Two From Cassandra
My name is Cassandra and I am an experienced rider with 20+ years in the saddle. I think anyone can be taken in by a horse trader. Experience, or lack thereof, is only part of the equation.
I should probably mention that I have medical conditions that present a few challenges in buying and riding horses, although the benefits of loving them far outweigh the inconveniences caused by my limitations. I have fibromyalgia. I have a difficult time getting up on a large horse because my legs won't lift anymore. Even a small horse requires a mounting block. I have a mild case of Asperger Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder). I cannot easily read facial expressions or body language, and I often take people literally. In other words, I'm extremely gullible. It’s the way my brain works. I also have anxiety disorder, perhaps exacerbated by the insecurity of not being able to read people well. I occasionally even get panic attacks on horseback, so the horses I ride have to be gentle and calm. I’ve found that older horses make the most suitable mounts for me.
For years I had several good horses. We participated in shows, parades, mounted drill, trails, and team penning. I even galloped the flag in the Grand Entry at a few shows. Sadly, those horses that I’ve loved and used have either passed away or retired to my pastures. I am rather stuck without a good usin' horse at the moment and have been for a couple of years. During my search for a new horse, I’ve met sellers who were so blatantly dishonest or the horses were so obviously not as described that even I passed on those. Here are the tales of two I should've walked away from and didn't. I call the first one:
Rocky Mountain Fever
This story begins with an ad for a "dead-broke, bombproof, kid-safe" 11 year-old Rocky Mountain gelding called Ringo. The woman who owned the horse admitted she was a trader, but the red flag didn't go up at that point because I had purchased horses from traders before and been more than satisfied; they had been honest, and the horses were as advertised.
This seller said she'd just put 90 days of riding on the horse and invited me to come try him out. She said that she and the family would be "riding all day" (should have been a another big red flag, but I didn't think a thing of it) and I could come any time. As I was headed to her place, she called and said, "Are you still coming to see my horse? I got my two-year-old riding him around the yard now, just waiting for you."
When I got there, the gelding was haltered and tied to a horse trailer parked along the street. He looked sleek and beautiful and without a saddle or bridle, I could see his fine lines and pretty head. A friend later asked if I didn’t wonder why the seller’s child wasn’t still riding, since I had arrived so soon after the phone call, but honestly I was so excited to see this horse, it never crossed my mind.
There was nowhere to ride the animal except the road; however, this was a suburban community and I figured with the chaos going on (kids on bikes, the ice cream truck, sprinklers), the road wasn't a bad a place to try him out. Any horse that could stay calm with all the commotion would surely be a good one. The horse appeared alert while she tacked him up. He was not spooky; he just seemed very energetic and spirited. The seller got on him first and showed his flat walk, single-foot, and lope using a simple rope hackamore. I was smitten! Talk about rhythm and style! That horse was a gaitin' machine! The seller jumped off and told me to get on and “have at it.” I thought, “Can I really ride such a spirited animal, especially as 'out of riding trim' as I am?” Then I told myself not to be such a wuss and I got on.
The horse immediately flat-walked away and I felt a bit nervous. I kept expecting him to spook, but he didn't. Finally I got brave enough to single-foot, and he went into it very slowly and carefully. He was sooooo smooth! We single-footed a little faster, and then we tried a bit of a lope. The gelding was very responsive. I began to relax, and as I got calmer, he went a bit faster. If I tensed up, he slowed down and went more carefully. Up and down the street we went, a noddin' and a whompin' and a stompin' in grand Rocky Mountain style, with the ice cream truck blowing by, and the bikes and kids running around and the dogs and the wind and the banging shutters and all. And I was having FUN! “Wow,” I thought, “This horse really is a good fit for an experienced-but-big-chicken rider and, up close and in person, he has a big, soft, kind eye.”
I told the seller that I had lost a lot of confidence as a rider. She beamed and said, "This one will help you gain it back, and the more you relax and learn to trust him, the better he's going to go for you." She said she'd had him on trails, roped cattle with him, and that he was the horse she used to snub up and pony colts with because he was so well broke. She said all her kids rode him. She said that this was her husband’s favorite horse and he was disappointed she was selling him. The husband was standing right there and he nodded. I asked if I could have him on trial, and she said she'd let someone do that with the horse a few weeks ago but the man brought him back because he didn't like the way Ringo wiggled his ears when he threw a rope off him. She had a big list of people waiting for him so if I wanted him, fine, but she wouldn't let me take him on trial.
I'm sure at this point readers are shaking their heads at my idiocy.
