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Equine Industry Issues

Do horses want a job?

When I was a kid, I dreamed of living among horses in the wild, free as they were to do as I pleased. I figured that unfettered lifestyle would make me happy. Of course, I also imagined I could talk to horses like Dr. Doolittle. It was just me and that herd bonding, sharing and taking care of each other with a rapport and blissful existence of unencumbered pleasure.

I learned a lot when day dreams gave way to reality. Observing horses in what I expected to find euphoria in that freedom to roam taught me something else.    

Even a therapy job helping the elderly have a special day is happy work for horses.
The Halcyon Acres herd greets a bus and the people in it from an assisted living center. Redford, the yearling ready to enter the bus, had special permission (an a personality that allowed for this) to run free.

After decades of running a farm with big acreage pastures, I discovered most domesticated horses would prefer to have job than run free. I learned this lesson on 117 acres with more than 30 of those fenced as pasture. Here, I witnessed the behavior of horses ranging from new born foals and formerly active broodmare competitors to client horses bred for racing or intended for a particular amateur career such as competitive trail riding or the shows.

Granted, they’re not always fit to do what we intend for them, but if you can find their passion, they’ll bolster yours. 

Admittedly, I had a pretty good work ethic starting at a young age. I served as a vet assistant when I was six; my duties were scaled back after I passed out during a surgery assistant role. By age ten, I had a paper route with 60 houses. That took some doing as a girl in the 70s, but I wore down the powers that be with my pestering to finally get them to give me a chance. I was a waitress and bank teller during high school as soon as I was legally old enough for salaried work.

It took me another couple of decades to realize the animals we’ve bred to be our companions and servants for millenniums want a fulfilling job too. Not all of them, of course. Just like people, there are the lazy, unmotivated and takers in the bunch. But my earlier belief that a domesticated horse’s dream life was to be free was shattered after I spent time witnessing horses who loved their job put to pasture.

Some horses get too old or too crippled to continue in a job they seemed to be born for. This includes racers, high level eventers & jumpers, rodeo performers and even some amateur mounts. Even with these aged steeds, they tend to relish an opportunity to find a new career that provides purpose. This could include broodmare, child protector, trail trekker, therapy horse and a whole bunch of other possibilities that allow for less strenuous tasks that fit their nature.

Morrie reminded me of how important it can be to find the right job for an animal we care for. He’s a wiry mutt of the canine variety, but, funny enough, he’s found agility to be his game. It seems the higher the jump or the faster the course the more he enjoys it. Of course, we’re still working on that control thing – funny I’ve had a lot of horses with that issue too – but, his joy for the game turns heads everywhere he goes.

Finding that joy activity with horses is key. If your horse truly relishes what you’re asking him to do, he’ll amaze you with his try.

Maybe dogs and horses aren’t so different

I’m not a big fan of tricks for treats. I was steadfast in my resistance to this with horses through all the “new and improved” training techniques over the decades that heralded food as a “positive training” motivator. That’s good for creating muggers and distracting the horse from what you’re trying to communicate, but not very good at creating lasting understanding with your equine pal.

I’ve never really been a big fan of food bribes with my dogs either. Due to a couple of recent events, I’m digging my heels in deeper here too.

Maybe horse and dog training isn't all that different
Morrie, the puppy monster, giving Remi a roar as he celebrates his conquest.

Curiously, when I tell trainers that Morrie (my seven-month-old pup whose smarts can make him a tough one), is fixated on treats, they say “Yea!”. I say neigh. I’ve learned in working with both horses and dogs, using food as a motivator isn’t very good in the building rapport and a thinking animal department. It’s hard to get the full array of communications working when attention is singularly focused on the treat location.

Don’t misunderstand – I’m not against giving quick and ample rewards for the responses you seek. A scratch in a favorite place, “good boy,” a break with something your horse (or dog) finds great fun or a release are all great ways to offer gratitude for understanding. It’s the food lure that bothers me.

Sure, I get clicker training became the rage and redirection vs. correction is a great sign of the times, but you won’t convince me that treats represent the best way to build a communications bridge.

With horses, you lose that critical aspect of training that creates a team of two minds working together to solve problems. There are many times I’ve welcomed an equine cohort ready, able and willing to get me out of a sticky situation I’ve gotten us into.

With dogs, I’ve found you might gain a happy and groveling companion, but you don’t get a partner that enjoys having a job. Sure, domesticated dogs became so because they learned to please for food as a survival instinct, but like horses, I don’t think most people give them enough credit for having independent minds.

Gatsby was the best assistant horse trainer I ever had (and I still miss him terribly). Of course, he had spent enough time on the city streets before the dog catchers wrangled him that his skin had grown around the collar on his neck. So, he had a pretty strong independent streak and knack for finding (killing) his favorite “treats”. I realized almost immediately with him (he was always the dog obedience class “don’t do” example), the standard obedience school technique of bribing with treats was a bad idea.

Morrie’s now learned to leap for treats (not the plan) and ignore simple commands like “sit” without a visible reward. When I stopped using treats for the pre-agility training class we’re in (I pretend for the teachers he’s getting them always, as I did with Gatsby), his understanding and performance improved dramatically. He loves to train. Getting rid of the treat reward made him more excited about the activity understanding and “good boy” accomplishments.

