Thursday, June 30, 2016 want to buy a horse of your own?

Purchasing a horse is a big step, but can be made a bit less scary and less complicated when you enlist the help of your trainer. 

The following is a breakdown of options and costs you can expect to incur related to your purchase.

  1. Trainer commission: Straight commission is 10%
  2. Sale barn: The seller will pay the commission to the sale barn and the buyer will pay the commission to their own trainer.
  3. In barn sale: This is a sale between two clients of the same trainer. Commission is 15% to be split between the buyer and the seller.
So, you may wonder, why are you paying a commission? The commission is for your trainer's knowledge and expertise, which will guide you through negotiating the price of a horse, and purchase. The trainer will shop online and through sale barns, to find horses within your parameters, and narrow down your options into an acceptable group for you and your trainer to see. Depending on your price point and parameters, you could also be shopping on your own or flying overseas to see horses with your trainer. If you choose to travel with your trainer, you are responsible for all costs including food and lodging, whether you travel 3 hours or 10,000 miles. Your trainer will be able to gauge the suitability of the horse by seeing and/or riding it, and will notice any conditions or abnormalities, that you may not, like swelling in the legs, odd confirmation that could eventually lead to lameness or a minor lameness that will be easily handled with veterinary assistance. Your trainer speaks the same language as the seller and is astute enough to recognize red flags or pick up on things left unsaid.

Congratulations, you've chosen to work with your trainer and are ready for the next step, a contract that states what is expected of each party, to eliminate any big surprises.  

Discussing your budget is the first thing your trainer will need to do with you when horse shopping and your wish list comes next.  Your wish list can be as simple as, "quiet, under 17 years old, and a $5000 budget", or as in depth as, "I want a rose gray Warmblood gelding, 7 years old, able to jump around 3.6', with the ability to go higher, at least second level dressage base, no taller than 16.1, very loving, no rear, buck or bolt, great on trail, and a budget of $20,000."

The first wish list example is so vague that it would have you out looking at hundreds of sale horses. While this leaves a lot of flexibility, your trainer will only want to see ones you have preselected, since viewing all horses for sale in that range will not utilize your time effectively. If you absolutely prefer your trainer accompanies you at every horse viewing, be prepared to spend upwards of $50/hour for your trainer’s time, unless a purchase is made and the commission covers that viewing fee. The second wish list example, on the other hand, has such precise parameters that it will be a harder to find a horse to satisfy all characteristics, but with the narrowed field, there will be significantly fewer horses to go see. 

Optimally, you'll want to give your trainer more information than the first wish list example, while remaining a bit more open minded than the second. Your trainer will be able to give you options that meet most criteria, but may be the wrong color, or a little older/younger. It is best to keep an open mind and remember that the best horse may not match your wish list entirely, but you should always go look at a horse if your trainer recommends it. You never know when you’re going to have a connection with a horse, as one buyer found out. She told her trainer she would never ever own a mare, much less a chestnut mare. When her trainer brought a great prospect in for her to try, that just so happened to be a chestnut mare, it ended up being her horse of a lifetime. You just never know.

That exciting day has arrived. You’ve found a horse that you love, and your search is over. It's time to let your trainer finish the job, by scheduling a vet check with a vet he trusts. This exam can be as in-depth as a full work up and x-rays of all joints and feet, or a simple lameness exam. This all depends on the price point and intended use of the horse. The trainer will use the information from the vet to negotiate the sale of the horse. It is always good to be prepared that in the eventuality a lameness or potential lameness is found during the vet check, it will make for a no sale.

We hope this helps with your horse buying process and leaves you better prepared and less surprised at your costs when going into the horse market. 

Monday, June 20, 2016

Opening the Lines of Communication

Are you working with a trainer or just taking lessons. Believe it or not, there is a huge difference and things you shouldn't take for granted. 

If you make the decision to embark on a working relationship with a trainer, that trainer will need to be included in the decisions you make regarding your horse. In contrast, when you choose to just take lessons, you have the option to make those same decisions all by yourself, enlist the help of friends, crowd source on social media for help, or research information from books and magazines. I like social media because it can often be very useful. Did you know there are many alternative ways to treat thrush? A social media post recommending stuffing a banana peel in the frog crevasse was one of the most interesting, and my favorite.

When you're working with a trainer, courtesy and etiquette dictates that you shouldn't ask another trainer, or your friend, to come help you work on a problem with your horse. Your first instinct should be to enlist your trainer's advice or help. After all, she is the expert, and you hired her based on her expertise. You probably wouldn't ask a friend to diagnose a problem with your car just because they also own a car, you would go to a mechanic. So as a good rule of thumb, you should first consult your trainer before you call a vet, or if you need help with finding a farrier. Odds are pretty darn good that your trainer has worked for years to establish good relationships with vets and farriers, and most of these professionals would rather speak to the trainer who has care, custody, and control of many horses, rather than a new owner. That's not to say the new owner shouldn't be in the loop. They should absolutely be involved in all decisions and recommendations. The trainer should be able to act as a translator of sorts, between the two, in communicating with the vet and/or farrier.  

