Breaking Up is Hard to Do….an article I wrote as published in Americas Horse magazine.
By Stacy Westfall
There’s no doubt that some of the happiest moments of horse ownership come when you take delivery of that new horse. It’s kind of like infatuation —easy to see all the great things about the new partner, and any negatives or possible problems are easily overlooked. Expectations are high and as far as potential success goes, the sky’s the limit. You figure you and your new horse will be riding together years in the future, still enjoying a fruitful and fulfilling relationship.
The other end of that spectrum is coming to the conclusion that it might be time to part ways with your horse. This can happen after years together, or soon after a new purchase. Either way, the realization is unsettling — and usually for the very reason that the initial expectations were so high.
When someone asks my advice about selling a horse, I like to stick to some general points. The final decision is a difficult one each individual needs to make on their own. There are three things I tell them to consider: safety, enjoyment, and purpose.
When you feel unsafe around your horse, or if your instructor or some other professional is warning you about your safety, take it seriously. No amount of loyalty to your horse is worth getting hurt.
Behaviors that threaten your safety include biting, kicking, rearing, bucking and striking. If you can’t control your horse, even if someone else can, the horse is still dangerous to you. You do have options if you consider your horse a safety threat.
Sending your horse to a professional trainer is one possibility. The downside of this is twofold. #1 a good professional trainer can be expensive. If you don’t have the money to see the training through, it’s time to consider selling. #2-can you maintain what the trainer has done? Some horses become wise and know the difference between the trainer and the owner. If you can’t maintain it, the training will not benefit you.
If you have the ability, time and inclination to train these behaviors out of your horse, it’s time to get to work fixing the situation. Be realistic. Are you really capable of addressing the dangerous behaviors in your horse? Are you willing to commit to the time necessary (a minimum of four times per week) to correct the behavior? Are you willing to be consistent over time (fixing your horse could take weeks, months or more)? Are you willing to postpone your goals? For instance, you may have had a goal to do some trail riding or enter a show this summer, and if you switch gears to fix bad behavior, that goal might not be possible.
If you hesitate in answering any of these questions, it’s time to consider selling. The area of safety is a serious one. This is one area where it is reasonable to expect your horse to change but if you don’t have the time or resources to facilitate this change-sell.
If you’re like me, the reason you spend time with horses is that horses bring you joy. Why do something so expensive and time-consuming if you don’t absolutely love it? So ask yourself if you’re still enjoying your horse. Do you look forward to riding or do you avoid or dread heading out to the barn? Have you noticed that you are riding less often, and when you do it’s for shorter periods of time? Does thinking of your horse make you smile, or do you wince?
If any of this sounds like you, it’s time to ask yourself why the joy is gone. Two things can strongly impact your enjoyment with your horse — personality conflicts and energy level. Look for your enjoyment issues here.
Horses, like people, have distinct personalities. Some are affectionate and seem to enjoy your attention. Others are more stand-offish and businesslike. If you want your horse to LIKE you, to run to you from the pasture and nudge you for a snack, don’t get your hopes up if your horse is of the second type.
I once trained a horse that was successful in the reining pen, but the horse and the owner didn’t ‘click’. The owner had always had horses that were curious, friendly and loved treats and interactions. Her gelding however, would never eat a treat — not an apple or carrot or any of the expensive horse cookies. And he was stand-offish. He did his job and then wanted to be left alone. She always felt something was missing and in the end she chose to sell. In doing so she was able to find him a home where he was enjoyed for who he was.
Likewise, if what’s most important to you is the way you and your horse perform, no matter how cute and attentive it is, if it doesn’t live up to your expectations in the arena, you’re going to have a hard time really enjoying it. Is it fair to try to change him? Consider your horse’s strengths and weaknesses before trying to change him too much.
Mismatched energy levels can also lead to lack of enjoyment. A forward, excitable horse is going to be a challenge for someone to enjoy whose idea of a nice ride is a meandering walk along a trail. Rather than relaxing, they’re likely to be constantly pulling the horse back, wishing it would just chill out and walk. On the other hand, a lazy walker that resents moving to a trot can be frustrating to ride when your aim is to lope a pattern.
