18 Questions with Courtney Cooper on Buying a Horse

In the latest Practical Horseman Podcast, eventer and horse-sales specialist Courtney Cooper shares all you need to know about buying a horse.

Below is a full transcript of the Practical Horseman Podcast with Courtney Cooper.

Opening quote—Courtney Cooper: Well, the first thing that I do is when I get up on the horses, is make sure that I land very softly, that I put my weight in my stirrups before I sit down so that I don’t land hard on the horses’ backs. So I try to very much not … have my first meeting with the horses be a little bit abrupt by me, plopping down on their back. And then what I like to do is just close my leg, have them move quietly off and then ask them to halt five or six strides later and sort of just do that until the two of us are comfortable. I often say trying a horse is often like going out on a first date, and so you’ve got to sort of feel around the edges and have those awkward moments of “Hi. Who are you? This is who I am. This is what a half halt feels like with me.”

[Music fades in toward the end of Courtney quote and then back out at the beginning of the introduction.]

Courtney Cooper and Who’s A Star at the Millbrook Horse Trials in 2014.

Introduction—Sandy Oliynyk: Welcome to the Practical Horseman Podcast, featuring conversations with respected riders, industry leaders, and horse-care experts. The show is co-hosted by Practical Horseman editors, and our goal is to inform, educate, and inspire. I’m Sandy Oliynyk, and this week’s episode is with eventer Courtney Cooper.

Courtney is an accomplished international five-star event rider. She also is well-known for her domestic and consignment horse sales program. In this episode, she and I chat about what you need to know if you’re planning to buy a horse. Courtney walks us through the process of buying a horse from how to begin, to trying out a horse, to the bill of sale. What I like about our conversation is that Courtney shares so many details that will give you the best opportunity to buy a horse that will meet your specific goals and dreams.

For example, she shares a list of six factors that affect the price of a horse and suggests that you consider how those factors play into your horse search. Courtney also offers advice on the questions to ask sellers to make sure you’re zeroing in on the details that are most important to you. She also discusses how to keep your emotions in check because let’s face it looking for your next dream partner can be emotional

Toward the end of the interview, she talks about the importance of a horse conformation because not all issues are deal breakers. To give you a little more background on Courtney, she trained and showed event horses with Martha Anne Shires, a member of the 1978 World Championship Canadian Team, as well as with Olympic eventing team, silver and individual bronze medalist Michael Page. After college in Texas, she moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where she worked as a financial planner and insurance agent with Northwestern Mutual and rode and competed as an amateur for seven years. Her goal was to compete internationally at the highest levels, so her instructor, Bruce Davidson Sr. advised her to move to an area where the travel component wasn’t such an issue.

In 1996, she moved to Pennsylvania and started C Square Farm with her husband, Neil [Camens]. In addition to training, Courtney carved out a niche of buying and selling horses. Since then, in addition to her domestic sales program, she’s developed the Excel Star business with partners in Ireland, importing European bred horses for the last eight years.

Courtney has also been successful in the competition arena. She and the home-bred Who’s a Star finished third in the 2013 CCI3* at the Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event and completed the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. She Tender Bravissimo won the Training Horse Championship at the 2016 American Eventing Championships and the CIC1* at the 2017 Fair Hill International. With another up and coming star, Caia Z, Courtney was Reserve Champion in the Training Horse division at the 2017 American Eventing Championships.

Before the conversation with Courtney gets underway, I want to thank the sponsor of this week’s podcast Bimeda. Bimeda might be the biggest animal health company you’ve never heard of till now. Bimeda’s products have been trusted by veterinarians and owners since the 1960s, when their Irish roots began. Bimeda is one of the largest producers of dewormers, like Equimax, Bimectin, and Exodus. World renowned equine athletes also rely on Polyglycan, a patented formula that replaces lost or damaged synovial fluid and ConfidenceEQ pheromone gel, which reduces and prevents equine stress. Consult your veterinarian and visit BimedaUS.com to see where to buy their products.

Now let’s jump right into our conversation with Courtney, where she talks about six factors you should consider when buying a horse.

Courtney Cooper and Who’s A Star at the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. © Amy K. Dragoo

Trying to sell your horse? Read Courtney’s tips here.

Courtney Cooper: [00:05:09] So I always think that it’s, if at all possible, it’s good to sit down with a professional or with a friend who is a very objective friend and to write out a list of things that you feel are really important. And there are usually six factors that I tell people affect the price of the horse. And so those are usually the six factors that I start with.