Remi (my 11-year-old mutt), quickly transformed from the most trusted and obedient dog I had ever known to an unresponsive and aloof brat after spending time with a couple and their Vizsla playing the in park. The Vizsla would only respond to treats. Remi delighted in the daily hour of gorging herself on cheese then decided she wasn’t coming when I called without a bribe in hand. This was a dog I trusted enough to let her off leash in public places with no concern she’d return to my side immediately on request. No more.

I’ve made the argument before that horses aren’t dogs and what works for canine compliance isn’t a good standard for young horse training. I’ve since decided tricks for treats isn’t a good teaching method for any species. Just look at what’s become of the generation of kids who have grown up on the “everyone wins” philosophy.

All that said, I was delighted to watch this video Colleen Kelly shared about a clever dog who set records for understanding and performance – without food bribes.


If you have trouble viewing this video here, the direct link is:

Horse bill of sales aren’t just for big operations

I must admit, my horse bill of sales paperwork has been shabby. As the daughter of an attorney, I should know better. I’ve spent decades in the business world operating mostly on the ill-advised handshake, so tend to be a lot more casual than I should with transactions. While I do provide a bill of sale for each horse, the brevity of this document could be problematic. I suppose I’ve been fortunate in identifying the right kind of people. You never know, though, and operating without smart documentation could have all kinds of ramifications.

Recently, Equestrian Professional published a thought-provoking article that made me realize how lucky I’ve been. There are a lot of points in this piece that I hadn’t considered in the past, but will heed for the future.

I’ve given away some horses. Granted, I tend to spend a lot of time vetting the recipient to ensure it’s a good fit even in these cases, but frankly, never considered the legal consequences of doing so without a bill of sale. These Equestrian Professional gals offer cogent comment (particularly in today’s lawsuit lottery mentality reality), about safeguarding yourself from future fallout on a gift given.

Horses are prime picking for the lottery crowd

When I was a kid, I was shocked to hear that neighbors who had kindly let the daughter of friends hop aboard a gentle horse she begged to ride were being sued by these (formerly close) buddies. She fell off and broke her arm. I wondered what ethical person would do such a thing.

What I’ve learned since is, no matter what an individual might request, insurance companies can force lawsuits. Usually you think of the shyster looking for a free ride, which can be a big issue too, but often, the one you were kind to may not have any say in how others decide to enforce a claim.

I recently sold my Upstate New York farm, which included rehoming 14 horses. Most were sold (with a bare bones bill of sale), a couple were gifted (with no documentation of the exchange). After reading this Equestrian Professional article, I’m realizing my process was dumb.

Horse bill of sales included the horse name & age, date of purchase, amount, two signatures (theirs and mine), and not much else. Most buyers were out-of-state and buying horses sight-unseen. That could have led to disaster in so many ways.

I tend to have a knack for knowing a horse well enough to determine if a home is a good fit and reading between the lines when talking to prospects, but sometimes you miss a crazy (I had one that sadly didn’t reveal her true colors until after she picked up two horses). How fortunate I was to not have blowback from the way I handled these transactions.

The freebies are the riskiest. I seldom do this because I’ve found most looking for a horse to “save” (it’s curious how most who get a horse for nothing immediately proclaim to the world they have a “rescue”) are blind to the cost of keeping a horse and ill-equipped to keep them comfortably. The few I gifted were great horses given to referrals from respected individuals (vets, trainers and friends)  – I was just running out of time and needed to find homes before the property changed hands. Yet, I didn’t know these folks. They could have cost me dearly if they didn’t operate with integrity (my friends and vendors do – it’s a requisite – but trusting that to extend to all others they know is a big leap of faith).

Issues thoughtful horse bill of sales help you avoid

Herd requiring horse bill of salesSome of the things I didn’t consider as risks in how I crafted my horse bill of sales (or neglected to provide them for freebies) included:

  • Liability – Without a bill of sale document on a freebie, you can be sued for any injury or accident the horse causes well into the future. In court, even if the sale amount is $0, a bill of sale is what judges look for to determine who owns the horse.
  • Injury – Many of the horses shipping out of Halcyon Acres were trucking long distances. A timid yearling went to Oklahoma. A 2-year-old climbed into a trailer for the first time headed to Minnesota. Both left the property without being seen by the new owners. The buyers arranged the truckers. Nothing in my bill of sale indicated who would be responsible if the horse was injured in transit. Fortunately they weren’t, but can you imagine the quagmire if they were?
  • Confusion – People remember what they want to in conversation. Until you put it to paper, a verbal agreement can be misconstrued or remembered differently depending on who was doing the talking. Although I was upfront about any known issues, provided complete vet records, and made it clear all sales were “as is,” without a bill of sale indicating this, any buyer could have retaliated if they perceived an issue they didn’t recall or anticipate.
  • Clarity – A detailed bill of sale offers both parties an agreement to reference before and after the exchange. It’s smart to ask for a signature on something that’s clear and meaningful. While the horse bill of sales I provided indicated a legal exchange, they were useless if anyone felt they didn’t get what they expected (or changed their minds).

In the future, these documents will include more detail. The fact I didn’t include any with the give-aways was an oversight I will not repeat. That free horse you gift could cost you dearly in the wrong hands. The profitable sale could too without a clear written understanding of the terms of the exchange. There’s no need to learn a lesson the hard way on this one. Resources abound to help you protect yourself.

Do you have stories to tell on horse transaction greats or gaffes? Please share in the comments below.

How horses teach us what therapists can’t

Thanks to Ash Stevens for providing this guest post. Find out more about her at the bottom of this article. Enjoy.