Your trainer is also your best resource for advancing your riding skills, and you should receive practice “homework” to get you from one lesson to the next. This "homework" can include things like working without stirrups, following hand or sitting a trot. Just as it is very important that you do these assignments, it is just as important to listen when you trainer says not to do certain things on your own, like practicing slide stops or spins, cantering or jumping, or anything your trainer says you shouldn't do outside of a lesson situation. It is always in your best interest to make sure you check with your trainer (or barn owner) to see what is and isn’t allowed. Trainers have reasons to request that you not do certain things outside of lessons. These requests are made to keep you and your horse safe. There are loads of variables involved in teaching and training horses and even seasoned riders can make mistakes, when they choose not to listen to the advice of their trainer, resulting in injury to themselves or their horses.

So you've been working with your trainer, and you’re doing your "homework" one evening. You're practicing trot/canter/trot transitions, but some jumps are set up and catch your eye. They look like more fun than transitions, it’s your horse, and even though your trainer asked you not to jump outside of lessons, what harm could there be? The answer is more harm than good, because now you've started down a slippery slope. But you proceed anyway and miss the distance into the grid, on a jump that's barely two feet. Your horse is landing on only one front foot at a time and scrambling. Your trainer isn’t there to encourage you to sit up and remind you to help your horse find his balance and shorten his stride, so you just muddle through it. Say hello to ligament damage that could have easily been avoided. 

For those riders in the “I’m just taking lessons” category, you still need to listen to your trainer’s advice. Yes, you’re an adult, it’s your horse, and you’ve signed the waiver. And, of course you can do what you want to do. But is it a good idea to jump down off an embankment, land off to the side, cause your horse to pull the suspensory ligament, same side you landed on. No, this is bad!  But you're not an expert, so you don't recognize this, and decide to try it again. Even though your horse tries to refuse, you push her through it, not realizing she is injured. Now you've taught your horse to associate the embankment with pain, and you've engineered a big training problem that can’t be addressed until after the injury has healed...6 months from now. 

Certainly injuries can happen even if you are following your trainer’s instructions, or working within lesson parameters, but at least you would have had someone on the ground to notice the limp and stop the madness before the injury became worse.  

What it boils down to is this; find a trainer with a good reputation for horsemanship as well as teaching, learn all you can, and then practice safety first. Horses are not bicycles that can go to the repair shop for a new part and be ready to ride again the next day. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Jack and Jill and the horrible no good very bad day

We've all had bad days, but put into perspective, some days are way worse than others.  So let's look at what constitutes a bad day with the examples of Jack and Jill. 

On a whim, Jill decided to try a local trail obstacle challenge. Although she had never done this before, she had been taking lessons to learn to be less heavy-handed and less bouncy in her seat. At the end of the day, Jill was pretty happy with how she and her horse had performed the challenge, but after seeing photos and videos from the day, she decided she definitely wanted to improve her riding. So Jill worked harder at her lessons, to better prepare for the next time. At the next obstacle challenge, Jill had softer hands and a better seat, but still placed lower than she had in the first challenge. It seems although she rode better, the obstacles were harder and unfamiliar. So Jill left disappointed, and chalked it up to a just a bad day. But was it really a bad day?  

From the trainers’ point of view, Jill had a great day. She rode better and more consistently than she had in the first challenge. She addressed each obstacle with clear intent, and even though her horse was misbehaving, Jill was a better rider. The first challenge was like a day of ignorance is bliss, but when the rider gained more knowledge it also brought with it higher expectations for a better score. After expressing her disappointment to her trainer, the trainer reminded her how each event and performance is subjective. Different judges score differently, and different clubs have different rules, so we have to take a few steps back in order to look at the overall picture. It’s kind of like a Seurat painting. From up close it is just a bunch of colored dots, but take a few steps back and it’s a stunning river picnic. So Jill and her trainer agreed that although it had been a frustrating day, it was definitely not a bad day. 

In contrast, let’s take a look at Jack’s day. Jack started out on his usual trail ride all by himself, and like always he was wearing his baseball cap, and riding with a loose cinch. But Jack is confident because his horse is a proven trail horse and absolutely bombproof. Just then, from out of nowhere, Jack's horse spooks as a plastic bag comes lofting towards them. That's right, even the "Bomb Proof" horse is still a horse. Jack is unprepared for this. His saddle slips sideways because of his loose cinch, and he falls from his horse. Jack's horse, in his panic, kicks Jack in the head with his hoof. Jack is in real trouble, but lucky for him, a local jogger sees the whole thing, dials 911, and helps get Jack loaded in the LifeFlight helicopter. The horse is eventually caught and returned to the barn. Ok, no argument here, Jack is having a horrible, no good very bad day. But even this could have been worse.

So, good day-bad day, it's all about perspective, and everything else is just a learning or teaching opportunity.