When fall arrives many horses tend to change owners. For at this time the foals are weaned from their dams, in the cities people return from their vacation and undertake a decision about purchasing, and in the country a flow of cash is to be expected after harvest time… Currently it is much easier to purchase an Arabian than to sell one, as we can observe an excess of supply over demand, thanks to which those willing to buy a pure-bred have a rich offer to choose from, with the prices being lower than even a couple of years ago (of course I’m not talking about the prices achieved by the elite of Polish breeding at the Janów Sales). However no one wants to waste their money – however large the sum – and for that reason it is good to know what to look for during a purchase to minimize the risk of making a mistake.
First of all we must decide whether we need a horse for breeding or for working under saddle. Or perhaps both? Whether we already have other horses or will this be our first one? And whether we had experience with Arabians, or horses of other breeds? Do we have our own stable or do we intend to keep the animal in a livery yard? And do we have any experience at all with dealing with horses? Will we have to rely on ourselves (possibly with our family) or will there be somebody helping us? Finally what are our financial possibilities? The answers to these questions (as well as many others, as one question leads to the next) will determine what we choose from the horses available on the market.
Most important is the source from which we will make the purchase. We can buy a horse at one of the numerous auctions and biddings/tenders organized in the State Studs of Janów Podlaski, Michałów and Białka, or from the private-owned barns, usually advertised in one of the four horse magazines published in Poland or the major horse websites on the internet (polskiearaby.pl among others). We cannot forejudge upfront which source will be better, because here and there likewise we might stumble on our “dream steed”. But if we cannot spend too big an amount on this purchase, and we’re set on a close relation to title-holding individuals, a look at the monthly tenders of the State Studs might be a good idea. At the Studs it is custom to repeat successful matings and it is therefore possible to buy for a rather small sum a sister to a show champion, of less beauty or with an acquired physical flaw, possessing however the same genotype. This is advisable when, while not possessing vast funds, we wish to acquire breeding material.
This way, at one of the first of such tenders in the 90s (known then as „autumn auctions”), I bought a three year old filly with a superb pedigree, retired from racing training due to lameness, for an amount comparable to the price of a good work horse. The mare proved to be a splendid broodmare and passed these traits to her daughter, who still stands at my stable until this day. After two years’ time there was almost no sign of the lameness and I could even present the mare at the Breeding Exhibition in Sitno near Zamość.
When buying from an ad it is good to check whether the seller is a member of the Polish Arabian Horse Breeders’ Association (PZHKA) or at least try to inquire about some references for him (this does not apply to breeders with names widely recognized in the “horse” world). The purpose of this is to avoid buying a horse from a horse dealer, which only leads to problems. Such a horse might have been through a lot – kept in unsuitable conditions, badly fed or mistreated, which might result in consequences with regard to health or character. Even if we buy him cheaper, we might shell out more than we saved. There were cases of sales of horses with skillfully concealed cancer of the frog or sweet itch. The latter ailment does not appear during the winter, so if in doubt whether our contractor is honest – let’s take a look at the horse in the summer.
Most often the dealers try to conceal the defects of the horse’s character. They do so by administering sedatives to an excessively nervous or ill-natured individual prior to an expected visit by the client. If the visit is unexpected or vices cannot be concealed, they can try to use some psychological moves, for example making the client believe that the vices are temporary and they will cease to exist when in good hands (which is nothing but flattery for the buyer)…
The horse’s character and the way it allows itself to be handled are extremely important issues. If we are not a wealthy businessman, who will at once place the horse in the hands of qualified personnel, and especially if we intend to take care of the animal ourselves – let’s check what we are getting ourselves into. For that purpose we can run a small test – let’s try to lift each of the horse’s legs and then grab his ears. If he does not back away from these actions it means he is well mannered and mentally balanced.
A horse purchased from an unreliable seller might not possess full documentation. If he has a passport issued by the Polish Jockey Club then all’s alright, but do not uncritically believe in assurances that “the papers are being prepared”. There have been known cases of sellers trying to thrust a horse which did not fulfill the requirements of the studbooks, because for example he had gaps in his pedigree, was not registered in the regulation time or his blood samples were not sent to the lab for identifying genetic markers and DNA. When in doubt it is best to check with the Polish Arabian Stud Book (PASB) whether a horse of a given name and date of birth was registered there.
