Horse Trial 101
You’ve saved up, you’ve run the numbers, you’ve fluffed up an empty stall - now you just need a horse. Where in the heck do you start??
Well, step one is to look at ads. When looking at an ad, do NOT let yourself look at an ad for a horse out of your budget, unless it’s close to your budget and welcomes offers. There’s nothing harder in horse shopping than comparing lower-dollar horses against the high-dollar horse you fell in love with on Facebook. Try to find ads that show a clear side shot of the horse without tack. If there isn’t one, ask the owner for one. This will give you a clear idea of the horse’s build, and whether the owner is trying to hide anything. Consider what the horse is currently trained to do, its age, and whether it is registered.
Once you’ve found a few candidates, it’s time to head to some trials. TAKE YOUR TRAINER WITH YOU. I cannot emphasize this enough. Even if that means extra fees, your trainer knows what they’re looking at, and can ride the horse first to keep you safe. A few weeks ago I went to look at a horse with some folks that was “dead broke” and it literally reared up and spun because we passed its boundary line on the property. If my client had been on there’s a 99% chance she would have come off, and if she wouldn’t have, she would’ve been very shaken. No thank you. Your trainer is also likely more experienced at seeing lameness and other behavioral issues.
Ask ALL the questions you have. You should never feel nervous to ask a seller something, and if they blow off your questions or you don't feel like you’re getting straight answers, leave. The same goes for a seller who’s rushing you. If they aren’t willing to let you experience the horse (within reason), they probably weren’t willing to be honest about the horse and give the horse a proper background/training. Never ever be afraid to just leave a trial if you get a bad feeling. You will never regret that. I’ve left trials 20 minutes in because I knew it wasn’t going to work, and that’s just the way it is.
Do not act too excited about the horse while at the trial. It’s okay to mention the good and bad things you notice, but don’t gush about them. This can make the owner more inclined to hide things if they think you’re already sold on what you’ve seen. Similarly, in most circumstances, it’s best not to show up with a trailer. Often I have clients park their trailer a ways away, then ride in in my car. This prevents the seller from rushing you to load up and get home if they don’t know you have a trailer.
Once you’ve had a chance to ride and work with the horse, have an honest conversation with your trainer AWAY from the seller. Discuss the pros and cons, as well as your gut feelings. If you both feel good about the horse, see if the seller is willing to offer an off-property lease for a few days. This lets you see how the horse is at home, and whether they blow up in a new environment. If they are, great! If not, discuss setting up a second trial for a different time of day (if you came in the afternoon, shoot for first thing in the morning, and vice versa). You’d be surprised what a big difference this can make!