Wednesday, July 7, 2010

7th July, 2010 Beans talk

The story of how Stacey came to buy Bean is a super one. Stacey had her mind set on a gelding and had been looking for a new horse for over six months. Eventually she ended up at a dealer's yard and had a good look at all the male horses there. Having drawn a blank, she was standing in the dealer's American barn when she felt herself being nuzzled by the horse behind her. The dealer explained that the mare had only come in from Ireland the day before and was therefore a bit of an unknown quantity, but unlike the horses that had travelled with her, she had settled overnight and was clearly pleased to see people. Later Stacey rode her in the school and asked to hack her out along the quiet country lane to the main road to see how she was in traffic. Heading out alone, and still in the narrow lane, she met a cement mixer. With no room to do anything else, she tucked Bean into a gateway to allow the lorry to pass and Bean didn't seem to be in the least bit fazed. Back at home, she has been delighted to find that Bean is polite, affectionate, responsive, willing and definitely able. How great is that?
This story has prompted me to think about recruitment. At the seminar last week, Kevin talked about the statistical probability of hiring the right person for a job. Typically, my thoughts wandered off on to horses and I wondered what would be the statistical probability of finding the right horse for a given person. There is a huge emotional, financial and time investment in buying, selling and loaning out horses - almost akin to buying and selling houses, recruiting staff or getting married or divorced. Beyond this, when it all goes wrong, it is often the horse that pays as it ends up on the market again or in the case of the pony I talked about a couple of weeks ago, shot.
I thought it would be worth coming up with a guide to buying horses that included the necessity of having pretty clear criteria, just as you should have to employ someone or, dare I say it, when you are trying to find a spouse! You'd certainly want to see the horse's c.v. and if it were me, I'd want to assess the horse from a behavioural point of view just as I do when I meet any horse for the first time. Problem is, we fall in love with these horses when we meet them and our heart rules our head, especially if we feel that the horse needs "rescuing" in any sense. In Stacey's case, the only deviation from her criteria was buying a mare instead of a gelding, in every other respect, Bean ticked all the boxes.
Conversely, there are times when I play the oh-oh game when people phone me about a horse they have bought. For example, and I don't mean to judge anyone here, I had a phone call from a lady who said that her Mum was having problems with a horse they had just bought. Mum was in her 60's and the horse was 17.4 hands (sic). First slight oh-oh. Apparently the horse had been described as being "bullet-proof" (sic) and yet had turned out to be really spooky. Oh-oh. Did you ride her before you bought her? No, we got her from Scotland and we needed to get there and back in one day. Oh-oh! Have you had her saddle checked at all? No, we were told it was a perfect fit and it came with her. Has she changed shape at all? Oh yes!, she's really podgy now! It also turned out that the horse hadn't been ridden for two years before they bought her. The lady had bought the horse because she reminded her so much of a horse they had lost the year before........Clearly, if this was going to work out at all, the owners were probably going to have to be in it for the long haul and some people just aren't that patient. To me it sounded as if this horse, which they hadn't had vetted, was going to need a through physical assessment, possibly a new saddle and some good, quiet fittening work. I sensed a lack of leadership and consistency which needed to be addressed immediately and then a lot of work on long reins to build up the horse's confidence again. With fuel costs alone of £40 (to Somerset) it was going to be an expensive exercise. Fortunately I could put them in touch with Tim Piper who was much nearer.
There are hundreds of horses for sale or loan where the photo alone should be enough to put people off the horse. Gadgets galore and over bent horses where they are almost certain to have back and neck problems. I'm always wary of horses that have just come to maturity and are described as ready to break - does this mean someone has had a go and failed? If I were looking at a pony like that I'd want to see how it reacted to someone standing up on a box next to it - particularly on the left - does it move it's bottom away? Well it's like that someone has tried to get on it. How does it's back feel? How does it cope with things happening to it on both sides at the same time? Has it been lunged to within an inch of it's life - circles are not good for young horses. I could sit people down with a list of horses for sale and find a reason for not buying nearly every one of them - particularly when the description then goes on to say that they are a problem loader, don't like hacking out on their own or are ready to come back in to work after a long gap. If you buy a horse with a known problem, just as if you were to buy a house with a leaky roof, you need to have the time, money and commitment to put it right - and you need to be a bit of an expert roofer unless you get outside help. It's easy to over estimate your ability to fix a problem yourself especially if the original owner has already tried everything and failed (thus reinforcing the problems).
Having said all of that, there is always a risk that the horse may have hidden problems, gaps in its education or problems settling down in a new environment. So, beyond the initial criteria, a purchase should always be followed by a period of induction. I am not one for turning a horse out for a few days or week to settle down nor do I think the horse should get straight into a full work schedule. However, a bit of groundwork to establish kind leadership, walking out to establish a follow you anywhere attitude and some ridden work just to keep the principal in place, is fine. I'm a great believer in telling a horse that "nothing's changed" and that it is safe and has fallen on it's feet. During that induction stage, where gaps appear or even just to start off on the right foot, it's definitely worth having a session with me. With just one or two sessions at the outset and continuing advice and support, people and their horse's can be set up for good and happy anniversaries.