Monday, April 6, 2015

When to Sell

the wrong horse
Denny Emerson has been going on lately about the right horse and what it is and how to know. I think that is a fantastic conversation to start. I mean, when a blogger is debating the merits of their current horse, I am frequently the jackass who jumps right in and tells them to sell the horse.

As I've chronicled ad nauseam, I went through this situation with a horse  I owned when I first got back into riding as an adult. It was a dismal experience and it almost made me quit riding. But here's the thing: just because you have doubts about your horse doesn't mean you should sell. Look at it this way instead:

1) Do you look forward to riding YOUR HORSE each day?
2) Does seeing YOUR HORSE's face over the gate make your heart go pitter pat?
3) Are you happy and confident while riding YOUR HORSE?
4) Are you safe (both in your own estimation and that of relevant pros)?
5) Is your horse physically/mentally/emotionally capable of pursuing your realistic goals?
5b) If not, are you willing to change your goals to suit your horse?

If you answered yes to all of these questions, keep your horse. There is literally no reason to sell it. But wait! Go through this next set of questions too.

6) Has your horse put you in the ER/hospital?
7) More than once?
8) Do you sometimes think it would be ok if your horse had a tragic pasture accident?
9) Does the idea of doing your chosen sport with your horse make you nervous/upset/worried?
10) Do you keep your horse because you're afraid it might end up as hamburgers if you sell?
11) Have relevant professionals expressed apprehension about your ability to flourish in this partnership?

If you answered yes to questions 6-11, SELL THE HORSE NOW. Do not pass go, do not collect $200.

what dreams are made of
I know that when I first joined the ranks of re-riding adults, I had illusions of forever homes and rainbows and glitter and all, but the horse I started the journey with was wrong for me in every way and there was no one to stand there and say "WHOA. Not. Ok."

It took a long process (and hospital visits) and a lot of money wasted and finally meeting the horse of my dreams to convince me to let go.

But it didn't have to be that hard. I wasn't safe. I was scared and miserable, but I didn't have the framework to understand that because for 3 years, the only horse I rode was that one horrible mare.

All partnerships have rough patches and many of those rough patches are worth seeing through. BUT. As adult ammies, we aren't in this to save the world or go to Rolex or whatever. We're here to have fun.

So if you find yourself on the fence about whether or not your partnership is working out, here's the #1 thing I recommend: (IMPORTANT)

1) Put a timeline on it.

Last fall, Courage and I hit a seriously rough patch. I wasn't having fun. He wasn't improving. Things were getting out of hand. I wasn't unsafe, but the rides were sapping my enjoyment of horses.

So I told Courage and several friends I trusted to hold me accountable that if I wasn't having fun by March of 2015, I would sell him and find something more suitable.

That doesn't mean I gave up on him--I did pro rides and lessons and changed barns and trainers and did some time off and explored every relevant avenue because I wanted to make things work.

By the time March rolled around this year, Courage and I had reached a new agreement and we are progressing happily. He's staying, but I don't regret what I said in the fall.

There will be rough patches, but they have to stay patches. If they sprawl out and seep into our perceptions of "normal" life, we very quickly find ourselves with the wrong horse in the wrong place at the wrong time. And that makes no one happy.

And if no one's happy, you have the wrong horse.


  1. Good points. I'm glad that Courage gets to stay :)

  2. Very true. There is a woman at our barn right now with a gigantic thoroughbred/percheron horse. He is a huge beast with very little in the way of ground manners/respect. So far he has given this woman 3 concussions, broke her hip, and just last week, bucked her off and broke a vertebrae in her neck. She ended up in intensive care and yet she refuses to stop trying with this horse. Trainer won't touch the horse with a ten foot pole, and she doesn't believe this older, tiny, frail woman should even own the horse, much less attempt to ride it!

  3. Truer words have never been spoken. I recently sold a horse that wasn't right for me. It was tough because I felt like I was giving up but in the end we are both happier (and safer). This sport is too expensive and time-consuming to not be having fun.

  4. I know that I haven't owned Roger for a week yet, but this post couldn't be more timely for me. At the risk of sounding extremely cliche and like a 10-year old child, Roger is (so far) my dream horse. When I took time off from riding back in November, I felt like going to the barn was more of a chore than something I enjoyed doing, and I don't ever want to feel that way again. Every lesson made me frustrated, and I didn't really care about getting better or showing or any of that.

