Shopping for a horse can be an overwhelming endeavor, and it is very important to avoid being a "tire kicker" while still being picky enough to find the right horse for you.
As I am currently in the process of shopping for my partner for the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover, I thought it would be an appropriate time to share my thoughts about how I approach finding the right OTTB.
Tip 1: Write down your criteria
It's easy to have a picture in your head of what kind of horse you're hoping to find, but when you write it down it helps keep you accountable and focused. Even more important, it helps prevent you from ever looking at the horses you might think you will be able to talk yourself into purchasing despite the fact that they are an unrealistic match. If you have clear search criteria, it will narrow the scope of your search so that you are only looking at horses that are truly suitable prospects and prevent you from wasting your (and sellers') time.
For example, my criteria is:
Tip 2: Be realistic and identify your negotiables
The main point here is to accept the reality that you will most likely NOT find the elusive unicorn - the horse for less than $1,000 who meets all your criteria - so be prepared in advance to know where you can and cannot compromise. After you have a list of criteria, it's important to be honest with yourself about what might not be a required item on your list - I called some of those out above in Tip 1.
For example, I am willing to work with a horse that has osselets OR nervous behavior, but since I will most likely be re-selling my next horse I can't take both. I want my 2017 Makeover horse to ultimately be a partner for an Adult Amateur or Junior rider, and in order to make that happen I have to trust that the horse will have a calm enough brain after training. Osselets will not be a problem for an amateur showing locally, but if the horse is too "hot" then it won't be a match. On the other side, a professional could be the right rider for a more challenging horse, but a professional may be limited by the osselets.
If you're 5'2", do you really need a 17-hand horse, or is that more of a "nice to have"? Do you really plan to compete at Rolex, or would a horse with a prior injury probably be 100% suitable to keep you competitve at local shows? Is a gray really more trail-safe than a chestnut? Know the difference between a "must" and a "nice to have," and be honest with yourself about your abilities and goals as a horse person.
Tip 3: Stick to your budget
As someone who also sells horses, I can tell you firsthand that one of the quickest ways to create a bad reputation for yourself is to be a "tire kicker," and the fastest way to do that is to look at horses you will most likely never purchase. This is why it is so important to first narrow your search results and then stick to them.
One of the main criteria about which buyers seem to lie to themselves is price. If you are not able to be negotiable on your budget, then you shouldn't even waste a seller's time by going to look at a horse that is clearly over your budget. Going to look at a horse that is priced above what you're willing to pay will only result in one of two outcomes:
Tip 4: Do your research
Knowing as much about a horse before you meet it will not only help inform your decision, but it can also help you stand out to a seller. Finding out information about a racehorse is even easier thanks to all the resources available on the internet.
My baseline for research before I commit to meeting a horse (or buying one sight unseen) includes:
Tip 5: Make a decision and follow-up
If you find a horse that meets all your non-negotiable criteria, don't sleep on it too long. A good horse for the right price will not stay on the market for long.
And if you decide to pass on a horse, give the seller the courtesy of letting them know. You don't need to tell them exactly why (although most would appreciate the feedback), but at least let them know you are no longer a potential buyer.
Final Tip: Racing is a different sport
This may seem obvious, but never forget that racing is different from riding for pleasure or showing. I am pointing this out because it is important to keep in mind that requests you might believe completely normal could actually raise an eyebrow. Additionally, answers you receive might mean something different than what you perceive.
For example, when racehorse professionals shop for prospects at a Thoroughbred sale, they typically only watch the horse at the walk and judge their conformation. Sporthorse people almost always expect to evaluate a horse at the trot. This is not to say that racehorse professionals will refuse to trot a horse for you, but it is just to call out that it may be viewed as unnecessary by some trainers so don't be surprised at a raised eyebrow if you ask them to continue jogging the horse back and forth. Although this may be intended as being thorough on your part, it could be perceived as a lack of education or experience making you seem less likely to be a serious buyer and more like a "tire kicker."
Along those same lines, always seek to understand without coming to premature conclusions. A horse with wrapped or poulticed legs is very normal at the track. If you approach each seller with a humble spirit seeking to learn more, you may end up with a great new connection even if you don't end up buying a horse from that individual.
By Kyle Rothfus
This blog is dedicated to providing insight about OTTB re-training, Thoroughbred pedigrees and general equine care. You can also track the progress of horses I have for sale through posts here.