(Revised) Help Me, to Help You

In the light of further evidence, I’ve revised this piece and added some recent experiences. It’s a bit tongue and cheek, but there’s truth behind each thing I’ve listed.

Selling horses is constantly evolving mostly due to technology such as the internet. It can make things easier and it can certainly make things harder for the seller and the buyer. Lately, I’ve had some interesting experiences and thought if I wrote about it, it could help everyone involved.

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Selling horses can be frustrating

When searching for a horse to purchase and possibly considering a horse from Little Kentucky, keep the following in mind:

New) I don’t care if your 12 year old daughter has been jumping for a year and is a talented rider. I’m not going to put a 75 lb. child on a 17.3 hand 3 year old Thoroughbred.

New) If your child cannot ride like Alec Ramsey or Velvet Brown, DO NOT call me to inquire about a horse. If you don’t know either of those names, DEFINITELY DO NOT call me.

New) You cannot impress me by name dropping. . . . unless their names are Gary Stevens, Calvin Boral, or William Fox-Pitt.

New) I always reserve the right to not do business with someone. First impressions mean everything. If I’m not impressed the first time you have contact with me, we will continue to stay as strangers.

New) If you make an appointment to come look at a horse, I’m going to hold your feet to the fire. If you’re a true horseman, you’ll not cancel due to chance of rain or that the hotel cost for a over night are too expensive. If you can’t afford a night in a hotel, then you can’t afford to buy a horse – any horse.

1) Read sale ads carefully and have an understanding of what the terminology in the ad means. For example, if it’s a 2 year old Thoroughbred taken off the track and is described as a ‘prospect’, it is a good bet the horse has never jumped a 3′ oxer. So don’t ask how high the horse can jump.

2) If the ad says “FOR SALE”, don’t ask if the horse can be leased or if there could be a trade.

3) When inquiring, do NOT text the phone number of the seller unless instructed otherwise. It is a lazy approach, rude and a first-class ticket of getting deleted.

4) Don’t contact the seller unless you are a serious buyer and is prepared to make an appointment to come see the horse in person.

5) Never make a dollar offer on a horse you have never seen in person.

6) If the price says $20K on a horse, it is safe to assume that the seller wants full asking price or might lower the price by a few numbers. Don’t make an insulting offer. Here at LKF, it isn’t an episode of Antique Archaeology. We don’t haggle, barter or trade.

7) Do your homework on the seller.

8) Always bring your trainer on the 1st visit. Be dressed to ride.

9) Don’t ask for personalized videos made to order. This isn’t McDonald’s.

10) Little Kentucky Farm is not a Thoroughbred rescue.

11) Stop referring to Thoroughbreds as OTTB. They are Thoroughbreds. OTTB is not a breed. Not all Thoroughbreds are ex-racehorses.

12) Just because it is a Thoroughbred, don’t assume it should be sold for bargain basement prices.

13) No I don’t have an accent and my horses at LKF are usually American Thoroughbreds. If you’re easily swayed by an accent, fancy warmblood names with astronomical prices for an import – Don’t call us.

14) If you love Thoroughbreds, have read the sale ads carefully and want to call the farm, we welcome your calls and will work hard to find the right horse for you.

Sermon is over . . . GO Thoroughbred!

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Going Green

The benefits of investing in a green prospect as your next Eventing partner

3 year old Thoroughbred gelding

For some, the only direction they want to go is to look at a ‘made’ horse who has mileage and a competition history.  For others, taking a young green horse (sometimes straight out of a field) and molding them into a talented teammate is one of personal accomplishment.  While this topic is always up for debate, there are obvious reasons why a person should consider purchasing a green prospect.

Cost.  The amount of money to invest in a horse can sometimes place a person into a particular market.  On average the cost of a green prospect can range from $0 – $15K.  Those who are priced on the higher end may already be confidently working at all gaits and jumping small courses and even doing low-level competitions.  What can be attractive about a green horse can be the price, where it allows a larger number of the public to purchase quality young stock at an affordable price.

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Schooling trips off the farm.

Clean Slate/No Baggage.  Buying a green horse gives an owner the chance to start the horse’s training from a clean slate.  It’s at this stage where the horse can work on building a solid foundation of the basics such as walking, trotting, cantering and halting.  If done properly with sometimes the assistance of a professional trainer, then the natural progression of training a prospect is footwork over poles and small obstacles.  Gradually the obstacles should increase in their technical questions as training progresses.  Working from a clean slate can mean zero baggage, where the horse hasn’t had the chance to learn something incorrectly or develop negative behavior or vices.