You can guess that Ringo totally came unglued when I tried to ride him at home a week after the purchase, and we ended up scaring each other half to death. The moment I got on him, he bolted. I managed to bail before he got very far (I pulled him in a circle and did an emergency dismount), sat down on my mounting block, and cried. My husband was there and offered to lead me on him, so I got back on. Ringo would not lead; he just stood trembling and refused to budge. The horse was so frightened at that point his feet were stuck to the ground. I thought it might be because he was not used to my place yet, or to me, so I waited a few more days before I tried again. I did some grooming and groundwork and generally got to know him. The next time I got on, he bolted again. This is when I started to really be mad, both at the seller for being dishonest, but more so at myself for being so gullible. I was even a little bit mad at Ringo for not being the calm, broke horse he was supposed to be.
The seller would not take him back. She said she had already spent the $1,900 I gave her on four more horses, and she'd (conveniently) lost the phone numbers of people who wanted him prior to my buying the horse. I decided to do as my friends suggested and give him some more time to settle in. A couple of months went by and things did not get any better. I had in my possession a frightened horse, and I was frightened along with him. I took him to a gaited horse trainer friend an hour away from me for an evaluation, and discovered that she knew the horse. Ringo was nothing but a pasture ornament! He may have been broke at one point, but had not been ridden for at least 8 years. The woman who sold him to me had only had him 8 days, not 90!
Why Ringo didn't pitch me in the middle of that road that first day, I do not know. My friend thinks the horse was either drugged when I tried him out, or he’d been ridden all day and was exhausted. I tend to think the latter, though he wasn't sweaty when I first arrived. I imagine that if the seller rode him up and down that street, with all its distractions and scary objects, for 3-4 hours until Ringo was too exhausted to react anymore, hosed off the sweat marks and let him dry, he would have been the easy-to-ride horse I met.
I remember attending a John Lyons clinic about 20 years ago. Mr. Lyons worked a colt and got it saddled, bridled, and ridden all in one day. For the grand finale, he took the colt out in the parking lot and put a kid on him. Mr. Lyons admitted the following day that he did that at every clinic to wow the crowd. He'd work every colt to exhaustion, because he knew the colt would have to finish up in the parking lot with a kid on its back. By that time, said Mr. Lyons, the colt would be so tired he'd agree to anything without a fuss. That's exactly what I think happened with Ringo, and why he was so good to ride when I tried him out. He was so tired he didn't care who was on him or what was going on around him.
As part of the evaluation, my friend rode the horse to see what he knew (which ended up being not much), and the horse was very nervous and spooky for her. She said she was sure he'd never been used for roping. It was her opinion I sell the horse before I got hurt, so I took her advice and advertised Ringo for sale.
The first buyer took Ringo on trial knowing he was very green, but brought him back after Ringo had bolted, dumping his wife and landing her in the ER with a few broken ribs. The next buyer, I learned later, was in cahoots with the woman I purchased the horse from originally. She saw my ad and offered me half of what I paid for him. I figured it was better than nothing, and I was stupid enough to let her load my horse and take him away without paying (I know- dumb, dumb, dumb!), with final arrangements to be made in a couple of days. In between that time, I called to check on the horse, and the woman insisted that Ringo was only worth a quarter of what I paid, even if he did have papers, and that's all she intended to give me. I told her I would make immediate arrangements to come get Ringo. She managed to fly out of town on the arranged day to visit an injured relative (called me to say she was at the airport just as I got to the off ramp to the town where she lived). The woman managed to have one family emergency after another for the next 3 weeks. Finally, she returned to town after yet another funeral, but said they were having a family party and she would not be home until after 10 pm. I said, "Great, I will see you then." I do not know what they thought they were going to gain by playing "keep-away." Perhaps they thought I would wear down eventually and agree to sell him for the "much-reduced" price they offered. I do not know why they finally gave in and returned my horse. People who knew both the seller and the buyer speculated that they saw my ad, figured me for a sucker and intended to re-sell the gelding for a large profit. Quite the racket, eh?
As for Ringo- I still have him two years later. I'd had all the "selling" my nerves would stand at that point. Luckily, he turned out to be sound and sensible, although very green. His big, soft eye didn't lie to me; he’s really a very kind horse. He sure as heck isn't a kid's or beginner's horse, though, and certainly is not anywhere near "bombproof." I know no horse is completely "bombproof" but this little horse is definitely more on the jumpy side. He's getting calmer as time goes on, though. I don't do much with him, but we do the little bit my nerves can stand, and we are gradually building up to more. I got a natural horsemanship friend of mine to put 30 days on him after I got him back. We do lots of groundwork, and I ride him a bit in my arena. I've gotten brave enough to canter him now. We even did the 2-gait classes at our state fair last year and won a few ribbons! (I look like a deer caught in the headlights in the video my husband took of us, but hey). Ringo may never fill the slot he was intended for when I bought him, but I've learned to appreciate him for what he is (and not begrudge what he isn't) and we are enjoying each other's company.
