Shopping on a budget

     If money were all you needed to win at dressage competitions, there would be no sport. Even the best horses need good riders, good trainers and good fortune to have success. With the quality of horses in the show ring getting better each year, there does seem to be an unfair advantage to those with deep pockets who are able to buy flashy competitors with wonderful gaits.

Short and Sweet
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But take heart; there are a number of ways you may be able to get a lot of horse for your dollar.

     First you have to realize that if you want "what everyone wants," its going to be expensive. It's the principle of supply and demand. If you are willing to make some concessions, you may be able to get a special horse that might otherwise be out of your budget. While you can't expect to get something for nothing, there are a few ways to make your buying dollars go quite a bit further. Here are a few I've used with my clients:

1. If you're on the short side, consider a small horse. The most sought after size is 16.1 to 17 hands. If you are willing to buy something 15.3 or under, you may be in luck. If you're 5'1Ē it might be just the horse for you anyway. The only catch is that they're hard to find, especially if they're trained beyond 1st level. You may be well served to get a professional horse finder to help you with that search.

2. How about a sound horse that won't pass a pre-purchase veterinary exam? In the last 20 years, pre-purchase exams in the US have taken on a whole new complexion. In order to prevent liability, many of our country's veterinarians have become more detailed in their exams and less optimistic in their report of findings.

Older Schoolmaster
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     Nervous buyers looking for reassurance after an exam aren't getting it. Instead they're hearing all about every imperfection and often a few perceived imperfections, additional tests that can be done, the risks from buying a horse with these imperfections, and the possible extreme measures that may be required to correct worse case scenarios. It's no wonder that a fairly high number of buyers now bail before writing a check, and sellers are left with a sound but "stigmatized" horse. The spin-off from this relatively recent phenomena is that there are quite a lot of good horses in the USA that are performing soundly every day, but are harder to sell. Find a wise and experienced veterinarian that will work with you to interpret which horses might be a reasonable risk. You might be able to find a nice horse with a seller willing to negotiate the price.

3. Consider an older schoolmaster. I've never heard anyone who has purchased a schoolmaster say that they had made a mistake or wasted their money. One thing to consider is that you don't want to even start down the road of this type of purchase unless you are prepared to hear a lot of scary things from the veterinarian at the time of the pre-purchase exam. Most of the time, if a horse comes out every day and does its job, there is reason to trust that the horse will give you a lot of good rides. Modern sports medicine has a lot to offer to keep these older schoolmasters comfortable and in the dressage ring. Understand that if it has a lot of training - this is worth a lot to you - even if it's not competitive any more.

World Class Weanling
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4. Buy young - less training less years normally means more quality for your money. Many savvy riders buy a very nice young horse while they're finishing out the last years of their current mount. Turn out board is a great option for a youngster and can be quite affordable.

     The younger the horse the more quality you can get for the same price. This is a good strategy ONLY if you are already a fairly experienced rider, have ridden young horses before and/or you have very competent help to navigate the training of a talented young horse.

     Across the board, two year olds are often the best value. The problem is, most buyers are not sophisticated enough horse people to recognize a good horse when itís two years old, croup high, low neck, big head, hairy skinny and maybe/ maybe not moving nicely. It might pay to get help in this selection from someone with experience.

5. If you want to buy a trained horse but canít afford it, consider buying a "young teenager." In Europe it is common to find a 10 - 14 year old 3rd/4th level horse for sale in a price range that many serious competitors can afford. Since competitors need to achieve enough points to move to a higher level, many amateur riders are not able to move their horse into the FEI levels. After a few years at third or fourth level, they're ready to sell their horse and start over with something young. These horses are great opportunities for amateurs to get a great education without breaking the bank.

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