You get the picture. Like with certain people, you move at the same speed or you don’t, you like the same things or you don’t. If you suspect that the lack of enjoyment you’re feeling with your horse is a personality or energy issue, it’s time to consider selling. Those characteristics are innate, and won’t be easily changed in either of you. Not surprisingly, if you are constantly trying to change your horse, for example trying to make a lazy horse become a get-up-and-go horse, your horse is probably not enjoying the relationship much either.
What do you want to do with your horse? Your current horse may have been the perfect match when you first got it. It’s possible, however, that your goals and skills have evolved since then. The key question is, is your horse suited to you and what you want to do NOW?
Let’s say you started out content to ride trails. The horse you have is perfectly capable of that. But now you’ve decided you would like to try to compete in endurance rides. Your horse, while able to pick its way over rocks, cross creeks and step over logs, may not be up to the demanding pace required to be a successful endurance competitor. Consider how important it is to you to achieve that next goal. If your horse is holding you back, you’re going to begin to resent it. Trying to change your horse into something he is not can also make him resentful. Instead, consider selling your horse to someone who can appreciate him for who he is, the way you did when your goals were different.
That retired show horse with some arthritis in his hocks may have been a great choice for your eight-year-old daughter to learn to ride on. Now that she is twelve and has decided to take jumping lessons things have changed. Pushing a horse to do something it’s not suited to is a recipe for disaster. Consider selling such a horse to someone who can use it to its abilities.
While it’s rarely easy to end a relationship, sometimes it’s the best thing to do. Many horse owners hang onto their horses based on the idea that they are the only ones in the world who will take care of them. There are many responsible horse owners out there, and for one of them, your horse could be that special once-in-a-lifetime partner.
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I have a 12 year old gelding mustang and my parents are making me well him because I’ll get really hurt again by him. He doesn’t like to stop when I’m ridding him he will stop when I fall off. It breaks my heart. ? I personally don’t want to get sell him but my parents are making me, he was my heart horse and my first horse I hoped to keep forever but I won’t any more. I know it’s the right choice to make. So if your horse is going to hurt you or kill you it would be better to sell them to a better person.
I recently sold one of my Arabian mares. We weren’t the right fit and trying to force the issue took time away from my other three perfect “soulmates’ It wasn’t easy to chose to sell Autumn, but it was what was best for me, her, and the others. I had invested time and money with a professional trainer, who had had reservations about her from the start. We pushed on because for all her faults, she was a sweet little mare. After my 8th fall in 3 months, I called it quits. I sold her to a wonderful family who send me regular updates on her, we have a contract with first right of refusal should they decide to part with her for any reason, and I have been invited to visit her whenever. Now I am working on rebuilding my own confidence because of all the issues I had with her. I waited too long, and I am the one paying the price now, and I only waited because I loved her.
[…] tell any potential buyers of this ponies habit. I would recommend reading a blog I wrote titled ‘Should I sell my horse?’ In this article I site three things to consider: safety, enjoyment and purpose. Sometimes the […]
[…] have written several blogs on the subject of selling horses such as the one titled, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do”. There seems to be a perception that selling is somehow wrong or an unjust thing to do. Viewing this […]
As usual an excellent article. My only comment is think before you buy, because it seems to be a lot harder to sell once the emotions have kicked in.
Thanks for a great in-depth article.
just some food for thought to all of you who say you would never sell a horse because of the chance it may go to slaughter. First it is your responisbility to ensure you find a good home before selling. Second, if nobody sold their horses that are no longer suitable to their needs than many of you would not have found your first horses or your perfect partners. I have had to sell 2 horses in my lifetime the first was my first horse and I loved him dearly but unfortunately he was great as a beginners horse but when I was ready to advance he wasn’t able to advance with me and as a teen I couldn’t afford nor would my parents allow me to keep 2 horses. The second I loved even more than the first. He was abused and we had a very special bond. But there came a time when I couldn’t keep him. I didn’t sell him to the first person who showed up but took my time and thoroughly vetted his new home and did everything in my power to ensure his safety and he was happy there. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions and ideas however, keeping a horse forever is not always feesable to everyone and although alot of you appear to feel it is wrong to sell you should not make others feel that they are wrong for wanting to sell and find a new partner. It may benefit the horse as much as the individual.