And those are the age of the horse, the height of the horse, sex of the horse, experience, potential, and then also the rideability. And so with those six things, you have various fluctuations and all of those things that make horses more expensive or less expensive. And those are the things that over time you’ll learn in your horse hunt sometimes you’re going to have to give or take on those things. Those would be the basics. Sort of if you’re making a cake, you’re going to need flour and sugar and eggs and oil and those types of things and that sort of what age, height, experience, potential, rideability do for you because all of those things sort of dictate where you start. I, for example, sell a lot of young horses, so it’s pretty unusual for me to be looking personally for a horse that’s over the age of six or seven. But if I have a client who is looking for a school master, obviously I’m not going to be looking for a six-year-old, I’m gonna be looking for something, potentially nine, 10, 12, 15 years old, depending on what their criteria are on the other side of the puzzle.

And so you start with those things. And then I think, because I’ve always said that my clients are a compilation of the experiences they’ve had in the past. So if you’ve had a horse, for example, that didn’t ship well, then one of the things on your list of items that will be important to you will be that potentially that the horse has to be a good shipper, has to be comfortable in a bumper pull, has to be happy to go in a slant load, has to be able to go on a head-to-head. Maybe your horse had very shelly feet and a long toe and a low heel, so the horse has to have good feet. All of those things that you’ve had experience with both good and bad will make up a list of the things you want in a new horse. And some things will be total deal breakers. Some people will say, “I won’t look at a horse who has had a wind operation, or I don’t want a gray horse because I’ve had a gray horse that had melanomas.” Whatever it is, if those are deal breakers, you need to have a list of those as well, because there’s no point in going to look at a gray mare that has bad feet, but workable feet, that is a tentative shipper, if you know that three of those four things are deal breakers for you. Maybe one of those things you can work with, but the other things you can’t. But certainly you want to make a list of things that are important for you.

Additionally, you want to think about long-term “What am I looking for this horse to do?” I find sometimes when you sit down with a client and you start fleshing out their ideal horse, there becomes a point at which you have to say, “This is realistic, or this is not realistic.” I get a lot of parents who would like to have the horse that will take their child, for example, on eventing from Beginner Novice up through the Intermediate level. And while there’s a horse like that that exists, generally the budget, it doesn’t allow to purchase a horse like that, and that would be a very rare individual. And so you’d be hunting for a while, and it’s much more likely that you’re going to buy one horse to take them Beginner Novice and Novice, and then another horse that sort of takes them Training and Preliminary. And then yet another horse that takes them Preliminary and Intermediate. And so that’s why having a professional involved to help you walk through what is considered realistic is important.

Or like I said, the objective friend who can say, it’s great that you want a horse that can jump 3’6 but you’re jumping 2 feet right now.” And the horse that can jump 3’6 with you now again has to be exceedingly kind and all of those things. Whereas if you buy a 2-foot, 2-foot-6 horse now, and you learn to do the hunters at 2- foot, 2’6, and with a good change and you learn the basics and going around and you get some good ribbons and then you buy 3-foot and then you buy a 3’6 horse. Again, there’s a reasonable progression. And so having a friend or someone objective who can help keep you on task, I think is always real important. So that would be the first step I would say, when anybody is looking to purchase a horse. And

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:10:43] If a person is going out and shopping around for themselves, hopefully like you said, been enlisting the help of an objective friend at least, you had mentioned it in an article for Practical about checking a seller’s references and what’s the best way to go about doing this and when in the process do you check them? Do you check that before you even start to look at the horses that the person might have available?

Courtney Cooper: [00:11:08] So in terms of sellers , I think it’s always important to feel real comfortable with a person selling a horse. And I think you’ll get a good feel for that based on how transparent and open they are about the horses. Because at the end of the day, all horses have pros and they have cons. It’s no different than any of us. We have very strong attributes and then we have weaknesses. And so I think, if I’m talking to a seller, I don’t necessarily need to look at their references straight up, like when I start the process, because I generally would get a pretty good feeling from them as I talk to them if they’re being transparent and open. If you talk to someone and you say, “What’s the worst thing the horse does?” And they say, “Well, he doesn’t do anything bad.” Well, every horse does something, and it may not be a big deal and it may not be much of anything, but we all have things that the horses do that we would prefer them not to do. So I think that gives you an insight into sort of the person you’re dealing with.

I’m a huge believer in allowing people to see the medical records of horses that they are interested in pre-purchasing. I think that if you’ve got a horse that has been doing the job, or you think will do the job for you, and you’re interested in purchasing that horse and you set up a pre-purchase exam, I think at that point, it behooves you to look at the horse’s medical records, because I think that if the horse has been successful, hopefully with its current owner, and for whatever reason the sale is going through, it will give you an idea as to any previous injuries, how they’ve been treated, how have they been able to keep the horse going. And I think that’s real important. And I think if you are dealing with a seller who is not comfortable with that, that also gives you an indication as to how comfortable perhaps you are dealing with the seller.

