 3’3″, but I’ve been quite comfortable popping over whatever height is set.
  • Jump 3’6″ regularly. “Regularly” may be a strong word, but we’ve done this with varying levels of consistency and been very happy doing so.
  • Compete in the Adult Equitation Medal class at least once. Competed in the Dover and Ariat adult medals down in Ocala! I guess this was technically in 2016, not 2015, but whatever. This is my blog, I can bend the rules however I want. YOLO.
  • Try a jumper class. Lawlz yes I’ve done this lots.
  • Make it to an “A” horse show. Ocala FTW.
  • Learn how to braid manes and tails. I actually did some practicing! I wouldn’t hire me, but I definitely get the theory and can/should keep practicing.
  • Live through a lesson without stirrups. A full lesson? Ehhhhhh. But I can last as long as my trainer asks us to without dying, which feels like an eternity.
  • Go on at least one trail ride. We spent lots of time last summer/fall exploring off property, and I can’t wait to get back out once it warms up again!
  • Keep my confidence up. So far so good! Of course I’ll have some nervous moments, but I’ve been able to take a deep breath and give myself a little pep talk.

Not too shabby, amiright??? Time to come up with some ideas for the next year! Here goes:

  • Buy a horse. This is an obvious one that I’ve talked about a couple times so far, so I won’t belabor the point. I would love to have a magical unicorn to call my very own.
  • Improve my lower leg. I have decent eq in general, but I’ve noticed that my lower leg stability doesn’t have the level of consistency that I’d like. Some days it’s great, other days it looks like a turd sandwich.
  • Learn how to ride a variety of horses. I’ve been lucky enough to ride horses that I get along with really well, and of course the DragonMare has been a blast. But I don’t just want to be good at riding Addy, I want to be good at riding horses. If anyone in northern VA needs their horse exercised, let me know! I probably won’t be able to make them better, but I’m 80% sure I won’t completely ruin them. Probably.
  • Show in a jumper class at 1m. This depends on a variety of things, mainly what horse I’ll be riding. If I end up with a show-ready horse, this could happen rather soon. But if we decide to take on a younger horse, we will be taking our time to slowly build up experience.
  • Go double clear 60% of the time. I’d obviously like to shoot for 100% of the time, but lets be realistic here. I’m an ammy and I make silly mistakes. If I can go clear more often than not, I’ll be happy.
  • Learn more about training green horses. I find the process of teaching a young horse fascinating. We have a couple RRP horses at our barn that are coming along nicely and I’d like to observe, and I plan to ask tons and tons and tons of questions/do lots of reading on this topic. Readers: I’d love any insight you have in this area, I know lots of you have brought along your own green horses!

I think that covers the big ones for now. Any suggestions for other goals to put on the list?

I also have a question for you, that I’d love to put together into a blog post. I’ll also be asking this on Twitter/Instagram, so feel free to answer there!

When you bought your first horse, what were some surprise purchases you had to make? We all know that we need a bridle, girth, etc., but what did you end up needing that wasn’t on your list?

Horse Shows and Vettings and Lessons, Oh My!

Hold onto your butts, because this post is going to be a bit of a fast-lane-let’s-talk-about-lots-of-things-all-at-once type of things.

Let’s get started.

The chromey chestnut I teased you with pictures of: we had the vet out to give him a thorough head-to-toe, and ended up deciding not to make an offer. He’s a FANTASTIC horse and will make someone very happy, and I had a blast riding him! But in the end, I’m looking for a jumper to take me up to 1.10m, and that’s going to be a tough job. We are happily continuing the hunt (my trainer is checking out 4 today) and I will keep you all updated! I have to say, I’m really really enjoying this whole process. I’m getting to try out some phenomenal horses and I learn something new from every horse I sit on, my vet has been incredible about explaining everything he’s looking at so I’m learning tons about conformation and soundness, and it’s a great excuse to say “sorry I can’t go out tonight, I’ll be at the barn.” Good stuff all around.

