When you buy a horse you are buying more than just an animal — you are investing in your hopes and dreams of what you want to accomplish. You visualize yourself coming in from that cross country course with your cheeks flushed and your eyes watering from the excitement . . . or finishing that hunter round with the headiness of nailing every spot and every lead change . . . or finally mastering tempi changes down the center line and feeling like you are dancing with your horse.
The problem is, the horse doesn’t know what you want to accomplish and even when you think you have figured out all the angles — a great PPE, a nod from your trainer, a show record that speaks volumes about potential — it doesn’t always work the way you imagined. Sometimes you never “click” with the horse and establish that feeling of partnership. Sometimes the horse isn’t capable (or willing) to do the job you want. Sometimes an injury limits that potential.
Over the years I’ve been pretty lucky with my horses but there were two who just didn’t work out. One had a physical issue (upward fixation of the Patella (slipping stifle) that limited his ability to stay sound, and the other just had no talent over fences. She hung her legs and I wasn’t sure she’d ever be safe enough to ride cross country.
In the first case I was very sad to move the horse on. He had an adorable personality and I was worried about where he’d end up. I finally “sold” him for a nominal sum to someone who came to me with excellent references and multiple connections. The mare? I’d never meant to keep her. I’d bought her as a project horse and I found her a home where the owner had only modest jumping goals over fences that could be knocked down.
When you think it is the horse that will carry you for many years through wonderful adventures, it’s harder. The bond that you have with a horse is special. While I know people who have given away dogs or cats that didn’t work out with barely a backwards glance, I’ve seen friends who struggled for years with horses who either weren’t temperamentally suitable, who needed a different style of rider, or a different job. I’ve seen people try multiple medical procedures to make their horse more comfortable, only to find they still aren’t able to perform. And I’ve seen horses that were just plain dangerous who were sold on to unsuspecting buyers who then tried their best to fix them.
Truth be told, there are times when you need to move on. While it’s hard to admit defeat, riding is supposed to be fun. It’s always going to be expensive and it will always have an element of danger but if you are worried that you won’t make it back from each ride, it’s time to stop riding that horse. Just because a horse doesn’t work for you, doesn’t mean it won’t find a good home with the right job.
A friend of mine had a horse with a wicked buck and the knowledge that he could eject most riders when he got tired of behaving. After putting him in training (twice), treating him for kissing spines, Lyme, and a few other miscellaneous things, she gave him away (with full disclosure) to a young eventer. Someone who could ride that bugger hard seven days a week. Wet saddle blanket therapy seems to have done the trick and he’s now putting his excess energy and athletic abilities to more productive use.
Try not to think of it as a bad choice for your horse if you sell him on. If the person who first adopted Freedom hadn’t given up on him (she sent him back to CANTER) I wouldn’t be having such an excellent time with him . . . and he wouldn’t have found that his true calling in life was to be a foxhunter.