Young horse training is not about dominance - find great tips at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comWinston Churchill said, “No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.” And don’t we know it. Much of the world has forgotten about the power of the horse with the craziness of modern life, but there have always been families holding tightly onto the legacy of the horse. This has also made them more necessary than ever. A few wise horse lovers have promoted horse riding as alternative therapy, and it’s doing what fancy therapists and expensive pills just can’t. People of all needs and ages are discovering the magic of these majestic creatures, and this is how…


Horses may not speak, but they’ve been giving lessons in communication for years. Horses are hypersensitive to sound and movement, so interacting with them requires deliberate action and intentional and controlled moving around. This, plus their uncanny ability to sense human emotion, makes them the perfect mirror. As Ray Hunt said, “The horse knows. He knows if you know. He also knows, if you don’t know.”

If you’re being loud, acting without focus or intention, or feeling upset, then your horse companion will respond accordingly. This is HUGE when it comes to developing social skills. Autism spectrum disorders are one realm where communication and social interaction can get a lot of help. According to one study published in 2014, children with ASD showed improvements after just 6 weeks of equine-assisted activities. No nagging; no yelling; no chaos. Just kids and horses coming together in fun and understanding.

Emotional Management

Horses pick up on our emotional state in a heartbeat. They also reflect the same state of mind. Anger and frustration can spark a horse with obstinance, while sadness can provoke disinterest or moodiness. Riding and handling isn’t going to happen unless their companion has their feelings under control. Many kids and adults struggle with their emotional behavior. Much of it is because they’re unaware of how they’re acting. Horses make it clear that murky thoughts and emotions are swirling around, and that makes it possible for kids and adults to tune in to how they’re feeling and how they’re dealing with it. Because of this, horse therapy has become a powerful aid for ADHD.


Thanks to the lessons these beautiful beasts offer in communicating and managing emotions, horses are excellent teachers of self-awareness. A horse reacts to behavior with like behavior, so that forces their handler to give immediate attention to how they’re feeling and acting. This snappy cause-and-effect interaction naturally gets people to notice how they behave and why. This is so important, because once they can actually see how they act in everyday life, they can take steps to change it. And everyone from kids with ADHD to veterans with PTSD are making those changes happen through equine therapy. Equine therapy may even ease alzheimer’s!

Physical Strength

Tell anyone on the street that riding a horse is exercise, and they’ll probably look at you like you’re crazy. But any horse rider knows that calling horse riding exercise in an understatement. That’s because riding a horse takes balance, engaged leg muscles, and an active core. Horse riding is being used as a gentle form of exercise for kids with physical disabilities like cerebral palsy, and it’s proven to be both beneficial and, most importantly, fun. Kids get to work important muscle groups without the dread of a special workout or the pressure and stress of supervision. The time spent outside smiling in the fresh air and sunshine just makes it even better for their health and well-being.

Equine assisted therapy for addiction

Find kind young horse training tips at http://HorseSenseAndCents.comFancy scientific instruments can show that equine therapy brings down blood pressure and heart rate, but there’s nothing that can measure the acceptance, freedom, and peace of mind that horses give us. This aspect of equine therapy makes it a powerful aid in moving past anxiety, stress and depression. Drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers recognized this and tried using it with their patients. Today, equine-assisted therapy is used in addiction treatment all across the nation.

Addiction-specific EAT (equine assisted therapy) caters to the deep psychological and emotional wounds carried by addicts by helping them to recognize their behaviors, process their troubles and build new skills that take them beyond old patterns. Equine-assisted therapists like Dede Beasley help addicts learn to identify and process emotions and develop trust, boundaries and communication skills. Better yet, there’s no talking necessary. It’s all done by working with a horse who casts no judgement and lives in the moment. As it turns out, that’s an approach to life that everyone would be all the better for.

Ash StevensAsh is a mother, gardener, writer, and a fan of all things green. Her love for health and simplicity began with her journey into motherhood, and it’s grown exponentially ever since. She’s passionate about living it up with gardening, cooking, an active lifestyle, and being outdoors as much as possible. If she isn’t writing or reading up on exciting green trends, she’s probably playing Connect Four or swimming in the river with the kids.

Triple Crown Trivia

Sure, this year’s Triple Crown is old news for most, but I’m not quite ready to let go of a victory that was 37 years in the making. So, if you’re in the mood to let this high continue, you’ll enjoy the bit of fun history below.

Honestly, after so many disappointments, I didn’t see American Pharoah as a contender. With stud rights sold to ensure his racing career will end at the tender age of 3, the finish line fades before time might test what he’s really made of. Still, Affirmed was the last in 1978 that compared. That’s impressive enough.

The Wall Street Journal posted a great video comparison of American Pharoah and Secretariat (admittedly a freak) traversing the Belmont 1 ½ mile course (spoiler alert – Secretariat beat him by more than two seconds – about 31 lengths – the distance between Secretariat and the trailing rest of the field in 1973).

American Pharoah and Triple Crown Trivia at Horse Sense and Cents
Remember the thunderstorm downpour that caused questions about whether this race would run?

But a time comparison isn’t entirely fair.

If you’ve been around race horses long enough, you realize some only try as hard as they must for victory. Frankly, those that win by a nose or a neck or a length are usually better over time. They save themselves from undo strain and associated injury that seems to plague most of the leave the pack in the dust crew. They’re smart and cagey – and know where the finish line is.