And then, you can talk to people who bought horses from them and ask some questions like, “Were you surprised by anything? Was the horse at home like he was when you tried the horse, et cetera.” And you can ask her a bevy of questions.

Courtney Cooper and R Star at 2015 Fair Hill International. © Amy K. Dragoo

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:13:35] And that leads into the next question: What types of questions should you ask when you first call a seller about a horse? Like what kind of information is appropriate to ask before you even go and try a horse?

Courtney Cooper: [00:13:47] So one of the questions that I like to ask, I mean, you generally will have, again, my six basic questions, you’ll have the age, you’ll have the height, usually you’ll have the experience of the horse. The ad may or may not have listed potential. When you look at an ad, if you’ve got, for example, a horse that you’re looking at to jump in the 1.10 or the 1.15 jumpers and the horse has a nice photo, but the photo shows the horse over 2’6, I would ask, why, if the horse is being advertised as something that can jump 3’6, 3’9, is the horse being shown over 2’6? Maybe there’s a reason, but that’s something I’d definitely want to know.

I’d like to know why the horse is for sale. I’d also like to know, are there any preexisting conditions or vices the horse has. A lot of people aren’t allowed in boarding situations to have horses with vices, and so, weavers or cribbers or stall walkers. And so those are all important things to know, and they should be mentioned. Sometimes they are, sometimes they’re not, sometimes they’re forgotten, but those are all things that you want to know about because if your boarding situation doesn’t allow you to have a cribber, and it’s the only boarding situation that you can deal with because of your schedule or your trainer or location or any of those reasons, it doesn’t necessarily make sense for you to go and look at that horse because it will be a waste of time for both the seller and the buyer. Other questions I like to ask: is the horse on any maintenance? Because I don’t necessarily mind if a horse is on any maintenance, but I’d like to know it before I get there. I also like to know if a horse has any recent, has been recently pre-purchased. So if, for example, I’m interested in the horse and I ask, “has the horse been recently pre-purchased,” and I found out that there was a pre-purchase exam a week or two ago, and the people passed for X, Y, and Z reason, it may not bother me at all. It may set up a red flag that I need to deal with moving forward, or it may make me uninterested in the horse. But again, you’d like to be good in your questioning so that you don’t waste your time or the seller’s time.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:16:12] Right. And you’d mentioned this a little bit in an article you worked on with us at Practical, you’d talked about zeroing in on the details most important to you. Like if you’ll be riding in a field with other horses, ask if he’s okay with that.

Courtney Cooper: [00:16:24] Correct. And if you hack out a lot by yourself, ask “is the horse OK with that.” If you are an eventer and you want a horse to go cross country, ask if you’re going to be able to take the horse cross country. If you ride in the evenings and it’s after feeding time, a lot of horses get a little undone by that. Ask that question. Ask also specific sort of details to your life, which perhaps the seller wouldn’t have any indication to give you information on,

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:17:02] How do you research what a fair price for the type of horse that you’re interested in? And should you do that beforehand? When do you start thinking about that?

Courtney Cooper: [00:17:13] So with horses, the amount someone is willing to pay is what the horse is worth. And it’s sort of like buying a house. And there are days when, as the owner of a house, if you have to move for whatever reason, that you’re ready to sell a piece of property. And it’s a little bit the same with the horse. There are days that you ride the horse and you’re like, “this is the best horse in the world. And I don’t know why I’m selling it.” And you’re absolutely in love with it. But for some reason, maybe you’re moving overseas or you’re going to be having a baby or whatever reason. You don’t have to sell the horse. And at that point, you’re not going to be very flexible on your price, but then there might be a day when you’ve got into argument with your husband about the cost of boarding and your kids are being homeschooled and you really feel like you don’t have any time to ride.

And there are external time pressures. And at that point, the horse might be very negotiable. So regarding price, what I like to say to people is most people price their horse with a little negotiation built into the price that they advertise. Some people don’t and it’ll be a cold, hard this is what the price is.

So don’t go and look at a horse that is out of your budget unless you specifically ask, “is the horse negotiable? Is the price on the horse negotiable? Because there might be some room, but there might be no room. , And so, if I have, for example, $25,000 to spend on a horse, I might go look at something that’s $27,000 or $28,000, but I certainly wouldn’t go look at a horse that’s $35,000, unless I specifically asked, “is there a degree of negotiability in the horse’s purchase price.

Courtney Cooper and Who’s A Star finish their dressage test at the 2016 Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event. © Amy K. Dragoo

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:19:02] Once you’ve asked your questions on the phone and you go to try a horse, what should you do when you go to try ahorse? Like what questions do you ask at this point? Or what things do you notice?

