Round Table with Buck Brannaman, Alicia Landman, Missy Fladland, Mindy Bower and Kristin Jacob
Shopping for a new horse can be a stressful and emotional experience. We visited with horse professionals who have had much experience seeing good… and not so good horse and human matches. What follows are their suggestions that will hopefully help you avoid a mismatch when looking for your next horse.
Buck Brannaman is a renowned horseman who travels the country conducting clinics. He has authored the books Groundwork and The Faraway Horses, and has produced many horsemanship videos. Learn more at: www.brannaman.com
“Probably the best advice I could give, first of all before people ever go get a horse, is go to somebody’s clinic or find somebody to hang around that knows something and learn a little bit about horses,” Buck Brannaman suggests.
Then, the basic knowledge of how a horse should operate in an acceptable manner on the end of a lead rope will help the buyer to better see if a horse is a good choice or not.
“Put it this way,” Buck says, “if the person selling the horse won’t let them take ahold of him on the end of a lead rope, walk away. If you just take a rope halter and a flag while you’re looking at horses and checking them out [and do a little groundwork], you’re going to eliminate a lot of horses that you might not need to buy. You basically just have to acquire enough rudimentary knowledge to where you’re going to be a little more discriminating.
“When most people are telling a potential buyer about a horse, I would like to think that they’re not just flat out lying—that maybe the information they’re giving the person a lot of times is based on what they don’t know. But that’s not good enough. You really need to ask the horse. And sometimes you get horse traders, and they might lie like a rug; that’s possible too. I’d like to think the best of people and that maybe the bad information that they’re giving is because they don’t know much.
“I will say this, it’s not that unusual that someone will buy a horse and then realize, ‘Gosh, I’ve got a lot more on my plate than I thought I had, and I don’t have very much experience.’ It’s okay to move on rather than get yourself hurt or get the horse in trouble. The horse will fit someone else perfectly, but he might not fit that person that owns him. There’s plenty of people out there that could maybe fit the horse and the horse would have a decent life. But if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Move on and get another horse.”
Alicia Landman is based in Nashville, Tennessee, She teaches lessons, from brushing up on basic horsemanship to refining the more advanced movements, and she offers training for horses. Alicia is available for clinics and lessons nationwide. For more, visit the Alicia Byberg-Landman Horsemanship Facebook page.
“If somebody I know calls me up and says, ‘I’m going to go check out this horse; what do you think I should do first?’ my number one answer is always, have the person selling it ride it first,” Alicia Landman says. “You can see what it’s capable and not capable of doing. I have seen a lot of people show up and the horse is saddled and they [the seller] just passed it to them. I like that saying, ‘always load your own gun.’ Don’t trust anybody else because their level of what they think is okay may not be what you’re okay with. So, I always like to see a horse ridden at walk, trot, and canter. When I’m trying to buy, I want to see all that.”
Alicia suggests to have the seller demonstrate the horse’s capabilities in the way that the buyer plans to use the horse.
“If I’m buying it because I want to ride it out across the land somewhere,” she says, “I want to watch them ride it out across the land. If my student wants to do that, and the horse is being sold to be able to do that, I’d much rather have the person who owns it do it before they get on it. I think that’s a really important factor because you may show up and they [the horse] can’t do any of that. Then there’s no point even putting your foot in the stirrup because it’s not what they said it was going to be.
“And the other thing I like to have people do is video tape themselves [riding the horse]. If they get to the second part where they like what they see and they ride around, to video it. Then they’ll send the video to me and I will look it over and make sure that it looks like the right fit.”
Alicia also thinks that getting a pre-purchase exam is a good idea.
“A lot of things can come up that maybe the owner didn’t even know what’s going on with the horse,” she says. “In my eyes, you’re bringing a new family member into your house. So you want to know if it has a heart murmur or if it has eye problems or any of that stuff. Some people will let a horse go on a two-week trial, which I think is awesome to have two weeks to find out if it’s the right horse. As a seller, I’m always real skeptical to let one of my horses go for two weeks if I don’t know the people, so I can understand when people don’t want to do that. It could come back being a different ride.”
The transition for a horse coming to a new farm also carries with it the potential to cause a horse to act differently, Alicia explains.