A lot has changed since the 70s in US Thoroughbred racing – most notably, conformation. We’ll never see another Secretariat – at least not one bred in this country. Today’s Thoroughbred industry places little regard on what makes a horse sturdy and sane. Borne from bloodlines as a singular focus for most breeders (and the Jockey Club), racing has developed as a sport now dominated by deep pockets with few owners handling or riding the horses they buy. Witnessing a feat most came to believe was unlikely again is truly remarkable when fighting against such added odds.

It’s wonderful to have a Triple Crown winner this year that not only held up to the grueling demands, but also boasts such a playful and kind personality that it was possible to include him in the TV network interviews the following morning.

Upset earned a place in racing history vernacular vs. Man o’ War

Scott Pitoniak scribed a history-rich column in the Rochester Business Journal on June 5th, written from one with little connection to racing (well done) who seemed to have a lot of fun learning from research for the article content. He notes “Speaking of upset, the word wasn’t part of the sports lexicon until a horse named Upset scored a stunning victory versus Man o’ War in 1919, also in Saratoga. Before that time, the definition of the word meant angry or aggravated. But thanks to Upset, the definition of upset expanded, and is now ubiquitous in the sports world.”

Scott also references Zippy Chippy in this article (it’s a fun read), a horse owned by a sly trainer I used to gallop for who was better at marketing than producing winners. Felix made Zippy Chippy famous for losing.

Triple Crown Winners revisited

If you’re looking for a great video synopsis of Triple Crown winners (thanks Anita Lequoia for the find), enjoy about 3 minutes of history in film.

Triple Crown Winners – the list

Honed your memory yet to recall the twelve that conquered the Triple Crown field? Here’s an easy reference list in case you haven’t and still want to make it so:

1919 Sir Barton John Loftus H. G. Bedwell J. K. L. Ross
1930 Gallant Fox Earl Sande James Fitzsimmons Belair Stud
1935 Omaha William Saunders James Fitzsimmons Belair Stud
1937 War Admiral Charley Kurtsinger George Conway Samuel D. Riddle
1941 Whirlaway Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm
1943 Count Fleet John Longden Don Cameron Mrs. J. D. Hertz
1946 Assault Warren Mehrtens Max Hirsch King Ranch
1948 Citation Eddie Arcaro Ben A. Jones Calumet Farm
1973 Secretariat Ron Turcotte Lucien Laurin Meadow Stable
1977 Seattle Slew Jean Cruguet William Turner, Jr. Karen L. Taylor
1978 Affirmed Steve Cauthen Lazaro S. Barrera Harbor View Farm
2015 American Pharoah Victor Espinoza Bob Baffert Zayat Stable

Find any fun moments traveling down memory lane with this Triple Crown review? I sure did. Please share in the comments below if this touched you, or if you have another great find others will appreciate.

Horse business profits can come from strange places

Because Halcyon Acres® (which doubles as a horse farm – makes for great fertilizer) includes a small produce business, I’m aware of the value of good quality compost. In recent years, the demand for aged manure has escalated with a growing number of people starting small gardens at their homes. We plant and tend about an acre and a half of vegetables, herbs and some fruits and roots by hand with a chemical-free approach. We’re focusing more on heirloom varieties or harvesting our own seeds as it’s getting harder to determine what’s been genetically engineered. So, knowing what’s going into the soil is important here.

We found using our own compost really improves the taste of the food. It’s also reassuring to have complete control over the purity of the compost.

Since there’s also a lot of land here, it’s easy to build and store a compost pile. Consequently, we can age this to a ‘black gold’ state and accumulate more than we need. You may not have that luxury at your location to pile it in a field, but there are a lot of creative ways you can store and/or market a waste product that’s been expensive to dispose of in the past to the growing numbers of home gardeners and cottage industry plant producers.

Make money with your horse manure

All you need is a spot to put what you take out of the stalls and time to let it age a bit. Some will even buy fresh and age it at their site. While common convictions state two years is necessary, we’ve found three months in a pile generating sufficient heat is equally effective for amazing plant growth once mixed with soil. It helps that we use sawdust (vs. straw, which takes a lot more time to decompose), carefully pick the stalls (so there’s not a lot of bedding that needs to break down) and deal with fairly large quantities (more volume and height means more heat for faster compost results), but it’s not necessary. Home gardeners pay a lot of money for commercial products claiming to enrich the soil. Your manure can do it better, cheaper.

If you want word to spread quickly, the key is to generate high quality compost before you start selling.

Many home gardeners belong to some kind of group or network loosely among themselves in other ways. Around here, we have ‘Master Gardeners’ who are certified by Cornell Cooperative Extension after something like 150 hours of community service. It’s amazing how many of them there are. We also have a lot of events ranging from GardenScape (a precursor to spring) and CSA trade shows to farmer’s markets and educations seminars. Attend just one of these gatherings and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you can find a couple of people who are well respected and connected who get buyers lining up to pay you for something that’s been expensive to dispose of in the past. With a few hours of research and half a day attending the right event, you can move a former farm operating expense over to the black side of the ledger. For a lot of facilities, this cost of thousands a year turned profit is a welcome relief.

