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Use ‘horse sense’ to match animal to owner

Eileen JoyceLindsey Smith, 11, grooms her horse Aurora Thursday.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Seasonal sales, the Bluebook, or Consumer Reports just don’t apply to the buying and selling of horses. The sale and purchase of horses is commonplace, but a little extra know-how may be helpful to sellers and buyers, especially if this is a new experience.

That horses are worth what someone wishes to pay for them may be the “bottom line,” but knowing values and finding the right owner-horse match is really the secret.

The seller needs to do some homework, just as the purchaser. The breed, pedigree, age, sex, level of training, disposition, conformation and soundness of a horse is basic information. Performance records are important for show and race horses, not only of the horse itself, but of its parents and offspring.



Practical necessities are that the horse is up to date with all vaccinations and deworming, as well as hoof care and dental needs. If the horse is registered with a particular breed registry, the original papers must be available.

Buyers appreciate past veterinary records. X-rays are routine for performance horses. Jumpers, for example, must have their feet, knees, and hocks in excellent working order for them to perform adequately.




Horses normally are vaccinated annually against tetanus, encephalomyelitis (sleeping sickness), flu, and often for rhinopneumonitis, rabies, strangles, and now East Nile Virus.

Horses with high exposure, such as show horses, get flu shots more frequently. Those traveling out of state need a current Coggins test to pass through state inspection stations.

Buyers should engage an equine veterinarian to thoroughly check out a prospective horse prior to purchase, not only to examine their legs and feet, but also their respiration, circulation, gut sounds, sight, hearing and overall health.

Horses come in all shapes, sizes and price ranges. The prospective buyer should carefully think it through and determine their wants and needs, which are not always the same.

A horse wish list easily can outpace the budget, thus true needs and sensible compromises are essential. Who will be caring for and riding the horse? Are they experienced? What kind of facilities exist to keep and to ride a horse, or will it be boarded? And will the horse be for more than one person, for example a parent and a child?

Or perhaps the need is for a second horse so that family and friends can enjoy riding together? Maybe a specific breed is sought to compete in certain events, such as barrel racing, dressage, endurance or jumpers. Horses, like human athletes, have physical differences that make them individually more adept for a wide range of specialized activities.

Let us assume you are looking for a horse or pony that would be suitable for your child to ride in the United States Pony Club activities (there are two clubs in Nevada County), but you, the parents, might also enjoy riding.

Your child has had lessons and would be a D-1 level rider, a beginner, yet able to walk and trot with confidence. Pony Club membership requires a horse, either owned or leased, for group meetings, rallies (competitions with other Pony Clubs), and riding on your own.

My first consideration is a horse with good manners. It has previously been handled with skill, has not been mistreated, causing it to be fearful or resentful, and has a friendly attitude.

It can be tied up for grooming and saddling, is easily trailered, gets along with other horses when ridden in a group, and can be ridden alone without being “barn sour” and returning uncontrolled to other horses and home.

Preferably, it has had some positive show ring experience and has been ridden on trails, both important in a horse’s education, because horses younger than 5 have seldom been exposed sufficiently to different environments and situations and tend to be in awe of new things and thus difficult to handle, especially for a child.

The horse should have had some training by a very experienced amateur or professional, understanding the communicating rider aids the horse to walk, trot, canter and halt.

It should be well balanced, performing circles or figure eights and, while cantering in either direction, will take the correct lead. Learning to jump is a part of Pony Club, so it is extremely helpful if the horse has had good previous training in jumping.

At the D-1 level, most equines would not have a problem jumping poles, crossbars or small jumps, but it is important that the horse is totally manageable, safe, careful and willing, even over little obstacles.

The above desired qualities do not even address the breed, sex or color of the horse.

For the purpose intended, a suitable mount for a child or an adult family member, these attributes are of secondary importance. Really good horses do not “grow on trees,” and you may have a long adventure in finding the right one. Good luck!

Felicia Schaps Tracy is the owner of Emigrant Springs Horsemanship, co-founding instructor of Northern Mines Pony Club, member and Certified Horsemanship Association and the American Riding Instructors Association. Write her in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.


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