How to decipher the real meaning in horse advertisements

Many sellers are straightforward and say exactly what they mean in an advertisement for a Horse for Sale, but others use words and terms which are open to  a lot of interpretation. It’s rather like real estate, which my husband and I have learned to find amusing:

  • “Rustic charm! Privacy galore!” Probably a moldy cabin down a one mile potholed impassable in winter owner maintained dirt road.
  • “Fixer upper, Many Possibilities! Sold ‘as is.'” Uh huh. Hasn’t been updated or remodeled since the 1940’s. May not have been maintained, either. Original wiring (probably rat chewed), rusty plumbing, leaky shower and water damage – you get the picture.
  • “Vibrant Location, colorful neighborhood!” Next to the freeway and across from a parking lot where drug deals go down.

Horse ads can be deciphered, too. Not always infallibly, but over the years I’ve developed a sixth sense for reading between the lines and sensing attempts to disguise flaws with euphemisms. Here are excerpts from recent horse ads I’ve seen, with my interpretation of what they’re really saying…

“Playful personality” – probably a pain in the neck and too smart for his own good. “Playful” can mean leaping about unexpectedly, finding fun spooking games, biting you when your back is turned, grabbing anything that isn’t nailed down and throwing it on the ground. Wasn’t that fun? Not really. On the other hand, playful could be more benign. Both my ponies are a bit playful without verging toward completely wicked. You’ll have to ask some questions about “playful.”

Playful Finn is mischievous but not evil at all. Just keep one eye on him….

Playful Finn is mischievous but not evil at all. Just keep one eye on him….

“Thrives on work that is more athletically and mentally challenging…needs a rider that can earn his respect.” Aha. This horse is likely quite a handful. Might be wonderfully talented, but you’d better know what you are doing and be ready for a challenging temperament along with the athleticism. Not for the fainthearted. I wouldn’t go near him since I don’t like that personality. My feeling is that his owner is afraid of him and is selling him off.IMGP1338_2

“Has not been ridden in the last year, but could be tuned up quickly.” Hmm, red flag for me. Horses do not forget their training, but you cannot ascertain the true soundness of any horse who has been out on pasture for an extended period. Unless you really know the seller, or they will give you a solid soundness guarantee, you cannot know if that horse will not become lame once it starts back into work even if it passes an initial vet check. Why has it been out for a year? Was it recovering from a serious ligament injury? Did it really recover or will the injury come back? I’m always quite suspicious of such cases since soundness is a high priority for me.

“Bombproof.” Nope. No horse is truly bombproof and no one should put that in their ad. I understand that they are trying to say this horse is Hills 05very steady and not spooky, but unfortunately buyers then think the horse will never spook. Unpleasant surprise for them when it does! Every horse will spook at something, some time. No seller should call their horse bombproof. Check this out for some basic spooking styles:

Sensitive and forward, needs a tactful rider.” Likely jumpy and reactive. If you enjoy that and are a tactful rider, go for it! If not, give it a miss.

“Potential to go all the way!” If you’re a dressage rider, you think: Grand Prix! If an eventer, perhaps you start thinking about Advanced level, if a Jumper, maybe GP show jumping…you get the idea. “Potential to go all the way” is said about a green four year old, or a one year old, or a weanling, and guess what? They are just guessing. Maybe it will happen, maybe the horse has potential, and maybe not. Maybe it’s wishful thinking. Maybe it has talent, and maybe it doesn’t. But just because they say if could do Grand Prix some day, doesn’t mean it will happen. Getting there takes work, continued soundness, careful and correct training over many years, and a good mind. Evaluate its ability yourself, or have an expert you trust evaluate it.

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I have to ask myself, Do you even want or need a horse that can go Grand Prix?  I know…of course I want it. But do I really? Sometimes people buy a Ferrari that they never allow to go above 35 mph. That you’re afraid to take out because it might get scratched. What’s the point? Maybe what we need is just need a nice, calm, safe, lower level horse that also goes down the trail. Just saying: buy what you need and what suits you.

“Well started and ready to finish your way!” People start horses all kinds of ways and this could mean ANYTHING. Ask all kinds of questions. The horse could have six rides on it and barely steer or stop; or it could understand basic walk/trot/canter and have been outside the arena. It depends on the trainer.

“Puppydog personality!” This can mean sweet and friendly, or it can mean pushy and all over you all the time. Think about the different breeds of dogs and how their personalities differ. What kind of dog are they thinking of? A labrador? I’m not sure I want a 1000 lb labrador. On the other hand, a sweet, friendly personality is a plus. Ask questions.

“Perfect for a Professional, advanced amateur, or Junior Rider; experienced handler only.” Unless you are a very competent rider, I’d steer clear. If they are marketing this horse for a professional, it’s probably pretty hot and possibly even somewhat dangerous at times.  Sellers want to do for the adult amateur market, and they won’t mark their horse as “experienced only” unless they have to. There’s a reason.  Ask questions and be sure you’re able to handle it.

There are many more, of course, but you get the idea.  Keep in mind that it’s always Buyer Beware when you enter the Horse Market. Be friendly, polite, ask questions, listen carefully, don’t take things at face value, and ask more questions. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find that Handsome Prince (or Princess). Be patient and hold out for the horse that is right for you.

Kiss me, I'm a Princess in disguise.

Kiss me, I’m a Princess in disguise.

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