Pricing and marketing horse compost

If you’re paying for weekly removal, don’t despair. So long as you have an area where you can pile manure (you’re doing this if you’re renting a bin anyway) you can at least find takers on give-away offers. They’ll load it into their pickup truck or shovel into containers (used grain bags are great for this – two birds). You can also build a bin relatively inexpensively. Often material you have lying around the farm can provide the three retaining walls you need.  You’ll need to verify anything permanent you erect complies with town code. It’s easier to construct a ‘temporary’ structure if this is an issue.

In cases where you help load the manure (with a bucket, your brawn or a spreader) you can charge for this without protest. Offer both options and you might be amazed at how many people are happy to pay for your help.

Local events, trade shows, farmer’s markets, seminars, cooperative extensions, chambers in some areas and Craig’s List are good ways to find takers.

Aged, quality horse manure compost is sought-after in almost all areas of the US. Spring is the best time to market this product, but you might be surprised at how many hobbyists and part-time resellers you find who delight in finding ways to enhance their green thumb year-round. Again, find the right few people to spread the word (a free sample to them is OK) and you might be surprised at how quickly your manure pile disappears while adding to your income.

Halcyon Acres® is in a rural location (town population 1830, county 25,000 – probably more cows than people residents in the area), yet we still have people thrilled to remove our manure for us – and pay for it. If you’re closer to suburban populations, the demand will probably be higher. Even so, we reach to Rochester (50 miles away) for demand. We’ve decided to price our aged compost at $10 a bag (you bring the bag – any size – of course the fill level gets lower once people realize how heavy this stuff is) for self-service. We also offer a pickup truck rate.

Interestingly, we found it was a lot easier to sell this stuff than give it away. Frankly, we have use for all we produce these days, but there was a time when we didn’t. It’s curious that now that we don’t need a disposal solution, demand for purchased product has increased significantly. It’s nice to have the extra income stream.

Get to the right community circles with good quality compost and you’ll likely be shocked at how quickly word spreads to people happy to give you cash to get your pile gone.

Use Horse Sense in your message

It’s critical to be honest about what you have. Word will spread as quickly if you misrepresent your product as it will for your well-kept secret stash of grower’s delight. If you’re forthright, though, people will share their find with their friends. Fresh manure’s OK for many who have a place to age it. Don’t try to sell this to someone, though, who believes they’re getting seasoned compost and then burns their plants.

The biggest paying markets for good compost are home gardeners and small producers of resale plants (mostly rare landscaping gems). In spreading the word, consider crafting a message appeals to these audiences. Whether it’s Craig’s List, Facebook, Twitter, Linked In, a classified ad in a Penny Saver or flyers you post around town, understand the passions of your most likely buyers in what you write and you’ll be smiling as you put callers on the waiting list.


Finding buyers for horses in a depressed economy

halcyon acres
This is the cute Sears Catalog house (yes that Sears – came in on the train in 1926) that served as the primary residence on the farm.

For almost a couple of decades, I thought my dream life included retiring and spending my golden years (curious terminology for growing old and decrepit) at the farm.

About five years ago, I broke my leg in a very bad way with a bed rest layup that lasted close to three months. Getting back into shape and into gear took a whole lot longer.

I literally turned five trucks around headed to the farm with winter client horses coming in for starting under saddle training. By the first week, I was shelling out thousands in vet bills for a mare that had managed to pound a four-inch nail almost all the way into her hoof (poor girl). This went unnoticed by the emergency help hired until she was in so much pain and distress, she couldn’t get up. We did manage to save her, but it wasn’t easy. I felt helpless and powerless as I blacked-out struggling to get to the barn to diagnose and treat.     

halcyon acres truss barn
This old truss barn is incredible to experience from inside. At first, I was put off by the cow barn look, but that thick foundation and bank construction made the barn comfortable for all seasons. It iss amazing how well the earth moderates temperatures.

That was the beginning of a realization I wasn’t indestructible. I always believed my bones were too big and too hard to break (sans fingers, of course).  

Selling the horse farm

After the long and hard rehab required to get me sound enough to resume horse training activities (albeit at a lesser level), I realized I needed consistent and permanent help. My goal was to staff the farm with horse care and training support. The first was a delightful young gal who misrepresented her horse experience, but relished instruction and quickly absorbed new lessons learned. I donated a lot of time (while paying her to learn) with the expectation she would stay. She left after eight months to ‘find herself’. The last was a mature woman that quit via e-mail as horses stood tacked in the barn for her scheduled arrival time (two hours earlier). I figured wrong that maturity would bring responsibility.

halcyon acres truss barn loft
It’s impossible to get a true sense for the magnificence of the construction on this barn from a photo. This loft was 100-feet long and about three stories high (with a 7000 square foot roof).

Gatsby’s death last year (and our combined inability to school Remi as a suitable replacement) served as the final proverbial nail in the coffin. He was the best assistant horse trainer anyone could ever hope for. With him gone, I felt vulnerable schooling these young horses on the 117-acres of Halcyon Acres®.  

I was perfectly capable of hanging on and holding on, but it begged the question – why? Horses had been my lifeblood for most of my living years. Sadly, I realized that unparalleled joy wasn’t there anymore. I was burnt out by too much of a good thing. Farm horse demands, client projects and galloping had me often riding 20 horses or more a day. Injuries were starting to catch up. I was tired.

So, I made the hard decision to leave the next 20 – or 50 years – to another as caretaker of this beautiful place. This was just recently finalized (and it took every waking minute I had that wasn’t already committed elsewhere to orchestrate the move).     

