How to decide if and when you should sell your horse

Scottie standing on the yard, when should you sell your horse
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For those horse owners who don’t see horses as a business, it can be really hard to even thinking about selling a horse. You question whether you are doing it for selfish reasons. You question whether it is the right thing for the horse and you can spend weeks just going round and round in circles. But there are circumstances where you should sell your horse, or at least find them a new home. This article should help you make a guilt free decision as well as offering alternative ideas if you aren’t quite ready to cut the strings. 

Should you sell your horse? 

This question can be really hard to answer. But if you are having any doubts about you and your horse, it is something you need to think about. It’s also important to take what other people say with a pinch of salt. There will be those that guilt tripping you into keeping the horse and those encouraging you to sell and replace with something new. Try and only listen to those whose opinion you value and block everyone else out. You can then ask yourself some smaller, easier questions to help you make up your mind. 

Are you enjoying it? 

One of the first and possibly easiest questions to answer is: are you enjoying your horse? If the answer is no, you can then start thinking about whether it is your horse specifically you aren’t enjoying or if it is horses in general. Owning horses is a huge life commitment and it’s not surprising that some people fall out of love with the idea of it all. Sometimes you do just need a break to get some normality back into your life. Maybe try a short break, hiring someone to look after and ride your horse for a few weeks, like you would if you went on holiday. You can then see how you feel after some time off and decide whether you want a long time break from horses or if you just need more support with the jobs involved.  

If you suspect your lack of enjoyment is from your horse in particular, you need to think about why this might be. Are they maybe to difficult for you to ride? Or too grumpy on the yard? Maybe they just aren’t able to do what you want to do. If you can identify what is stopping you from enjoying your horse, you can look at whether this can be improved with time/training or not. This leads us nicely onto the next question you should ask yourself. 

Is your horse capable of doing what you want? 

We all buy our horses with some sort of goal or lifestyle in mind. It might be competing at a certain level or just to enjoy having a horse to ride. But you need to ask yourself is your horse capable and happy doing what you want to do with them?  

For example, if you want to event BE100, are they able to do that right now? If they can’t right now but could with training and time, are you able and willing to put this training in? If the answer to both of these is no, you need to think about whether you are happy having a horse who can’t do what you want? If not and you can’t afford to keep two horses, then you should look at selling the horse. Especially if they are fit and well, just not suited to the discipline you want to do. 

It’s also worth remembering that when you buy a horse, they might be fully capable of doing the job you want them to do. But they might not want to. There are horses you are fit and sound and their owner wants to jump, but they just hate jumping. It doesn’t seem to matter how much work you put in to taking them back to basics and building them up slowly, they are just never happy doing that job. There is no shame in admitting that your horse doesn’t like something and would be happier doing something else. 

Are you a good fit? 

Now you want to think about whether you and your horse are a good fit. By fit we want to look at size and personality. Maybe you have outgrown them or maybe they are just too big/small for you and you didn’t realise at the time of buying them. Horses can ride bigger or smaller than their height. So it’s not unusual to ride a horse a few times and feel happy, but as you ride them more find that you are struggling. 

Then there is also personality fit. Every horse has a completely different personality and will get on better with different people. Sometimes the horse can seem perfect, but you just don’t click with them. They might be too sharp, too lazy, too reactive, too stubborn and everything in between. 

When it is just a case of not quite being the right fit, then you should be able to sell your horse to someone else who will get on with them perfectly. You shouldn’t feel any guilt about finding a new home for a horse who just isn’t right for you. 

Have they still got plenty of miles on the clock? 

Just because a horse isn’t capable of doing the job you want them to do, doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty of miles left on the clock. For example, a horse who can no longer event at a high level due to age or injury, might still be perfectly capable of having an active job at a lower level. They could be sold on to a rider who wants to do a bit less or compete at a lower level no problem.  

Age doesn’t always have to be a big problem either. There’s a saying that in pony club that the child and ponies age combined should be over 20, if not close to 30. When a good pony club pony gets outgrown, no matter how old, there is usually a few great homes ready to snap them up for one of their children. 

That being said, I don’t agree with selling on old, retired horses or horses with long term injuries or health conditions meaning they cannot have a ridden career. Yes there are some fantastic homes out there who just want a companion for their horse. But these homes are hard to find and there is always the risk that once sold, the new owners might decide to ride them anyway or pass them on to someone else who will. This isn’t in the best interest of the horse at all and I personally feel that if your horse can only be sold to a companion home, there are other choices you should consider first. 

Alternatives to selling your horse 

If you aren’t sure if you want to sell your horse, whether it’s because you want to stay involved or because they have an injury, there are other options available. So you can still free up your time and hopefully some costs, to the point where you might be able to afford and justify a second horse if that is what you want. 

Full Loan 

If you think you should sell them but just can’t quite bare to part with them, you can look into offering them as a full loan. This essentially means you rent them out long term to someone else. This other person will be responsible for all the day to day care, like they were their own horse, but you still legally own them.  

Each loan agreement is slightly different and you can draw up your own terms in the contract. You can specify having to keep the horse at the same yard, or certain area, to not being able to jump above a certain height etc. You can really be as detailed or as simple as you like. But if you have all these terms in place, you can take the horse back if the terms are being broken. 

The BHS has some good guidelines on loan agreements

A sharer or rider 

If you enjoy your horse, you just need a bit of support either financially or with the jobs, then you can look at getting a sharer or a rider. Again this is a huge spectrum of what this could be. You can have someone come up once or twice a week to ride and do a few of the yard jobs, giving you a day or two off. You can also ask them to pay a little towards the up keep of the horse. 

Or if you just need help with the riding, you can pay a rider or better your riding instructor to exercise and school them for you. This not only frees up some of your time, but can help you work through some problems you have been having. 

Retirement 

When the problems you are having with your horse are due to them not being able to do the job you want to do with them to the point that they would struggle with even light schooling, retiring them might be the best option. Retiring can mean many different things from just living out in a field to ticking along hacking or in light work. But often when you retire a horse you can free up time and money. 

You might be able to find them a yard where they can live out 24/7, at least during the summer months. This should save you money on bedding, hay and maybe even feed. Livery might be cheaper too since you won’t be paying for the same facilities as other yards when they are in work. You can look at taking shoes off, not clipping and reducing rug wearing. All of which can reduce your costs. You might even find you save enough money to take on a second horse to fulfil your riding goals. 

Put them to sleep 

Finally this might seem cruel, but I do believe that it can sometimes be the best option. If the horse has physical or behavioural problems that makes them difficult to look after or difficult to rehome, then selling and loaning often aren’t in the horses best interest. These are the horses who can get passed from pillar to post and eventually end up getting neglected. In these situations, if you are not in a position to keep them, I do not believe you are failing them in considering this option. It’s a very hard choice to make, but especially in older horses, I do think it can be the kinder option. 

Deciding whether or not to sell your horse will always be a tricky subject. But you should never feel guilty or ashamed about it not working out with your horse. Instead you should focus on what the problems are, making sure a new owner is aware of these problems and remember these problems when you go on the hunt for a new horse. 

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