3 year old Jimmy Legs first time through water

Soundness.  Prospect Eventers can be a mixed bag of breeds ranging from Draft crosses, Warmbloods, Arab crosses, Appendix Quarter Horses to traditional Thoroughbreds.  Prospects will generally be young and have less physical wear and tear on their bodies, and physical soundness combined with correct conformation is important when purchasing a green prospect. The basics to pay attention to is to start with good solid feet, then on to clean legs, up towards a large shoulder, over to a big kind eye, down the neck to a short coupled back and correct hip angle.

Horsemanship.  Buying ‘made’ horses does have its benefits, but so does owning a green horse. It’s here that an owner commits themselves to the training and management of their prospect, sometimes learning things as they go along, sometimes having the guidance of an expert and sometimes relying upon their own personal horsemanship skills to successfully take a horse up the levels.  As with any horse hands-on, there will most certainly be good days and bad days in training.  But what riders can admit about the experience of working with a green horse, is that they’ve not only become better riders, but better horsemen all around.  It’s a trait that seems to be disappearing throughout the equine community.  And maybe the fact of never having experienced what it’s like to bring a green horse out from a pasture and back it for the first time, is somehow connected to the lack of riding skills.

Beecher’s Brook schooling the ditch at home
 

OTTB – The New Breed?

My family has been involved in Thoroughbred racing for years.  As a child I would hang out in the training barn, tack rooms and the jockey diners to listen to the chatter of riders bragging about their horses or to hear a trainer discuss the problems a filly is having loading in the gate. Now as an adult, it is still a daily adventure where I’m involved hands-on with bloodstock agents, memorizing pedigrees and racing results, breaking, galloping, sales and marketing. If there was ever a ‘Jeopardy Horse’ game show, I’m positive that I’d walk away with millions – at least that is what I thought until yesterday.

I was introduced to some potential buyers who were interested in looking at ex-race horses for show prospects. The women were very excited to be in the barn and were chattering between them so fast, that I could hardly follow what they were saying. They kept repeating something about, “Oh! I just love O-T-T-B’s, don’t you?”, “O-T-T-B’s  are my
favorite breed”, “O-T-T-B’s, O-T-T-B’s, O-T-T-B’s . . . . ”

What the heck were they saying, and why do they keep spelling in front of me, I thought?

10 minutes into the visit it finally dawned on me that they were referring to the term ‘Off The Track Thoroughbred’ and were using the abbreviation as if it were a noun and not an adjective. For me it was like nails on a chalk-board and I interrupted their conversation to explain how to properly use the term ‘OTTB’. I explained that OTTB can sometimes be used as a reference to describe a Thoroughbred that once was a race horse on a race track, and that it’s an abbreviated adjective. The women stared back at me in silence and I thought I heard crickets chirping in the background somewhere. So of course, I continued to explain that a Thoroughbred is the name of a type of equine breed, just like an Arabian or Quarter Horse. They’re nouns and they’re capitalized. Again, more blank stares.

We continued with the walk-through and as I spoke about the horses, I repeatedly spoke of the “Thoroughbreds”. Who knows if they ever really caught on to their impromptu English lesson.

Class dismissed.

You Can Tell a lot About Someone . . .

. . . by the way they give you a leg-up on a horse. For some reason, when I’ve asked family or friends for a leg-up, I’m immediately met with a smirk or a nervous giggle. That usually puts me in my “Uh-Oh” mode as I stand facing my horse with my left leg bent back, dangling my foot waiting for someone to take hold.

At the track, you’re never going to find a mounting block to climb on or a rider sticking their toe in the stirrup and hoisting themselves up. First of all, a young Thoroughbred is unlikely to stand still next to a plastic step and for an exercise rider to try to put their foot in the stirrup of a jock’s saddle from the ground up will be impossible. You need to have a ground person who knows how to give you a leg-up on the horse, and you need to trust that person isn’t going to screw things up.

When I first started galloping race horses, all eyes were on me – judging me and dissecting me from the clothing I wore, to the type of whip I carried. They knew I was green and what better way to stick-it-to-her, was to play a joke on me when I was handed my first horse of the morning.

Louie was the trainer’s best groom.  He was short, stocky, silver-haired with a thick South American accent and always seemed to be in a bad mood. He took care of the famous gray colt El Senor and flew to Japan with the horse when he was sold into stud. He scared the crap out of me and I did my best to never make eye contact or be caught in a situation where I’d have to make conversation.  When I was handed a horse, I knew it was going to be all business and a serious atmosphere as I stood with my leg cocked.  That morning, Louie bent over, grabbed my ankle and tries lifting me.  He lets out a huge moan as I’m dropped into the withers face-first of an impatient 2 year old.

