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Walking away from heart horse

Hi all.

I have been working with this horse for three years now, (bit of an odd situation, the owner had given me permission to train her but I was not leasing) and we come to the end of our time together this weekend. Over these years, I have completely given this horse my heart. We just fit together, our personalities match, we trust each other, she’s my heart horse. As such, I really don’t want to lose her, but when I went to the owner to discuss buying her, she is out of my budget. Because I did too good of a job training her. Lol. I’m going to try one more thing to see if she’ll lower her price (please remember that the owner has no emotional connection to this horse!) but, as I’m sure you all know, when they’re out of your budget they’re out of your budget and you must walk away.

So I’d really appreciate any advice on how I can walk away from this little one and still be in one piece. Like I said, this little one holds my heart and I truly don’t know how to walk away from her (if I don’t buy her she will likely live out her days being a lesson horse, and she detests simply going around the arena) without the crushing guilt of leaving her behind or the overwhelming heartbreak I’m confident I will face in the coming week.

If anyone has any advice I’d really appreciate it.

Best advice I can give is that horses are resilient! They adjust to new situations better than you usually expect. Take comfort in the fact that you did a good job training her and because of that, she’ll always have a good home and be treated fairly. I completely understand having to leave your favorite horses behind, but I’ve also learned that there are so many out there. The new ones in your life will never replace the best ones from before. When I was younger I had to buy/train/sell horses so I could afford to compete. And I understand how hard it is to let the good ones go. But from experience, there is always another good one coming. Chin up, you’ll have many horses over the course of your life. Enjoy each of them while you can <3


I’m so sorry for your upcoming loss. I don’t have any advice that will take away your sadness. We’ve all lost horses (to death or sale) and while it doesn’t seem like it now, the acute pain it will fade with time and you’ll fall in love with another horse at some point in your life.
Take some really good pictures and get one framed, and perhaps ask the owner if you can take some tail hair, and have a bracelet or necklace charm made from it. If you use the search function on this board, you’ll find recommendations for lots of folks who make beautiful jewelry from horsehair, and it’d be a nice way to carry a piece of her with you. For maximum flexibility in jewelry design, take a section about 15" long, and if you bunch it together, should be about the width of a pencil. (So it’s not like you’d be taking half her tail)

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Any chance the owner would let you make a down payment and pay the balance over time? Or lease the horse and credit the payments to the purchase with a balance due at the end of the lease?


I like the thought of seeing if you could do a payment plan, or lease to buy as suggested above.

Only other idea is to do your best and most gracious negotiating, but if you have to walk away, do so in a way that invites the owner to contact you should she change her mind for any reason. Although if you do this, your heart will still be entangled and it will be harder to move on. Still, it sounds like owning this horse would be a dream come true, so might be worth the risk at least for awhile. Only you will know this.

Best of luck no matter what!


If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen. Maybe not now, but eventually.

Horses ARE resilient. There are many people that horses can love, and many horses that we can love. As long as they’re pain free and getting fed on a regular basis, I’d say most horses live fairly happy lives.

A little story of my own heart horse:
[INDENT]back in 2012, I had an OTTB who was the biggest, most gorgeous hunk of a gelding I’d ever seen. I spent my entire budget on him, showed him once, he coliced, recovered, and then dropped dead of a heart attack in the round pen. I owned him a total of like, six months.

I didn’t go to the barn for several days. I couldn’t. My money was gone (actually, I was in the red after paying for colic surgery), my dreams of showing the 3’6’’ had just dropped dead, and I was overall in a foul place mentally. BUT, I did have another horse and so I eventually had to go out to see her and come up with a new plan. I think he died on a Tuesday, and I went to the barn that Saturday? Anyway…

I walked down the aisle to my mare’s stall and I knew I would have to pass my gelding’s stall, as he was fourth on the right and she was fifth. His stall card was still up and I just knew I would break down crying. Much to my surprise, however, as I got to that fourth stall – suddenly, a big, loud faced paint gelding stuck his face out as if to say “HEY - who the heck are you?” It shocked me so much, I think I laughed - he got some of the cookies I had for my mare, and enjoyed some scratches.

