I've been making a lot of phone calls - these horses are mostly very far away, as far as 7 hours, and if I'm going to see a horse I want there to be a decent chance that it's a real prospect, without the sort of issues that can be ruled out in a phone call. So far I've connected with the sellers of horses #10, 12, 19 and 20. Three out of four of these horses were put under saddle by their current owners, which means the information I have about them is better than average.
Horse #19 is now off my list. I had a good conversation with his owner, who also bred him - she owns his sire and owned his dam. She mostly raises reining and cutting horses, and has over 20, including 3 studs. He's a nice horse in many ways, and has been extensively ridden on the trails and seems to really enjoy trail-riding. She's had problems with him in the arena - he really doesn't like arena work and is sour there. She can't get him to lope properly under saddle in the arena, although he will lope on the trail. When she lopes him in the arena, he goes too fast and then drops his shoulder and ducks, to the point of sometimes dumping people. She's stopped trying to do arena work with him and now just trail rides him, and is concentrating on doing reining training with one of her studs. She said he wasn't a candidate for a sale where you'd have to show him loping in an arena. He'll lope in a straight line but the problem seems to be with the turns required in the arena. This could mean it's a physical issue, or it could just be a training problem. He might be just fine for trail riding only, but I want a horse that's more flexible and able to do a variety of things. This may be a fixable problem, but I'm not interested in fixing it. He's also a tad small for me, so he's off my list.
I'm learning that "horse is great for trail riding" can mean a variety of things - from "horse is a great all-round horse that can also go on the trail" to "horse isn't very well-trained or hasn't been consistently ridden but is basically calm and will go down the trail" to "horse isn't sound enough for too much except light trail riding".
Horse #10 is a live prospect - here's her picture as a reminder:
She's 10 years old and was bought by the seller at age 6 as a broodmare, not yet started under saddle. She has done a lot of trail riding and also cattle work. She has never had soundness issues and has always been barefoot. She is a mid-pack mare - not alpha and not omega. She is willing and cheerful, and has never bucked, bolted or reared. When she spooks, she does a startle spook - no spins. The only issue the seller has ever had with her is that when she hasn't been ridden for a while, she will balk a bit leaving the other horses in her herd - but no balk/buck or balk/rear, and she doesn't escalate - if you firmly ask her to move along she'll accept your direction. The only thing the seller would change about her is that she's not terribly forward when working cattle - more slow than go - but they've made progress on that in the past year and the mare did very well in chasing and holding a break-away group of cattle on their last outing. I don't see anything bad here and like the look, breeding and experience of this mare - she's worth a visit and I'll be scheduling one. (She also shares the Coy's Bonanza bloodline of my old Noble horse, whose registered name was Walla Bars Bonanza.) The question will be her responsiveness - is there enough to go with the calm?
Horse #12 is a live prospect as well - here's his picture:
I spoke at length to his owner, a gentlemen who is in his 60s and who got the horse as a weanling from the breeder, from whom he's purchased other young horses in the past. He is being sold because the man has three riding horses, and his children and grandchildren who live in the area no longer ride much, and because he's been keeping this young horse in consistent work his other riding horses are being neglected, and he no longer wants or needs three. He started the horse himself, and says the worst thing the horse has ever done is to crow hop a few steps once early on in his under-saddle training. Since then, no bucking, no rearing, no bolting, no spinning, no bad stuff, and he does a startle-spook when he does spook. They have done extensive trail riding - almost every weekend this summer - and the horse has worked cattle on numerous occasions. For a young horse, he's had a lot of experience. This horse is also completely sound according to the seller, although he was at pains to tell me that the horse currently had scratches, which he is treating - we spent some time talking about that as I've had a lot of experience with scratches myself. The seller said the horse was well-built and sturdy with very good feet - the only ding on him is that he's a tad narrower in the body than some like. He said that being a young horse, he would need consistent handling and work, and that his young age seemed to put off some possible buyers. I'm not that worried - I think he's got an excellent foundation, and from talking to the seller I'm thinking he'll be a good using horse for whatever I decide to do with him. A visit will be in the works, probably early next week - the horse is going on the trail over the weekend and I probably can't get up there before then anyway.
Horse #20 is a live prospect as well - here's her picture as a reminder:
The owner, who has 10 horses, has had the mare for about 3 years. The mare had been started, and the owner had the opportunity to speak to the breeder and original trainer of the horse, and purchased the horse through an intermediary who had the horse for only a short time. The mare is double Mr. San Peppy bred. The mare is now 6, and has done a lot of trail riding, some work with cattle and also some local rodeo events including team sorting. The owner has an indoor arena (lucky her!) and has also done arena work with the mare. The mare has always been sound and has good solid feet and is barefoot. She is an affectionate horse with a kind, sweet, willing personality. She has never bucked, bolted or reared and does not spook - she just looks. She walks out well on the trail, but will also follow and will ride alone or with a large group. She is willing to be quite forward when asked, but will stop easily. The woman is selling her because they have too many horses and she is one of the more trained ones. The woman seems to have real affection for the horse. She said some buyers were put off by how responsive and forward the horse is, and she said when asked that the only thing she would change about the horse is how much go it has - I believe this can be a characteristic of horses with these bloodlines. This isn't necessarily a problem for me as long as the horse has good speed regulation and steering - I like a horse with go provided it is responsive and sensible. Seeing this horse, which I can do either on my way to or from seeing horses #10 and #12, will answer all questions - the issue will be is there too much go and not enough whoa.
I finally feel like I'm making some progress on the horse search, and perhaps one or more of these three contenders will work out, and I've got some others in the works.