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Irons in the fire: Horse trading in the cold

Paul Marchant for Progressive Forage Published on 31 August 2021

Mastering the art of the horse trade is something I’ve never quite been able to fully comprehend nor accomplish. I’ve tried it, to be sure, but it’s never really worked out in my favor.

In theory, a trade should ultimately benefit both parties – or at least each party involved in the trade should somehow think he got the better of his trading partner. For me, though, nearly every time I’ve jumped in the horse-trading river, I’ve been quickly washed a mile or two downstream. By the time I reach the shore, I end up with little more than a good view of the tail end of my horses as they trot off with their happy new owner as he heads down the trail in search of the next sucker.

Even years later, I still feel the sting of trading the best mare I ever owned to a savvy young buckaroo for a shotgun, two unbroke 7-year-old geldings and $200. It turned out to be something like trading Michael Jordan for Joe Kleine and a gift certificate to Dairy Queen.

The world of horse trading extends far beyond the big cow outfits of the Texas Panhandle and the high deserts of the Great Basin. I’m still paying for the $11,000 engine I had to put in the $10,000 pickup I “stole” from the little used car lot in Burley. (A word of caution: Never buy a used diesel pickup that’s been chipped, no matter how sincere the sales guy may seem.) If you’re like me, and have never really mastered the art, the best thing to do is stay out of the deep end and align yourself with someone who can really play the game.

I have a nephew over in eastern Idaho who is a highly skilled horse trader, though I doubt he’s ever spent a dime on anything equine. He’s more of the farmer/mechanic type, and he loves his trucks, sleds and bikes. Every time I see Will, he’s in a different truck, and he’s always got a couple more he’s fixing up back at his shop. I did pawn a knot-headed dog off on him once, but it actually turned out to be a pretty good marriage ’til the dog got nailed on the highway one night. But that’s a story for another day.

As far as I know, he’s never come out on the south end of a deal yet. Perhaps the MVP of his all-star trades is the new snowmobile he bought a couple winters back. In the spring, summer and fall, Will’s pretty serious about his farming. He certainly puts in the hours and the effort. But in the off season, he plays in the snow as hard as he works in the dirt the rest of the year. His habit sometimes requires new, high-end snow machines and accessories.

In search of a new sled, but not in dire need of one, he stopped in at a local dealership late one January afternoon. As he was meandering through the selection of slick new machines lined up out in front of the store, an eager young salesman bounded out to greet him. Will, in true savvy horse-trading fashion, instantly sized up his opponent. The first thing he noticed was that the eager salesman had left his coat in the building. The late afternoon sun was inching its way down toward the western horizon, and Will knew he had his prey right where he wanted him. He engaged in the usual meaningless banter for quite a while before he stepped on the dance floor.

As the sun and the temperature dropped, Will was in no hurry to end the conversation. Eager Beaver salesman, sans his coat, however, was becoming more and more uncomfortable with each freezing minute that crept by. He certainly couldn’t walk away from an engaging customer he had on the hook, even if it meant surrendering a toe or two to frostbite.

As it turns out, a cold, hungry salesman is willing to deal. Will ended up with a brand-new snow machine with more bells and whistles than he could count, all for about half the money he’d intended to spend in the first place. As for me, I’m just glad to know that the horse-trading gene hasn’t completely abandoned the family. end mark

Paul Marchant is a cowboy and part-time freelance writer based in southern Idaho. Follow him on Twitter, or email Paul Marchant.

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