The Trials of Buying  a Horse for My 59-year-old Self

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Rohrbaugh

By Mary Ann Rohbaugh

I started riding at 8 when my aunt bought me a pony she found tied up in someone’s front yard eating grass. I think he was their lawn mower. He cost thirty dollars and started my life of loving horses.  

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Rohrbaugh

The pony, named Chance, and I did everything together. I cleaned stalls to get riding lessons. I joined 4H and had a wonderful leader who taught me a lot about horses. Through the years I was lucky to have found three other horses to share my life with.  I became a mom and had a daughter who loved riding as much as I did. With her,  I became a 4H leader and a USPC Pony club DC.

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Rohrbaugh

My daughter grew up to become a trainer and run her own barn, an occupation that continued to fuel my love of horses. She had a wonderful quarter horse, Crunch, that she gave me. During the last two years, my life slowed down and I found new love with Crunch in western dressage. We enjoyed two wonderful years competing in dressage and some trail riding.  Crunch, however, developed severe arthritis in his front knees. Upon x-rays my vet said that no injections would help so it was time to retire him.

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Rohrbaugh

That is where my journey begins to find my 59-year-old self a new horse. My criteria was to find a nice gelding that was quiet and could do some western dressage/trail riding.  I wanted to stay around 15.2 hands. I did not mind some maintenance but wanted something that would pass a vet check within reason. After two knee surgeries and back surgery, I wanted a “quiet” horse—even though I don’t believe any horse is bombproof. 

With technology, you can now buy a horse on the internet—something I said I would never do.  However, the selection in my area for sale was minimal. I found a nice ten-year-old AQHA. His video was amazing, a lady riding in a chicken suit with no reins. He did wonderful patterns and even a mini donkey was walking around him. How could this purchase go wrong?  

I would have to have him shipped since he was a few states away. I looked up his show record and he placed well in some kids’ classes. My next step was a vet check. I Found an equine vet office in the area that asked me about my goal with the vet check. Of course, I said soundness, low maintenance, and a nice quiet horse to enjoy my retirement years. He called me and said that the horse he just checked was far from quiet. The trainer was away at a show so he was in his stall for a few days. He would not let him touch his head; in fact, he was not a quiet horse at all.  This vet was the same age as me and said he would not buy this horse for himself. Internet buying, for me, was officially out of the question. 

My next search for a horse was locally or within a five-hour drive.   saw an advertisement for a nice young AQHA that was really quiet. I really did not want a young horse but decided to inquire about the “bombproof” horse. I looked him up and found his record. This horse went to college—literally. He had started his young career in a program at a recognized college. He was then sold to a child with a trainer as a two-year-old and started his career. He even showed at some major shows.  Although he was four years old he seemed to have had a lot of experience.  

We had him come to our barn to try out. This would be a great test off of his home property. He behaved well and was truly a quiet horse while at our farm.  Next was the vet check… where he failed miserably.  His tail was de-nerved, so he would never be able to be out in the pasture without being dressed head to tail for flies. I just cannot imagine not being able to shoo flies away. My horses get at least twelve hours of pasture time every day. He already had arthritis in his hocks. His feet were really bad. He had a hernia and a scar from some type of surgery on his stomach. His breathing was irregular after lunging. 

I felt bad for this young horse but could not buy with all these issues. My vet whole heartily agreed with me. 

My next way to find a horse was by word of mouth. I asked my vet to keep an eye out. I asked my friends to help in the search. I kept watch on the internet for local trainer’s sale lists—which is where I found Cinco.  

He was just 5 years old and one state over from where I lived. My daughter and I went on a road trip to go see him. First, we watched the trainer ride, and then my daughter rode him.  I told the trainer my daughter was going to ride like a screaming child and looked at me like I was nuts! I explained that this horse needed to keep safe for me and tolerate a lot. He laughed and watched the ride.  

Photo courtesy of Mary Ann Rohrbaugh

A pigeon flew in a dodged at my daughter and this lovely gelding just stayed in step. The vet check passed with flying colors. We brought Cinco home with the plan of my daughter riding him until fall and then me taking over. However, he was so nice and quiet that I hopped on the second day he was home. I felt confident enough to take him on his first trail ride. We also did our first western dressage last week. He behaved wonderfully and placed second in our division. I think I found my retirement horse soul mate! 

My advice for buying a horse in your older years is this: Know yourself and your body. You’re not a spring chicken anymore! You want to enjoy yourself with this horse passion that continues into your older years. Get a vet check. No horse is perfect but at least you know what you are starting with. Lean on trusted people to help you.  A good vet, a good trainer, and your trusted friends are the best to align yourself with as your horse shopper cohorts.

Mary Ann Rohbaugh is a mother of two grown children and grandmother of one two-year-old. She was a pony club DC for two years and is still a 4H horse club leader. She enjoys doing local western dressage and trail riding and running a small horse farm with her daughter.