I think my story is atypical even though I was victimized by a horse trader. I learned a lot about myself and about owning a horse so in that respect, I don’t regret my experiences. However, I sure wouldn’t wish it on someone else.
I was a horse-crazy girl. At the age of seven, I began taking riding lessons at a hunter/jumper barn. For the following seven years, I continued to take lessons and began lobbying my mother to allow me to buy a horse of my own. During those years of lessons, I saved every penny I had; I stashed Christmas and birthday money, as well as all that I earned babysitting. When I was 14, I told my mom that if she wasn’t going to help me get a horse, I’d get one on my own and she’d be liable anyway. She knew I was serious and decided it was time to start looking. My parents would pay board but I’d have to use my own money to buy the horse. I had saved around $5,000.
I had been riding with the same trainer for those seven years and I trusted her implicitly. She gave me advice about every aspect of horse shopping and stressed the importance of a pre-purchase exam by a veterinarian. We looked for about six months and took 10 or so horses to my barn on trial. My trainer definitely had a preference for Trakehners, so she said the Morgan cross, Quarter horses, and Appaloosa I tried just weren’t the right fit for her program. I think she wanted me to buy a horse worth more than I could spend.
I finally found a gelding nearby that seemed perfect. He was an eleven-year-old, coal black Thoroughbred/warmblood cross for $3,500, which was within my budget. When I went out to ride Gallant for the first time, he needed some work but that was okay with me. I had the time and inclination to improve him. The broker refused to let me take him on trial because he felt that the horse would sell quickly without it. I guess that was Red Flag Number 1. He did agree to trailer him to our barn for a partial day so my trainer could see me ride him.
My trainer warned me that Gallant would need some work but I was frustrated with the never-ending search for a horse. I desperately wanted one of my own. We asked the broker for the horse’s owner’s contact information and he replied that he would need to check with the owner first for permission. We never did get to talk to the owner, which was Red Flag Number 2. We have a video of that first ride. Watching it now, many years later, I’m pretty sure Gallant had been drugged. His nose was practically touching the ground.
The next step was to arrange a pre-purchase exam. The broker said the gelding had a recent exam but my trainer insisted on her vet doing a new one. Surprisingly, her vet called us to say that Gallant didn’t really need a second exam, but since he happened to be at Gallant’s barn, he’d do some basic things and only charge us half the normal price. We found out later that the vet did not check Gallant’s teeth, which surprised us because that’s a pretty standard part of a pre-purchase exam.
We purchased the horse and instead of improving, within a week he became treacherous in every way. He reared, bucked, bolted and slammed me into the fences and walls of the arena. Of course, that was Red Flag Number 3. My trainer wouldn’t ride him because she didn’t want to get hurt. A few brave girls from the barn offered to get on him but they eventually gave up.
Everyone was very worried about me; the whole thing was ridiculous, absurd! But they were proud of me too, for being so brave and dealing with it all. My mother stopped watching me during my rides because she couldn't handle it and information we gave my dad became very limited. Also, my mom was not a horse person and therefore didn’t realize the full extent of the problem, or the danger. My mom knew how much I was suffering, though, and she always supported my decisions with the horse. I think my trainer didn't push me to get rid of Gallant because she would lose the board money. My mother inquired about putting Gallant down or selling him but she knew how passionate I was and God bless her for being so strong.
About three months later my trainer’s vet’s associate was at our barn giving yearly vaccinations. He checked Gallant’s teeth and told us he was about 17 years old, not 11, as we’d been told. I asked my trainer why her vet hadn’t checked Gallant’s teeth during the truncated pre-purchase exam, but she shrugged it off and said it was no big deal.
It was a very frustrating summer. The only place I could safely ride was alone in our indoor arena. It was hot and humid. While everyone else was riding outdoors, I rode inside, out of people’s way, enclosed where Gallant couldn’t get out. He made little progress but I had no choice but to continue to work with him. Eventually I realized that I needed to sell Gallant because he really was not the horse for me.
After I’d made the decision to sell him, I came across an email from a woman who did guided trail rides. On a whim, I contacted her, thinking Gallant might be safe enough to walk along on trails. She emailed back and suggested that she would take him to see how he did. I thought she was planning to buy Gallant, but she encouraged me to come out and play with him. She thought once he was comfortable in his new environment, without the stress of intense work, he might have a new perspective on being ridden.
