Score: Buyer- One, Trader- Zero
My husband and I love horses and have been enthusiastic “occasional” pleasure riders for 30 years. When we decided to move out of the city and purchase our own property with acreage, we realized that it was time to go horse shopping. We acquired two young horses but they needed training. We also wanted mounts that were safe, quiet, and had plenty of exposure to all the scary things in the stable and out on the trail.
I began searching some of the popular Internet sites that specialized in horse sales. I liked the looks of a cremello mare with blue eyes, priced at $1850. I emailed back and forth with Jill, the mare’s trainer, asking for details. Jill assured me that even though the horse didn’t belong to her, she did have the authority to sell the mare. I was enticed by the 100% satisfaction, money-back guarantee offered by the trainer. She must be a nice mare if the woman who knew her so well would stand behind that kind of agreement.
Her barn was less than two hours away and I inquired about driving up for a test ride. Jill told me the horse was out on a camping trip and wouldn’t be back for four days.
“I’m very interested in this horse,” I told Jill. “If I come ride her next week and we’d like to try her, could you deliver her to us? We don’t own a trailer”.
“We could bring the horse to you as soon as she’s back, if you’d like,” offered Jill. That would save you the trip here. You can even borrow a saddle that fits her while you try her out.”
“Great. Bring her down,” I said.
On Saturday, a man who introduced himself as Justin arrived with my horse.
He backed the mare out of the trailer and I caught my breath. She had a gash on her forehead that had spewed blood all over her lovely white head. I asked how she had injured herself but Justin didn’t answer. We walked “Snow” into the arena. I saw that her right front hoof was very misshapen. The hoof wall was so dished, or concave, it looked almost as if it had been crushed at some point in time. Justin assured me that Snow was perfectly sound, despite the irregular hoof. We wiped the blood away and saw that the laceration on her head was not serious.
My husband and I both rode Snow in the arena and indeed, she was gentle and very well behaved. Jill had stated clearly that we had a six-week trial period with the mare. If we chose not to keep her, our money would be returned in full. As my husband wrote the check from our joint personal account (payable to Justin), I read the contract given to me by Justin. It was pre-printed with Justin’s name and phone number and had blank lines for any additional conditions we wanted to include. The seller had already written the details of the six-week trial period into the contract. I added the provision that we would receive the signed registration papers for the horse within 10 days of the end of the six-week period, should we decide to keep the mare. We also included the name, age, gender, and color of the horse. I signed it and so did Justin. What I didn’t catch at that time was that nowhere on the contract did I have Justin’s address, or that of the trainer, Jill’s.
We were excited about Snow. She was a pretty, affectionate mare, and just the right size for me at 15.1 hands. I did ask Justin if he actually owned Snow, and he said something about he and Jill being business partners and that they worked together. He did not say specifically that he owned the horse, and in my distracted state, I didn’t press him for details.
Justin left. I cleaned and medicated the gash on Snow’s forehead and got her settled in for the night.
I spent a lot of time with Snow during the next few weeks. Problems I first considered to be minor began to appear during our rides. I had been corresponding with Jill, hoping to glean some insight into the mare’s quirks. Jill offered on many occasions to provide some free lessons, but never actually found the time to follow through.
She played on my emotions, though, that’s for sure. She talked about what a wonderful home Snow had with us, and how happy she must be.
My farrier did the best he could with that poor hoof. He also discovered that the mare’s shoulder was lower on that side than the other. He built a special, thicker shoe to accommodate her structural flaw. When I told Jill about Snow’s shoulder, she said,
“Oh, it sounds like you’re taking such good care of her!”
The first time I used the cross ties with Snow, she went berserk and practically hung herself trying to get loose. Jill’s explanation was that Snow had never been cross tied before and was probably terrified. Next time, I tied her to a nice, reassuring tree. She pulled back with all her might, broke the halter and jumped back into the pasture with the other horses. Not a good sign. We began to realize that as long as Snow was in the close presence of other horses, she was fine. I didn’t know the meaning of the term “herd bound” until we had Snow. I sure know what it means now. Of course, I look back on those episodes and can see them as the “red flags” they were.
A little over a month after we acquired Snow, my husband and I were in the outdoor arena with the horses. He was riding his recently acquired gelding and I was on Snow. All was going well and we were having a good time. My husband dismounted and led his horse outside and behind the arena to give him a drink. Unfortunately, Snow couldn’t see them. I felt her tense up, and suddenly, off she went. She bolted across the arena, through the gate, and around the trees. She was in a panic and nothing I did could stop her. It was frightening and there were several moments when I just knew I was going to fly off and hit the ground at 90 mph.
That was the last straw. I'm not a trainer and I didn’t have the time, money or energy to work with a tremendously herd-bound horse. We were approaching the end of the six-week trial period. I had to make a decision. Overall, this was not a bad horse. However, I already had one young horse in training and another horse that would require training. I called Jill and told her that I wanted them to come and get Snow; I was returning her.
