No Regrets: Buying a Horse
Updated: Mar 12, 2020
Are you looking for your first horse? Or possibly looking for a horse that fits you/your family better than the one you have now? We strive to help people weed through the many, many options that are out there to ensure you have the best experience possible! Here are some things to keep in mind when you start shopping for a horse!
The first question to ask is, “Am I ready for a horse?” or, “Is my child ready for a horse?” Before answering this question affirmatively, do some honest self-appraisal. First, how good of a rider are you or your child? If your experience has been limited to a few rides on a neighbor’s horse, a riding vacation at a dude ranch, or a few lessons, you may not ready to take that big step. It may be a better idea in this case to look into leasing a horse, part-time or full-time. This way you are not fully responsible for the horse’s cost and care. To investigate options available, contact a professional trainer. If you think your riding ability is adequate and an experienced horse person such as a riding instructor agrees, consider the following points:
It must be understood that owning a horse can be expensive and time-consuming. Beyond initial cost of purchase, there is cost of board/land, feed, vet expenses, etc. Please refer to my other blog post on how to care for a horse to understand what goes into owning a horse.
Understand What You Need.
Your number one priority should be your personal safety. It won’t do you any good to own a horse if you admire it from your hospital bed! You want to buy a horse that is well-trained, well-mannered, with a nice temperament. Your first horse should be one that nearly anyone can handle and ride. If it isn’t, horse ownership won’t be fun, and it might well be dangerous. You should not have to become a trainer to own your first horse!
Age Vs. Experience.
Younger horse usually aren’t quiet and experienced enough for a first-time horse owner. Horses can live to 30 years plus with good care, so don’t exclude older horses from your search–your veterinarian will be able to advise you on an older horse’s prospects for long-term health and soundness. If a horse is still sound and active at, say, age 15, there’s a good chance he has many good years left, depending on what you will be asking the horse to do. Some first time horse owners dream of buying a young horse so they can learn together, but that’s usually a recipe for disaster.
However- by itself, age is not always a reliable indicator of training and experience. You want a horse who has been there, done that, well-trained and very experienced under saddle. Most assume that age means wisdom but be aware that there are those horses that have been sitting in a pasture for years; leaving them just as untrained as a two year-old. With this in mind, avoid horses that are advertised as “needs finishing” or “green.”
Choose a horse that is currently doing exactly what you want him to do. For example, if you like trail riding, choose a horse that is a very experienced trail horse. Likewise, if you want a show horse, choose a horse that is already competing (and winning!) at the level you want to compete.
There’s no perfect size horse except the horse you feel comfortable with. As long as you can mount and dismount without difficulty, and your feet are not hanging significantly below the horse’s barrel, when you’re mounted, size doesn’t matter too much. Keep in mind that most horse sellers either can’t or don’t accurately measure their horse’s height. A 14.2-hand horse might easily accommodate a 6′ tall rider if the horse is stout (large-bodied) enough. If the horse sounds perfect except for his height, go look before you rule him out.
Horses have been selectively bred for generations to develop particular breeds with particular characteristics. Certain breeds tend to be quieter and more docile, such as Quarter Horses and Paints that prove to be suited for many disciplines (both English and Western). Other breeds tend to be more spirited, such as Arabians and Thoroughbreds which can also be used in multiple disciplines. More-so, there are also breeds such as the Tennessee Walker, Missouri Fox-trotter, and Peruvian Paso that provide a smooth ride which is sometimes ideal for trail riding/pleasure riding but do not prove to work in speed events as well as some other breeds.
Notably, there are outstanding examples of quiet, docile horses as well as highly spirited horses in every breed. Consult with your instructor to find the best fit for you!
Papers or Bust?
Horses may either be registered through their specific breed association or they may be classified as "grade", meaning that they do not come with papers. Some people will not purchase a horse without papers for the sake that they may intend to breed the horse or in order that they can decipher what the horse is "bred to do". Some breedings imply that a horse will be better as a pleasure horse, while others imply that the horse may do better in speed events, and so on. There are many amazing grade horses out there just as there are many astounding papered horses. The choice is up to you and your budget as some grade horess cost less than those that are registered.
There are basically two options to consider; Mare, (female) or Gelding, (castrated male). As a general rule, mares can be more moody but I find them to be more protective and loyal to their rider. When it comes down to it, they will likely stand their ground if you are in a tight spot.
A gelding is likely to be"in-your-pocket", predictable, and possibly more forgiving than a mare.
A stallion, (an intact male) is never an appropriate choice for a first-time horse owner as they can be a handful and must be kept separate from other horses.
Keep in mind that there are some amazing, level-headed mares as well as some great, loyal geldings. You will have to see what fits you best!
Where to Look.
Your instructor should be integrally involved in your horse-buying process. Before doing anything, consult with your instructor about what your horse-buying criteria and your budget should be. Your instructor may even know of a horse for sale right now that’s perfect for you! If not, you might want to start your search by browsing the classified ads on your own–you can find them at major Internet listings sites, (EquineNow, Facebook, Craigslist, Dreamhorse, etc.).