    I'm sure I'm still very much in the honeymoon stage of horse ownership, but I definitely look forward to riding Roger every day, and that feeling in itself is wonderful to have back! I know he's a green 5-year old gelding with lots to learn, but I never ever feel unsafe on his back, I never ever feel like he's going to do something malicious and I always get excited to see MY HORSE every time I go to the barn. Roger has given me my "riding swagger" back, and if it turns out that he's a better hunter than jumper (GASP) then I am perfectly willing to alter my goals to suit him. So far, he's a once-in-a-lifetime horse which is again cliche, but everything you listed in this post I considered before I wrote the check. Roger makes me extremely happy, and I feel incredibly honored to have found a horse like him.

    *sorry for the tangent full of rainbows and bunny rabbits.

    But you're totally 100% right: if you're not happy, you have the wrong horse.

  5. I love this so, so, so much. And it's super timely for me, too. My mother recently (like, last week) sold her Appaloosa. They weren't happy together, period. He was decent under saddle but a monster for our farrier, she dreaded it. She didn't have any special connection, they argued more than anything. We sold him, and within a couple of days, we brought home a mare for a trial period. Even though she acted like a nut when we let her out in the pasture for 3 days straight (running the fence, being a jerk, but we discovered the reason.) my mother fell in love with her. I'm crossing my fingers that she works out under saddle when we tack her up.

    That mare already has more of a bond with her in less than a weeks time, than the Appaloosa did in almost 2 years. I did a post on this awhile back when we were considering selling him. If you don't click with a horse, it's unfair to keep him or her.

  6. I have sold a lot of horses in the past. Most, admittedly, were always intended to be sales prospects. But a handful weren't. I was sad to see them go, but I've definitely learned to recognize when a horse wasn't the right fit. The last one, Ivan, was the toughest. But after multiple rider injuries to myself and others, I realized it's better to be in one piece and temporarily sad than broken and scared.

  7. Really great points!! Lately, I've been one of those who has been struggling with my horse, but at the end of the day I still love to ride her, and feel safe doing so. So in a weird way these questions also make you realize the horse could be right for you too. Although I should take a page from you and make someone unbiased else be accountable for reminding me of these things as well.

  8. For me, I can never hear this enough. I've never sold a horse, and just the thought of doing so makes me incredibly nervous and anxious. But I really need to remember that sometimes selling is the RIGHT decision not only for the person, but for the horse as well.

  9. Very well said! All super valid points! :)

  10. Such a great point! Not all horses are forever horses, nor should they be. We spend way too much time and money on our horses to NOT enjoy them.

  11. So so so true. I've had to sell one horse that didn't suit my needs, a pony when I was twelve years old. Pony was exceptionally talented but way way way too much horse for me and had a huge attitude. We tried everything (pro training, put her in pasture, change trainers, etc) but the day she reared my mom off of her back, my mom put her up for sale. She found an excellent home (we were careful) and ended up eventing around Training and giving her professional owner a hell of a time getting there. Definitely the right decision.

    I was told to sell Rico a few times. But I did just what you did, put a timeline on it, changed tactics, trainers, barn situations, and we made it through.

  12. Very good points. I especially like your first set of questions. I don't think #10 is a reason to sell a horse though. I personally worry about that with all my horses and it's a reason I am always reluctant to sell, but that doesn't mean they are the wrong horse for me per say.

  13. I hate when you write a comment and then it deletes it. UGH. My only point- agree mostly except I think another thing that needs to be mentioned is whether the un-OKAY thing about your horse can be managed with lifestyle changes or not. I've read it before that people try a horse, love it, buy it, change it's entire lifestyle, then wonder why it goes crazy- and it's a good point.

    Took me a while but so far, with just a week of turnout, Wiz is back to following me around like a puppy by choice (instead of spooking/worrying about everything) and is sighing/snorting/relaxing riding (even when a wild baby is throwing a fit in the round pen in the arena and/or the wind is blowing at 60mph). SO, if that continues, it wasn't an inherent trait of spooky/mean, but something that needed to be managed correctly.

    But yes, if you've tried all you can think of and said horse is dangerous and/or you are not having fun- SELL. Too much time/money/risk invested in this sport to not be having the time of your life.

    1. Oh yes, definitely. This is the awesome part of blogging--you can look back and see what actual changes have been made and find ways to work around them if needed. I am THRILLED that the new situation is improving things for you and Wiz. :-) Here's to that!

  14. Couldn't agree more. Last year I told Pig he was getting retired with a friend of mine if he kept up his shit. We worked hard, I took tons of lessons. We got through it.

    Right now he's being kind of an ass again. It's not fun when he's an ass. Maybe it's pain, maybe it's his attitude, maybe it's my riding. Probably it's a little of all three. I haven't put a timeline on it. Sometimes I think I'm starting to see the end of his dressage career. Still, I love that horse. We aren't dangerous. We just aren't succeeding the way I know we can.

