TALES FROM THE TRAILS
Some horses are easy to sell; some more difficult. I’m not talking about the selling part, the getting-someone-else-interested. I’m talking about the emotional attachment part, coming to the point where you can contemplate parting from your horse and then actually handing him to someone else. Forever.
I’ve owned many horses over the years, and some were really hard to part with. The hardest was my first horse, the one I bought way back when I was 19. He was the culmination of all my daydreams, the embodied answer to the question, “What’s the one thing you’ve always wanted to do in your life?” Some people answer, “Get married, have a family.” Others, “Go to college, get a good job.” For me it was always, “Own my own horse.”
And then, at the start of my second year of college, I took the plunge and spent nearly my whole life’s savings ($1,000, which back then, to me, was a huge sum) on the horse. He was $600, shipping him to the barn was $50, first month’s rent in an outside paddock was $150, a bridle, some brushes, a bright blue nylon halter and matching lead, assorted sundries another $150. In one fell swoop, my savings of more than 10 years had shrunken to $50. But I owned a horse.
He was everyone’s ideal first horse and put up with every harebrained notion. There wasn’t one crazy thing I didn’t try with him, including (after I’d seen a demo ride at the National Horse Show) riding him with nothing on him but me. Not even a halter. We not only went out on trails like this, we occasionally jumped 3-foot courses.
I owned that remarkable horse for eight years. The day I sold him was tough, but I was in graduate school and money was tight. I watched strangers drive away with him, hoping he’d have a good life.
You see, that’s one of the hardest parts of selling a good horse — wondering if his life will be good, if his new owners will do right by him and treat him the way he deserves to be treated. Feed him. Respect him. Listen to him. Love him.
The easier horses to sell are the ones I’ve fallen out of love with. That happens. I had one horse who came to me with a few issues. He was dead quiet to ride, but he was a terror at feeding time, crashing and bashing around in his stall, lunging at the horse in the next stall, kicking and rearing. I worked with him, and things improved slightly, but he never got over being territorial about his grain.
Then it started getting worse. Much worse.
Mr. Trouble, as I started calling this horse, took a strong dislike to another horse in the herd and started chasing him with intent to do bodily harm. Mr. Trouble also started acting out under saddle, bucking up a storm. Getting rid of Mr. Trouble brought nothing but relief and the return of peace and quiet. The whole herd breathed a sigh of relief.
Sometimes I need to sell a horse (or two) for economic reasons. Feeding those hay burners ain’t cheap, and if a horse is ready to move on, I’m willing to let him go. This happened recently, and I decided to find a new home for one sweet little gelding.
This horse had come into my life exactly when I needed him. I’d had some fear issues (due to another horse) and was nervous about
doing much riding, much as I loved it. And here came this little Arab-cross, good as gold, and he gave me back my confidence. We spent hours walking along roads and exploring trails, for that was what he loved most in the world — not ring work, but trails. After a year or two, I was able to move on to another, more challenging horse. And the Arab then worked his magic on a friend who started riding with me, calming her fears and boosting her self-esteem, allowing her to move up.
He was a pure joy to have around, but we weren’t riding him much anymore, and horses are expensive. I set about finding him a new home where he’d be loved and appreciated. And one day, I had him and another horse sold, just like that. A woman and her young daughter had decided to buy horses, and they decided on two of mine.
They came out late one Saturday afternoon and rode around on the two, bareback, as per their request, just walking and jogging a little. I could see they were no riders, but they assured me they’d be working with a good friend and trainer. They came back the next morning with said trainer, and this time we rode with saddles.
Yes, the trainer could ride. And yes, she approved the sale. “We’ll take both horses to my place for a few weeks for complete training, and I’ll work with them and my friends,” she assured me. And yes, I had a check for the full asking price.
But I hadn’t slept at all the night between the two visits. I kept seeing the woman fumbling with the halter, trying to figure out how to put it on the horse. My stomach was in knots. I called the buyer up.
“I’m going to do you a big favor,” I said. “I’m not going to sell you my horses. In fact, I’m going to advise you not to buy any horses. You’re such a novice at this. You should go to a local barn and lease a horse for a few months. Better your riding skills. Hang around with knowledgeable people and learn all the stuff you need to know.”
I ripped up her check. She thanked me. I hoped she took my advice. I decided maybe I’d hang onto him a while longer. The thought of him ending up in a bad situation was more than I could contemplate.
With me, it’s never about the money. It’s always about being able to live with myself, knowing I’ve done the best I could for a kind, deserving horse who’s given me so much and asked so little in return. It’s about being able to sleep well at night.