It’s been really interesting to talk through what we MUST have versus what’s NICE to have. With a fairly limited budget there’s going to be plenty we have to compromise on and we’re being realistic about that. What we MUST have: a good brain/attitude and athletic ability/potential. Basically, a horse that can jump and likes to jump. Any sort of polish or mileage we can work on- I’m not in any rush to make it to the big leagues, and I’m fine with taking some time to develop a diamond in the rough (under the guidance of my trainers who are infinitely better at this type of thing, of course). My trainer knows exactly what kind of ride I like and what my goals are, so I can’t wait to try out any ponies she thinks could be the magical unicorn!

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We went to a show! I took the DragonMare to a small local jumper show to play around in the 2’9″-3′ division and we had a blast. We had a nice relaxed warmup where she softened nicely to the jumps and loped around all sweet….and then she heard the buzzer and transformed back into the Beast. Which is fine by me! I did have to waterski a little to get her attention on occasion, but we were flying around the courses and having a blast. I even got to meet Shelby from blogland and her horse Justin! How cool is it to meet someone in person and instantly have that bond?? She and Justin are also TOTAL freakin’ rockstars and you definitely need to keep up with their adventures.

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I also loved this show because a younger rider (she’s 12 or 13) joined us for her first show with our barn. D’Arcy (thecluelessbutcuriousrider) and I took her under our wing and showed her the ins and outs- how to load up the trailer, tricks for memorizing courses, helping each other tack up, things like that. She was so sweet and enthusiastic about joining in, it made me so happy! For those of you who don’t know, I worked as a camp counselor for a couple summers and there are few things that make me happier than hanging out with tweens and ponies and sharing ideas. Especially when the kiddos have good attitudes and want to work hard and learn! It makes my heart sing.

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This was likely my last show with Addy since I’ll be saving my pennies to buy my unicorn, and I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out. It was a year to the day after our very first show together and it was pretty insane to compare the two shows. From clomping around the 2’6″ hunters to galloping around the 3′ jumpers, this mare has taught me so much. She has certainly challenged me in different ways, pushed me to be the best rider I can be for her, pushed me to learn different ways to communicate, and above all else, she has reminded me that this sport is SO MUCH FUN.

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I could go on and on and on about everything this horse has given me: the joy of flight, the confidence that I can handle any garbage thrown our way, the muscles and physical strength to feel good in my body, the companionship on hard days, the sweet kisses and scratches, the belief in my own leadership skills that has translated to every area of my life, and so much more. I’m tearing up just writing this down! But you can all rest assured that no matter what happens, I will be loving on the DragonBeast and thanking her every single day.

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I’ve also had a couple great rides with the DragonBeast lately. I think a lot of the bobbles we’ve run into in the past are slowly resolving, and we’ve been having a ton of fun with it. I’ve been feeling more confident which translates into softer, more relaxed riding, which translates into a softer, more relaxed horse. I’m feeling much stronger after Ocala bootcamp and that has let me pick Addy up and carry her over the jumps when necessary. I also think that starting the horse hunt has taken some of the pressure off- I’m not trying to move up on Addy anymore. We can focus on fixing our mistakes and having fun together without worrying about whether or not she would be happy doing the 1m jumpers.

 

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In non-horse news, my job has been awesome lately! I got to speak briefly at a conference in front of 350 people this week which was SO FUN. I’m not particularly good at public speaking, but I really enjoy it and hopefully they’ll let me keep practicing.

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And I get to wear fancy clothes!

My work wife/twin and I have gotten to work together roughly 38 hours out of the 40 we’re in the office each week which makes everything waaaay more fun.

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Yeah, we have matching mugs. You can be jealous.

LASTLY

I want to thank this whole community. In good times and in not-so-good times, people from blogland have reached out to share in the joys and troubles. I sound like a broken record lately- I have the absolute best support system a girl could ask for! As I was just telling one of these awesome ladies the other day, it makes me smile so big that there’s this network of badass women all over the country/world rooting for each other and offering a helping hand! I’m sending virtual hugs to all of you. Unless you’re not a hug person. Just kidding, you’re getting the virtual hug no matter what. I’m a hugger.

Update on the Horse Hunt

 
Things are by no means anywhere near final, and I have no details to give…

…but I wouldn’t mind if you all crossed your fingers real tight and sent some good vibes my way.