    Is not reaching the potential you know is in there a reason to sell? Not for me, I guess. :)

  15. ry wise! I sold (well...I was forced to sell by my parents) a very unsafe horse in high school. There would have been a lot of yeses on your checklist.

    Horses are supposed to bring joy into our lives, honestly they cost too much money to own if they aren't enjoyable.

    1. Agreed! It's too expensive, emotionally/financially/time all-consuming not to be super fun the majority of the time.

  16. Great article and that is all I have to say on the matter! :)

  17. I was just telling a barnmate that this time last year Holly was in diva mode, she was spooky and defiant and hormonal. I remember being near years and telling my trainer I wanted to sell her. Trainer told me to hang in til summer and sure enough she settled and we rocked. Now I know we will have little patches that I need to toughen up and ride through because she's getting better each year.

  18. I'm terrible at selling my horses. I gave away my last 2 for free just to ensure they'd have perfect, forever homes. We're a big fat YES on #1-6, we're also a yes on #10. Gah, feels awful to say all that out loud since with baby coming some days I feel like I’m being really selfish to my horse and my family in keeping him.

    1. For the record, to clarify...#6...that's a gray area for me as being on a green bean sometimes means you might get to meet the Dr.s at your local ER due to things that aren't really anyone's fault really, but just a function of getting through the baby years. I don't chalk that visit up to a bad match, so much as the risk you take bringing along a youngster sometimes.

  19. Love this! There's so much talk about "forever homes" and I totally admire that, but sometimes that just isn't the best situation for the rider or the horse.

  20. My thoughts on you and Izzy- she might not have been exactly the wrong horse for you, she may have been the wrong horse at the wrong TIME for you. Sometimes timing has a whole lot to do with things. What you knew then, what you know now- you two might have been a decent match. Not a wonderful or awesome match, but at least a decent match.

    That all being said, yes it was time to cut your losses and move on. It happens and sometimes our personality and theirs don't mesh either. Out of all of the horses I have ever handled, ridden or dealt with, there have been a few that I just didn't get along with. at. all. period. I would rather let them go than to mess with them and screw them up out of anger and frustration. It happens.

  21. I love this post! On one hand, I wish you had written it 2 years ago and I had read it then, but on the other I'm glad I'm seeing it after my mare and I came through a year and a half of a rough patch. I was similar in that I didn't have anyone to guide me, in Texas traveling trainers were hard to come by as were trailer rides, and when I first moved to Kansas, the program at the fancy barn we started at just wasn't a good fit for us. Fast forward 6 months and my mare has improved 500%. More than she had in the last 2 years that I've owned her.

  22. This is very balanced, very rational advice (as per usual). I agree that a rough patch is okay but it has to stay a "patch," as you put it. Some partnerships are not meant to be - and that's okay! Sometimes both horse and rider go on to lead happier, more successful lives.

  23. I often question whether I am the right rider for Kika, but she gives me such enjoyment and is such a ham to handle that I forgive her opinions under saddle. Yes we had another very up & down spin today, she is an eegit

  24. Interesting topic. I think a lot of people don't like to admit when they are over-horsed - it's an embarrassing thing for a lot of people. But sometimes you have to let go of pride and do the right thing.

  25. Very wise, very practical, very important post. And yet, it can be so hard to face reality when you're in that situation, especially if you've never been in it before. I clung to the forever home idea with rainbows and glitter. I honestly thought that enough hard work and dedication would make everything work out. And I thought that moving on meant so much more than it actually does - that it meant I was a failure, or he was. Your timeline advice is a great way to keep ourselves in check from fooling ourselves. Your questions are excellent. I'm still emotionally raw from rehoming my horse, but I am getting over it with reassurance from my heart and so many others that its the right choice for both of us.

    This last weekend I had a ride where I experienced childlike joy. I hadn't felt that in a long time. I had fooled myself that the victorious feeling from a ride without problems was the same thing as having fun. It isn't.

  26. yep - love it all. it's supposed to be fun, not a jumble of hurt and exposed raw nerves.

  27. Great post. I spent a good two years trying to convince my bff to sell her mare, she had several hospital visits, was crying all the time, scared to ride, etc etc. It took some convincing but getting her to send the horse to a broker really helped her detach from the horse and the selling experience. She sold the horse in 2 days and my friend got more than she expected. The horse is now pampered by her new owner and my friend has Archie who is her perfect match. It all works out in the end.

  28. All truth.

    I've sold two who were not right for me. One I could work with, and we even did well together but he wasn't much fun. The other was a no-go. Even when he was doing something he WANTED to do and was really good at it I just did not enjoy the experience... Or the discipline he wanted to do.

    I love with zero regrets about either of their sales.


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