There are so many ads–how can you narrow down the list? Start with geography–eliminate the horses that are more than a day’s drive from your home Next, sort by age, gender and breed. From there, try to decipher the horse's background. Has the horse been bounced around from home to home or has it been someone's family horse for years? With this being said, I like to caution clients to do their research if they are buying from someone who is in horse sales as a business. Are they reputable? Are they spending the time to know the horses they are selling?
What To Avoid.
- Pregnant mares. You won’t be able to ride before and after the pregnancy, plus raising a foal is not a project for novice horse people. Code words include “in foal.”
-Broodmares. If the ad states that the horse is sound as a broodmare only, this implies that you will be unable to ride the horse and that her only job is to be bred and carry foals.
- Horses not suitable for a beginner. If the ad says the horse needs an intermediate or advanced rider, believe it and move on.
- Hyper horses. Words such as “spirited,” “has a lot of go,” “barrel prospect,” “needs strong rider,” “needs quiet rider” should serve as red flags!
- Horses that aren’t well-trained enough. Code words include “great prospect,” or “in training," “well started,” “needs finishing,” “ready to start,” and “will mature to X” should be avoided.
- Horses that have health or soundness problems mentioned in the ad. If the horse has a lameness issue (abnormal gait or stance), requires intense maintenance, (expensive joint supplements, joint injections, pricey ulcer medication, etc.) that you will not want to continue or one that has a tendency to suffer from illnesses such as colic. You need to be aware and understand the reality of the conditions.
**Getting a pre-purchase veterinarian exam is a great way to rule out some of these things that may not be disclosed by seller and/or not obvious to the untrained eye.**
Good Traits to Look For.
- Horses with a good temperament. Phrases such as “bombproof,” “quiet,” “steady,” and “calm.” are usually a good sign. In search functions that have a scale of 1-10 where 10 is the most spirited, you want to look for something close to a 1 and no more than a 5. Keep in mind that most horse sellers exaggerate, so if they say he’s an 8, he’s probably really a 10–too much horse for a first-time horse buyer.
- Horses that are well-trained. Look for a “proven youth horse” that “anyone can ride.” Sellers may exaggerate, but at least you can start with horses advertised as being safe.
Choose ads for horses that you think might be suitable, and run them by your instructor. Based upon the instructor’s comments, you can help narrow your search and develop more specific criteria, then develop a list of horses to call and inquire about. Just like buying a used car, buying a horse involves a degree of creativity in interpreting the text of an ad. Trust your instincts–if you don’t like the answers to your questions, the owner is unresponsive, or doesn’t answer your questions fully and openly, don’t waste your time by going out to look at the horse. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you are a first time horse buyer–any seller who treats you rudely or speaks condescendingly to you is not someone from whom you want to buy a horse.
- Proof. Before you make a trip to see the horse you are interested in, request videos that include the horse doing the basics at minimum, (walk, trot, lope, walk, stop, back). If they are advertised as a performance horse, request videos of the horse in action. If they are hesitant, take that as a hint. Also, request photos of the horse without the saddle in order that you can see an honest representation of what the horse looks like. For example, if you intend to compete on your horse, good confirmation, (short back, long underline, good legs, strong hind-end) will be incredibly beneficial.
Trying a Horse: Let Your Instincts Be Your Guide.
When you go to look at a horse, even a novice can tell a lot before anyone even rides the horse! Does the horse walk quietly, wait patiently for them to tie it up? Does the horse stand still for grooming and saddling, or does it swing its body all over the place? Does the horse wait quietly for the seller to tighten the girth and mount, or does it step off just as the seller is putting her foot in the stirrup? Does it pin its ears and wring its tail, or does it wait patiently for the seller to mount up? Keep in mind that whichever horse you end up choosing should allow you to do the following: Catch them in their pasture/stall, halter and lead easily, tie safely, be groomed, allow you to pick out their hooves, saddle, bridle and mount the horse. The best way to know if you will be able to do these things? Ride the horse for yourself. Allow the seller to ride the horse first, of course, and let your instructor check the horse over but do not leave with the horse without trying him/her for herself.
If the horse shows signs that they will not work for you from that first experience, move on to the next one!
Making It Official.
If you find the ideal horse that fits the criteria, make sure to have cash in hand. You might be able to negotiate on price but assume you will be paying full price until you know otherwise. More-so, make sure you have travel arrangements in place. If you do not own a trailer, you will need to pay someone reliable to haul for you.
Remember! Do Not Settle.
If you show up to see the horse and they are obviously sweating as if someone just wore them down, seem "out of it" as if they have been drugged to keep them calm, or are just not as advertised... DO NOT SETTLE! There are too many amazing horses out there to end up with something that is dangerous/not what you want. You will find the horse that best fits you.
It Worked Out.... Get It in Writing!
After you have negotiated the purchase price, enter into a horse purchase contract or Bill of Sale with the seller. Your purchase contract should clearly state the terms of your purchase, including any representations and warranties that the seller has made about the horse. We offer a variety of purchase forms that you can download and complete.
We wish you the very best of luck in finding a horse to become a member of your family! If you need help, do not hesitate to contact us!