Somehow I managed to go on not one but TWO pony shopping outings in December, though only the (aforementioned) one was for me. I’ve never been on the shopping end of the horse shopping equation. I’ve been t see horses with a friend. I’ve visited the track probably a dozen times, both to visit a trainer friend and watch her horses race and to look at or pick up horses. I’ve even shown a couple of horses for my trainer. But never have I actually shopped for myself.
Let’s start with Pete (not his real name), who I got a hot tip on, right before Christmas. Basically, a bodyworker I know from California heard that I was now-horseless. A trainer friend of hers has a sales barn about fifteen minutes from me. This trainer really needed to get Pete sold, as his owner was “done paying bills” (whatever that means). I gave the trainer a call, and it sounded great — he was well schooled, but had intimidated his past owner, and needed a good place to land. With my beer budget, a horse who has a good bit of training and has gone XC and shown in hunters and jumpers is probably not going to cross my search path very often. So we went to try him.
for example: i kinda helped RBF shop for this girl
In the intervening days I stalked the crap out of Pete online. I found his old sale videos, looked up his race record, and thought about getting in touch with his previous owner. If he looked anything like his old videos, and his personality was as good as reported, this was going to be a tough choice for me.
When we met Pete, he was cute, but was not for me — even in my budget. TrJ and I had the quiet, huddled conversation in the middle of the arena that I’ve seen in many buyers and their trainers. Pete’s trainer had described his behavior accurately and been totally honest. But what she didn’t manage to explain (either because she doesn’t quite see it any longer, or because I didn’t ask) was how tense he was through his back. The horse looked uncomfortable, and unfortunately not in a “this should be a quick fix” kind of way. His trainer said that several lameness vets had seen him, and couldn’t block or specifically diagnose anything, but she’d keep trying.
I didn’t expect to be able to make a decision so quickly, or to be able to see the same things that TrJ was concerned about. I felt badly, for sure. But, all things considered, it is probably best for everyone that the decision was a quick and easy one. I didn’t have to be traumatized by the idea that I might be passing over Mr. Right, Pete’s trainer didn’t need to worry about the potential sale, and Pete could move on to finding someone who is actually right for him.
A bit more than a week after passing on Pete, I visited Portland Meadows to look at a horse for a friend! I had seen this guy on a local Facebook group (Retiring Racehorses PNW). I’ve been window shopping there for months; since well before Murray every thought about retiring. Why? Because the PNW has cute thoroughbreds.
So off to Portland Meadows I went, on a very cold and totally PNW-drizzly day.
Fortunately, the vet’s office had a pretty efficient space heater, and they kindly let me stand right in front of it while they got organized with all of their appointments for the day. Once they were ready, the assistant vet drove us over to Rick’s shedrow (also not his real name). On the way, he gave me a run down of what he and the other vet would be doing for the PPE, why, and what kinds of things might come up. This was cool, because the last PPE I attended seriously was Murray’s, back in 2015. That was a while ago, and I definitely appreciated the refresher.
Rick was amazing. I’d seen pictures of this guy online, and I’ve seen all advice of making sure to see horses (particularly ottbs) in person because they are so much more than their confo pics. But damn. I did not expect quite such a hunk of horseflesh to step out of the stall when I met him. He was on the smaller side, but well muscled, sleek, and absolutely looked like an athlete. And his brain! OMG. This horse let the vets flex the crap out of him and the most obnoxious thing he did was throw his head up. Maybe I have fucked up expectations because of Murray, but he was easy to handle, inquisitive, and quiet. He had a touch of that aloof attitude you sometimes see in track horses, but he appreciated a scratch on the withers and let me touch him all over without so much as picking up a foot. The brains!!! I really can’t wait to buy myself a set of those. Like, the good ones.
Other than seeing a really amazing horse, there were a BUNCH of cool things that I learned about Portland Meadows and the vets there. In California, track vets get a tough rep. Because they work mostly for the trainers, they are viewed as biased and not necessarily trustworthy when it comes to PPEs on the track. As a result, lots of people I know who buy (or bought) from the track do so without a veterinarian examining the horse.
Not so with the Portland Meadows vets. Both the assistant and head veterinarian made a point to disclose to me that they do work for this trainer, but they would be as unbiased as possible in their exam. During the PPE, they explained what they were seeing to me, talked about what might be concerning, and asked the owner/trainer lots of questions. At no point did I feel like they were seeing something that they maybe didn’t want me to see or hear. So +100 for the Portland Meadows vets.
Next, the horses at Portland Meadows. I didn’t see every barn there, obviously. But the horses I saw were a great weight, looked happy, and were very well taken care of. This isn’t actually in contrast to the California tracks I’ve been to — for the most part, horses there looked pretty good too. But I’ve seen my fair share of OTTBs looking a little shitty or thin in their pics. Portland Meadows might not be a rich or a popular track, but they do as much as they can with what they have. (Also, the horses on that FB group seem to be really well put together, for the most part!)
I know horse shopping often becomes a drag after a while, and I’m sure I’ll get to that point too. But for now, window shopping++ has been pretty fun! And very, very interesting.
Let’s talk for a second about what “done paying bills” means. I mean logically, sure. It means the trainer takes a lien out on your horse and gets to keep or sell it as they see fit. But what person picks up a horse, intends to keep it and/or pay board on it, and then is just “done” after six or nine or twenty months? It doesn’t work that way! The bills keep on coming! The horse still needs feed and shoes and supplements! Sure, you can be done, and give your horse away to a good home — but that doesn’t happen instantly. And it’s not like telling your trainer or seller that you’re not going to pay any more board makes the sale happen any faster.
So yeah, I think that’s super weird.