The thing is, if the seller had been honest in the first place, I might still have bought him. He's gorgeous and has lovely gaits. It'll be several years before he'll be that broke horse that he was advertised as being, but he'll get there. The trainers I’ve used have just loved working with him and they think he's wonderful. If I had known the truth, I wouldn't have this bad taste in my mouth. I wouldn't have been an emotional wreck all that summer, hating myself for making a bad purchase. I wouldn't have tried to ride him, thinking he was a broke horse, and he and I wouldn't have scared each other so badly. If I had known the truth, I would have made arrangements to put him in training right away. It's actually probably a lucky thing I'm the one that ended up with him. I shudder to think what would have happened if a beginner who did not know how to stop a bolting horse with a circle or pulley rein or was unable to stay on when a horse bolted because they did not yet have a secure seat had experienced that first ride at home. It just makes me so angry that someone could have been very badly hurt by that woman's lies. Ringo could have easily ended up as meat if he'd gone to someone who'd made his bolting problem worse, or if he’d hurt someone very badly and been branded a "killer." It was only luck I’d discovered he was just green and not incorrigible. I suppose people like this seller don't care about anything but money, though.
My next story is hard to tell. I call it:
Our Broken Hearts
With the addition of Ringo, we now had ten horses. One rescue is a former show horse with sciatic nerve damage. One belonged to a close friend who was dying. Her horse had arthritic stifles and she was afraid he would end up at a slaughterhouse so we agreed to take him. The third rescue is an elderly but very sweet Saddlebred with an old hind leg injury. The others are my dear old friends that are no longer rideable. I keep them because they've been good horses and deserve a good retirement. These include Feather, my husband's little bay and white mare with arthritic knees, an Arabian gelding with a suspensory injury (caused by a trainer who ran him for two hours straight to "break his spirit"), a 30 year-old Morgan mare with congestive heart failure, and my beloved companion of 21 years, Dreamer, a Thoroughbred/Welsh pony cross mare. They all have a life-long home here.
However, I was still short that "go-to" horse I could use for trails and my adult riding club, so the search continued. A year ago, my husband spotted an ad for a little bay and white pinto that he thought might fit the bill. My husband has a thing for little spotted mares and still spends many hours enjoying the company of his old friend Feather, even though he can no longer ride her.
Ray Flory was another horse trader, but I had dealt with him before. He and his wife, Marge, run a riding stable called South Florida Equine Adventures and they have horses for livery. Of particular note on their website is the "sale" section where it states that all their horses are guaranteed sound.
You can probably now see where this is headed. You know the Looney Tunes character that gets outwitted and turns into a giant lollipop? That's me… one great big sucker.
The portly little mare in the ad was a 13 year-old Paint cross and very cute. She was calm, gentle, and well trained. Ray’s daughter had trained her and used her in 4-H. They'd also used her in the livery stable string and for a kid's riding camp they do every summer. The daughter had outgrown her and they needed hay, so that's why she was for sale. They called her "Baby Doll" because she was such an adorable little round horse. She had a thick, cresty neck, but I’d seen similar horses that were sound and healthy so I didn’t give it much thought. Ray is also a farrier, and he had just trimmed her feet a few days before. As he led her to the arena for me to try out, she stepped short and appeared a bit "ouchy." "Has this horse foundered?" I asked, concerned. "No," Marge replied. "Ray just trimmed her feet too short and quicked her. I don't know why he did that, it made me kind of mad."
In all my years of owning horses, I’d only once before had the misfortune to have a foundered horse. We struggled for years to keep him sound and comfortable but eventually one of his front coffin bones came through the sole of his foot. We realized the fight was over and had made the decision to have him euthanized the next day but he took the choice away from us by tripping in the pasture and breaking a hind leg. When the vet arrived he told us the gelding’s leg not only snapped, it was pulverized. According to our vet, the years of chronic founder had caused him to shift his weight to his back legs. So many years of carrying the weight where it was not supposed to be carried made the bones brittle.
Anyway, both my husband and I rode Ray’s little pinto and she did well in spite of the slightly sore feet. We both really liked her, but we did not want to buy an unsound horse. I asked again if they were sure she'd never foundered. "Never," said the wife. "I guarantee this horse has never foundered. She's perfectly sound. Ray just trimmed her too short. If you like, he can throw some shoes on her before you pick her up." I declined the offer of shoes and made arrangements to take her home.
We were re-fencing some of our pasture so I drove her to my uncle's property until our project was complete. On the evening we brought Dolly to my uncle’s house, my beautiful old mare, Dreamer, passed away at the age of 32. Having Dolly eased the pain a little because I was certain that Dolly would be my next “heart horse.” She was so affectionate and I found myself falling for her. Was it a harbinger of things to come- that my emotions were already in such turmoil on the day Dolly arrived? I do feel that Dreamer’s death may have contributed to the deepness of the attachment we formed to Dolly. There was a big hole in our hearts, and she helped fill a small part of it. And oh, how my uncle and aunt loved that horse! They called her "Little Doll." My aunt spoiled her by coming out every day to brush her with Show Sheen and give her "kisses." I came to ride her several times that week. What a team we were! Ray’s daughter did a wonderful job training her. Dolly was collected, responsive, and knew her leads. She could leg yield and side pass. I also tried her on the barrels and she was great. She was just a joy to ride.
