Unpacking Your Horse’s Origin Story

Photo © Heather N. Photography

BY DUNCAN MCINTOSH

Every domesticated horse was created by a human decision, and ultimately most come to the most important decision that’s made for them—to be sold. 

People who sell horses for a living must have a level of commitment, expertise, empathy, and even a thicker skin than perhaps anyone else in the industry. Often they fall victim to the emotions of horse ownership from buyers and sellers alike. But the industry would be unpopulated without the willingness of these brave professionals to face the inevitable joy, sorrow, disappointment, indecision, second thoughts, apprehension and anxiety… not to mention the amount of rudeness built into everyone’s scripts about handling money, often making all sorts of accusations.   

I bought my first horse in 1980, and have bought and sold them ever since for myself, my clients, and other professionals in fairly active numbers every year. I even published a guide of over 100 horses for sale that was a sort of show-level predecessor for the very useful listings including HunterJumperExchange, ProEquest and BigEq. 

There is a lot of information out there about selling horses, but most don’t include information on the very personal process of making the decision to sell a horse. In fact, many reduce the horses almost to a “blue book” listing, where they are makes and models—not living beings. Horses, like each of us, are on a journey too. 

There’s often an automatic prejudice that horse “sellers” try to take advantage of others. But I’m writing this to dispel that theory, and to encourage each of us to prepare for both the buying and selling decision with a look in the mirror. I was in a sale barn with a noted show manager and World Cup rider who told me he was more nervous riding a horse in a presentation to sell, than he was in the class. With riding, each of us is on a journey to realize our goals. When we place expectations on people and horses along the way, we must remember that they’re assisting us on that path. 

When we own or lease the horse or pony, we assume responsibility for the decisions we make after we take them home. The extent to which we detach from the daily care, exercise, feeding, and even just overall interaction will dictate our level of connection. Without the connection, we lose our ability to measure whether our expectations are real or need adjusting,  How much do we need to adjust our preparation, increase our commitment, and be the rider that the horse or pony needs? The less involved we are, the harder it is to know.

Photo © Heather N. Photography

Another key part of a successful partnership is some knowledge of the horse or pony’s journey before you came into their lives. What are their bloodlines? The goals of its breeder? How did this big-hearted being come to reside in your barn, family, and heart?  I’ve often said that the key reform that our sport needs is an annual essay answer to “where did my horse come from?” prior to the first class in the first show. This could also help us with the Pre-packaged Blue Book mentality that pervades shopping for high-level “made” horses.  

To what extent do today’s competition riders recognize potential, not only in themselves, but in the horses and ponies? How many know the adventure, risk and education that comes from “taking a chance” on a horse? I’ve been fortunate to work with a hall of famer, and a “dealer” who supplied “potential champions” to every US Olympic Jumping rider of the past 40 years, and several 3-Day and Dressage riders as well.  He and another Hall of Fame Rider agree that “my favorite horses, were the ones no one else could figure out, and that I took a chance on.”  

When it comes to riding and owning horses, there’s a lot we should be thinking about these days. The great “outsourcing” of breeding and what the ripple effects have been since the 80s. To be respectful respectful of the professionals who try to supply horses through ever more extended and far-flung networks. The only way they can do this is by their empathy, connection to the horses, and the people. 

But also, buyers should try to educate themselves. Most have never been to a breeding farm, seen a horse inspected and potentially brounded. Haven’t watched a horse backed for the first time, or been a part of any of the subsequent “firsts” like trailer rides, jumping at successive heights, first show, etc. Witnessing these events would show have brave the equestrians are that take on the responsibility of breeding and raising a good horse. 

We’re creating a newgeneration of riders who don’t have the same context for the sport. So let’s share a little responsibility with them. If you want to make smarter decisions about horses, how to manage them, when to buy, but more importantly, how to make the most of the relationship with them, look not only at your trainer or the person you bought the horse from. Look into the horse’s beginnings. Discover the thoughts of those who bred them, and the dreams they had. See what you can do to make those dreams come true.


Duncan Mcintosh, along with Sheri Moser, uses his 30+ years of experience to give care training and career direction to horses, riders, and professionals from all over.

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