Molly's First Horse
“Unfortunately, I didn’t have the type of counsel offered by Horse Trader Tricks when I went to buy my first horse four years ago. I had saved $750 (not an easy task for me) and when horse prices started to drop, I realized that at my age (45) it was now or never.”
Molly is one of us; she has loved horses all her life. She recalls saving every penny of her allowance as a kid so that once a month she could pay the $10 at a nearby stable to ride for an hour. For the past 18 years, Molly has worked as a mail carrier in Colorado. Until a few years ago, she’d never been in a position to have a horse but grabbed every opportunity to ride at local ranches or with friends. She loved the majesty of the mountains surrounding her home; she loved the outdoors and the wild creatures so abundant around her. She dreamed of exploring the steep mountain trails in the saddle of her own horse.
Her first order of business was to find a place to board a horse. There was a reputable stable two miles from her home but it was too expensive. She started checking Craigslist and found a stable twenty miles away that looked interesting. Adjoining the stable was a national forest with plenty of mountain trails, and pasture board was affordable.
She and her boyfriend, Dan, went to visit the ranch in 2006. It was nothing fancy; no grass, just dirt. The corral fencing was old and it looked like anything that could be fixed with a piece of string, was fixed with a piece of string. However, the horses looked healthy and happy. Along with the horses, in an adjoining pasture were dozens of what Molly later learned were purebred Boer goats. They were white with a few brownish red spots and Molly stood for a moment and watched their antics in the field before continuing to the barn.
“I liked the ranch’s trainer/manager, Ellen Woods. Ellen, her husband, and her father lived in a mobile home on the property. Ellen said they had been selling all kinds of horses for decades, and not just the Rocky Mountain horses that Ellen favored. Ellen seemed knowledgeable, honest, not high tech or snobby in any way. They were really down to earth.”
Molly told Ellen that she had never owned a horse before but was looking for one. Molly let Ellen know that her riding experience consisted of “loving to gallop as a teen” and a handful of rental horse fixes as an adult.
Amongst the horses Ellen just happened to have for sale was a gelding for $750. In one of the stalls in the main barn stood a 3-year-old pinto. He was mostly white, with the “medicine hat” spot of deep red on the top of his head and another red spot on one hip. He walked right up to the front of the stall and Ellen described him as a “complete lovebug.” Molly went back to her car to get a jacket and when she returned, Ellen had “Apache” saddled, bridled and standing against the rail of the arena.
Ellen let Molly walk the gelding around the arena. Apache did fine, although they never went any faster than a walk.
“Do you think we would be okay together?” Molly asked.
“Yes,” said Ellen. “All the kids who board here ride him and love him.”
“I love him,” said Molly, laughing. “But maybe you should keep him…he looks just like one of your goats!”
Dan liked Ellen also, and encouraged Molly to take the plunge. A day later, Molly bought Apache. Her bill of sale was scribbled on a scrap of paper and included the words “as is.” Molly thought it was a little strange, a little haphazard, considering Ellen was a professional trainer and breeder of Rocky Mountain horses, but she trusted Ellen and was so excited to finally have her own horse that nothing else mattered.
At a nearby consignment tack shop, Ellen bought a saddle, bridle, pad, and assorted other goodies necessary for horse ownership. The next day, Ellen showed Molly how to put the saddle and bridle on the horse, and also showed her some basic groundwork exercises to practice in the round pen.
“I learned how to get him to walk forward and not pull, but I really needed much more help than that. Because I am such an early riser, I was usually alone at the ranch with Apache. It took 20 minutes to bridle him. He would stand up real tall, throw his head back, flail it around from side to side. Then, I would ride him around the complex slowly. He was pretty good but a little spooky. I realized it was his young age, but I was kind of afraid of him.”
Molly eventually made friends with Jason, another boarder. On trail rides, Apache would follow Jason’s horse. Sometimes, Apache ignored Molly’s attempts to slow him down. He would start trotting and because Molly wasn’t a very experienced rider, she fell off several times on the trail and took some pretty hard bumps.
Over the following year, Molly continued to ride Apache. Whitney, the teenager who had “broke” Apache, tried to help Molly gain some control by giving her lessons. Other teenagers at the stable told Molly that their nickname for Apache had been “Crazy Horse.” When their own horses had gotten tired, the kids would jump on Crazy Horse and gallop around. They said he was really fast and never got tired.
The combination of Molly’s inexperience and Apache’s lack of training was a recipe for problems. Sometimes Apache would take off at a canter. Molly would fall. Other times Apache would start walking sideways. The more Molly tried to straighten him, the more he would bend. On the narrow mountain trails, this sort of behavior was particularly dangerous. Another of Apache’s acquired habits was what Molly describes as “stuck in reverse.”
“Apache would take little steps backwards towards the edge, and I MEAN edge of the trail, regardless of the elevation. Sometimes we were fairly high up in the hills. The sides were so steep, if I had fallen, I probably would either break things or not make it. So, if he wouldn’t stop it, and we were literally on the very edge, I would try to correct him, turn him around, get another horse behind him, whatever, it wouldn’t work, and I would have to turn back. Whenever I would tell Ellen or Whitney this, they seemed to not believe me or kind of dismissed it. Finally, one day, they told me they wanted to cure Apache by backing him off one of the steep trails.”
Molly thought they were joking, but Ellen said they had done it before, to teach horses that they really can fall off the trail when they skitter along backwards like Apache was doing. Oddly enough, when the day came to teach Apache about trail safety, he behaved perfectly, so the plan was abandoned. Later, Ellen tried to show Molly how to keep Apache moving in a straight line. They used a steep road on the stable property, but Molly didn’t feel like they were addressing the problem in an effective way. On another day, Whitney got on Apache and tried to demonstrate how to correct his bad habit, but Apache took off with Whitney and ran her straight into a fast-flowing river. Weeks of working in the arena didn’t help. Apache had the upper hand.
“Our last trail ride… I couldn’t stay on him and correct his movements at the same time. He was pretty jumpy and knew he was getting the best of me. I fell off, ate dirt, got a bloody nose and forehead, and scraped big pieces of skin off my leg. I have permanent scars on my right leg from my knee to my ankle, and am lucky I didn’t break anything or lose a tooth.”
Everyone agreed that Apache needed a more experienced rider and that Molly needed a much more seasoned horse. Molly was filled with anxiety at the idea of selling Apache. She was terrified that her horse would end up with a killer buyer, but she knew she had been very lucky that Apache hadn’t seriously injured her.
Molly did find a wonderful home for Apache. The woman who bought him (for significantly less than Molly paid) had ridden for years. They have continued to swap emails and Apache’s new owner has been able to address his bad habits.
“Why would Ellen, an expert horsewoman, sell an inexperienced new boarder a 3-year-old, energetic, strong, stubborn, green, and sometimes spooky horse? Because she could? I trusted her because I knew it was a family business, they all lived there, and I would be boarding there. It seems like it would be bad if I couldn’t control or kept falling off the horse I bought from her. But she just seemed to either ignore it or kind of act like it was no big deal.”
Molly tells HTT that she bought another horse after Apache was sold. She tells us that her second story isn’t much better, even though she purchased her second horse from a different seller. Stay tuned; we may soon be posting another saga illustrating horse trader tricks with Molly in the starring role.
For the next story, click here- Score: Buyer- One, Trader- Zero
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