As much as it is possible, let’s try to check whether the horse is suitable for what we intend to use him for. If it is to be a broodmare, let’s take a look at her breeding career so far and if a first-time bred – the career of her dam, as the reproductive index is highly heritable in the female line in Arabian horses. If for example a mare is already n-teen years old and her last foal came into this world seven years ago, her incorporation into breeding once again may be hard and might require expensive treatment. When buying a horse with a show career in mind let’s check if he has in his pedigree ancestors with such predispositions (as Monogramm, Laheeb or Gazal Al Shaqab). If we plan a performance horse – for racing, endurance or other sport – we must thoroughly assess the state of his locomotive system and general health, especially the ease of breathing and the ability of the pulse to quickly return to normal after exercise. Let’s check if the tendons are not “hot”, whether there are no swellings on them and no splints on the cannons and whether the soles of the hoofs are well arched. For extra safety it is best to commission a veterinarian to perform all necessary tests. If he should accompany us during the inspection of the horse, the seller will treat us more seriously and will not try to smuggle defects which would otherwise be hard to find by the untrained eye.
Before we undertake a decision on purchasing a horse for under saddle work, a trial ride is vital. We must personally check how the horse responses to aids and the comfort of his gaits, especially if we are looking for a recreational steed. We should put the saddle and bridle on ourselves (even if the owner vows to do it himself) and assess if the horse backs away during this action. Check if he easily accepts the bit, if he is not ticklish, how he reacts to the tightening of the girth, if the pressure on his spine does not cause him pain and if he stands still during mounting (an exception is a horse straight off the racetrack, because the riders are “thrust” into the saddle, so the horse must get used to being mounted via the stirrup).
Some predispositions may be assessed straight away, based on certain features of the horse’s conformation before we mount. And so, a horse with a steep shoulder, especially combined with short and upright pasterns with a high probability will have a hard, bumpy gait, so the ride will be far from pleasant, which is not what we’re looking for! Similarly a horse with long pasterns and a short forearm will be moving with a “parade” walk, from the knee, which results in high action and not a very enjoyable carrying of oneself. While on the contrary, a horse with a soft back and long, soft pasterns does not present much breeding value and will not stand intensive use, but will be just right for light recreation, as such horses usually make for a soft and pleasant ride. Soft, while at the same time effective and purposeful gaits have horses that are well contained with a long, well angled shoulder. Our ancestors were right saying: “He who doesn’t test a horse, will buy a lame one, and who marries without getting to know the girl – is a fool!”
Do not treat the descriptions in ads too literally or rather let’s interpret the text reading it „between the lines”. It is highly unlikely that a three year old could be a “professor horse”, while a two year old or a yearling displayed “incredible jumping predispositions” (the fact that he was able to escape from the pasture once doesn’t mean a thing) or endurance skills. One or numerous acceptance of the saddle by the horse does not make him ideal to work with children and an individual advertised as “only for an experienced rider” is probably so hard to ride that the fact cannot be concealed.
Let’s also remember that a horse is a herd animal and we shouldn’t buy him to keep him alone (unless it is a highly pregnant mare and soon one will become two). Even if we plan to ride him everyday he needs to have some company for the rest of the day, so it is better to place him at once in a livery yard or riding club, especially in one that offers keeping horses in groups in the pastures. A horse standing alone in a box quickly acquires unfavorable vices. The worst that we could do is to buy one foal (because we can’t afford a grown horse) counting on it to grow into a corner stone of our future stud. What we can count on is the foal growing into a nervous adult, not knowing the behavior typical to its kind. A horse is not a dog or a cat and our company is not enough for him! It is better to buy two foals at once, ask a friend to also buy a foal or ask a neighbor with horses to have them raised together.
The likings of certain coat colors are a matter of taste, but it truly made sense only with restocking the cavalry squadrons, where horses were chosen in regard to coat color or when complying a numerous horse carriage. Our ancestors were not very consequent on the subject, as on one hand they had a saying that went: “No one buys a horse for his color, but for his virtue” and on the other hand they knew many superstitions and legends attributing certain traits to various colors, as for example: “Who hadn’t a grey one, hadn’t a good one”, or “Who hadn’t a chestnut, hadn’t a rascal”. I would advise however to act according to the Chinese saying: “Doesn’t matter if the cat’s white or black, what matters is if it catches the mice”.
Surely everyone of us has our own vision of an exemplary horse. However if we raise the standard too high, we might never come around to having the horse of our dreams, so we must decide which flaws are unacceptable and which we can tolerate. Already our ancestors warned us against excessive requirements, cautioning only that: “A horse and a woman with all virtues are hard to get”. Once I had a client from an ad, who seemed to find only defects in the horse I had offered for sale. When I coyly asked whether he ever saw a horse without flaws, he answered that he is looking for one. Well, in this case I could only wish him a long life with many years to come!