He ended up being a horse in for training. His owner didn’t really mesh with him, but she wanted to get some points on him and sell him. I ended up riding him a few weeks after he got there, and I fell in love. My dad had offered me my college money to buy a new horse as I had graduated with scholarships and it was still in the bank; so I had a budget of $25K. I had approached my trainer about buying him after a couple of months of riding him, but the owner was firm on $30K and I just couldn’t do it.

We did a purchase of him in barn so that I could show him that next year. It was win-win; I had a horse to show, and he got more exposure, but I knew that it wasn’t permanent and he would be sold back at the end of the year. We won everything that year. Everything. I bought a different horse, but it wasn’t the same. The loud faced paint was my heart horse, sent from above, in my gelding’s stall that day my heart was broken and needed healing. When he left the barn, my spark dulled. (It sounds cheesy, but I’m serious - I didn’t want to show the new horse, I wanted my horse.)

Turns out, he had a myriad of health issues. When the owner upped his price to $50K, he was vetted several times, but never passed. She ended up donating him to a riding program for the tax write off.

Lucky for me, tequila gives me confidence. One night, after the college posted an update and he was in the picture on their Instagram, I sent an email to the coach and I basically said - hey, I used to own this horse and if for any reason he ever needs to be rehomed, please consider me and I’m happy to take him.

It took three years, but one morning I opened my email and had a message that he was no longer a fit for the program, they couldn’t keep him sound, and did I want to buy him?

I hooked up my trailer and made the four hour trip to get him that weekend. Purchase price? $1.00. I think if his jaw could’ve hit the floor when I turned the corner, it would have. He didn’t expect to see me, but horses remember.

He has kissing spine, and I’m still weighing my options on how to deal with that as he clearly hurts if you try to even ride just at a walk. He lives in my pasture, and gets jealous any time I work one of my other horses. He screams and carries on any time I hook up the trailer and he doesn’t get to go. He gets special shoes every six weeks, and treats every night before bed. He loves attention so we try to work on showmanship or pretend like we’re setting up for halter so he can still strut around like he owns the place. :winkgrin:

It didn’t happen initially. And I had to go through that heartbreak of losing him. But, I did keep up with where he went and in the end I was able to have him back where he belongs. It doesn’t always happen this way, but if you keep yourself open - it may not be the complete end of your story.



How far out of your budget?

Hmmm … a couple of things come to mind …

One, focus on the good side of the horse’s future life, not things you can pick apart. The lessons don’t last that long and she will be most of the day in good care, with equine companions - I hope. Horses don’t want much more out of life than that.

The next - you say she is too expensive to buy at the price her owner wants, but that if you don’t buy her then her future is as a lesson horse. A good lesson horse is certainly not free, but typically not the most expensive of horses. Of course I don’t know the actual price being asked, but if it is relatively modest on the scale of horse prices, then I have to wonder if you have the budget to support her as well as her current owner can. I would not suggest taking on a financial burden through a purchase that would make it harder to provide for all of her needs, which will go well beyond monthly expenses.

And, from the monetary standpoint, you say that you did too well training her and now she is more expensive and out of your budget. From her owner’s point of view, though, it sounds as if you had the riding time while the owner supported the horse. So there is a trade-off that I hope you don’t feel badly about, because it may have been fair enough.

There have been a number of threads on COTH similar to this one - someone has had the ride on a horse that wasn’t theirs, and now the horse is moving out of their life, not by their choice but by the owner’s. It is certainly a hard thing to manage emotionally. IMO the best thing is to move forward in one’s own riding life while being as positive as possible about the horse’s future. If the horse is getting reasonably good care and being used fairly, then their situation is usually ok and not a reason to make it harder by worrying about it.

Hope things turn out well for you with horses generally - and that they turn out well for this horse as well. :slight_smile:


Arelle, I would watch the hell out of that absolutely beautiful, stunning tearjerker of a horse movie. Y’all took turns saving each other.

To the OP, I don’t have any advice for you but I am really hoping your hail mary works out!!!


