Sunday, January 29, 2012

Horse Buying

Is this a good time to buy a horse?  Lots of people are really excited about the prices they have seen in the horse classified websites, and at their neighborhood barns.  Horses that have been for sale for a while are getting their prices reduced, and you truly can find some bargains, but does this reflect a change in the market, or has it always been this way?  And more to the point, is it right for you?

I have always been able to find a bargain for my students and clients, but my version (and theirs) may be a bit different than those who are not experienced with buying horses (this is true for trainers/instructors as well as for students/clients).

So I believe the true price of horses has not changed in relation to the dollar:value ratio.  Good, healthy, well-trained horses still bring the same price they always have (that doesn't mean that I can't negotiate a much better price than you can), and unhealthy, ill-trained, untalented horses (even if they are all shiny on the outside) are still the cheap ones.

I believe that the truest bargain is the horse that is well-trained and well-maintained, healthy, honestly presented and reasonably priced.   It seems like that should be a given, but nothing could be further from the truth.

There is very little regulation in the sale of horses, and even less ability to recover loss.  Sellers vary from from crooked horse dealers to honest horse dealers, to knowledgeable trainers/instructors to bad instructors/trainers, to backyard owners to people who have no business having a horse or an animal of any kind.  And you cannot pick out which are which even in a lineup.  It doesn't matter whether the seller is dishonest intentionally, or out of ignorance or being barn-blind---a lie is a lie.  Can you tell when someone is lying to you, or withholding truth?  Even if they think it is the truth?  Are you willing to pay for it?

That is where your trainer/instructor comes in.  They know your level of experience, proficiency in handling/riding, your knowledge of costs, and where/how the prospective horse will reside.

If your instructor is very experienced, and with a good and well-known reputation in the horse industry, they can find real bargains for you in every reasonable price range.  But the definition of a bargain changes with each client, and with each horse.  Good instructors/trainers know this, too.

A good instructor/trainer will guide you in the horse-buying experience.  They will NOT pressure you into buying a horse.  They may suggest that you are ready for one based on their regular work with you on their own school horses, but a red flag should go up if they start with the pressure tactics.  When you are ready to buy is ultimately up to you and no one else!

In fact, a good instructor will probably counsel you to proceed cautiously if you bring up the subject of horse-purchase.  A good instructor will sit down with you and discuss your current level of proficiency in riding (and especially your proficiency in horsemanship, stable management, etc.), your cost commitment, and your time commitment, as well as other indirect aspects of horse ownership.  There is a lot to cover!  If they don't discuss this with you, more red flags should go up for you!  Horses live into their twenties, and many times beyond that, and you need to know what you are in for!  Don't expect your trainer to pussyfoot around!  If they don't scare you, they haven't told you the truth!  You have to really want this, even after discussing all the ins and outs.

If you are fully aware of what you are getting yourself into (and it coincides with your personal goals), you should put yourself into your trainer's hands.  Allow him/her to represent you fully in the transaction, and pay him/her accordingly!  It is cheaper in the long run (and many times, even in the short run).

What you should pay your trainer varies widely.  An industry standard is 10% of the purchase price of the horse, plus any expenses incurred in the search (phone bills, gas, meals while travelling, airfare if applicable, advertising if applicable, etc.).  This is in addition to the purchase price of the horse!  But again, this is absolutely worth the price.  You should never, ever go horse shopping without your professional!

There are other formulas for compensation, but make sure that the terms are clear and in writing before any work is done on your behalf!

If you don't have a trainer/instructor whom you are currently working with and trust, do not even look for a horse right now!  Find yourself a professional, experienced, qualified instructor and start taking lessons first.  Give it some time, make sure YOU have the skills necessary to own a horse (you must acquire these skills even if the horse will be boarded), and then when you have a good working relationship with the instructor, let him/her find the horse of your dreams.

That way, it has the best chance of succeeding, and not becoming your worst nightmare.

If you would like to contact me about this or any other horse-related issue, please email me at  or visit my website at

Next up---reasonable expectations when purchasing a horse.......

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Continuing the Dressage Clinic Etiquette

There are a lot of variables in clinics, which can make defining the etiquette on the day of the clinic a bit difficult.

But here are some standards:

If you are riding--

You and your horse should be in top shape, able to execute a 45 minute rigorous workout.  Please don't show up out of shape, or out of condition.

Of course, your horse should have his coggins test and shots up to date, his teeth floated, and his hooves/shoes done within 3 weeks prior to the clinic.

You and your horse must be groomed as if you are at a show.  You may or may not braid, but the horse should be clipped, bathed and groomed to his finest condition.

His tack should fit him well, be in good condition, and be clean and conditioned.  The bits should be clean and polished.  The saddle pads should be washed and sparkly clean.

You should be wearing an ASTM approved riding helmet, classy breeches, tall boots, a fitted shirt (short or long sleeves), belt, and gloves.  Everything should be clean and in good repair.  You should carry a regulation whip and wear spurs if your horse is used to them.

Determine well before your ride time whether the clinician wants to see you warm your horse up as part of the lesson, or whether you should warm up before the ride time.  Give yourself plenty of time.

Be in the arena on time.

Listen to the clinician.  Your ears are only open when your mouth is closed.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't give feedback, but be open-minded and try what the clinician tells you, even if it is a foreign concept.

That said, if the clinician asks you to do something that you fundamentally disagree with, or that you feel is not in the best interest of your horse, you MUST be your horse's advocate.  It is okay to refuse to do something that you do not feel comfortable with.  Explain to the clinician why you feel the way you do.  Chances are they will find another way to deal with an issue.

If you are auditing--

Pay the auditing fee as soon as you arrive.

Bring a chair.

