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'So You've Bought The Wrong Horse' - A Guide To Getting It Right (Most Of The Time)!

So here it is... the big one. That scary, wonderful, exciting, and daunting thing. The one us riders pretty much always think about, even when we don’t need to.

Buying a new horse.

God, it’s amazing isn’t it... horse shopping? Is there anything else more exciting?! Trawling through adverts looking at pretty pony after pretty pony. I guess this is what muggles feel like when they walk through Selfridges, or perhaps when they’re on Tinder. Theoretical horse shopping is fantastic. You WhatsApp photos and videos to your friends. They exclaim “Oh my God, you could go to HOYS on it.” Happy delirious morons aren’t we?!

And then the fear sets in. You’ve swiped right and now you’ve got to go on an actual date. What happens if I pick the wrong one? What happens if I use all my money to buy a gutless wonder that fears puddles more than death? What if it’s the only horse to see in colour and doesn’t want to jump pink fillers?! Or it’s a homebody that would rather stay in the field than get on to the box? Oh God, oh God, oh God, what happens if it won’t walk down the road?

It’s a daunting decision to make. It’s a pretty huge deal.

And so let me offer advice from the perspective of a dealer. Urgh, I hate that word. It conjures up images of Delboy and Rodney doesn’t it? Like I walk into pubs with an overcoat filled with horses.

Follow your heart.

I know right... you weren’t expecting that. PLOT TWIST!

All you hear is 'listen to your head and not your heart'. Well you want my opinion? Listen to your heart.

You want to know why kids usually pick the right pony and adults get the horse thing wrong alot of the time?

Kids haven’t learned to talk themselves in and out of something. They’re not stupid. They’re not going to smile while they sit staring into the face of imminent death because they’ve decided on paper that’s the type of pony they really ought to have, or it’s an absolute bargain for it’s breeding. They don’t usually have egos, they haven’t got a point to prove, but they know if something is boring or a level or two lower than what they enjoy. Or even better. When Mum is fairly certain she’s birthed the next Ellen Whittaker. We watch this lovely sweet child who would rather be playing mounted games than sat on the pony that goes like Concorde. They’re usually refusing to jump another cross pole because they want a Renault Twingo and not to be strapped into a 911. However, if they’re happy and they’re genuinely enjoying themselves and life is rather easy in that moment, then they usually dont want to get off, or certainly can’t wait to get back on again. And you know what, if you feel that way you’re probably on the right horse!

Take away all the media we read and watch. All the opinions of the other liveries or pony club mothers on the perfect breed, or height, or sex, or price, or (God forbid) colour. Basic human instinct has to prevail in these situations. If your natural defence system has started to shut down as your new horse friend has made you feel as comfortable as a non speaking animal can do, then listen! If you’re having more fun than a teenager on Tikok, then listen.

I’m not saying be unrealistic or irrational. Don’t turn up to try Hello Sanctos if you’ve got £5k to spend and the thought of a cross pole makes a little bit of wee come out. That would be silly.

Obviously budget is a huge dictator on what horse you’re buying, but...

Decide what it is you want to do eventually, what is it you’re aiming for. Decide your budget to include your vetting, transport and potentially new tack. For God’s sake have a vetting. People who don’t vet horses make me panic. You’re maniacs!

I know there’ll be the debaters that say “Oh it’s only an mot, it’s only good for the day.”

Well that’s good enough for me, let us at least start our relationship with four working legs, a pulse and two functioning eyes, even if it’s just for a day! I’m not going to get into the great X-ray debate..... let’s save that for another time.

The list is as important as the viewings. If you’re inexperienced with limited help, then a 4yo is probably not for you. If you’re 5ft on a good day then 18hh might be ambitious. If you need your hand holding whilst jumping then don’t be bought in by something pinging over the top of the wings, so careful it would rival Tom Cruise dangling off a ceiling in Mission Impossible.

Anyway, once we’ve narrowed it down, got our list and we’ve found appropriate horses to go and try, this is where it’s all about heart.

Take a friend, a trainer, someone to video you. Videos are very important! Trust me, you’ll want to watch the videos back when you’ve got home, just for your own reassurance.

But please don’t let anyone else talk you into or out of something. If you’re sat on a horse that you can afford, appears to be sound and is appropriate for your level of riding and aims. This is the important part. You should not want to get off. You should be so excited for the next time you can ride it.

No one is suggesting you should feel totally at home on a brand new horse that doesn’t know you, just as much as you don’t know it. You don’t need to suddenly evolve into Ben Maher and start jumping things that would rival the Severn Bridge. But if you have enjoyed yourself, if you have ridden round without thinking you could vomit up your pancreas at any moment, and you want to do the whole thing all over again, then you know what, this is probably your new horse! And this is what we call 'the feeling'. The feeling cannot be ignored.

Dont worry about the “Oh I didn’t want a mare or a grey or whatever.” Those are things us moronic adults put in our heads that are not important.

