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Scratching the Ownership Itch: An Amateur's First-time Horse Buying Journey

NEWBERG- My horse journey started when I was a little kid. My grandfather and his wife had horses. When we would visit, I wanted to spend all of my time in the barn with the horses: I was infatuated with them. When I was 15 my family moved from California to Oregon, so we weren’t able to visit as often and eventually, they sold the farm.

In my twenties, I was overjoyed when I saw a Groupon come up for 6 one hour sessions for $250. I didn't know what to expect when I showed up. I was concerned about being an adult versus a child and wondered if the trainer would be comfortable working with an inexperienced adult. Luckily, the trainer was very nice and charming. I enjoyed our sessions and knew that I wanted to continue on my horse journey but also knew it wasn't going to be a good longer term fit with this trainer. So I began looking for another barn to take lessons which is a daunting task when you don't know anyone else in the sport you're trying to get in to. I found a barn in Oregon City that typically worked with children but was very willing to take me in. My lessons were fine and I was completely safe the entire time, but I felt no connection to the trainer. Again, I started looking for another. I found a barn in Hillsboro. Very nice, quiet environment with mostly adult hobby riders. I loved every minute at the barn. The trainer was very pleasant and seemed to connect with me. The longer I was there, the stronger my itch to dive deeper into this hobby became. The trainer started suggesting I look at buying my own horse - the seed was planted! First I needed my own equipment though.

I began saddle shopping and came across a Schleese saddle for sale on Craigslist. The woman selling the saddle was very willing to help me in any way possible. She ended up becoming a good friend, and was the friend I had been longing for in this sport. She has a wealth of knowledge and is genuinely excited to share it with me. I was introduced to one of her trainers and took a lesson. I began leasing and taking regular lessons with this new trainer. I was loving it, the horse I was riding was perfect for me. He was calm, sweet, and very experienced. The longer I leased him, the more I wanted to take care of him and be involved in his care regiment, this isn't the role of the lessee though. Knowing this, I started to get the “itch” to look for my own horse. I had some very honest conversations with my new best horse friend about the costs involved with ownership. Purchasing the horse is merely the first step and it can be a costly one but there are expensive monthly and annual costs to consider as well. It took me a few months to really digest how much is cost to be a horse owner and to get comfortable with those figures.

At first I had no clue what my budget for a horse should be, I thought $1,500-$2,000 sounded like a good number. The more I was around well knowledgeable horse people, the more I learned that for me to get a perfectly healthy and trained schoolmaster, I was going to need to spend closer to $30-$60k! GASP. I don't even want to spend that much money on a car let alone a horse. It didn't take long for me to appreciate that if I wanted to own a horse then I was going to need to spend a little more than originally anticipated and I wasn't going to get a "perfect" horse.

My friend found a horse that looked promising in Eugene. We drove down and looked at a few horses and thought we found one that looked like a decent fit. Admittedly, I didn't know what I was doing. Thankfully, my friend did. The seller wanted us to make a quick decision. My friend suggested I call her vet and talk to her about the horse and then schedule a vet check. Thankfully, this vet is very honest and took her time talking with me. She felt it necessary to share her opinion of me being a new horse owner and what type of horse I should be looking at. I immediately got cold feet with this particular horse (4 year old OTTB) and decided to move on. I put no time table on buying a horse and actually, my husband would have preferred to wait years before purchasing a horse. Soon after passing on the young OTTB, Charlie came up for sale. The family that was selling him decided he wasn't a fit for their eventer, as he preferred working on the ground rather than jumping. This was great for me! I specifically remember my friend's reaction when I sent his ad to her - she wanted to go see him immediately.

My first visit with Charlie went well. The people selling him were kind and trustworthy. You hear so many horror stories about horse people not being honest. Charlie was clearly a bit of a project horse but I was OK with that as long as he was sane and had a good mind. I myself am a project so I viewed it as an opportunity for both of us to learn together. The next step was to have my current trainer come look at him. However, I knew I wanted to work with a new trainer (Mercedes) but hadn't yet built a relationship with her. Although the trainer I was currently working with was very good at what she did, I just didn't feel the connection that I knew I longed for. My perfect scenario was to have a horse I could call my own AND a trainer that I truly had a relationship and partnership with. Luckily, Mercedes was willing to go out on a limb with me as a new and untested client, and explore the potential of me purchasing Charlie. The first few minutes Mercedes saw Charlie in the cross ties, she could tell he was going to be a good horse. She whispered to me that if she doesn't see anything crazy under saddle then I should strongly consider buying him. I remember part way through her ride, Mercedes stopped to download with me. She said everything seemed fine with Charlie but wanted to make sure I was ready for the commitment of owning a horse. It was clear that she didn't want me to buy a horse just so she could have my business, she wanted me to buy a horse for the right reasons. I took the evening to really digest my interactions with Charlie and what Mercedes shared with me and I decided to proceed with the vet check. Charlie checked out clean, other than needing a bit of a manners tune-up. If I was looking at buying a horse on my own, without an experienced friend, trainer, or vet in the picture, I would have NEVER bought Charlie or any other horse for that matter. As an inexperienced horse person, I knew the only way this would be a successful, worthwhile hobby and venture was to have a knowledgeable set of professionals around me. Also, I needed to be willing to spend money. There is no way around it, this is an expensive hobby.

Charlie moved into Mercedes’ training facility on January 18, 2016. From the very beginning I knew my partnership with Mercedes was what I had been looking for. She was in regular communication with me about Charlie and his upcoming move. She wanted to be there when he arrived to make sure I was comfortable getting him settled in. Mercedes has been so in tune with my needs as a new horse owner. She knew what the horse needed as a nervous horse, having just moved barns, and what I needed as a nervous human now caring for a nervous horse!

My partnership with Mercedes has been everything I could ever want and dream of. She is encouraging and supportive and willing to take the extra time to break down the details of caring and working with a horse. As an amateur, this is what I am most interested in. The horse I leased before Charlie was so easy to handle on the ground. Charlie has definitely challenged me at times. Sometimes I am concerned that Charlie isn't easier for me to handle, but then I realize everything is a learning opportunity. I will have better horsemanship skills because of what Charlie teaches me. I am still nervous at times, but with a good trainer by my side, I've been able to work through my fears and anxiety. I have to remind myself frequently that I've only had Charlie for 2-3 months. Even though he's in training 4 days a week, his progress will take time. With that in mind, I'm not worried about my seat time in the saddle or that he's not a schoolmaster. My trainer is the schoolmaster and Charlie and I love learning from her. I feel like a proud mother watching Charlie work. He thoroughly enjoys working and is very cooperative. Watching him in those moments is what reassures me I made a good decision. I've really enjoyed watching my trainer work with him. There's so much to learn by watching a good rider. Lastly, I appreciate that Mercedes views our relationship (all three of us) as an equal partnership. She doesn't want to just train Charlie to make him a successful horse but she wants me to be a successful horse owner too.

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