Bring your own concessions (lunch is sometimes included in the audit fee, but don't assume--ask; and additional refreshments are almost always your responsibility).

Turn off your cellphone before you enter the clinic area.  If you must keep your phone on, at least turn it on vibrate, and GO OUTSIDE if you absolutely have to answer it.  Make sure that you are well out of earshot of the clinician, the rider, and the audience if you need to have a conversation on the phone.  And remember, if you are talking on the phone, you are not learning anything from the clinician, whom you have paid money to!

Enter the clinic area as quietly as possible if there is a lesson going on when you arrive.

Don't carry on a conversation with your fellow audience members.  Not only are you not learning, you are preventing those around you from hearing as well.

Don't ask questions or interrupt the clinician unless the format is specifically including the audience (this type of clinic is usually called a "symposium").  It is okay to talk with the clinician in between rides if there is time and the opportunity.

When you leave, make sure you clean up your space and leave it better than it was before you got there.

Can anyone think of anything else?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dressage Clinic Etiquette

The definition of a "dressage clinic" is a short-term opportunity to have an intense lesson or two from a trainer that you admire/respect who is not normally available to you.  This clinic should be in addition to your regular lessons with your regular trainer/instructor.  Ideally, it should recur several times per year, but it should NOT be the only help you get with your horse unless you are a successful trainer yourself (and if you are, you already know that you need regular help because no one can successfully train/maintain a horse on their own....even the top trainers in the world ride with someone--in most cases everyday, but that is a different topic).

A Host offers a clinic with a trainer/instructor for several reasons:
1. The trainer/instructor is a person who does not live in the immediate area, and is someone who the Host themselves would like to take a lesson(s) from, or already does take lessons from.
2. The Host would like to offset costs of their own education by bringing the clinician to their barn rather than travelling to the trainer's barn (often in another state, country or even continent)
3. The Host has a facility (or access to one) that is conducive to optimal training that other riders in the area may not have (a standard dressage arena with good footing, a covered arena, mirrors, lights, etc).

Right off the bat, let me dispel a myth--
In every single instance, the Host does not make money on the clinic, trust me.

The Host commits their time, energy, and money into getting the clinician there, which means paying at least some of the costs up front. Airplane travel, accommodations, transport costs, and food/drink for the clinician are NOT FREE. Further, the price that the clinician charges is a per day charge, not a per ride charge since they are giving up potential income from regular lessons at their own facility to be in your area.
Depending on the level of experience and popularity of the clinician the per day cost to the organizer for the clinic fee alone is typically between $800-2000.00.  And the clinician will only teach 8 hours per day, maximum.  So base price of a ride will be a minimum of $100.00, plus expenses (which vary widely, depending on the other costs listed).  All these indirect costs have to be included in the price of each ride, or the host loses money by subsidizing your ride.  Not only is that not fair, no one can afford to do that.

So, here is your Etiquette part:

If someone contacts you about riding in a clinic, get all the details from the beginning:
     The date of the clinic
     The name and bio of the clinician (if you don't already work with them)
     The details of the lessons (private, semi-private, work in hand, clinician rides your horse, longe
                     lesson for you, etc.)
     The price of a ride
     The price of auditing
     The price of stabling
     The deadline for accepting/declining
     Date of deposit
     Date of final payment
     Details about refunds, filling rides, waiting lists, auditing, videoing, concessions onsite, and
              anything else you can think of that will make your ride live up to your expectations

The second you accept an invitation to ride, you accept responsibility for payment in full.
If the host is pre-planning, meaning she is accepting tentative commitments prior to reserving the dates for the clinician, then she may accept a deposit, refundable up to the point that she actually reserves the dates and makes travel arrangements for the clinician.
If a deposit is required, make sure you send it within 24 hours of oral acceptance of the invitation.  Before you accept the invitation, make sure you understand the terms of the deposit (when the date will be confirmed, and the terms of refund, if any)
If the date is set already, and you confirm your intent to ride by any form (orally, email, phone, etc.), you are immediately responsible for full payment, and should mail or deliver the check within 24 hours.
If you should become unable to ride for any reason, you should contact the Host immediately, and ask if they have a waiting list.  If they do, let them know that you can't make it, and why, and ask them to contact their waiting list people to see if someone can ride in your place.  If this is successful, you should receive a refund (there may be a nominal fee to cover time spent processing your ride time and also replacing your ride).
If they have no one on the waiting list, then they may allow you to find someone to fill the ride.  Otherwise, you have to pay for the ride anyway.

If you are not willing to take this risk, do not sign up to ride in the clinic.  End of story.

Next up--etiquette when you arrive at the clinic

Sunday, January 8, 2012

To Sell, Or To Trade--That Is The Question

 This is Donna Dora.  She is my eight year old (April, 2003) registered Oldenburg GOV broodmare. 
I was planning to breed her to Voice this season, but then I started thinking about how long it would take to get any offspring she might produce under saddle and to the Grand Prix. Never mind all the potential risk of illness, injury, etc. along the way in breeding and raising a foal.
At first, I though I would sell her outright, but I wasn't sure what her pricepoint should be.
Then, I developed the much more appealing idea of offering her in trade for a young warmblood prospect who is already under saddle that I can start showing this year on the Wellington Winter Equestrian Festival circuit.
So I put her on, and I have been very pleased by the number of breeders who have shown interest.
I have an appointment to try out a fabulous five year old gelding in Ocala tomorrow. He has very similar bloodlines to Dora, and the video that I saw shows that he has very good gaits--very competitive on this international caliber show circuit.  The owner's facility is set up very similar to mine, so the transition for each horse will be easy, and she is right down the road from the Breeding Station that I would choose to breed Dora at anyway. I am very excited!  I will post the results as soon as I can!