Many trainers dread being asked: “Is it time to consider selling my horse?” They get asked this question quite often, however; they also regularly see many horse-rider combinations that are unsuited to each other.
While numerous factors play into the final decision, the easiest way to answer the question of selling for is to consider two main points:
• It stops being safe
• It stops being fun for the horse and/or rider
Know your limits
Everyone has their own criteria for safety. Some don’t mind a horse that is strong, fast, spooky, or that likes to buck on occasion. Others feel their heart rate go up if their horse so much as looks sideways at something. This is fine – everyone is going to have their own “threshold” for potential danger.
Keep your limits in mind when you’re considering selling. Do not let others dictate what your comfort zone should be. Only you know what it is. With time and support, you can learn to step out of your comfort zone, but chances are it will be difficult with a horse that frightens you.
It’s interesting how many riders insist on overcoming their fears on the very horse that created those fears, especially when the horse is still perfectly capable of recreating the scenario. Most often, this simply creates a vicious cycle:
• After the initial scare, the rider becomes tense.
• The horse picks up on the rider’s tension and becomes edgy, frightening the rider even more.
• Things escalate until the initial scenario is replayed, and the rider’s fear increases.
With each cycle, you become worse off than when you started. Even once progress is made, the rider often never completely trusts the horse again.
There is also nothing wrong with moving on when you feel a certain horse is not challenging you enough or allowing you to grow and progress. These horses can often go on to help teach other riders, building their confidence and assisting them in reaching their own goals.
Your goals can change
When purchasing a horse, you consider what your goals are. You then find a horse that you hope can happily help you reach them. As time goes on, however, you often have to re-evaluate your goals. You may eventually find that the horse no longer fits those goals, and that riding is no longer fun for either of you. There is nothing worse than having every ride feel like a fight between you and the horse, whether it’s because your horse is a bit too difficult for you, does not enjoy the job you have chosen for him, or because you no longer “mesh”.
Consider your horse
Nine times out of ten, our horses don’t get to choose their jobs. We do the choosing. We look at their conformation, attitude and abilities and try to think what would fit them best. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. There are horses who do not enjoy jumping, or are terribly uncomfortable doing cross country or working cattle. Others are unhappy being pleasure/trail horses and want to do more. Some are great school horses, some are not.
Horses asked to perform jobs they are uncomfortable with can become sour and unhappy. When it reaches this point, it’s time to do the right thing for the horse by switching disciplines or selling him on to someone who participates in a discipline that’s more suitable for him. This sets you free to look for a horse whose ambitions are more in sync with yours.
Horse’s personalities are as different as ours. There are sensitive horses, dull horses, guarded horses, demanding horses, excitable horses and so on. You’ll get along very well with some, and not at all with others. Some horses will just tolerate you. You may learn from many different types before you find “your” horse. This is okay. If you try to stick with a horse you do not get along with, neither of you will reach your goals, and even if you do the journey will not be enjoyable.
Horse owners feel incredibly responsible for their horses and often have a tough time selling. Even when they’re frustrated about not being able to progress, or are frightened or just plain uninterested, they hang onto their horses. While this is commendable, and in some cases things work out in the end, take a second to think about how your horse feels. He can sense your frustration, boredom or fear. How do you think it makes him feel to know you no longer trust him, that he’s holding you back, or has become an “obligation”?
Finding him a good home
Many people are afraid their horses will end up in the wrong hands after selling them. There are plenty of terrible stories out there about horses being sold and then mistreated or sent to slaughter. This is where being a responsible seller comes into play. There are several things you can do to ensure you’re selling your horse to a good owner.
1. Know your buyer. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. Some may be more than happy to have you come and see your horse’s potential new home and/or speak to others who know the buyer.
2. Be completely honest about your horse, and don’t be afraid to voice concerns you may have about whether or not the buyer is a good fit for him. Disclosing any and all behavioral, health and soundness issues prevents surprises later on that might make the buyer unhappy with your horse.
3. You can always ask for first right to refusal. Whether or not the buyer gives it to you is up to them (unless you have a contract), but offering to buy back the horse should anything go awry prevents him from ending up in the wrong hands down the road.
4. Be willing to negotiate on price if someone comes along who can offer your horse an amazing home.
5. Consider having a conversation with your horse. Schedule an appointment with an animal communicator and have a chat. Make sure your horse understands what is happening and why he is changing hands. Discuss whether or not your horse likes the potential buyer.
Riding is meant to be fun and enjoyable for both horse and rider. When it starts to feel unsafe most of the time, or like way too much work, you need to take a step back and re-evaluate your goals and your relationship with your horse. It may be time to move on. I have learned that sometimes letting a horse go is the greatest gift you can give both the horse and yourself.