Courtney Cooper: [00:19:15] So different people again have had different experiences, had different life experiences. I, as a seller, generally have the horse cleaned up, brushed up, not tacked up, but brushed up, in a stall, waiting for a client to arrive. Some clients like to see the horses brought in from a field. Fine with me. Some people like to brush the horses. Again, fine with me.

But you just need to know what people want to do. If you’re going to be comfortable in your own tack, bring it. And have the seller try it on the horse, make sure it fits the horse. They might be more comfortable riding in their tack and then switching it to your tack. I’ve had certainly, I’m not the biggest person, and so I’ve had gentlemen come that are 6’4 and they don’t fit in my tack. And so, they ride in their own saddles and stuff. So we’ve done that as well as having small children who have pony saddles. So certainly if you need your own equipment, bring your own equipment, ask them if you can have your saddle on the horse before you go to tack the horse up so that if you have to bring an extra pad out to the riding ring, you can do that. As for questions you ask when you get there, I think it’s more of a watching and a listening process when you go and look at a horse because I think people will tell you a lot about their horses just if you let them talk and things happen organically. And so you can ask follow-up questions as they’re talking about the horse, but I think it’s important to see the interaction of the horse in the stable, how they stand on cross ties.

Are they patient, do they wear their ears well, in terms of do they seem happy and interested? Are they annoyed by horses around them? If you have, for example, small children, are the children with you, how do they relate to the horse? Not that you want your children running underneath the horse, but some horses are not particularly friendly, and if that’s going to be an issue, you need to know that. Because again, that may not be something that you remembered to ask about in your initial sort of questions that you sent her, you emailed or you asked about.

But you know, I sell a lot of horses to amateur owners and sometimes they’ve had a baby and are just getting back into riding. Sometimes they have toddlers, sometimes they have preteens. And so all of those children don’t have the ability to sort of react and get out of the way of horses and sort of read the horse’s signs. And so you need to be able to have an animal that you feel safe having children around.

So, if you can watch the interactions of how the horse works, that’ll give you a good idea. And then let the seller talk about the horses and ask questions about them and sort of probe and talk to them about what’s the horse’s turnout schedule and how often are they written and what’s their daily routine. And that, I think you’ll get more information from the seller as you go along organically.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:22:22] Does generally someone else rides the horse first? So if that’s the case, what do you look for?

Courtney Cooper: [00:22:28] I’m a very, very strong proponent of always having someone else ride the horse first, unless you know seller very, very well or the horse. Because I just think it throws an element of chance that you don’t need to have in your life. And for both, for both the seller and for the buyer, I think it gives the buyer a chance to watch the horse go. I know for example, when I’m overseas, I watch how the horse is to get on and off because again, I’m dealing with a lot of young horses, so I like to see how they react to someone getting on them. And does the rider have a spur on, do they carry a whip? Usually, as someone who is trying to horse, I like to do what the rider has done. So I’m pretty comfortable in a pair of spurs, so if I see that someone showing me the horse has a pair of spurs on, I’ll ask, is it okay if I ride in the pair of spurs. If they don’t have spurs, I generally will ask that question as well, because a lot of times if you get on a youngster and you’re the first person was spurs on, you’ll be getting put on the ground rather unceremoniously. And you want to just pay attention to those things. Same thing with a whip, does that person carry a whip? Do you need to carry a whip? How does it ? Again, how does the horse wear their ears, what sort of bridle is on the horse? Is their tail quiet? Do they carry their tongue in their mouth? Do they have a flash or a grackle noseband, figure eight, sort of all the little things, do they forge, do they strike themselves, all of the little things that you sort of just watch as the horse goes around. Do they travel straight? Do they wing, did they paddle? Do they go better to the left or to the right? Can you see that? Those types of things are all things that as a buyer I’m always looking for.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:24:21] That’s a lot of great information. When it’s time for you to ride the horse, what do you do when riding the horse?

Courtney Cooper: [00:24:30] Well, the first thing that I do is when I get up on the horse is make sure that I land very softly, that I put my weight in my stirrups before I sit down so that I don’t land hard on the horse’s back. So I try to very much not to have my first meeting with the horse be a little bit abrupt by me plopping down on their back.

And then what I like to do is just close my leg, have them move quietly off, and then ask them to halt five or six strides later. And just do that until the two of us are comfortable. I often say trying to a horse is like going out on a first date, and so you’ve got to feel around the edges and have those awkward moments of “Hi, who are you? This is who I am. This is what a half-halt feels like with me.” And so, if you’re riding a horse that’s a bit sensitive, you can get a feel of how much leg you want to use, or how much leg they’re used to be using. And at the same time, you can get a feel for how much you need for do need. And then once, I have that feel, I start moving around the arena. I move them off of one leg or the other.