“Something I always tell my students ahead of time, is to think about how much change that is for a horse—change in their diet, changing their environment—there’s a big amount of change. And horses are not always going to feel exactly like they did when you rode them [at their other home]. But if the basics are in there and that’s a solid horse that you know has been ridden by great people, you have a much better chance of the relationship succeeding because the fundamentals are in there and that’s never going to go away. The horse will never forget that, and I think that’s really important.
“Sometimes [less experienced] people are tempted to buy a horse because it has a pretty tail or pretty color but it knows absolutely nothing. I tell them, this seems like a really fun idea but when you get down to it is the blind leading the blind and is eventually going to end up not being a fun situation. That horse needs leadership and you don’t know yet how to lead.”
In a situation like this, Alicia sometimes has the student work with a young horse who is like the one being considered.
“I let them feel a young horse,” she says. “I say, ‘Okay, here’s a young horse on the end of the lead rope that’s searching for good leadership. You do the groundwork on it and then come back and tell me what you think.’ Most of the time that little experience is enough for them to go, ‘Whoa! When I started questioning myself, doubting myself, I all of a sudden felt the horse not feeling safe and doubting himself all of a sudden.’ A lot of times I can prevent them from buying the wrong thing. Sometimes they want to buy something younger because it may be cheaper, and then I give them the breakdown of probably how much it’s going to cost to have someone with more experience riding at the start to help them.”
Alicia also suggests that folks ride “steady horses” before looking to buy a younger horse.
“How do you know how to teach that young horse to feel good about itself if you haven’t felt one that’s already pretty good and that feels good inside?” she asks. “I see it all the time; probably one of the biggest questions that comes up with people is how to direct life and how to keep their horse relaxed. Every Thursday I teach a group lesson and people come from all over. We work on all those topics, like being able to break away from each other in a big open field and come back.”
The right horse for the right person makes a huge difference in terms of fun and building confidence, Alicia notes. And that is certainly the case with young riders as well as older folks.
“It’s just amazing watching kids get the right horse,” Alicia says. “I just have a ball. I watch my daughter and she’s got this little pony and she really has no idea how lucky she is. She can ride out with me and I can be on some young warmblood that I just started with a handful of rides and she doesn’t even know it but she’s helping me because she’s kind of my support system at that point and I don’t have to worry about her. She just rides along having a good time, jumping over ditches, and here I am working on building confidence in a horse that doesn’t know what I can do yet and I don’t have to worry about her.”
As for some final suggestions on how to help find the right horse, Alicia says:
“I have my students write down a list of their dream horse and then we go through the pros and cons so they have a clear picture of the things they might encounter along the way. For example, they might want a young horse because they can have it for a long time but if they don’t have a lot of experience riding this could be the start of a real rollercoaster ride of disappointment. They might have to pay someone to ride and educate it so it can fill in for them. This additional expense can add up and in the end they could have paid a bit more upfront and had a steady partner right off the bat. I am a huge advocate of finding a horse that is ridden by a person with similar ability. Oftentimes a green rider will buy a horse that has been ridden by a professional for a short period of time. This might work if you have help along the way and a good attitude about self-study and improvement. But if that younger horse has a limited education it might only feel good for a few rides and then it starts to drop to the level of the rider. The rider becomes disappointed in the horse for not being the horse they thought that they bought.
“If they want an older horse with more experience, we might talk through the things that we are flexible on with physical limitations. At the end of the day, a steady Eddie might not pass a pre-purchase exam with flying colors, but if they have things that you can live with and ride out the back of the property and enjoy, those blemishes might become acceptable. I think the more we discuss upfront with our clients, the better we can help them find a great match.”
Missy Fladland is an international dressage rider and trainer. Missy owns and operates La Riata Ranch in Griswold, Iowa, during the summer and resides in Wellington, Florida, for the winter to train and compete. If you have interest in her training or clinics, you can contact Missy at Missyfladland@yahoo.com.
