This weekend, I travelled to the Toronto area to meet up with by BFF, KPT, and check out two horses I’m interested in. Apologies, as I’m going to use this blog as a log of my horse-hunting thoughts, so this will likely get quite long!
My trainers were at a horse show this weekend, so I decided to bite the bullet and go alone, with KPT as trusted advisor and videographer. It was a bit scary – we North Americans are so accustomed to shopping with trainers and I felt like a bit of a fraud at times, as I’m clearly an amateur rider who makes lots of mistakes – but I’m really glad we went and got the ball rolling. I must say, going from riding Schmoodle, a well-trained
idiot horse with lots of buttons, almost exclusively for over 18 months, to riding these two green beans, was quite the adjustment, and I think the first horse I tried was kind of like “Whaaa?” until I remembered to drastically simplify all my aids. Ah well, ya live and learn.
Horse 1 (“Chunky Mare” for future reference)
Stats: 7 y/o WB mare, 16.1 and chunky, black, under saddle for one year, for sale by trainer, upper end of budget, not been actively marketed
First impression: We arrived in the middle of a monsoon-style downpour and got absolutely soaked sprinting into the barn! I hadn’t seen a video of this horse; I was interested in one of the seller’s other horses who sold right before our trip, so she suggested we come see this one. First thought: flats in a slow-twist snaffle. She is a really cute mover, great balance look through the bridle, trots better than she canters, though she has a big step. Sensible-seeming (especially as we were riding as a torrential rainstorm poured down outside the indoor), a bit looky but not reactive. Seems like a kick ride (seriously, like pony kicks, the trainer had neither stick nor spurs.) She wasn’t terribly impressed by the jumps, looked cute but hard to judge her form over teeny stuff. No lead changes although she apparently does them with her 12-year-old half-leaser, of her own accord.
Under saddle: She felt like riding a barrel! I felt perched on top of her and my stirrups look way short in the videos. Great feeling in the mouth at the trot. Not very responsive to the leg. Doesn’t seem to have any idea of how to move sideways from the leg, though she bends well. I had trouble getting her to canter the first direction, but that was pilot error: too many conflicting aids! Canter was a weird mix of feeling like I was going nowhere, and feeling like I was barrelling along on the forehand. Was a bit behind the leg to the jumps, but willing. I really struggled to find a good canter, and thus good distances on this horse. My instinct was always to wait out of the corner but it didn’t really work. Also, she was very stiff and heavy in the downward transitions – I can see why they have her in something other than a plain snaffle, but I don’t love that on such a green horse.
Upon video review: I needed to get her SO much for forward in canter, especially to jump. It was kind of painful to watch the videos of us jumping (because of my mistakes – she didn’t care one way or the other!). She looks waaaay more balanced in canter than she felt.
In short: I would like to go back and try her again, knowing what I know about her canter and needing to feel like I’m galloping. Love her look, her apparently sensible nature, and her connection to the bridle…except when she dives downward. Didn’t like the feeling that she hadn’t really been introduced to yielding sideways to the leg, and that, combined with her good natural balance, might make the lead changes difficult to teach. Overall, I liked watching the horse on video more than I liked riding her, if that makes sense… I didn’t really click with her, despite her being quite lovely. I mean, she’s a green 7-year-old who’s apparently the barn favourite and has a 12-year-old half-leaser. She must be a pretty good girl.
Horse 2 (“Older Chestnut”)
Stats: 9 y/o TB gelding, 16.2, chestnut, OTTB under saddle for a couple of years, for sale by amateur owner, significantly below my budget, for sale for a few months
First impression: I sent a bunch of sales videos to my trainer in Montreal, who found me my last (wonderful) horse in someone’s backyard for a song, and this is the one she liked best (though she hasn’t seen Chunky Mare yet.) The facility where this horse lives was kind of ramshackle, and their outdoor ring footing was disastrously hard following the previous day’s rain. The horse seemed a little “up”, and the seller also seemed a bit anxious about the whole thing (understandable, who likes to ride around two strangers who are literally judging your every move?) KPT and I suggested we move into the indoor as the trot we were seeing looked NOTHING like what we had seen on the videos. Once we got inside to better footing, he looked better, though still a bit stabby…that’s when we noticed his TERRIBLE looking foot angles. Ugh. He had absolutely no heel and very long pointy toes…ouch.
Not the best shot (I’m an awful photographer) but check out that left foot…those do not look like happy angles.
He’s an attractive guy and settled into his work quickly, and looked better and better the more relaxed he got. He had a nice balanced canter and evidently was looking to please. The seller emphasized the work she had been putting in to get him relaxed to the jump, and it’s obviously worked, as he seemed quite chill. He took a couple of misses quite cheerfully.
Under saddle: The seller wouldn’t let me ride in my own saddle so I had to ride in her Wintec (“It’s custom fitted – also, most people put their saddles way too far forward, we don’t do that here!” That’s cool, I’m all for well-fitting saddles, but I don’t know, that saddle seemed way too far back to me.) In short, I felt SO off balance and like I was sitting right on the poor guy’s loins. (These people were hard-core Bates/Wintec proselytizers…and definitely judged me hard when I said no, my beautifully-balanced wool-flocked leather saddle doesn’t have adjustable gullets…moving right along.) Despite this, I really liked the feel this guy gave me. He had really adjustable gaits and a great feeling in the connection. Though he’s clearly not too schooled, he tried to do what I asked every time. I got the sense he can be a bit hot and so the seller hasn’t really worked on getting him to come off the leg because he has a motor, but once I got him moving a little bigger, he felt great. He was uber-quiet to the jumps (he felt reeeally tired by that point!), and I tried to get him to the base to see how he balanced (it looked like he preferred to leave from the gap). The first time he barfed it; the second time was better; and the third time, we put it up a bit, and he jumped in his best balance yet.
Upon video review: I was still under-pace in some places (…guilty) but there were no big surprises from the video; he looked like he felt: green but balanced and fluid, and a trier. I thought I would look really floppy on him given the saddle issue, but I liked the way I fit him.
In short: I really liked this guy. He seemed like a people-pleaser, and his owner obviously dotes on him and has done well by him. He’s got some blood and I’m sure would need a few minutes to settle in and catch his breath when faced with a new situation, but I liked his expression and how quickly he learned. He has apparently done lead changes in the past but she hasn’t worked on them. He’s under-muscled in the neck and back – not to mention those feet! – and I think he would fancy up even more with consistent work. Of course, he’s already nine years old and still green – a definite downside.
So, what now?
Now I need to show these videos to some professionals! KPT and I did our best – we’ve seen a lot of horses go and we tend to like the same things – but neither of us have lots of horse shopping experience (me=none, my one and only horse showed up at our farm when I wasn’t even shopping; her=bought the second one she tried and he is her forever horse.) I’m beating myself up a bit for how I rode Chunky Mare, so I’d be willing to go back and try her again with a trainer in tow, if M&L as well as my ex-trainer like her.
Most of all, I’m feeling conflicted because Chunky Mare is no doubt the nicer horse on paper: better bred, younger, a more traditional hunter type, probably quieter. I just didn’t connect with her immediately, whereas Older Chestnut felt like my type of ride straightaway.
What do you guys think? Did you click with “the one” right away, or did you have to convince your heart to catch up with your head? I’m dying to know.
I’m going to try another one (a bay TB mare) at my ex-trainer’s in Montreal on the weekend, so more updates to come.
PS: Schmoodle was basically perfect last night, as well as very lovey-dovey. I think someone told him I’m cheating on him!