Seven tips for finding horse buyers in a bad economy

There’s virtually no market for horses in this area of New York State. Many are choosing to euthanize – the irresponsible are simply abandoning (news stories are rife with tales of breeders walking away from a herd they created, leaving them to fend for themselves – very sad).

My first plan was to take care of re-homing horses before listing. Eventually, I decided to do both at the same time. I was shocked when offers started coming in immediately on the farm (I figured I’d have a couple of years).

It was time to get creative fast to ensure these horses found great and appropriate new (mostly lifetime) homes. The quality confirmation, bloodlines and temperament helped along with my reputation. What hurt was these horses were mostly young (the oldest Irish Draught Sport Horse was six) and hadn’t been campaigned. Here’s how I did it:

  1. The search for horse buyers went national (the kids trucked to buyers as far south as Oklahoma and west to Minnesota – with peer pairs sold together when possible).
  2. Horses were priced low enough to not only justify additional trucking expenses, but also permit serious vetting from me to ensure each match was the best possible fit for horse and human (multiple interested buyers for each horse) with housing accommodations, buyer personality and equine career intent.
  3. I encouraged people to check me out with equine professionals in their state – and talk to recent buyers of other horses from the farm. Amazingly, most were bought sight-unseen.
  4. HorseClicks proved to be the most effective venue (I had never heard of this site prior to this year – but found almost all inquiries from here were from serious buyers – and there were a lot of them).
  5. I offered some buyers a second horse (those that might have been hard to place) with the purchase of their primary desire. Of course, a great home, good fit and herd member buddy placement were big considerations here.
  6. Full disclosure always – conversations included discussions about any quirks or issues that might arise if/when the horse came to them. This ensured every buyer was a good fit (at least the ones that were honest – only one wasn’t and while I’m sickened to have ignored my gut on this one, the horses had already shipped out of state when I realized that pang was trying to tell me something I wasn’t hearing).
  7. Some horses were sold to a better home for less than what other buyers were eager to pay. These decisions were not only good for the soul, but netted extremely appreciative and vocal buyers whose word-of-mouth has been priceless.         

horses in halcyon acres pasture
Of course, the beauty of this property is all about the land. The horses enjoyed having a small part of it as their 30-acre pasture.

It’s been wonderful to hear how easily and happily the horses are settling into their new lives and homes. I’ve become friends with most of the buyers and relish the updates, pictures and opportunity to live vicariously through their stories and joy. I’ve been lucky to find such perfect new lifetime homes for most. All are enjoying being pampered by a human that’s theirs alone and are stepping up to exceed expectations in appreciation.    

What’s next with Horse Sense and Cents®?

Don’t worry – you’ll still be getting a lot of valuable horse training content, care tips, resources and creative ideas along with help with your equine challenges through this blog, our products and services. In fact, I’ll likely be able to gain some great new insight from perspectives and experiences gleaned from a remote approach to training that will likely require including the horse owner every step of the way. This will be a great learning opportunity for me and a way to give in more meaningful ways as I move forward with an aim to keep both the horse and the human in the conversation.    

We’re launching some exciting new initiatives (some are already out there) that I’ll update you on in a later post.

Stick around to have some laughs, find new ways to reach your horse and Enjoy the Ride!

Horses for sale – what planet am I on?

There’s not much that shocks me anymore. Career activities in the white, blue and no-collar world have given me a broad perspective on ‘the dumb things people do.’ I’m not sure whether it’s the new age of instant gratification (and reduced manners), a contracting equine industry, advertising decisions (word-of-mouth is our usual approach) or the luck of the draw, but that ‘horses for sale’ pronouncement seems to have served as a magnet to the farm for the rude, the brazen and the kooks.

horses for sale are confused
Huh? Did you really just say that?

Fortunately, many of the Halcyon Acres horses are now sold to good homes, but the behavior of some people has left me shaking my head.

It’s not true that the buyer is always right. When the welfare of the horse is a priority, there’s an application process that occurs in the mind of the seller. While you may think you can do or say anything in your quest to secure the mount of your choice, that’s unlikely.

The following draws from recent experience. What’s going to happen to the poor horses that land in these people’s hands?

 Eleven ways to reduce your chances of being taken seriously as a horse buyer:

  1. Before you ask anything about the horse or explain a little bit about what you’re looking for, scribe an e-mail simply stating ‘is price negotiable.’
  2. Ask if the 10 YO 16.2hh TB off for four years would be suitable for your 5 YO daughter to ride (note well – put a price on your horse, otherwise it’s an assumed giveaway; free horse fanatics flock in droves to such listings, failing to recognize it costs money to care for a horse).
  3. Claim you’re a trainer in initial contact even if you’ve never ridden or cared for a horse.
  4. Don’t include a subject line, context snippet, nor horse name in your e-mail message (and if you do, make sure it’s the wrong one) then come back with an indignant reply when asked what the e-mail was in reference to.
  5. Shoot off an incoherent phrase posing a question that could apply to a car, a dog or a piece of furniture, but no normal horse.
  6. Ask if your dressage, fox hunting, eventer goes English or Western.
  7. Question what kind of saddle and bridle will be included with your horse purchase.
  8. Visit the facility for multiple rides, claim the horse is perfect, then cry poor. When that doesn’t work, complain about the age of the horse. This may seem like a good buyer negotiating tactic. To the seller, it’s bad faith. If you’re looking for recreational riding time for your kid, pay for lessons.
  9. Schedule a vet check then don’t show nor extend the courtesy to cancel.
  10. Ask if a weanling has been started under saddle.
  11. Brag about all the horses you’ve rescued with the pronouncement you’re willing to ‘save’ a horse for sale if it’s given to you for free (can you say hoarder).