“No matter what discipline and no matter what you want to do with your horse, the first and most important thing you should evaluate is the horse’s character,” Missy Fladland says. “The character needs to be suitable for the job you have in mind, but also needs to be suitable for you and your personality. Next, I would evaluate the conformation. Like the character, the conformation needs to suit the job. From there, it is good to review the horse’s lineage and look at the character traits as well as the appropriate ability needed for the intended purpose. I see so many people make the mistake of buying a horse for its athleticism, breeding, and show record, but the horse is not right for that person. When that happens, they need to invest in more training or sell the horse to end up with the right fit.”
Missy encourages people when looking for a new horse to go and see multiple potential prospects to really help gauge what is the best horse for them.
“When narrowing down the options,” she says, “you should ask several questions about your potential new horse. How is it with the farrier? What is its vet record? Does it trailer well? Does it have any vices? What is the worst thing it does? You should not be afraid to ask any questions that come to mind. Further, it is necessary to have your trainer or someone who is a level above you help with the purchasing decision. They can identify questions to ask and handle the interaction with the seller. From there, the vetting is very important. Do not try to negotiate the price until you have completed the vet exam. Your level and what you want to know about the horse will determine what you spend on the vetting. One thing that is always a good idea is a blood test. You can learn quite a bit about a horse from this one piece of information. If the horse you are buying is not where your vet can do the evaluation or the seller uses the same vet, it is ideal to bring in an independent vet to do the evaluation. Regardless, it is imperative to include your personal vet in the process.
“You are making a big investment regardless of price because you are hoping to have this horse as your partner for a long period of time. It is better to take your time to make a wise and thoughtful decision. That will save you both money and time in the long run. If you make the right choice, that time and money can be put into riding and enjoying your new horse.”
Mindy Bower starts colts and teaches horsemanship from her ranch, the Uh-Oh, in Kiowa, Colorado. Mindy is a dedicated student of horsemanship herself and is always looking to broaden her horizons of knowledge. For more information visit: www.uhohranch.com.
Mindy Bower helps her students try to find a good match when they are looking for horses to purchase. Also, being the seller sometimes herself, Mindy works to help find a good pairing between a horse and human from that angle, as well.
“I don’t want to sell horses that people haven’t really tried,” Mindy says.
Mindy gives as an example an advanced rider that was in touch with her. Mindy did not know much about her, but Mindy thought she had a mare for sale that might be a good match. The prospective buyer came to see the horse and tried it out half a dozen times, so Mindy was providing the potential buyer plenty of time for a pre-purchase trial at her ranch, and she observed closely as the rider worked with the horse.
“In the end I was like, this isn’t going to work; no way,” Mindy says. “The horse was just too hot for her.”
Mindy says as a buyer, be sure to know who you are buying from.
“People don’t ask the right questions,” she says. “They don’t say: ‘How was it raised? Who had this horse? What’s its history?’ I have a friend in West Virginia and she bought a horse online. She went and tried the horse and it is a really nice Quarter Horse gelding. But she’s an older woman who hasn’t ridden for years, who has always ridden in a lesson, and she got this horse. And then the first thing that happens is he won’t let the farrier handle his feet. I’m like, ‘Uh-oh.’ So then she says she’s taking time handling its feet and he’s gotten better about it. And one day she had him tied up and he spooked and pull ed back hard and scared her, a lot.
“I said, ‘You’ve got to do some work. This horse is not what you thought it was.’ Well then, it ended up dumping her, so she sent it down to her daughter and they just sold it. When I watched the video of him [the original horse sale video] I saw the guy riding him, I thought, ‘Yeah, he’s a nice enough horse, you know, but he [the seller] never did any groundwork. He didn’t pull a flag out. If you’re going to go look at a horse, ask them to work it with a flag. And just see—if they go, ‘Oh no, we don’t do that,’ then walk away. Don’t buy a horse that isn’t well prepared. And then you’ll have less chance for a mismatch.”
Mindy warns that one should have realistic expectations of how much a well-trained horse is going to cost, and understand the value of that fact.
“I think that most people first of all aren’t willing to pay the money for a good horse,” she says. “When you look at the cost of making a good horse versus a hospital bill, say broken collarbone surgery, paying for a solidly trained horse is a sound investment.