My uncle's farrier saw Dolly soon after she arrived and said he thought the horse's feet looked like she'd foundered. We called Ray and told him we were enjoying our little horse, but was he sure she'd never foundered? Once again came the guarantee that the horse had never foundered. He asked if she was still lame, but at that time she seemed sound so I put it out of my mind.
Ten days later, we brought our little pinto home. I took her with me to my riding club where an experienced rider friend tried her out and took her through the poles. She really liked Dolly and thought she was a good fit for me, but commented that the horse seemed a bit sore.
By that time, Dolly’s feet had grown out a little, so I made an appointment with my farrier to shoe her for an upcoming parade. He gasped as he examined Dolly. "Cassandra, this horse has foundered on all four feet." I started to feel sick. "Are you sure? They said she'd never foundered." My farrier pointed at her cresty neck and said it was his first sign that something may be amiss. He said it was a common horse trader trick; trim the hooves too short and hide the telltale rings of laminitis. Now, to his experienced eye, they were plainly visible and Dolly’s “seedy toe” was one of the worst cases my farrier had ever seen. He picked up the mare's foot and very kindly showed me what I hadn’t seen- evidence of laminitic changes. Maybe I didn't see the rings and seedy toe before because I didn't want to see them. He showed me the dropped sole that indicated her coffin bone had rotated. He showed me this on all four of her hooves. He explained the horse wasn't "lame" because she was equally sore on all four feet. I almost cried. He trimmed her as best he could and suggested a full veterinary evaluation.
Our vet showed us the radiographs. The horse had indeed foundered, probably at some point the previous autumn. On one front foot, the coffin bone was nearly through the sole and the other was just a degree better. In fact, the vet said the horse was currently in a state of laminitis, and gave us Bute for the inflammation. The vet said with proper shoeing every 3 weeks, the horse might be made sound enough for very light riding with a small child. He warned us, though, that some badly foundered horses remain painful for the rest of their lives, despite aggressive veterinary intervention and treatment. Yeah…we knew.
We discussed the possibility of keeping Dolly. After several lengthy conversations with both our vet and our farrier we decided we had to think with our heads and not our hearts, broken though they might be. We simply could not afford either the financial or emotional burden of taking on another special-needs horse. Besides, Ray had guaranteed us a sound horse and we felt we had to force Ray’s hand on principle. He shouldn’t be rewarded for cheating.
We called Ray and offered to show him the radiographs from our vet. At that point, he agreed to come and pick up Dolly but he couldn’t refund our money because he’d already spent it on hay. He would, however, find us a replacement for little Dolly. If we wanted, we were welcome to come see every horse he had on the place and pick one to take home, but at that time, he didn't have anything he thought we could use. He said he would do his best to find us a similar horse if that's what we wanted, but it might take him a while to find one equal in training and temperament. I wish Ray would have refunded our money and allowed us to keep Dolly until it was time to put her down but that wasn’t an option. What else could we do?
My dad cried when that little spotted horse walked onto the trailer and went off down the driveway. So did I. I am crying now, writing this account, and I miss her every day. How could a horse enter our hearts so completely in just a few weeks?
I do not know what Ray did with Dolly. I do not intend to ever ask him. I know this sounds terrible, but frankly, I hope he shot her. She never presented as “lame,” just a little “ouchy.” With a dose of Bute, Ray could have sold her again and the buyer, like us, would never suspect anything was wrong. Did we doom her to an unthinkable fate with a novice buyer who wouldn't understand what was wrong and leave her in terrible pain as her condition worsened? The thought haunts me.
I now know the value of a pre-purchase exam, even on an “inexpensive” horse. I now know dishonest horse traders cause physical injury when a dangerous horse is sold as well trained. I now know people lose money buying lame or unhealthy horses advertised as sound. Now, I also know about the emotional damage they cause by putting buyers in the position of loving a horse and having to let go. Did we make the right decision? I don't know...
It’s nearly a year later and I still have no horse. We call Ray once a week and leave a message. It's all I really can do at this point, and maybe he’ll come up with a suitable horse. I also put a call in about a week ago to William Witherow, a horse trader that I know is honest. Three of the best horses I ever had came from him (all have since passed away from old age). Not all horse traders are dishonest. I was just a fool to think they were all like William. I know better, now.
As I wrote about my experiences for this site, I remembered details I’d forgotten. I actually found the process therapeutic and I hope my stories will help others, too- Cassandra
For the next story, click here- Shelter Twist
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