I might sit to try it a little bit. I’ll post the trot. Maybe I’ll go back to walk. I might just talk if it’s for an amateur client of mine, I may stop and talk to the client for a while and see if the horse is happy standing in the middle of the ring, sort of doing nothing. Because you have to think about if I’m a professional, helping a client, what’s my client going to do. If it’s an amateur or junior, a lot of times they’re going to stop in the middle of their lesson. They’re going to talk on the phone, not in the middle of their lesson, but in the middle of their work. And they’re going to talk to their friend and they’re going to sort of goof off. And if you’ve got a horse that is a little bit busy and on its toes all the time, it’s not necessarily going to be enjoyable. Whereas if it’s a young horse and you’re a professional and you’re developing the relationship with the horse maybe that’s not as big a deal. But it’s all those little things that you say to yourself, “Okay. What’s the horse going to do in this situation?

So after I’ve done a little bit of walk, trot, canter, move the horse off my leg, maybe done some lengthenings and come back, then depending on the age of the horse and what I saw with the first rider, I may trot a pole on the ground. I may try trot a cavalletti. I may canter a cavalletti. I may canter an X. But I start small and then I work up. I know, for example, it doesn’t happen too much in the United States, but when you’re in Europe, a lot of times depending on where you’re trying horses, you might only have two or three fences in the arena where you’re trying horses.

They won’t set a line of jumps because they don’t want to feel a horse out of a line because horse might surge or the horse might get behind the leg. A horse might not keep an even rhythm. And so those are all things that will take away from the horse, and so they may just give you single jumps. So if it’s important for you, for example, if you’re doing hunters, that you need to be able to jump in and quietly canter down a line and jump out, you need to organize to have that done.

And so you need to be able to do those types of things. Having said that, that doesn’t always have to happen on the first time. If you’re interested in a horse, you can come back and look at it a second time and say, gosh, I’d like to see it in a different environment. I’d like to see it with a full course set with jumps with some filler. I might want to take it cross country, all of those things. But you have to keep in mind, what’s your ultimate job with the horse going to be, and set it up for success.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:28:10] And you talked about coming back and trying a horse. How many? Is there an average number of times you try a horse? Two times?

Courtney Cooper: [00:28:18] It sort of depends on your client and it depends on who you’re buying from. It depends on how good a feeling you have. It depends on a lot of different factors. It’s sort of like, again, dating. Sometimes you date someone once and you’re like, “Oh, never doing that again.”

Sometimes you’re like, “well, that was kind of fun, but I wonder what he would be like one-on-one and not at a party” or vice versa. So I think the more often you look at horses, the easier it is to make the decision on whether or not you like the horse enough to move forward. So for example a lot of times I’ll only look at horses one or two times, and I feel fairly confident in my ability to assess a horse.

If I’m looking for a client of mine and I know the client very well, and I know the person representing the horse well, I’m probably going to be happy with one or two times. If I don’t know the horse well, or if I don’t know the client well, I’d like to probably try it at least twice, maybe three times.

I think any time after three times, you’ve had the opportunity to see the horse in usually different situations. And either you feel good about moving forward or there’s something that’s bothering you. And if there’s something bothering you, listen to that voice in your head and give it some room to percolate and maybe a question will come up that you can actually discuss with the seller and say, “look, I’m feeling this and how do you deal with this?”

And, and they may have a very easy explanation of how to deal with what you’re feeling or they may be like, “well, that’s how he is. And this is what it’s going to feel like,” and then you have a different problem to solve. But I think oftentimes, if people have to come back and come back and come back to look at a horse, they’re trying to talk themselves into something that ultimately isn’t the right thing to do.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:30:12] That’s interesting. That was going to be one of my questions, too— how much should you listen to your gut? If it’s just there’s something you can’t quite put your finger on, but if something’s bothering you, how much do you …

Courtney Cooper: [00:30:27] Well, I think, again, it depends on how much faith and transparency and trust you have someone in the whole process. I know, for example, because of COVID and travel restrictions, we have been selling a lot of horses off of video from Ireland. And so that is a very anxiety producing event, believe it or not for sellers as well as buyers, because we stand behind the horses and we want to feel very comfortable when you buy a horse from us on the relationship with that horse.

