Experience is Wisdom
I have worked around plenty of horse traders over the years. I’d like to describe some of the tricks I’ve observed by telling the story of one unfortunate horse-shopping family.
Jack W. is a trader well known in my county. Like many of his ilk, he will tell potential buyers that a horse is registered and has a current Coggins certificate, but the truth is he has no idea if this is true. He keeps numerous copies of paperwork from horses that have died or been sold without paper, and he’ll match up registration papers to newly bought horses just to sell them. Since registration papers and Coggins certificates always show a horse’s individual markings, it’s easier for most traders to falsify papers on horses without distinctive characteristics like white socks, stars, and blazes.
In March of last year, Jack mentioned that he had a couple coming to his barn to try to find a horse for their daughter. They explained on the phone that their daughter was a beginner and taking riding lessons.
He already knew which horse he wanted to sell to the couple for their daughter. A week earlier, he had purchased an older, dark bay, grade mare at an auction. She looked like a breeding stock Paint and had chrome (white stockings) on all four legs. I overheard Jack tell his brother that the mare was too squirrelly to be ridden through the sale ring, but she seemed to handle okay on the ground. Jack also said the mare was sound enough, with no obvious scars or lameness. He’d gotten the horse for $126, priced her at $1,050, and thought he’d be able to turn her pretty quickly.
Jack had an often-used plan to demonstrate how easily he could catch a horse while it was out in the field. Typically, he withheld food from the horse for 24 hours, and so he did with this mare. Shortly before the family arrived, he doped her using Acepromazine. When the family got there, Jack shook a bucket of feed and of course, the horse came right to him. To "prove" how kid-friendly this horse was, he had his 6 year-old son jump on and ride her in the round pen. I happen to know that this kid has been around horses ALL of his life and has ridden since he was in diapers, but to the unsuspecting family it seemed like a good sign.
The couple asked if the mare had papers and Jack told them she was a registered Paint from a very good bloodline. When I heard that, I figured Jack must have a set of papers for a bay or brown mare with four white legs. I grimaced to myself at the thought of the daughter examining those papers at some point in the future and wondering why the drawings on the registration form that detailed the exact curves and height of the white on her legs didn’t look very much like her horse. Jack also used his standard line with the couple when he smiled and said, "I really hate to let this horse go because the kids love her. This is one of the horses I let the 4-H camp use every summer for trail riding." His other sale-clincher was his sincerely stated promise to buy the horse back if they experienced any problems once they’d taken her home.
Jack is very good at exerting pressure without being obvious. He let it "slip" to this family that he had another eager buyer lined up if they walked away from this “nice, broke, mare.” Being none the wiser, the family did buy the horse, and I could see the excitement in their eyes.
Less than one week later, the family was back. They’d tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to contact Jack by phone and were now standing just inside the doors of the barn describing the problems they were having with the mare. They wanted to return her because she wasn’t fit for a beginner, was skittish in the ring, and was impossible to catch in the pasture. The family told Jack it was like the horse they saw at his barn and the horse they took home were two different animals. Truth of the matter is, they kind of were two different animals. Jack refused to buy her back. The family argued but finally left. I wonder what they did with that mare.
I don’t board at Jack’s barn anymore; I just couldn’t stand watching what he did and thinking about the potential for injury every time he passed off a crazy horse to naïve buyers.
My advice is to always take a step back when you’re horse shopping. Tell the seller that you want to think about your decision for a day. If you want a second look at a horse, try to visit when you’re not expected. Watch the horse and see how it acts. If you don't give the trader advance warning, he won’t have time to do anything to "calm" the horse down.
I don't give the seller any specifics when I’m looking for a horse. I ask to walk through the barn and field to see what they have to offer and will choose to try a horse based on what I hear and see. After all, when you make the decision to buy a puppy or a dog, do you just walk in, watch someone else interact with the puppy and then buy it? NO! You sit down with the puppy, play with it, see what kind of personality it has and then decide if that particular puppy fits your family. Buying a horse, or any animal, should be just like that. Spend time with the horse, RIDE the horse yourself, and ask to feed the horse a treat or two to make sure he isn't a biter.
I also want to see whether a horse is calm in a stall. Can I be in the stall without the horse getting antsy? Can I ride the horse among other horses, dogs, etc? Is the horse tense while I’m on its back? Do its eyes dart around? These are just a few of many things to look for. Good luck and truly be informed!
Return to HOME
This work by horsetradertricks.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.