I see many people “stuck” because they are told and feel its wrong to sell their horse. They are horses and have been adapting for decades. I am a very responsible horse owner and have decided after 2 years of rehab and nursing my gelding
back from an injury that now is the time while he is a good, productive, and sound horse. I once read the best thing a person can do for a horse is train them to be useable. In other words a horse someone could be safe around and enjoy. That he is. I am not a bad person for moving him on. My goals are still there but he is may not be able to continue the adventure with me without risk of re-injury. My responsibility is to find him the right home, and that I will with the added note that if they want to sell him I have the first option to buy him back.
DO NOT DO NOTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTTT SELL YOUR HORSE !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
If you’re horse is going to hurt or kill you it’s better. Also you can sell it to someone who you can go see your horse still.
Amy Fiorilli – Please get some natural horsemanship training from someone like Clinton Anderson. He has numerous DVDs that you can purchase (even on ebay) You need knowledge quick for your own safety. You would be amazed at how demanding respect and being assertive (NOT aggressive) can change your relationship. If your mare started off right for you, then you need to become the horsewoman she deserves and needs. I think everyone has been in your shoes to some extent. Don’t give up, get knowledge. 🙂
Thanks so much Lynn, I am working on it. I’m definitely not giving up yet. I’m working with a natural horsemanship trainer tomorrow and I have been reading and watching everything I can get my hands on. Clinton Anderson Parelli and of course stacy westfall. 🙂 I don’t want to let Pepper down. I just need to get my courage back.
Dear Lynn, I appreciate your effort, to try and help Amy. I don’t wish to start a battle with you, but I think you should know. I find it offensive that you recommend another trainers DVD’s on Stacy’s blog. One of Stay’s beauty’s, is she’s not doing the hard sell. She generously, gives so much. At least you could refrain recommending other DVD’s here. I’m sure you ment no harm. I have been training horses for about 20 years, and find Stacy’s DVD’s are gold. Especially for woman.
Congratulations!!! You are simply awesome!!!! Thanks for sharing your knowlege, your advices. Thanks
With my best regards!
Jaime Bravo Polo
Pd: have a merry christmas!
Having always wanted a horse since I knew what they were, if I were ever blessed with one, I’d have it thoroughly “gone over,” and visit it many times to see if we’d “bond” like that of adopting
a greyhound. With the greys, the rescued track dogs that are destroyed when they don’t make
the $$, when I set eyes on one I’m interested in, it’s all over. My “kids” now number four: two of
each. The newest one after six or seven months is still skittish=nasty track life. With a horse, I
would most likely opt for a schooling horse like those I rode back in high school, decades ago.
To me, God’s creations are a treasure unless they slink along the ground; line ends there……
Over the twenty plus years I’ve adopted, I’ve only had to return one, simply because he was
way too much for me to handle; toughest twenty-four hours I had up till then. Everything and
everyone were put here in a time and place for a purpose…be patient! 🙂 Respectfully………
Such a shame that so many horses are sold and can have so many different owners. Breaks my heart sometimes when people say they have grown out of them :(….. How sad for yr partner 🙁
I simply cldnt do it… And my boy is 33.
My horse is one of those ‘one people’ horses & apart from the fact that it would break my heart to sell her (I’m getting old!), I’m worried she will not be able to adapt to another owner. I’ve had her since she was a baby & only my instructor and I have ridden her. I couldn’t even bring myself to send her away to be started let alone sell her. Started her myself at home.
I am really grateful for this article this morning. Thank you so much Stacy. I am new to horse ownership at 37 and had a dream time with my new horse for the first 3 months. Then things began to change. I am finding it very difficult to keep the respect of my mare, she has gotten progressively worse in many ways and more and more unsafe until turning to kick me in the chest and bolting off, down a trail and across the road to home. I take full responsibility for not knowing enough or being brave enough to keep the leadership role in my partnership with her but now I am scared and she knows it. Things that used to be easy, fun and relaxing to me have become scary and stressful like leading her around, grooming her and the thought of riding her. I feel guilty all the time for not doing better with her and for not being strong enough yet to take back control. I am seeking help from a professional and I hope that helps me regain my confidence and my mare her respect. It’s heartbreaking…this was my dream. btw, I did have a vet examine her for any possible physical problems that could be contributing to this and he found nothing. Sorry for the ramble. It just seemed fateful that this was the topic of your blog today and its exactly what I needed to read. Thanks again.
