...but unfortunately, too many people get stuck with the wrong horse, over and over and over. This can happen in a variety of ways, mainly when folks want to become horse owners and have no idea how to begin or who to trust. Frequently, they wind up trusting the wrong people and that's where the trouble starts.
There really are very few ways to know for sure you're getting involved with someone you can trust and who won't steer you wrong. One of the best is word of mouth from those you already do trust, because if a good friend or family member has nothing but praise for someone, it's a fairly decent bet they aren't going to screw you over. Another way is to seek out professional references from others in the industry, because peers will generally rate their colleagues honestly. No matter what, you still must be vigilant, ask a lot of questions and make sure if there is ever anything you are not comfortable with, you immediately get a second opinion (particularly if the answer you receive from the trainer or other equestrian professional is not suitable to you). NO question is a dumb question!
When searching for a horse, especially your first horse, being selective is imperative. Now, that doesn't mean you will find the "perfect horse" in your price range, but you can broaden your horizons if you're being too picky. I tell people, make a long list of what you want, then narrow it down to a short list of must-haves. For instance, if you're in the market for a trail horse, registration status is not necessarily going to matter, but soundness will. Shopping for a show horse is going to bring on a whole other set of criteria. Perhaps you're looking for a broodmare? Yet more questions to answer.
One of my biggest pet peeves are those who will sell inappropriate horses to new horse owners or people who have children that want to ride. All it takes is one minor mishap that can lead to a major disaster and the relationship between horse and rider is destroyed. Yes, it can happen that fast. Countless individuals have left the horse industry over the years because of unethical treatment by trainers, sellers and other industry professionals. I hear the horror stories all the time, and they make me cringe. Something I've often told people over the course of many years is, if I did not train horses myself, I'd likely not own any because there is no one out there I'd entrust the care and training of my horses to other than myself. That is a pretty sad commentary on my profession, isn't it?
Indeed, this is a topic I am going to get into more and more over the coming days and weeks, because it is such a critical one (especially in today's economy). My feelings are pretty strong where this subject is involved, because the result of potential clientele not trusting trainers or instructors directly impacts my ability to earn a living. If you like, send me your own horror stories and we'll delve deeper sometime soon.