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Q&A: With all the lawsuits over horse sales lately, how do you protect yourself as a buyer?

Photo 228313984 | Horse © Darren Dwayne Frazier |

Like everything else in life, the more you trust someone, the more vulnerable you are to getting hurt. Horse sales are no different.  

In a perfect world, every trainer should abide by a code of ethics and demonstrate the high moral standards we all hope they would. But unfortunately, that is just not the case. Even in ideal scenarios when everything is done the right way, horses are live animals, and they are also unpredictable. I’ve seen horses make liars out of the best trainers in the business every day!As a trainer, I can’t say how many times I’ve been in the ring during a trial and said, “Wow, I’ve never seen him do that….” Or, “Wow, I didn’t even know he could do that!”

Unfortunately, unless you have literally experienced every hot/rainy/snowy/cold/windy kind of weather with that horse, paired with seeing him ridden by every variety of hot-legged/no-legged/intense hand/no hand/anxious/calm (the list goes on) rider, then you have no idea how that horse will behave on every day, in every program. As trainers, we certainly try to know, or at least have an educated guess—just as parents try to know how their kids would act in certain scenarios. But in truth, in both cases, it’s all just a hunch!

Your best bet is to work with a trainer that has sold many horses, has a solid reputation, and that most people have positive things to say about. These are the kinds of professionals that people should lean on when it comes to buying and selling. Unfortunately, more often than not these days, potential buyers are just as likely to look on social media and pick a horse out from a stranger’s post, based entirely on a video and something they’ve read. It’s a sad but true reality in our industry today.

If you are in the market to buy a horse, my belief is, you need to be working with a well-regarded trainer. Someone that can talk you through the options, explain the advantages and disadvantages, and also the different possibilities for leasing or purchasing, as your needs dictate. Don’t believe that some person selling a horse on social media really cares about you. Don’t believe that the trainer-dealer your friend happens to like also has your best interests at heart.

Do your research, and don’t be afraid to do a little recon of your own. Ask others in the industry—your vet, braider, a horse show manager, maybe a tack shop owner—if they know the person you’re thinking of buying from, and if they are knowledgeable and trustworthy.

As a trainer, when I sell a horse, I give all the knowledge I can to prospective buyers: usually too much! But then, when that horse behaves in a certain way, or perhaps isn’t the right match for the rider down the road, those buyers had all the information I did about what could possibly happen. From a trainer’s perspective, it bothers me when buyers are willing to trust a Facebook post over that wise old trainer that has been doing this forever!

From the judge’s seat, I am always amazed how the horses I’m watching can tell me a story in the ring. More than that, they can also tell a story to anyone with the right log-in and password, since at the majority of top horse shows around the country now, everything is on video.

If you’re horse shopping, that gives you a lot of footage to review of your potential future partner. The problem? Your average junior or amateur competitor is not a seasoned judge that’s studied horses over thousands of rounds over the course of their career. It’s far more likely that, in an effort to better understand a horse they’re thinking of purchasing, a buyer may misinterpret what they see in a video, and thereby come to the wrong conclusion.

In fact, many judges could laugh when we see certain people buying a particular horse we know—and we wonder who in their circle didn’t read that video correctly. Knowing what you’re seeing is something that comes from lots of years and miles in the industry. Instead of guessing, a better option is to buy from a experienced seller who knows his or her horse well. That, and do your homework. Not on social media, but by having a real-life conversation with your trainer, who can watch a video with you and help you understand what and why a horse is doing what he’s doing in the ring.  

With my mom hat on, my heart goes out anyone who’s bought a horse for their kid that wasn’t right. I, too, have had a few of those. That said, in my view, most of the time, it’s not something to sue someone over. Sometimes the horse just isn’t the right match, or things change when you bring him home. The horse might decide he doesn’t like a particular farm, or a particular kid; maybe his health-status has changed based on any number of factors. It’s important to remember, again, that horses are live animals with feelings and opinions of their own.

As a parent, I try to rely heavily on the average of good vs bad rides, overall, when my kid is getting to know a new horse.  Of course, if he or she isn’t able to learn, or isn’t safe, then that is a clear sign for me that it’s time to move on. In that case, I hope to at least break even on my investment—but unfortunately, sometimes it just isn’t possible. In that instance, you have to be okay with cutting your losses. And of course, as a mom, it helps if you have faith in the trainer in charge.

In all instances—as a trainer, judge, and mom—when it comes to horse sales, believing in the coach you’re working with is a must. So, too, is remembering that at the end of the day, horses are animals. You can’t always predict how they will react new situations, and that’s a part of the sport as well.

Dana Hart Callanan is a successful hunter, jumper and equitation coach, an ‘R’ judge, and a sales broker. In this column, she answers common questions about A level sport. Send your questions to for consideration in a future column.

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