And so we’re invested in the success of the relationship. So I think if you’ve got someone who, as a seller is invested in the relationship and the success of the relationship, and they’ve proven by your ability to look at their social media and know they sold this horse or that horse and they followed it and they’ve tracked it, and they have something on social media about the horses they’ve sold, I think that’s a good sign because it gives you the ability to feel like they’re going to try to help you solve problems if they come about. If you go onto someone’s social media or, someone who’s bought a horse from someone and it hasn’t gone well, and that person has not stood behind the horse, I think then that little voice in your head takes on a little bit more meaning. But I think there’s always a feeling. I had, for example, a client asked me the other day, how many times do you buy a horse and it checks all the boxes? And the answer is never. They’re animals and they’re living, breathing creatures. And so there’s always something you’d want to tweak or make better, and make it a little bit more this or a little less that. And so, I never have a horse that checks all the boxes. I get pretty close sometimes, but I don’t rely on that because you can’t.

And so, sometimes you take a chance and it works and it works out really, really well. And sometimes you take a chance and it doesn’t work. And that doesn’t make taking that chance wrong. But from my perspective, if I have the support of the people that I purchased the horse from and the transparency to know the health history of the horse that I’ve purchased and taken the risk on, then I feel a whole lot better about my odds of success if I don’t know those things and then and that moving forward and so. On a totally unrelated subject, I think a lot of times dealers or people who sell a high volume of horses get bad reputations because you sell a lot of horses. Well, that’s true. But I also know where the horses go and I keep track of them. And I’m, like I said, invested in how they do and their success. And not everyone’s going to be totally in love with their horse, but at the same time, I’m going to do my best to have a pretty high average.

Whereas if you get the one-off person selling a horse, that’s their horse, they need to sell it. Sometimes it, it gets hard, because they need to sell that horse in order to buy another horse. And if something goes wrong, it can be a challenge for the one-horse seller to, to help you work through that because they don’t have anything else in their barn to help you ride, or maybe they didn’t have success with the horse and that’s why it was for sale or, or whatever

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:33:54] this might be backing up a little bit, but how important is the horse’s conformation to you?

Courtney Cooper: [00:33:58] It depends on the job they’re going to be doing. To be honest horses, don’t read their x-rays. And I have some very good friends who are sports- medicine vets and surgeons, and I oftentimes will send them radiographs of horses that I’m considering purchasing. And I think it is their greatest frustration that x-rays have gotten to be so good. Because I think some good horses are passed by. I know for example, in Europe, right now, they are giving a lot less credence to the whole idea of back x-rays and what those mean. Whereas they are still very much a factor in American vettings. But they have done some studies and they have found that the back x-ray is not necessarily indicative of future problems. And so conformation… obviously if I’m looking for a five-star event horse and I have a horse that has a very badly turned out, left front leg, that’s going to be a concern to me because the pillar of strength for that horse, the bones, the ligaments, the tendons, aren’t going to work in the same way that they would in a horse with a straight leg. And so, am I willing to take the risk on that horse? It would depend a lot on where is the horse in the horse’s career? If it’s 10 years old and I’m buying it to be an advanced horse and it’s going Intermediate and it’s never taken a bad step on that left front leg, I feel pretty good about that.

But if it’s a three year old and I’m looking at it to be a potential five-star horse, and it’s never worked a day in its life under saddle, I’m going to be a lot more suspicious and concerned about that. And so I would say it depends not only on the horse’s career that you’re looking at the horse to have, but also where in the horse’s career and how it’s dealt with that conformation flaw, because the horses don’t read the x-rays.

There are plenty of people, especially riders who have hurt themselves and have bad x-rays. I know myself, I have lots of previously broken bones, mended bones and if you read my x-rays, you’d say, “Oh, that person’s not going to have an athletic lifestyle,” but there’s so much more that goes into it and there’s work ethic and their stride and there’s heart, and modern medicine is a great thing. And so, you have to factor all of those things in. Certainly there are a few, if you looked for example, at the international jog at the Olympics of the dressage horses, the show jumpers and the event horses, and you watched every horse that jogged down there, there’d be some serious conformation flaws, but those horses have dealt with them and they have succeeded regardless of them. And so, do you throw out the baby with the bath water? You look at the factors of where the horses are in their career and how they’ve dealt with it.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:37:03] What advice do you give someone who’s buying a horse for not getting too emotional or attached? I don’t know if you see that with your clients. It seems like it it’s hard for people.

Courtney Cooper: [00:37:12] It’s really hard because you’re excited. Like I said, it’s like a first date, like we’ve all had the butterflies and the excitement and the horse coming home. And “Oh, look at my first horse and isn’t this great.” And “Oh, I’m so excited.”

And it’s sort of like springtime. In the spring time of the year, everything is green and bright and alive with the future. And so I would say it’s very hard to tell people not to get excited, but at the same time, it’s like everything I think with horses, the highs can be very high and the lows can be very low.