Frankly, this is the short list. I guess I’m spoiled with the quality of buyers drawn through word-of-mouth.

It’s been an interesting learning experience.

Most of the horses are getting grabbed from out-of-state as we’ve priced horses to accommodate the costs and inconvenience of long-distance travel. Of course, we do all we can to ensure a great fit first.

If you’re looking for a special horse, some of my favorites are still available.

Shaquille is a super Irish Draught Sport Horse steal.

Dixie’s a sweet heart that takes care of any level rider on the trails or in the arena. She’s pretty, well-bred and a joy to work around.

Midge is the eager, fun-loving and enthusiastic horse I dreamed of as a kid. She’s game for any new challenge, can corner or stop on a dime, has incredibly comfortable gaits and can go all day.

Fielding cold-call queries for the first time after almost 40 years of owning horses has made me realize we need to be doing more to help future equestrians. Without a better effort to reach out, I fear the world may become a more miserable place for our equine companions.  Do you have ideas on how we ensure our horses of tomorrow have caretakers prepared for the task? stories to tell? Happy stories of good placements? Please share in the comments below.

Do you really care about horses?

Perhaps I’ve been living in the country too long to understand some of what goes on in the real world. That’s OK with me. People gossip, yes (everyone knows everyone), but they also extend themselves to neighbors in need with genuine caring, concern and grace. Community members jump up to chip in because they can. It’s done without belittling the receiver. Reciprocity isn’t a concern. All recognize they may be in need some day, but mostly, do it because it feels good to be kind.

novice riders are great learners
Reaching out to novices can be rewarding in more ways than you imagined.

People puzzle me. Those boasting a moral compass with animal interactions can be so cruel with humans. These are usually the same folks who claim to have the only right answer as it pertains to the horse. Actually I imagine their genius extends far beyond the equine realm. Pity the people who have to live with them.

The older I get, it seems, the less I know. Usually, I enjoy the idea of exploring new learning experiences with others, but lately I’ve grown wary of most touting horse advocacy rank. It boggles the mind that some believe bullying forth to enlighten those they purport to support is a good way to sway opinion.

Most good leaders are humble

When I reflect on my best teaches over the decades with equines, they’ve been humble. Most have been quiet, thoughtful leaders changing the world one horse or one human at a time. Have I trained with Olympians and other celebrities? Yes. Are these the people who have made the most significant contributions to my understanding, skill and quality of life? Definitely not.

Memorable influencers are wise and mature – having a deep inner compass that produces followers and fans not because they say they’re great, but because they show they care.

Some of my most treasured mentors achieved incredible credentials and acclaim – something you usually discovered long after connecting with them because they didn’t broadcast qualifications, but rather looked at every day anew based on results. Others drew from hands-on experience and the people who helped them along the way. Both types of professionals (a term I no longer take for granted, nor use lightly) have made a huge difference in my perspectives and accomplishments over the years.

Is there an answer the industry can agree on?

I don’t know what the answer is anymore with horses. When I was young I did. I knew it all. Now I just have more questions. I do wonder about the ironic nature of people’s behavior. It’s scary to watch what’s going on in the horse industry, but hard to be heard over the battle cries of the camp crusaders. It seems most would rather fight than do good as the number of people willing or able to personally support horses continues to wane. We’re already seeing the fallout from this with horses being discarded in growing numbers.

Novice riders have a huge need that’s not being met

Twenty-three years ago I founded Fulcrum Communications at a time when the small business moniker was uttered with disdain by the rest of the industry. Business owner clients are eager learners, smart adapters and willing and happy to pay a fair price for services – provided the investment offers results.

I see a similar phenomenon with novice riders today. Sure, there are products available, but few seasoned horse people willing to reach out to help them get pointed in the right direction where they live. These riders will shape the future experiences of the horses across the world and influence industry movement tomorrow – for good or bad.

Influencing the horse market requires understanding people too

I shake my head when I see people responding to forums, groups, blogs and other online venues where only words are exchanged with absolute conviction on how to handle a horse they haven’t seen in a situation they haven’t witnessed. This approach doesn’t increase credibility, it undermines it. Perhaps some of the time spent attacking others (it’s sad this happens so often when novices ask for help) could be spent helping those in need close to home? I witnessed how the world changes one person at a time as we collaborated to change perceptions and rule making for small businesses in the 80s and 90s. Believe me, it’s a lot more rewarding and effective when you choose to contribute to the world with positive energy.

Reaching out to one local novice not only changes her life, but the experiences of every horse she touches. Plus, the joy you get from the appreciation expressed – not only in words and timely payment, but also through eager application of new approaches – is priceless.

Help your equine business and the industry

Most of the novices I meet are amazing. They love their horses and are willing to invest what they can once they realize they’ve hit a wall. These are rarely wealthy people, but are smart and humble enough to know when they need help. They relish knowledge provided in a way they can process and apply.

If you’re looking for a market that wants your help, consider how you can customize what you offer to reach these riders. You’ll not only help your local community, but also provide a service that helps the horse industry evolve with sound perspective you can share and teach.

