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“Pretty is as pretty does” – Adventures in Horse Buying

Until the last 6 months, I have only bought three horses in my life and one more with my husband Andrew.  Seven total if you add the time we went to the ranch I bought Summer from in South Dakota and came back with a weanling Quarter Horse and two weanling Miniature Horses.  My first horse Saint was an 8-month-old Andalusian Morgan cross from a private owner.  Summer I bought off the SD ranch I worked on in the 1990’s, Josey at a yearly local QH breeder sale.  All of them except one were two and under and all of the South Dakotan’s were “killer price”.  Not because they were destined for the slaughterhouse, but that was just the rancher’s way of giving us a deal.  No Pre-Purchase Exams and somewhat of a risk as youngsters.  My last riding horse was a homebred, Summer’s daughter Ruby.  Ruby was a great riding horse, but not a safe family horse to have out in the yard.

In September, we found a wonderful new home for Ruby which seems to be the perfect fit for her and her new owner.  Of course I couldn’t be horseless for long.  For weeks I browsed through the outlets of DreamHorse.com and some of the Facebook horse groups.  What did I really want?  I am not getting any younger and this could possibly be my last horse.  Choosing a breed and a discipline is a struggle for me.  In another life, as the Toby Keith song goes, “I should have been a cowboy, I should have learned to rope and ride, wearing my six shooter, riding my pony on a cattle drive…”  No matter what breed I have had, I have enjoyed taking my horses into western and English disciplines like Versatility Ranch Horse and Eventing.  None of us like to be defined or put limits upon, right!?  Whatever breed I chose, I would still be a cowgirl!

Last September, Clinician Kip Fladland came to Conifer to teach a horsemanship clinic that I had planned to ride in, but I had sold Ruby just before it.  Kip’s wife Missy is a Dressage trainer and he rides and teaches the Ray Hunt methods honed through Buck Brannaman (Buck asked Kip to join him on the road for 5 years and Kip continues to assist Buck at times).  While Kip is a Montana cowboy through and through, he was riding Ali, their lovely Dutch Warmblood mare.  Kip was my kind of guy.  (By the way, we are hosting a clinic September 15-17 at the Jeffco Fairgrounds with Kip and would love for you to join, just email me for details.  All disciplines and levels of riders are welcome and guaranteed to learn and have a great time – There’s the plug!)

What was my dream horse?  A great brain and disposition was the number one priority to have around my boys.  Then soundness and versatility.  Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds will always have a spot in my heart, but Irish Sport Horses have been on my radar since my time in Ireland. Plus, in the past few years, I have enjoyed the people and the challenge of Eventing and what the heck, what better horse to Event on than a ISH.  The intelligence, stamina and loyalty of the Thoroughbred plus the sensibility, heartiness and amazing jumping ability of the Irish Draught, in one package.  Also, sometimes pricy and hard to find.

Thanks to a local friend, not as hard as I thought!  We arid climate people need to remember that in climates with prolific grass, horses are more plentiful and can less expensive.  The simple economics of supply and demand.  My friend Barb had just found a ISH in Illinois that was sound, reasonable and awesome.  Turns out, several local people bred to his ISH sire who Southern Illinois University stood through their Equine Science program.  Barb made some calls and found Molly, a 3-year-old filly by the same sire that was going to go up for sale.

But, Illinois?  Do I fly, do I drive?  I have been to Holland horse shopping with friends, but this was not my own usual territory.  I started the process of finding something wrong with her to save my self the trip.  I had a friend that lived in the area go by to see her, check.  I found a veterinarian to make sure she didn’t have things that were deal killer for me as well as a PPE, check.  I found another veterinarian that could do digital X-Rays, check.  Time to get on a plane.  Rode her, loved her, great personality, great brain, check.  Why didn’t I bring the trailer?  I found a ride back to Colorado for her a couple weeks later.

All this to say, learn from my experience of buying a horse from afar and here is what I would do differently the next time, if there were one.  I would still have had my friend go by to see her and look for my deal killers.  Then I would have made a PPE appointment at the closest large equine clinic with a great reputation, driven out to Illinois with my trailer, seen Molly in person, tried her out and then kept my appointment at the clinic and if all went well, headed home horse rich and cash poor!

Molly has held true to all that I had hoped for in my new four-legged best friend.  With the great weather late last year after she arrived, the three year old with 3 months of light riding under her saddle took easily to riding trails alone and with friends, Spring Gulch Equestrian Park (one of my favorites), and various arenas around town.  A pretty girl, doing pretty things.  Here’s to a year full of riding in 2017!  Heather McWilliams © 2017