When should you take a horse back?

Some horses just become part of the family, like Freedom.

When you sell a horse you never really know where it will end up. Maybe not next year but over time as the horse ages and its abilities or soundness decrease. To address that, some people write in a “right of first refusal” clause into their sales contact, hoping for the chance to buy back their horse and retire it so they know it has a good life.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who want to return a horse that they’ve bought after 6 months, a year, or even 2 years (according to a thread a read lately on COTH) because it didn’t work out.

What’s a horse owner to do? I guess it depends on how much emotional connection you have with the horse. Is it one you owned for a long time? Was it your first horse? Your best friend? A horse that you bred? Or are you in the business of buying prospects, training them and selling them?

Once a horse has lived with its new owner for even just a few weeks, many behavioral issues and  soundness issues are not the fault of the seller (remember, that’s why you need a PPE before buying a horse, to determine its state of soundness when you buy it). A horse isn’t a car. You can’t claim that it’s a low mileage model that you only drove to church on Sundays. Every time you handle a horse you are teaching it something. And sometimes it’s not what you wanted it to learn.

But what about your responsibility to the horse you sold. If it’s a horse of the “old friend” variety, do you trust it to be sold down the road?

About 12 years ago, I sold a horse named Bogie. He was the first horse I’d ever owned (after many years of leasing). I had a lot of fun with him but after about four years, my trainer explained that he’d given me everything that he could. I could either stay at the level where I was currently competing or find a new horse. I leased him to a girl at my barn for about six months and then, since it seemed to be working out. I sold him to her. Shortly after that, I moved to a different state.

Because I kept in touch with the barn manager I learned that Bogie was lame. His owners tried injecting his hocks but it didn’t help. They were frustrated. I was worried about him. He was 17 or 18 and not sound. I offered to take him back and they gladly returned him (they did not ask for a refund).

I asked my trainer to go pick him up and bring him to a facility where she could evaluate him. She was in Ohio so I was able to keep him for a lot less than I was paying for my stall in Boston. I conferred with the vet that had treated him. We put him into a rehab program with lots of walking and some lateral work to lubricate his joints and put him on an oral joint supplement. Within a couple of weeks he was sound! I found a trail riding home for him on a permanent free lease and he had a happy ending.

But there are other horses that I might not have gone the extra mile for. I had a lovely TB mare that I bought as a project horse about six years ago. She was a very nice horse but didn’t really suit me because she was never going to be a horse that was safe to jump xc. I just didn’t like how she hung her knees. I was very up front about her limitations when I sold her. I wanted her to be happy and I wanted her new owner to enjoy her.  I got a few updates from the new owner over the first year that sounded good but I didn’t want to hover. I also didn’t have the resources to take her back. I didn’t have an extra stall and couldn’t afford to have three horses. Luckily, from what I’ve heard through the grape vine, she is still much loved by her owner and thriving.

I suppose that if there had really been a problem, I would have done my best to help both the owner and the horse. But I didn’t feel the same level of responsibility that I felt toward Bogie . . . or that I felt toward Kroni (whom I would have kept forever) and now for Freedom. At some point those horses crossed over a line and became more like pets.

2 thoughts on “When should you take a horse back?

  1. My problem is that they all become pets to me. For me, the hardest was my first horse. She was not the most pleasant or talented horse, was predisposed to a lot of health issues, and was older when she was sold (to someone who’d leased her for a few years and knew her idiosyncrasies). When they decided it wasn’t working out (because they couldn’t get her bred), it was terribly hard for me not to take her back. Mostly because she’d had a rough life and I felt that she deserved to live out her final years in peace. Unfortunately, due to her predisposition to sand colic and my financial situation, me taking her back was not in her best interest. That was a rough choice and one I’ve questioned many times over the years…

  2. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to take horses back. Sometimes all we can do is try to help them find a good home although I’m not opposed to euthanasia for older or permanently unsound horses. Now, that’s all theoretical because I haven’t had to make that choice. I’ve known a few people who have and it’s hard no matter what.

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