What? Am I so weak that I don’t have any upper body strength to raise me up on a horse? I slide to the ground and look at him wide-eyed.  Rolling his eyes, he impatiently motions me back up to the horse to try again and this time I am slung over onto my belly as Louie drops his grip from my leg and lets out another loud moan. “What the hell man!” I yelled, looking back at the hot walker and Louie smirking at each other. “Oh! So sorry! You heavy!” he said.

I guess you could call that morning my ‘initiation’.  I was never dropped or slung onto the back of a horse again. But I must admit because of Louie’s practical joke, I immediately went on a strict diet.

GO Thoroughbred!

Trackside with Zeb

It’s going to be that time soon when Zeb hits the road in search of future show horses. Keep a look out for future announcements.

Watching morning gallops

I guess it’s safe to say that you’ve been with horses for most of your life. When did you first start riding? The first time I sat and rode a horse was when my sister thought it was a good idea to put me up on her Quarter Horse when I was 2 years old. We rode double and she had me up front in the saddle and I held onto the horn. We loped around in a big pasture and while my mother hung out of an upstairs’ window at the main house. She was screaming and waving her arms around trying to get my sister to stop. We didn’t, naturally. 

You’re at the track a lot. Is this how you find your horses for Eventing? Sometimes I can spot a horse I like while I’m breaking it for the track. If it is intelligent and sensible prior to being sent off to race, then I always ask to have first offer if it goes up for sale.  While I’m at the racetrack, I’m always looking for horses who are physically sound, but just too slow to be a racehorse in the Winner’s Circle. Getting horses that I already have a history with, gives me a head start in their training and first hand knowledge of their soundness both physically and mentally. My horses are way ahead of the competition.

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Future Eventer?

What makes a Thoroughbred a good Eventer? Before the traditional 3-Day format was terminated, I would have told you that the Thoroughbred was the perfect horse to have because of their endurance. They’re built for speed and distance and they were awesome competition during the Roads and Tracks, Steeplechase and Cross Country phases. There is always something left in the tank to do the Show Jumping on the last day, and you’d always see many Thoroughbreds in the top placings. Since the change in the format, there is a lot of pressure to get solid scores in the Dressage and I see a lot more warmblood types than I do Thoroughbreds with scores in the 20’s. Thoroughbred lovers are working harder to get those competitive Dressage scores and the Thoroughbreds are becoming more talented on the flat. No matter what, you’re always going to see the scores with a few Thoroughbreds in the top ten final scores. That’s because they’re brave and have heart jumping, and are always going to run faster and make time than a heavy warmblood type. 

When you have an ex-racehorse in training for Eventing, how long does it take before you are able to compete in trials? It depends upon the horse, the time devoted into training and a well laid out schedule designed per horse. Typically I have the horses in training immediately when off the track. I never give them time off because they don’t need it. They stay busy traveling to schooling locations, schooling shows, lessons, clinics, and eventually a Horse Trial.  If things are going well, they can be in a trial within 6-8 months from leaving the track. As it turns out, it’s not the actual competition phase that causes problem for young Thoroughbreds, but rather it is that warm up areas prior to being judged. Unfortunately those warm-up areas can be very congested, many riders are inexperienced themselves and don’t know show ring etiquette. But with time and the chance for a youngster to experience different settings, they will adjust and become familiar with their surroundings.

Tarps can represent water and ditches.

Do you have anything specific or special that you do with your training of your Thoroughbreds? I don’t think I do anything ‘special’. I don’t handle them with kid gloves, but rather do as much stuff with them to have them adjusted to different circumstances. They’re already way ahead of the game compared to other horses just because of their experience at the tracks. I get a really good idea of the type of horse they are when I work with them over simple things such as mud puddles, dips and ditches in the terrain and of course the blue tarp. I also ride many hours off the farm on trails and hacking different terrains. It keeps things fun and interesting and its a great way of conditioning muscle and learning to balance themselves.

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Learning that water isn’t scary.

Do you have any advice to a person looking to buy a Thoroughbred? I think the easiest thing I could say is to be realistic about their level of riding and not let their ego get in the way. If you’re a green rider, you’ll want a horse with mileage. If you’re a seasoned rider, then there will be more options to choose from. It can be very frustrating when I’m approached by someone who thinks they’re an educated rider. The minute I have to tell someone to “put their heels down”, then I know they’re not the right match. There’s no hiding it – horses will make the truth come out. Young Thoroughbreds aren’t any different than any other breed of youngsters who can show their green sides. That’s where an experienced trainer comes into play and can develop and create a show horse.

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Red Hills International Trials & Artful Way