Horses are many things; companions, money pits, dangerous, gentle, healers, playful, hard workers; the list goes on and on. I've been blessed with good horses for the most part. Part of this I think is having a good eye and sound judgement when it comes to buying them. With one exception. :)
I've learned to listen to the old saying "never buy a pretty horse". Obviously, I don't take this literally, and neither do any serious horsemen (horsepeople?). I mean, a pretty horse has good conformation, which we all look for. What it means is not to make a purchase solely on the horses appearance. So, let me tell you about my pretty horse.
When we had to put down JT, we needed to replace him. A friend of ours said he had a couple he needed to get rid of, so off we went to have a look. When we got to the corral, there they were, two geldings. One was a big dapple grey and the other an average looking sorrel. The grey was one of the nicest looking horses I've ever seen, and I immediately wanted him. (never buy a pretty horse) He was difficult to get near, he was very nervous and skittish. (never buy a pretty horse) Finally, after about an hour of trying to get near him, he finally allowed me to touch him, although he was still very nervous. He was good with me handling his feet, and putting a halter on him, but he never really seemed to relax. The sorrel on the other hand, was really peaceful.
We talked to the guy who had started the grey as a two year old, and he had great things to say about him. Said he was a good horse from what he remembered. When we told him that the horse had been turned out to the pasture and not ridden from the day he came home from the trainer, he suggested we take him back to the trainer he had worked for when he started that horse.
Well, we knew the trainer as well so we asked him about the grey. He said he was a good horse, but only had 90 days on him and was still pretty green when he went back to the owner. He agreed to take him back for another 30 days and work with him. By this time, we (I) had decided that we needed to have this horse (never buy a pretty horse!), so we picked him and the sorrel up (the sorrel was basically thrown into the deal for free) and took them to the vet for a vet check, teeth float and jock cleaning. Both were pronounced sound and healthy by the vet. We called our friend and said that since they were fit, we'd take them.
The grey's registered name was Costa Lotta Chex. Little did we know how apt his name was...
While at the vets, Chex was given Rompun to relax him for the floating and jock cleaning. Here's where it starts to get exciting! I'm holding his halter, talking to him and rubbing his neck while the Vet is floating his teeth. All of the sudden, Chex goes down, knocking the Vet over and (luckily) through the door to the storage room. We later figured out that he fainted! He wasn't knocked out by the rompun but rather just passed out! I went down with him and as soon as he hit the floor, he came to and started thrashing trying to stand back up. If you've ever seen a horse trying to stand while agitated, on a concrete floor, you know it's not a gentle thing. I'm holding his halter, trying to stay clear while talking to him, trying to calm him down. Luckily, he recovered quickly and stood there nervously wondering what the hell just happened, just as I was! Thankfully, no one was hurt, including Chex. All that happened to him was a slight abrasion on his right front knee.
We loaded Chex and Jethro back in the trail and drove over to the trainers and dropped Chex off for his 30 day refresher course. Or so we thought. After 30 days, the trainer didn't think he was ready. I trust this guy completely. He has been training, working and showing for all of his life, plus he and his family are good friends with us. He was concerned that since my wife was an inexperienced rider, and Chex was still pretty green, he didn't want her to get hurt. So we left him there for another 30 days.
During the next 30 days, he brought my wife out and would let her ride Chex while he kept an eye on things. Chex was really good with her on him, but still never really relaxed. He was being worked 6 out of 7 days a week. Everything from ground work, round pen and arena work, to working cows on the ranch. He would do really good for a week or two, then out of the blue he would blow up. Strangely, he would only blow up with very experienced riders, never with my wife. This led to yet another 30 days at the trainers.
After the 90 days of consistent quality training, we decided to loan Chex out to anouther local rancher for the summer, to use up at his cow camp. Again, Chex did really good for about three weeks, then one morning...
C had been riding Chex everyday working cows for three weeks. This day, he saddled him up, stepped up into the saddle and as soon as his right foot was in the stirrup, Chex EXPLODED. Now C rode saddle broncs for nearly 20 years, and it takes quite a lot of horse to throw him. C told me later he couldn't remember ever riding a horse that bucked so hard. C stayed on him for quite some time, losing his hat, glasses, cell phone and finally a stirrup. At that point he decided to get off before he got really hurt. After he got back up, collected all his gear, and climbed back up on Chex, everything was fine.
We finally decided that Chex just wouldn't be a good fit with us and decided to sell him. Unfortunately, the horse market was in the crapper and we wanted to make sure who ever bought him knew exactly what they were getting. I tried to convince my wife to let me take him over to rodeo outfit I knew, but she didn't want that. Too bad, I thought it would be cool to hear the announer call out "...riding Costa Lotta Chex...". Oh well.
As luck would have it, a patient of my wifes was an old cowboy who had heard about Chex and wanted to see him. So we showed him, told him everything we could about him, and he offered us a deal we wound up taking. D is a big man. I mean a BIG man! What he proposed to us was a trade; his 15yr old appendix he used in the mountains for Chex. A big, stout, smart trail horse that would be safe for my wife. She rode him a few times, and finally decided to do the trade, with the stipulation that if either party was not satisfied, we would trade back with no hard feelings.
Well, we got to keep Jethro, who is a good horse, but getting on in years, and Taco, the wonder horse. Neither are what you'd call a pretty horse, but both are rock solid. D got a strong, athletic 9yr old that could in his words, "Carry my fat ass up and down the mountains all day long."
I'm still partial to dapple greys, and will own another someday. But I'll make damn sure I don't buy a pretty one, but rather a pretty damn good one.