That summer was a summer never to forget. I had a different vet look at my horse and that vet assured me Gallant’s age was nothing career-ending or tragic. She helped me put my anger behind me, for my own benefit as well as Gallant’s. This vet also noticed a suspicious bump on one leg and convinced me to have it X-rayed. The X-ray revealed a previous bone fracture that had never healed correctly. It also indicated arthritic changes to his hocks. This vet started him on glucosamine supplements and also gave him joint injections.
Within weeks his demeanor had changed significantly. He was calmer, happier, and sweeter-natured. I worked for my new friend all summer. At her barn, I learned how to properly clean a stall, about how much and what to feed a horse, and many other basic principles of horse care. It allowed me to take better control of my life with horses.
Several years later, I asked my original trainer if I could bring Gallant back to her barn and try again. She agreed and said she was happy he was doing so well. Back at the hunter/jumper barn, I asked my trainer’s saddle fitter to help me find a new saddle for Gallant. He looked at the saddle I’d been using and showed me all the places it was causing him severe pain. We knew he wasn’t lying because we could see Gallant tense up as the fitter gently touched his back. Even my mom, who hates animals, was sad for my horse.
When I got the new saddle, Gallant and I progressed faster than ever and he became one of the most talented horses at our barn. We even did some showing. But, it had been a long few years.
One day Gallant’s “older-horse” stiffness didn’t resolve quickly during a ride. The vet discovered a 15mm tear in one tendon. I was devastated. Gallant had been doing so well. He was fit and muscular, but now he would need a year of stall rest. My trainer couldn’t accomodate him, but a good friend was able to board him for me. She wrapped his legs twice a day, did his therapeutic exercise, and kept him fat and happy.
Anyway, he rested for a year and I began riding him again. He was still a fantastic horse, doing dressage and jumping and trails.
He stayed with my friend while I was in college, though I still rode him during breaks and summers. While I was away at school, I began having episodes of light-headedness and difficulty breathing. I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The doctor prescribed two different medications for it, which I still take. I believe the years of stress with Gallant contributed to my diagnosis.
Today my horse is an old man and still living with my friend. I feel that we’ve overcome some of his life-long fears and bad habits, but he still has issues and I can’t trust anyone else with him. The process took its toll on us both.
I truly believe my horse is a blessing, that he was sent to teach me some very valuable life lessons, but I wouldn’t want another horse like him. I am also very lucky no one was seriously injured while handling or riding him. I feel very sorry for Gallant when I remember our first years together. I think, between his injury, his arthritis, and the poorly fitting saddle, he must have been in constant discomfort, made worse by our rigorous riding sessions. I was so tough on him with the crop and I think he was just trying to escape the pain.
We need to take the good things from people and learn from the bad things and not bother getting exhausted over asking "why?"
Here is my advice for anyone buying a horse:
*Don’t assume that any one person knows everything. I love my trainer and from time to time, I still ask for her input. She is an excellent trainer but I relied too heavily on her opinions. I guess I expected too much; after all, she wasn’t a life-coach, just the person who gave me horse-riding lessons. I don't think there are any perfect trainers out there, so just choose the one that has more of what you want and less of what you don't want.
*If you have a pre-purchase exam done, be there yourself and be familiar with the tests involved so you’ll know it was done properly.
*Challenge yourself to learn everything you can about horses and their care. Talk to every expert and amateur but trust your own common sense. Never make a decision about your horse’s health or training on the basis of a single opinion.
*Don’t give up if you’ve had a bad experience. Appreciate that you’ve had a chance to learn something, even if it’s an expensive lesson.
*Be aware of the price you’re paying for your horse experience, both monetary and emotional. Going through what I did made me a better rider and person, but I was forced to grow up a lot faster than I should have and I'm paying for it now with anxiety medication. I wasn't able to do most of the fun things that young girls want to do with horses. I had to be under the supervision of my trainer constantly, which was, frankly, boring. It’s hours and hours of repetition. Fourteen-year-old girls want to jump and go on trail rides and participate in the local parade, or ride out to the lake, and I couldn't do any of that; I had to stick to a strict routine because that is what kept Gallant ridable. I couldn't hang out with my school friends either, because all my time was spent at the barn; my horse couldn't have days off or he'd be that much harder to handle.
*Tricky horse traders don’t just hurt people; they hurt horses, too.
For the next story, click here- Dear Mr. Horse Trader
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