And I think the thing that you have to work on as an individual is to not make the lows so low that they make you depressed, and the highs so high that they make you manic. That there has to be some sort of middle ground. And so when you get a new horse or when you’re looking to pre-purchase a horse, be realistic and have those moments where you’re developing a relationship, and a little bit, I imagine like marriage. Being married, I love my husband every day. There are some days I don’t always like him, and we’ve chosen each other and we’ve been together for 30 some years, but it’s a relationship. And so you get excited because, we’ve been through some big events, both good and bad. And, and I think that’s how you have to look at horse ownership, and you have to look at when you’re getting a new horse, you were thrilled with finally finding the one, the one that checks the boxes that you’re really super excited about, but keep in mind, there are going to be good days and there are going to be bad days and try not to make it so high or so low.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:39:06] And then if you’ve tried a horse and you’re interested in moving forward, what’s the importance of a pre-purchase exam?

Courtney Cooper: [00:39:14] So a pre-purchase gives you one moment in time, and you can do a pre-purchase on a horse in the morning and it could be lame in the afternoon. And so that’s important to know, and the reverse is true. You can have a horse that’s getting an abscess in the morning and it’s dead lame, four out of five, broken-leg lame, and then the abscess pops, and by the evening time, it’s completely sound. So it’s actually just one moment in time. And so it gives you a baseline is what it does.

And again, I think one of the most important factors is, is the horse in work and doing the job you’re doing? Have you been able to look at the vet records? Is there anything in the vet records which leads you to believe that the horse isn’t going to hold up to the job that you want? If so, can you home in specifically on that area? Meaning for example, for an event horse, if you had an event horse and it’s had a bowed tendon, but the bowed tendon was two years ago and it’s run three long formats at the level you want to compete at, you’re feeling pretty good if the tendon palpates well and ultrasounds well, and at the same time, if you’re looking at a youngster and it’s got a cyst in a fetlock, statistically you’re feeling not so good.

And so, a pre-purchase for me gives me a baseline. It makes sure that the horse is sound on the day, is good on hard and soft surfaces. I tend to look at the horse’s airway because the horses that I look at have to gallop, so I’d like to make sure that there’s no obstruction and that I take x-rays.

And so for me, X-rays are more important on a young horse than they are on an older horse. Because generally again, the older horse has been doing the job and has been out there and been ridden hopefully. And so, if a horse has a “suspect” in quotation marks x-rays, but it’s been doing the job, I’m much more likely to let that slide as a 10, 12, 14- year- old than I am in a three or four year old.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:41:25] And that, I think you’ve actually pretty much answered this question, but if something comes up during a pre-purchase exam and if an issue comes up, how do you decide if you can live with it or what you can live with and what you can’t?

Courtney Cooper: [00:41:37] I think that all comes down to what is your tolerance level. I have some people who will have zero tolerance, and when you’re dealing with horses, having zero tolerance is not a very good thing to have because they just create situations where you have to be very flexible. And so, I would say if you have zero tolerance, in terms of health histories on horses, you probably, aren’t going to find a horse that suits you.

If you have the ability to be tolerant and the horse has been doing the job with whatever it is, then that’s fine. If something comes up and they didn’t have any idea about it, like I’ve had horses that have been doing the job, and for example, we find out that the horse has a cataract and it’s never bothered the horse and they’ve never known about it because maybe they bred the horse and they bought the horse quite young, they’ve brought up through the levels and here they are now, and they’re in a pre-purchase situation and they’re told that the horse has cataract. Now, depending on the size and the location of the cataract, the ophthalmologist, if you go that route to have an ophthalmologist look at it, may say it’s not a problem, but they also might say, this is potentially a problem. And so at that case, maybe you negotiate a purchase price reduction. Maybe you negotiate something into the bill of sale, which says, if this becomes a problem within a year’s time, we get a discount or, or whatever, but you have to, I think the big thing is if you find something in a pre-purchase, I always appreciate when a representative for the buyer and a representative for the seller are there at the pre-purchase because it’s much easier to deal with it at the moment than it is over the phone, or to have someone trying to explain, because no matter who you are, it always sounds worse over the phone. And usually if you’re standing right there, you can work through most things.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:43:49] You talked about the bill of sale. Can you talk a little bit more about that? What goes on with it and why it’s important?

Courtney Cooper: [00:43:55] Sure. A bill of sale is a change in ownership between the buyer and the seller, not the buyer’s agents, not the seller’s agents. They shouldn’t be privy to the contract at all in terms of signatures. It is a change of ownership between the buyer and the seller, and it needs to be that way.