This ready market tends to be active social media participants, even if they’re just lurkers. Be careful about joining a frenzy that’s caustic. You’re likely to not only loose prospects ready to consider client status, but also industry leaders no longer willing to be referral agents for you. Nobody likes a bully. There’s a big difference between passion and arrogance. Lean toward the former and you’ll likely grow your business. Take the latter position and you’ll deserve the business failure you achieve.

If you really care about horses, consider reaching out to novices in ways they can understand, afford and appreciate. The gratefulness they show provides a super example for more seasoned equestrians to emulate. You’ll be amazed how much you can learn from these special people.

Maybe the answer is as simple as that.

Fire a client

Whenever I hear how simple a horse will be to start under saddle – or a client repeat how easy they are to work with – I get concerned. More than twenty-five years in the business has taught me those who find a need to sing praises are either delusionary or dishonest. Everyone in the equine industry has experienced a time when they’re hungry enough to dismiss their gut in deference to the dollar signs. Survive in the game long enough and you come to realize there’s no winning with certain clients (on so many fronts).

Sometimes the best thing you can do for your business – and you sanity – is fire a client. We did this recently with a client who started the relationship with a slew of unusual and significant special requests that should have been a red flag. We missed the warning signs. Given our prior relationship with him that didn’t involve the Halcyon Acres® facility, we thought we could wow him with our beyond expectations approach, but should have picked up on the litany of stories he shared of vendors who had done him wrong.

Warning signs an equine client may be trouble

There are a number of clues your prospect client creates more pain then they’re worth. Heed them.

Are other horse professionals counseling you?

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate colleague cautions.  In younger years, I was naïve and arrogant enough to believe the problem arose from the provider (and the advice was borne from resentment of a chosen replacement). Now, when a competitor takes the time to contact me and offer wisdom from experience, I listen.

If you’re hearing from others this is not a client you want to take on, run. No amount of promised income (try getting a last payment from one if these jokers – good luck) is worth the cost such a troubled soul levies on your business – and you. It’s not just the extra expenses you incur trying to accommodate them (and of course, the time spent trying to collect), but also the drain it puts on you, your resources and employees. Add to this the associated parting gift of an all-out effort to sully your name (these types put extreme effort into what they see as just vengeance) and there’s just no amount of income worth trying to accommodate such a client.

Does your potential horse client vilify others?

Danger, danger, danger. If much of your conversation with this individual is spend listening to them criticize others or innumerate the ways they’ve been burned, read between the lines. They’ll welcome your sympathy, understanding and agreement, but know, you’re next.

Do they expound on how perfect their horses are or how great they are as a client?

Few good clients feel the need to tell you how perfect their horse is or how easy they are to work with. In fact, most with good sense will focus on the issues they see with their horses and assume you expect them to be decent to deal with. Sure, every great client loves their horse and sees their potential, but they also recognize there’s a reason they’re seeking training help. If you find yourself hearing an ongoing mantra about how simple it will be to achieve expected results with the horse and/or how much you’ll appreciate the client relationship, reconsider. If the prospect enumerates all the people who have made him a victim, know you’ll be the next crook they talk about.

Are they willing to pay your standard fees for equine services?

If you find yourself talking to a potential client seeking a deal before you even begin, it’s not a good sign. Sure, some people simply don’t have the funds, but if they can’t afford your fees, how will they handle possible unexpected costs, vendor payments (vet, blacksmith, etc.)? The fact is, most people of character understand the benefit of engaging a provider and come prepared to pay an appropriate fee for the benefits they receive. If your early conversations with a new client center on dickering, expect complaints about every item charged along the way (and challenges collecting on invoices).

At Halcyon Acres®, we now generally require an upfront starting fee for young horses coming in. We’ve only had two clients (in almost 20 years) baulk at this to the point of our relenting. Both left us with a considerable unpaid bill. What we have found is this policy keeps board payments current. Training stops if board bills are more than twenty days past due (and we make this policy clear, upfront). When clients are already invested they tend to be more motivated to ensure they get a consistent return. Of course, we’re flexible with people we know have good intentions but hit a bump, but it’s proven to be a good policy for those with less honorable intentions.

Saying goodbye to an equine client

When you’re dealing with an irrational soul, it’s likely they’ll respond with a lot of hostility (no matter how carefully you craft the message or deliver the news), but it’s worth the short-term nastiness to offload the long-term costs. Some people spend their lives being victims that can no one can please. You may be golden for the moment, but there’s a bevy of former vendors being criticized and chastised in their wake. Run away. There’s no amount of money worth the burden you bear accommodating unreasonable people ready to attack another when life turns sour. When your gut fails you initially, but chimes in later, listen.

There’s something so liberating about firing a demanding and unreasonable client. It’s akin to ending a bad marriage. You suddenly realize your life wasn’t your own. The stress you bear dealing with unreasonable demands, belittling, what’s going to set them off next and doing cartwheels to accommodate their whims for someone who responds with ‘not good enough’ isn’t worth it. When you do the numbers (and I did on this one) you discover these clients wind up costing more than fees cover as they have you jumping through hoops and accommodating their moods and fancies.

Of course, it’s best to set your radar to avoid such characters, but we all make mistakes. If you find yourself stuck in a no-win situation with a client, you’ll thank yourself if you muster the gumption to end it quickly. If you are known for excellence, most people will dismiss their character assassination as unwarranted.

What’s your equine experience?

Do you have any great stories about clients you’ve fired and how this decision improved your quality of life? Please share in the comments below.