ruthlessly exclude & willingly compromise

I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want in my next horse. Much more time than I’ve spent without a horse… Definitely didn’t spend way too much time thinking about this loooooong before Murray was ever plotting his retirement. (Don’t worry, I don’t actually think that retirement was a nefarious plot by my horse…. most days.)


not really the nefarious plot type

While I’m not in a financial position to be too exclusive in my search, I do have time on my side. I don’t need a new horse now, or in six months, or even in a year (realistically). I’ll likely keep having fun with this pony for a while. If I do truly outgrow him, there are a few other options at the barn. My trainer commented the other day that I’m a better rider than she thought, which was nice to hear. Turns out, when you’re not riding a lame Murray, you can actually, you know, ride. (Also, when you get in shape. That helps too.)

So with a fair bit of thinking, I’ve made a list of a few very important things, a few negotiable things, and no tangible automatic disqualifiers (but, obviously, there will be some).

Here’s what I’m absolutely not negotiable on in my next horse.

Great brains – This is literally the most important thing on my list. I don’t need the next #babygenius or Einstein horse. But I do need something that is easier to work with than Murray was. I don’t mind if they’re a little goofy or have some personality, but I need those things to not come at the expensive of their ability to learn and work with me. This quality is nebulous and hard to define, but I get the feeling it’s a bit like pornography. You know it when you see it.

not these brains

A yes-man (or mare) – I want my next horse to really be a partner. I want to feel like I’m working with them and we’re working together, instead of constantly convincing them that maybe just trying things my way is a better way to do them. Perhaps this is a subheading of “great brains”, but it is really important to me. (I’m also not denying my role in training Murray to think the way he does. But he never came from a place of working with humans to problem solve — he spent half his time on the track trying to escape or lie down on the hot walker — so it was definitely an uphill battle.) My future yes-man is going to get a solid foundation in groundwork to reinforce this.

Good feet – One of two conformation requirements. I’m not starting with fucked up feet again.

A strong back – Particularly their lower back/lumbar/loin area. Dressage is great. Dressage makes horses stronger. But there’s no reason for me to start off in the hole here. I have a pet theory that this is key to long-term soundness for horses.

Going under saddle – I’m not starting anything from the ground up. I guess I’m negotiable on a horse who was previously going, but has sat in a field for some time. Regardless, I need to be able to slap a saddle on that baby, get on him, and walk and trot within a couple of days of getting him home. (Even if I don’t actually intend to do that — I want the option to be there.)


i’ve had some really cool rides with this guy lately

I feel like that’s a pretty reasonable list. It’s enough to knock a lot of individuals out of contention pretty easily (thus narrowing the field that I end up staring at online), but not so narrow that I’m searching for a needle in a haystack.

I also have a list of things that are somewhat negotiable — some more than others.

Breed – I love thoroughbreds, and ottbs are what is going to be most common in my price range, but I’m not too fussy here. It’s more about the individual than the generalized breed stereotype.

Image may contain: 1 person, horse, sky and outdoor
are you my new pony?

Talent – Realistically, I’m not going to be going any higher than Novice any time soon, especially not on a horse fresh off the track. Maybe Training, if I suddenly get a lot better at riding and training horses. If, in five years, I find myself ready to go Prelim and my partner can’t make the jump, then I’m more than willing to start looking again. I plan to be Very Wealthy by then, so owning 2+ horses should be NO PROB.

Oh right. The point of this being: this horse doesn’t have to be wildly talented. We just need average horse talented, and a great brain.

Age: 4-12 – I’m not negotiable on the low end of this list, but I am negotiable on the upper end. I’d like five or more years of happy partnership before I need to start thinking about slowing down. I know that horses can absolutely compete successfully into their twenties, but I feel like once you pass 16 or 17, every year is a bigger gamble. (Maybe it’s just that every year one owns a horse is a big gamble?)

Color – Let’s not judge a book by its color, but let’s also try very hard not to get any grays, palominos, or paints, mkay? I’m not opposed to color philosophically. A dappled gray is stunning. I’m just not into extensive cleaning or melanomas. Is it a deal breaker? No. Am I looking to increase the amount of work I need to do to look presentable at every show? Absolutely not. Is this somewhat petty and ridiculous? Certainly, but it’s my horse shopping list and I get to want what I want. Also, I’m definitely not about the higher price tag that comes with color or “chrome”. Plain bay is just fine with me, thanks. (It was kinda hard not putting this in the dealbreaker column.)


you are SO beautiful but you are not my new pony

Soundness – It seems silly to say that this is negotiable, but there’s some method to this madness. If I’m looking at a prime-aged, going horse, I expect there to be some maintenance involved in keeping him sound. That’s fine with me, I just need to know about it up front. Obviously, this is really dependent on age and the type of maintenance we are talking about. But it’s not going to be an automatic disqualifier, necessarily.

And then there are the things that are really negotiable — like size, jump training, show experience, pedigree, and whether newhorse is a mare or gelding. Some of my criteria tip the scales in one direction or the other (so much more likely that I end up with a gelding), but none of these things are going to rule a horse out in general. I think.

Rereading this list, it doesn’t really sound all that ruthless. But, to ensure I don’t do anything stupid, I’ve employed a hand slapper who gets veto power. Also, TrJ is crazy judgmental so that will definitely help.

What’s on your must have / negotiable / dealbreaker list when you’re horse shopping (either in reality, or mentally)? I know it’s highly individualized and personal, but I’m interested to see what you guys include on your lists, so I can think about putting it on mine.

window shopping++

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.


let’s just imagine Murray in this situation for a second. pretty sure it would involve lying down.

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.


I found this guy sleeping in one of the stalls! soooo cute

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.


hello I am very cute and have a super excellent JC name

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.