Hi everyone,

thank you all so much for the advice! It doesn’t look like things will work out for us right now, but I have invited the owner to contact me should she ever change her mind, and I was allowed to take a piece of her tail :slight_smile: I can’t say any of this is making the heartbreak any easier (I refuse to admit just how much I have cried lol) but I am also trying to focus on the fact that she will probably have a pretty good life. I guess I’ve just seen enough horses go sour from overwork and improper riding that I was fearing the worst, but you guys a right, she’s probably going to be pretty happy little lady :slight_smile:

I’m just really going to miss her. I took tons and tons of photos, and while it hurts too much to look at them right now, I’m sure I’ll be grateful for them in the future. Thanks again, everyone!

I’m sorry OP this is always hard. One thing you could do is ask the owner to pass along your contact info to whoever they sell the horse to. When I was in college my heart horse got sold and I was in no position to buy her even though it broke my heart. They gave the new owners my number though and said if you ever decide to sell this horse or if she ever needs a home call this number. It’s been almost 10 years and I’m actually happy I haven’t gotten that call because I know that means she never needed a home. But if the phone rings tomorrow I’m driving across the country to go pick up a 20 year old quarter horse red mare.


The only thing I can tell you from years of experience is that there’s no such thing as only one heart horse. Each one is special, and each one breaks our hearts when we lose them. But there will be another in your life.


I’m so sorry, this must be incredibly difficult for you. Perhaps she will find her way back to you in time. Arelle what a beautiful story!

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I second asking if the owner can pass your info on to whoever the new owner ends up being, and even seeing if you can keep in touch with the new owner if you can handle it.

I sold my heart horse a couple years ago to this girl who had been leasing her while I focused on project horses. She and the girl clicked really well, and I didn’t want her sitting in the pasture doing nothing so I made the decision to sell to her on the grounds that I got first rights to buy her back. I really enjoyed watching them together, but the girl hit teenage years and started losing interest in wanting to ride as much, so the family decided to sell her as they couldn’t afford her sitting around on top of the older sister’s two fancy show jumpers. I couldn’t afford to buy her back at that point, but they involved me in the process of looking for another owner which was amazing of them. New owner was the sweetest lady, but ended up not clicking with her (not surprising, pony mare is a bit particular with her people) and on top of that, she developed a subtle mystery lameness that new owner and the vets couldn’t figure out. Long story short, pony mare became too much for new owner to even handle on the ground, new owner didn’t want to sink a ton of money into vet bills on a horse she didn’t think was a good fit but also didn’t want to just sell her on, and as I had been in contact with her trying to help her out the whole time she offered to just give her back to me.

Of course I had to take her back. I ended up selling my current project to the barn I kept him at as a lesson horse (another story, seriously good brained 5 year old who is a darling of the lesson program now!) so I could bring her there, threw a ton of money into vet bills trying to figure out the lameness (mildly torn meniscus), spent a long time rehabbing slowly back after healing to build up the weak stifles, and finally a year later have her back in regular work. I’m in major debt now, and she probably won’t get back to the level she was at before, but I am SO HAPPY just to have her back around, let alone getting to actually ride her, and every day with her is an absolute gift.

On the other side of that, I had another project horse I had sold to a riding camp I was working at as one of the “advanced” (for that place) jumpers. I absolutely adored that little pony, though I wouldn’t call him a heart horse (that is reserved for Twi) he was my second favorite I’ve owned. Since then, management has changed a couple times (sometimes to pretty ignorant people), horses have been sold off, and I sometimes worry about him so I stay in contact with the camp owners and at least some of the employees just to keep tabs. Luckily, he is a pretty awesome pony with a line of people itching for the chance to buy him even if it’s just to retire him, though I don’t think the camp will ever let him go, possibly not even in retirement. Keeping in touch occasionally though, following them on social media and seeing what he’s up to, and having all the employees know he used to be mine so they give me updates all the time anyways, I at least know if something should happen I’ll be in the loop.

It’s hard to walk away from these horses we put our hearts and souls into. But it’s also unbelievably rewarding to watch them turn around and give some of that love back to another soul that needs it, and to see them helping shape the new generation of riders. That young project I sold to the barn I am boarding at as a lesson horse in order to take in my heart horse? I can’t tell you how fun it is to watch the kids on him, and then have them all run up to me later excited to tell me every little detail of their lesson and how much they love him, and to know they are getting to enjoy him now because I put so much work into him.