“But even then,” Mindy continues, “I have another lady down in Tennessee that I helped a little bit and she bought a horse and it terrified her. And that’s the other thing—pre-purchase exams. So I said, ‘Well, did you pre-purchase that horse?’ She said, ‘No, no, I trusted that it was going to be alright. So, he’s totally crippled. And then he’s spooky, because now he’s in pain. She quit riding. I’m like, ‘Aw, man!’ I would say go look at everything and don’t even think about price. At least, if you go look at them you know [what’s available], and only buy horses from people who are willing to tell you the whole story.”
Mindy also says that recommendations from a third party can be a good way to get a window into sellers and the horses they have for sale.
“One other thing is, some people like this other lady that I helped,” Mindy explains, “she bought a horse on Craigslist and then he was spooking and she got scared of him. So she brings him to me and I watch her walk down the driveway and I’m like, ‘Uh-oh.’ She brings him in the arena and I go, ‘Have you ever worked him with the flag?’ ‘Oh no,’ she says. So I pull the flag out and he just comes unglued. And I was like, ‘Whoa!’ I said, ‘I don’t see how people can ride a horse like this.’ She’s been riding him, but he’s spooky and scaring her. So, the cool thing about it is he led her down this entirely different path, and now she’s gotten help. She’s doing really well with him. She’s figured out the groundwork. She understands. She’s ridden in a Buck [Brannaman] clinic a couple times. She’s got enough now that she’s not going to get killed. And before, there was a good chance she was going to end up at the ER because she had no idea.
“I have another horse right now, same thing, they bought it from a horse dealer and they brought it to me to refine it. I pulled the flag out and it took me six weeks to get on him because I was not going to get on him. You could not touch him with the flag. He was so scared of it that if you ever came off of him got hung up in the stirrup, you’re going clear to Kansas and you’re going to be pulp when you get there. And now, he’s totally fine but it took a couple of months to get him to where I would be okay about selling this horse. You know, these horse dealers, they just find a pretty horse, get him shined up, put their daughter on it, ride the horse around and do a video, and then find somebody to pay whatever for it. And then these other people [buyers], they just don’t know.”
Mindy says that any horse can be a good horse if the owner gets the right help.
“Any horse can teach you,” she says. “Sometimes I think it’s a real mismatch but I feel like in the long run if you just realized that you have a mismatch and you start getting help, then that horse might save your life, because now it has led you down this path and you found the right help.”
Another pitfall to avoid, Mindy warns, is to be careful of preconceived notions. Sometimes the right horse for a person isn’t what she or he had in mind at first.
“I had a lady that wanted to buy a horse and I didn’t have anything for her,” Mindy says. “But then I got this National Show Horse. We started him. He was just a baby but he was such a cool guy. And so I said to her, ‘Hey, by the way I have this horse; you should come look at it. ‘Oh, I hate those horses; I’m not looking at one of those,’ [she said]. ‘Just come try him [Mindy replied]. He’s really cool.’ So she ended up buying him. He’s got to be 20 now. She’s living in Montana and she just trail rides him all over. It’s like the horse of her dreams. I think you’ve got to look outside the box and don’t shut yourself in to only one.”
Kristin Jacob focuses on the training and development of horse and rider for competition on the “A/AA” Hunter/Jumper circuit. The unique Blue Star Farms program that Kristin has developed focuses on fostering a willing partnership between horse and rider, with emphasis on good horsemanship and the fundamental elements of the American Forward Riding System. For more on Kristin visit: www.bluestarfarmsllc.com.
“Looking for your next equine partner is an exciting but potentially daunting endeavor,” Kristin Jacob says. “No two horses and no two riders are alike. Finding a good match can be something of an art.”
Kristin buys and sells show jumping horses both as investments for her business and for clients.
“I buy horses both locally and abroad, mainly from Holland, and have a great network of honest and knowledgeable horsemen and trainers who supply me with quality horses,” she explains. “Whether working with a professional or searching on your own, I believe that the horse must minimally meet three requirements: it must be safe for the rider’s ability, it must be physically sound, and it must be suitable for the job. Breeding, sex, age, and looks are less important to me but I do take these into consideration, too.”
