Earlier this month, Michael Pollard wrote a great blog, a rallying cry for American breeders. He comes from an eventing perspective, but the need for more, better horses bred in the United States is true across all the international disciplines. Between the cost of importation and the euro, European horses are expensive and not easy to get.
He also called for a better network of communication between breeders and trainers, so the good horses get to the right people. And I agree with that too, that it's not necessarily easy to find where the good horses are.
But as I start my search for my next young horse, I'm already thrilled with the power of social media.
I want a tall, extremely athletic mare or gelding. Ideally I want an underdeveloped 5-year-old, something that, for some reason not impacting its competition-lifespan, is no further along than walk, trot, canter, on the bit—a rider injury or pregnancy, an ownership change, something like that. This is what Ella was when I met her, and it helped keep the price down. I'd also look at a 4-year-old.
There aren't oodles of horses like that out there on the Internet being advertised for sale on breeders' websites or on popular advertisement sites. Here, I think, are a few reasons why:
- It's the end of March, with show season for the rest of the country no more than a few weeks away. Most people want to show their horses, which means they wanted to own their horses for a few months before showing them, which means a lot of them were purchased in December-February. This is certainly the case for Fender—I bought him at the end of January, and I'm 100 percent sure that if I'd gone looking for him this time of year back then, he would have been sold to some other lucky person.
- Breeders tend not to hang onto horses for development. They want to get them sold, understandably, and if they sell as yearlings or at 2 or 3, they're in trainers' hands when I want to see them under saddle at 4 or 5. If they're stellar at 4 or 5, that trainer's going to want to hang onto them a little while longer to potentially sell for more money further down the road.
- 4- and 5-year-old horses in 2013 were bred in 2008 and 2009, the bottom of the economic downturn in the United States. I'd guess that lots of breeders, wisely, held off on breeding as many mares those years, which means today, there are simply fewer horses to be found.
But once I'd emailed all my friends asking for their help, I went on Facebook and posted what I was looking for on my own personal Page. I have about 800 fans, plus a few people shared the post. I figured, what the heck. Maybe a few responses.
It's been quite something.
Many horses that aren't what I'm looking for, but many that are, and from all over the country. Places I'd NEVER thought to look (Maine! Kansas!). People I've met, people I've heard of, people I've never heard of. It's been really thrilling.
It doesn't necessarily make my search easy. It's a big country. Flying to four or five different locations, time spent in hotels and away from my business; I could spend as much money making multiple trips to see horses in the United States as I would making one trip to see horses in Germany or Holland, where I could see dozens without driving more than two hours. This isn't just true of youngsters, either. It's a lot easier to horse shop overseas in general, once you have a good contact to show you around.
But I'm so, so encouraged. YouTube has really revolutionized the process. I can see videos, both at liberty and under saddle, before I even think of getting on a plane.
And I'm eager to get started. The Internet is, sometimes, the worst thing to happen to the horse industry, with the misinformation and the hysterical people preaching it. But it's also a wonderful tool, and I'm hoping it'll connect me to my Next Big Horse.
(And if you know of one I should look at, send me an email!)