Trust me, you will not notice having to get up an hour earlier to bath your lovely kind grey before a show as much as you will if you have to drive home an hour earlier because the more practical bay keeps getting eliminated at fence two.

Let me tell you a story about a clueless idiot called Olivia. It was me. I was the clueless idiot.

I’ll set the scene... I was a young, ambitious rider. My initial experience of eventing with my first horse had gone so well. It was obvious I was quite clearly a natural, probably the next Lucinda, because I had found myself jumping pretty big tracks successfully so quickly, and clearly it had nothing to do with the paragon I had been riding. Everyone said I needed a beautiful flashy foreign horse, with a huge jump and an enormous engine. Just imagine what I could do in a Ferrari? Sigh... moron.

And so... Mickey.

He was beautiful. A 5 year old grey Dutch gelding with a fancy showname and a fancy dad. He trotted like he was coming down from heaven. He had more jump than any one horse would ever need and a face you would have committed fraud for.

Now here’s the important part.

I went to try him... dear God, he was stunning, but I didn’t get the feeling! I floated round on the flat with ease. I jumped a few big fences and down a grid. He was talented. He was easy. But I never got that tingle to say 'you’re the better half of me that I’m looking for'. I’d look down at this satin grey neck and think “He's so sexy!! This must be the one, because he’s beautiful and everyone tells me I need a fancy, floaty, foreign young horse."

But to tell the truth, I just never got the feeling...

And so begins a story that will make you want to hit me round the back of the head and say “What were you thinking?!”

I was a young rider with huge ambition, and no money. So here I was trying to find my ticket to the big time and I was prepared to work until my little legs fell off in order to get there. So I took a bank loan out... yes a bank loan... for ten thousand pounds. Ten thousand pounds!!! I was a child!! Why would the bank lend me ten thousand pounds for a horse?! But they did, and so Mickey was mine.

Mickey was a saint. For a well bred 5yo there wasn’t much you couldn’t do with him. So laidback and quiet, and maybe that should have been a warning.

Because...

It turned out that he hated eventing. I mean he hated it. He wasn’t scared, he was more than capable, but he just didn’t really like the running bit. He would have rather spent his days hacking or going to the beach than going to shows. We spent more time on our back legs than anywhere else. Corners of arenas drew us in like we were magnetised. Gates sucked us towards them like a vacuum. And the start box might as well have had a bungee chord in it, that brought us sailing back once we got over fence one.

How could he do this to me?! Didn’t he know he was an expensive, well bred horse, put on this earth to be a top eventer?!

Well in short, no he didn’t. He was who he was, he liked a slower pace of life and no one could convince him otherwise. That didn’t make him a bad horse. He wanted to be someone’s very, very pretty armchair. But I was sadly not looking for a piece of furniture. Looking back now I knew on the day I tried him he wasn’t for me. He didn’t bring me total joy, because we were different people looking for different things out of life!

I persevered for almost three years. Yes three years, and more tens of thousands of pounds later in keeping him. Convincing myself that if I worked as hard as I could to be better, it would be the fairytale ending! And sometimes there would be better days that would give me some shred of hope to cling on to. I mean he seriously jumped, and God didn’t his face look so pretty over the stable door; 'I can’t believe I own that'.... but mostly there would be frustrating days. How hard to see the full package everyone had told me I needed stood there in my stable. The package I had worked so hard to pay the bank off for so that I could be the one to collect ribbons on him... and he just didn’t really feel like it. And here’s the truth, we just weren’t a match!

And so eventually I threw the towel in, and accepted he was looking for a home in which he could be a bicycle and go on a daily ride around the village.

So here’s the lesson. Money doesn’t always make the difference. Just because you came from a fancy stud, with a fancy passport, doesn’t mean you’ll go to Badminton. Just because you look like Brad Pitt, doesn’t mean you'll be the hero. And if you go to try a nice horse and you’re not totally bouncing off the walls with the thought of getting back on, there’s probably a reason! That’s probably not your horse.

Our hearts tell us so much more than our unreliable heads do, so sit up and listen!

Good luck with your search, look out for 'the feeling', and absolutely do not apply this rule to romantic partners... trust me, I’ve trialled it. It’s unreliable at best.

Liv Catton
Horsemart Content Contributor
Published on 22-04-2020
Liv runs a competition and sales yard in Cheshire, specialising in the production and sales of 14.2s. This is also where her two naughty pomskies can be found digging up the arena surface or stealing somebody’s grooming kit. She events and showjumps a few horses throughout the year, including her own horse Twix, who is as equally naughty as the dogs. Liv is proud to be sponsored by Devoucoux and Keyflow Feeds. She also does some body doubling work for TV shows whenever possible. She is a huge supporter of all things pink and sparkly and is known for her unicorn branding. When not riding horses she can be found with her long-suffering non-equestrian partner, who isn’t totally crazy about the horses but doesn’t mind the dogs so much.