On the points of safety and soundness, Kristin says:
“Horseback riding and working around horses is inherently dangerous and I like to minimize the risk, in part, through buying horses that are safe, good minded, and kind hearted. Most of my clients are junior or amateur riders who ride and show their horses for pleasure in their leisure time. The rider must look forward to coming out to ride the horse without any fear or apprehension about getting on their horse. Owning and riding a horse should be fun and it should be the highlight of your day to go and spend time with your special equine partner. There are too many good horses out there to waste your time on one that you are not comfortable riding.
“The most talented horse in the world is worth nothing if it is not sound to do its job. Diagnosing and treating lameness issues can be time consuming, expensive, and deeply frustrating. There is no crystal ball for the long-term soundness of any horse but I do like to minimize the risk by having a trusted vet preform a pre-purchase exam (PPE). A PPE is a snapshot of the horse’s health and soundness at the moment in time that it is preformed but can help the buyer determine if the horse will meet their long-term needs. I have very rarely seen a totally clean PPE. It is realistic to expect that the vet will find something and it is up to you, as the buyer, to determine whether you are willing to take on the risk depending on the specific job you would like the horse to do.
“I like to think that most people are honest but sadly there can be a darker part to this industry. Some people will disguise lameness or behavior problems with drugs and medications. Fluphenazine is a sedative that can last up to six weeks in horses and can disguise a slew of behavioral problems. Bute, Banamine, and Equoixx are common NSAID pain relievers and will reduce lameness. If you do not know the seller, ask the vet who is performing the PPE to take a blood sample and screen it for any substances. If a substance is found, ask the seller why it is there.”
Kristin stresses the importance that the right horse have both mental and physical suitability and possess the right temperament for the specific rider and job.
“I find quite a few people want to buy the Formula One model when they really need a Honda Civic,” Kristin says. “For a rider wanting to move up the ranks, I think buying a horse that can perform the job at a few levels higher is sufficient as to not overwhelm the rider with too much power or horse. A 4’ 6” jumper would probably be too intimidating for a beginner rider showing in the 2’ 6” hunter division, although the 4’ 6” jumper may be a good-minded, safe horse. Be honest with yourself about your riding abilities and goals and select a horse that is within your riding capability.
“There are quite a few people out there who want the challenge of bringing up a young, green horse. This can be a wonderful opportunity to learn and the experience can be very rich and rewarding. This can also be incredibly time consuming and potentially frustrating. I generally believe that the more experienced the rider/horseman the younger, greener the horse can be. Be realistic about your riding abilities and the time you can put into the horse. If you choose to buy a young, green horse and work with a professional, make sure that person has experience with young, green horses and isn’t just a big name rider. A great rider is not always a good horseman. A lot of times it’s better to get something that is a little older and has already done the job you would like it to do.
Working with a trainer or trusted professional can be very worthwhile and potentially save you money and headache down the road, Kristin says.
“It is standard to pay them a 10-15% commission,” she explains. “You are not only paying that person for their eye in selecting the right horse and their help in navigating the sale process, but you are also paying them for the vast array of professional contacts that they have in the industry. I strongly caution against buying from someone that you do not know. If you go this route, I would recommend that you go to try the horse over a couple of days. Spend time with the horse, go out to catch the horse, groom and tack the horse up, and ride it in different settings, if possible. If the seller will let you, bring the horse back to your farm for a trial period or arrange for a lease-to-buy. I would never buy a horse sight unseen off the internet from someone whom you do not know. More times than not I have seen this go terribly wrong.”
Even with all of the best laid plans to find the perfect equine partner, Kristin knows that the horse/human relationship can begin to grow apart.
“This is OK and is not anyone’s fault,” she says. “In this case you have two choices: one, continue to work through the problems or; two, sell the horse. Some of the biggest growth in a horseman’s career can come from situations like this. The rider must look inside and figure out how to change to fit the horse.”
If a rider can learn to fit the horse, Kristin has seen that such riders are likely to be a fit for a lot more horses in the future.
“There are occasional times where the match simply does not work and the relationship is not enjoyable for the horse or rider,” she says. “If you purchased a horse that is safe, good minded, and physically sound, there will always be a market for the horse and you hopefully will be able to sell the horse at a similar price to what you paid for it and have something to put towards the next one.
“Happy horse hunting!”