If you have parent who is buying a horse for a child. The child cannot sign the bill of sale unless the child is over the age of 18 because they’re not a legal adult. And so keep that in mind. So it needs to be with whoever is buying the horse. That being said, the bill of sale will give you any sort of warranties or guarantees on the horse.

So if for example, you had something show up in the pre-purchase and you want that to be stipulated in the bill of sale. It needs to be stipulated in the bill of sale, not just a verbal contract. Commissions also need to be disclosed in the bill of sale. A lot of people feel like commissions don’t need to be disclosed. I know there are bills of sale out there without commissions being disclosed. There have been a lot of lawsuits over the last 10 years where commissions were not divulged and people were charged commissions in excess and sellers or buyers found out about it after the fact and were irritated to say the least and legal proceedings happened.

And so because of that, different states have different statutes on what exactly has to be in a bill of sale. But you do need to have commissions divulged in your bill of sale. You also need a description of the horse and any registration they may or may not have should be divulged. If the sale is pending on anything, for example, a lot of times we will sell a horse pending a negative drug test. Again, write that into the bill of sale. Any sort of payment options. Again, I see my role as a seller or a buyer as trying to get the horse to the person who wants to own it. And so if, for example, I needed to do a payment plan because whatever reason that needs to be disclosed on a bill of sale. Anything that is important to the contract really needs to be written into the bill of sale. So there’s no confusion.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:46:16] What is the dual agency per that term?

Courtney Cooper: [00:46:20] So a dual agent is someone who represents both the buyer and the seller. It generally will happen, for example, if I have a horse that has been consigned to me to sell. But I also have an in-house client that is interested in the horse because at that point I’m not only representing the buyer, but I’m also representing the seller.

So it puts me in a rather compromised position because I’m working for both parties. So that has to be disclosed if you’re a dual agent. Again, most people don’t have a problem with dual agency because usually they all know each other pretty well. The other thing that’s real important, not a dual agency situation, is to know what the commission structure is. Who’s paying who what.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:47:07] And then when should a person enlist professional help when buying a horse? What are the benefits of it? Using someone like you, as opposed to going out on their own.

Courtney Cooper: [00:47:16] If I buy a horse, I usually use a professional not so much domestically. But always in Ireland and always in Europe, because the professionals know the lay of the land, they know the landscape, they know the players. They usually have a network of people that they can source horses from and they know potentially who to avoid as well.

As well as they’ll have an idea of the veterinarian they might want to use because they have specificity in a certain area. Maybe they are racehorse vets or they’re sports medicine vets or, whatever. They have an extreme knowledge of one area of the horse sport. And they’ll also be objective hopefully to let you know, you’re making a good decision or a bad decision.

And most importantly, a good professional is there to stand behind the decision that’s made. The people sort of don’t understand for me what a commission means to be paid. When I’m paid a commission, it means I stand behind the sale of the horse. So that means if you have a problem, I can help you or I will help you or I’m involved. And a lot of people get paid a commission and then walk away because they think that’s, they’re done. I don’t necessarily agree with that position. And, and again, certainly there are going to be situations that occur where things get a bit messy and for whatever reason, the horse doesn’t work out. And that’s when, having a good professional involved will generally make things be a lot easier to deal with.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:48:52] And then one final question: Why do you think you’ve been so successful in buying and selling courses and making appropriate matches?

Courtney Cooper: [00:49:00] I think the thing about me and our farm and my husband and myself is we’ve always believed that the horses have to sell themselves at the end of the day. I just try to match horses with people. And so to that end, I try to treat people like I would want to be treated and I try to be very honest and very transparent in what I do. And I want the people who buy horses from me to buy horses again. I want them to tell their friends about the meeting and the process that we’ve gone through.

I want to stay involved in their journey with their horse and their goals. And I’m invested in making that happen to the best of my abilities. And so I think ultimately that’s why I’ve been successful. We take a lot of pride in what we do. We have a lot of repeat customers and we follow the golden rule.

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:50:01] Right. Great. Well, thank you very much. I really appreciate your speaking with me.

Courtney Cooper: [00:50:07] No, thank you for taking the time. And I hope that was helpful to some people, and if anybody has any questions, they can certainly contact me directly and I’d be happy to share more information.

[Music fades in and out]

Sandy Oliynyk: [00:50:20] Thanks for listening to this week’s episode with Courtney Cooper and a big thank you to the sponsor of this week’s episode Bimeda. Learn more at BimedaUS.com. Join us again for upcoming conversations with the eventers Doug Payne and Liz Halliday-Sharp and riders vying for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. You can subscribe to the Practical Horseman on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher or where ever you get your podcasts. While you’re there, please rate and review the show. I’m Sandy Oliynyk and you’ve been listening to the Practical Horseman Podcast.