"Oh! Just keep her for a few more days. She loves you."
“No. Please just come and get her,” I replied.
“Well, you’re responsible for returning her. We won’t come and get her.”
“So, how do I get her back to you when you know I don’t have a trailer?”
“You can rent one or call a hauler.”
“What if I can’t get her returned on time?”
“I’ll be happy to exchange her for a different horse.”
That turned out to be one of my last conversations with Jill, despite many more efforts on my part to reach her. I realized that Jill’s obstructive behavior was probably her tactic for ensuring I never made it up there in a timely manner with the horse, and consequently wouldn’t get my refund. I then called Justin and obtained his address from a woman who answered his phone.
Meanwhile, I set up a new email account. I knew that Snow was still being advertised for sale during the six-week trial period. With my pseudonym, I emailed Jill about Snow. I questioned Jill about who actually owned the mare, because the ranch name was not listed with the State Registry. I told her I wanted to buy a horse as a surprise gift for my spouse, whose birthday was the following Saturday.
Jill sounded a tad suspicious when I kept asking about the ranch name and owner’s name, but she was more interested in the sale. She said that, unfortunately, the horse was not available to see. I asked her why and she explained that the horse was on a camping trip and would not be back until Sunday. However, she could have Snow all spiffed up with a big red bow for the surprise and she would deliver the horse herself on Sunday evening. I told Jill I wanted to see the horse first, so “No, thanks.”
Shortly after, I did get an answer from Jill. She gave me poor directions to the barn where I could return the horse, but no address. Had I tried to follow those directions, I would never have found the place.
I also asked a friend to email Jill about the horse. She got the same story about Snow being out on a camping trip.
My husband and I purchased a horse trailer on Saturday. Sunday was the very last day of our six-week trial period. We tried to load Snow, but she reared up as we walked her toward the trailer. She broke loose, kicked out, barely missing my husband’s head, and ran back to the barn. We gave her an over-the-counter calming supplement and let her rest for a little while. We tied one of Snow’s friends to the outside of the trailer, and that’s how we got her to load. She kicked and fussed and bounced for the majority of the two-hour journey back to Justin’s barn. We surmised that the cut on her head on that first day was likely from rearing as Justin loaded her into the trailer for her trip to us.
Interestingly, when we arrived, a barn employee told us that Justin was camping in the woods. He wasn’t expected back until the following week, so of course, no refund could be made at that time. Also noteworthy was a conversation we happened to overhear. Another person was at the barn to look at a horse for sale. We heard a different employee tell the man that Justin was expected back within the hour.
The man we were talking with examined Snow and said she looked fine. I handed him Snow’s saddle and wrote on a piece of paper that I had returned the horse and saddle, and that both were in good and satisfactory condition. I dated it and had him sign it. He wanted a copy and I said, "Of course." He used the office copier and kept a copy of my hand-written document. With the original document in hand, we left.
By that time, I had a file containing the following:
* A print-out of Snow’s ad
* All the emails pertaining to the horse
* The signed contract with the 100% satisfaction, money-back guarantee
* The canceled check made payable to Justin
* The document returning the horse and saddle within the six- week trial period
I called Justin a few more times. He never answered; nor did he return my messages.
Rarely had my profession afforded me such satisfaction. I waited a week, and then sent him a nasty surprise.
I wrote Justin a letter, using my own letterhead, of course. My letterhead has my name, and under it the following words: Attorney-at-Law.
I stated that he had10 days from the date of the letter to refund my money or I was going to sue him. He called my office on the day he received my letter. He said he had talked to an attorney and that it did, indeed, appear that he had sold me the horse because he signed the contract.
He went on to say that all he was doing was a favor for a friend by delivering the horse. (These people never stop with their lies.) He said he had never owned this horse.
“Really?” I said. “The contract was signed by you; the check was made payable to you.”
Justin then stated that Snow's owner had complained the horse was now a "head shaker.” This had allegedly occurred immediately after I returned the horse. I told him that I had a signed document from his employee/agent saying that the horse was fine. Also, if Snow had issues, it certainly could not be attributed to me, eleven days after I had returned the horse, and this was the first I had heard of it. He could tell that none of his explanations were going to work with me. His attitude changed from relative compliance to bitingly insulting.
He asked derisively why I didn't spend more money to get a better horse. I asked him why I should spend more money to get a better horse when he advertises good, safe, sound, well-mannered trail horses and that is all that I had wanted. If I had wavered for a second, I am certain that he would have been trying to sell me a very expensive but problematic horse. He hung up. Within two days, I had my refund.
Being an attorney was certainly an advantage in this story. However, the most important element and the reason I was able to get a full refund was the careful documentation of all that had transpired. I would urge anyone who is buying a horse to remember this episode and follow suit. It's fairly classic... the trader plays on our emotions; gives us a sob story. If that doesn’t work, he resorts to insults, intimidation and bullying. I fought back and won, and so can you.
For the next story, click here- The Horse Trader Next Door
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