Basically, if you think you can, try to keep in contact. You may still end up with her down the road, especially if it’s known you will be a guaranteed soft landing. At the very least, you might get to see your hard work igniting lifelong passions and teaching life lessons. It’s not always a happy ending, but when it is, it’s well worth all the rest.


Update: she’s just been sold to a family wanting a horse for their five year old. I feel really bad for this family as I fear they went to the owner, a trusted ‘expert’ who may not have been completely honest about the suitability of this horse for them… meaning she’s four years old, and solid as she is, she still has days that she throws temper tantrums, spooks and bolts, or bucks. I really, really hope things go well for them and that she takes wonderful care of this child but a part of me is worried for them.

I have asked that my info be passed along. Would it be unreasonable to reach out myself to make sure that they got my info? I don’t want to be a nag here trying to damper the excitement of buying a horse! They should get to enjoy her. I just also would like to be sure that they know that no matter what happens, this horse will always have a home with me. What do you think?

I do not think it would be inappropriate for you to give the family your information & let them know that you would be interested in the mare in the future if they ever elect to sell.

I think it would be HIGHLY inappropriate for you to voice your concerns about the transaction. They may be well aware of what they are buying & have plans that will allow her to work out just fine for them. Since (I am assuming) you were not present during the conversations/try out regarding the sale you don’t really know what they were told, or what they told the horse’s owner.

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Yes! I completely agree. I have ZERO intention of ever mentioning/asking about anything involving their purchase. I truly hope that they know exactly what they are getting and that they have a wonderful time with this horse. Like you said, I have no clue what was said, and hopefully I’m just being paranoid. I just worry about what they were told as I know the owner, but I would never say anything about it to anyone who personally knows the situation and I didn’t mean to give off that impression. I mentioned it out of concern and for context, as I really don’t want to seem like I’m trying to steal the horse back, if that makes sense?? I worry about coming across as a bother, or like I’m trying to put a damper on their purchase. Would it be overkill to reach out myself, as I have asked that my info be passed along? I feel like it would be best to explain myself rather than relying on anyone else, but as I’ve said, I don’t want to be shoving ‘please contact me’ down their throats.

I do not think just giving them your info & telling them they got a great horse, hope they enjoy her as much as you did would be overkill.


Go ahead and give them your info. You don’t want to regret not doing so later.

Before contacting them, think carefully about what you will say (by email or verbally) and what directions the conversation might go. It just helps to keep things on an even keel to have words ready for several possibilities. And it might help you be more prepared if they say something that you didn’t expect.

In any case, if they don’t appreciate your contact, you are no worse off than you are now. It’s worth a chance because it sounds like they may eventually need some assistance with this horse.

I have seen this so many times when a trainer sells a horse to a beginner, especially a young child, that is completely over that rider’s head. A rider that takes the horse home and is not in a training program. The trainer has every reason to know what a dangerous situation this will be for the buyer, and I don’t have words for such despicable behavior. The trainer knows that the buyer does not understand that just because the horse conducted itself nicely when they came to try it does not mean that the horse will always behave this way. The trainer lets the hopes & dreams of the buyer take over, knowing how wrong it is. And what to think of parents who are so uninformed that they put their children at such serious risk - I’m sure they do not intend to, but would they buy their 5 yo a Harley Davidson?

Perhaps the best case is that the mare ends up grazing her time away with very little work, after the family figures out that this is harder than they thought. The mare can send you a figurative postcard “hey it’s ok, don’t worry about me!”. :wink: :slight_smile:

Good luck on meeting this mare again sometime, OP! And keep moving forward with your riding in other directions. :slight_smile:

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You could also reach out to them more as a resource than potential home. Introduce yourself (if necessary), and let them know how much riding/training you did with the mare, and that you’re happy to help if they have a question or need assistance with anything. That way you can hopefully keep in touch and help smooth out any rough patches. Then, if the rough patches become more than they want to deal with, you can offer to take her and help her find a new home.

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