Amy I know what you are going thru. A year ago June I lost my best horse to cancer, she and I rode everywhere. My friends all kept at me to buy another horse and I did. I rushed into it and in Sept of 2012 I got hurt. I tried to make it work but I had to sell him. I had shoulder surgery this past April from the riding accident and lost a lot of time not riding. I bought a new mare in July and things started good, and believe me I had lost my confidence. Then in Sept. she started acting nasty, getting fresh bucking and then rearing. I had a trainer riding her and she kept rearing. I ended up taking her to Tufts for a spinal xray to see if she possibly had kissing spine. I found out that she had some stifle and hock issues. They injected her and did mesotherapy on her back. Now she is at a professional trainer for at least the next couple months. My point is that I made the decision to keep her because in every other way she is my mare that I lost to cancer. Like the gelding I got hurt on he was not the right one and I realized that so I had to sell and he is working great for the new owner. It is really tough when you lose your confidence but I was able see that if I find the answer to her problems that I know she and I will eventually be a really good team. It is still going to take me a lot of time to build up my confidence again but I am not ready to quit yet.Good Luck.
Patty, I really appreciate you sharing. It sounds like you do truly understand and have been through a lot. I’m glad you’re healing from the riding injury. It helps to know that others have struggled with confidence after an accident and have not given up on having horses in our lives. Good luck with your mare!
You make some really excellent points. I am considering selling my horse because we are simply not a good “match.” I love him, but I feel like he deserves to be with someone who will appreciate him for who he is, not who I keep hoping he will be. Thank you for your honesty and common sense.
I’m with stormidnight. I’m in my 60’s with five horses nobody rides any more. The last few falls have each caused greater damage and I don’t heal as well as I used to. I’d like to have some freedom to travel at this age, but have no way to guarantee that a horse I sell, no matter how good the new home is, won’t eventually end up at a slaughterhouse. I feel I owe all these horses, who have been family for 8 – 12 years each, absolute protection from slaughter for as along as I can possibly afford to feed and care for them.
Exactly my position dustybootscorral.
Totally agree. You have a great heart.
We feel the same at our place. Once they join the family, they’re here for life. I’m having issues with a horse I bought last year as a riding horse, but now will hopefully be a driving horse instead. My hubby is not too happy to go from 3 horses to 4, as I look for my new riding horse….but in the end I know he understands and loves them as much as I do.
If anyone sells their horse, it may go to a meat buyer. Beware and be very aware.
This is great, I decided to sell my 3 1/2 year old Shire x Quarter horse gelding that I have raised & trained since he was born. I am only selling him, for him. I feel like he has a lot more potential in English sports and I ride western. So even though it breaks my heart I am doing it for him <3 finding him the best home! I think I finally found one were he will reach his full potential as a dressage & jumper!
You left one reason out that maybe the most difficult of all. Its what I am going through right now. I have a 18month old filly that I bought at a nasty little auction here in town known to sell to slaughter. She is a great horse and coming along nicely. However she has ocd in her left stifle and she needs surgery which costs 2000 $. I can not afford to pay this so I have no choice but to give her away and hope someone will do right by her. My biggest fear is will she be sold to the meat market? I’m very torn up about this.
But, you have to be certain the new owner is reputable and will give your horse the love and attention it needs..And not be sent out to slaughter.. This is why I will never sell my horses. I rescued a horse from slaughter and he has heaves.. I would never sell him and subject him to the stress he went through at the auction. I don’t know where he came from. He’s a Missouri Foxtrotter ( from what we can figure out) He was stressed to the max when I got him.. He is now trusting of me and I love him.. He will be with me forever..
I agree totally Judith!! Too many former show horses of good quality are going straight to the kill pen. I too, have NEVER sold one of my horses-I don’t want to live with the constant thought of who may end up with them. To me, a horse is a lifetime commitment so I am very, very careful when I