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Buying a horse – some dos and don’ts!

By Rhiannon Cecil

Whether you’ve bought a horse before, own more than one horse, or are thinking about buying a horse for the first time, taking the purchase plunge is a huge decision. The horse market is fraught with scammers and chancers, and sellers will often resort to every trick in the book, making commissions their bottom line, often at the expense of the buyer. When making decisions of this magnitude, it always makes sense to consult as many experts as you need, but opinions differ; if you don’t have an idea in your own mind of what you’re looking for, you may find you end up with a mountain of conflicting information.

Some do’s

The journey of purchasing a horse is different for everyone, but there are some basic guidelines to bear in mind to ensure you actually end up with the horse you think you’re getting. Always make sure your coach is with you for every step of this process. Horse, rider and coach form a unique team that needs a level of trust and synergy to work. Decide what your goals are with your new horse, and make sure you communicate them to your coach so you’re on the same page from the outset.

  1. Be realistic

Not just about your goals but about your ability as a rider. Choosing the perfect horse for you isn’t just about spending as much money as you can. If you’re a novice rider, an open horse may seem like a good idea on paper, as he would be able to show you the ropes, but open horses are generally more complex to ride than they look; professional riders just make them look easy. Think about a horse that’s suitable for your level yet challenging enough that you keep learning and growing.

  1. Know what you want

Of course, if you’re even considering buying a horse, you have a general idea of what you want. In all likelihood, you have an image of the perfect horse in your mind, and you’ve already pictured yourself bonding with him. It helps, though, to have a more specific idea of what you would like your new horse to do for you. Think about this carefully, and write a list of goals you’d like to achieve with your new partnership. Be sure to include the big and small; anything from being able to go on a relaxed hack around the block to winning in the show ring belongs on this list. Taking a few moments to look into the future can help you eliminate unsuitable matches.

  1. Temperament first

Finding the most talented, most beautiful horse in the world is one thing, but if he has a questionable temperament, his other virtues quickly become less important. As lovely as it is to have an impressive-looking horse that just oozes potential, the most important ingredient in a new horse-and-rider-partnership is the connection. Ask yourself what kind of rider you are. Are you nervous in the saddle, or are you a bit of a risk-taker? Do you expect a lot from a horse or a little? Are you competitive? Then, physically, what areas do you struggle with in your riding? Do you have hard hands or an unbalanced seat, for example? All of these factors play a role in choosing the horse most likely to complement your style.

If you’re nervous or a novice, a kind, steady temperament is crucial, and if you’re a bit of an adrenaline junkie, perhaps you prefer a more spirited ride. If you’re a competitive perfectionist, you need a horse who can handle the pressure. If you’re an amateur rider, no one expects you to just be able to get on any horse and ride him, and investing in a horse is a massive responsibility. No one wants to pay through the nose and end up hating every ride because of something as innocuous as a personality clash.

  1. Keep an open mind

As we said before, we all have this ideal stamp of a horse in our minds from the outset, which is great, but be careful of limiting yourself. A mindset such as “my horse has to be a Warmblood,” or “I’m only interested in geldings” puts you on the back foot before you even start looking. If a horse looks like it meets your general criteria, refusing to look at him because of some arbitrary limitation is doing both yourself and the horse a disservice, and you could miss out on something really special. Some of the most successful horses in the world came as a complete surprise to owners and riders alike.

  1. Try as many horses as you can

As long as it’s safe and you feel comfortable, keep an open mind when riding potential horses. You may have it in your mind that you want a schoolmaster; ride that young horse anyway. You may have it in your mind you need a small horse; ride the big horse anyway. Ride the Thoroughbred, the Warmblood, and the Boerperd. Ride the older horse and the one with the big ears; ride every horse that fits your basic criteria. Firstly, this process will give you a firm idea of what you don’t want. Second, it’s excellent for your riding, and third, you never know when that magical connection is going to happen. Be warned, you may end up with a totally different horse to the one you had in mind initially, but it will be worth it.

Even if you fall in love with the first horse you try, ride some other horses, too, just to be sure. It’s an unwritten rule that you never buy the first horse you try, but this isn’t strictly true. He could be perfect, and you might end up buying him, but again, don’t limit yourself. There is nothing wrong with taking your time and being completely sure about what you want. Sellers shouldn’t mind the process either, as in theory, they should be just as invested in the horse’s future as you are.

Some don’ts when buying a horse

  1. Don’t buy a horse without a vetting

Vetting a horse can be expensive, especially if you want in-depth information about what you’re buying. If this is the case, you will want to x-ray his back and legs and do a full panel of drug tests to rule out the use of painkillers or calming agents when you came to try him. The sad fact is when people are highly motivated to sell a horse, there is a chance they will resort to unethical practices. If you’re buying a horse with the aim of high-level competition, full vetting is also recommended, despite the price. At the very least, get a vet out to do a simple vetting and check for lameness, pain, and any other chronic issues.

Note: There are hardly any horses that receive a perfect veterinary report. Vetting a horse isn’t simply to eliminate him from your purchase pool but rather to have a full understanding of the care and maintenance he will need to perform at his best. Of course, there are conditions that preclude certain horses from being viable purchase options, and your vet will explain these to you in detail should the occasion arise.

  1. Don’t fall for dealer tricks and commission chasers 

Commission on the sale of a horse is a powerful incentive for horse dealers to move a horse on as quickly as possible. As a result, sometimes, the horse you sit on at the trial is not an accurate representation of the horse you’ll be taking home. Keep your wits about you when trying horses in different settings, and be sure to eliminate the following possibilities:

  • The horse has worked hard before you come and ride him. This often happens when you come and try a horse for the first time, and sellers are not entirely to blame. If they don’t know you as a rider, it makes sense they would err on the side of caution when you come, in case the horse proves to be too much for you. If the first ride goes well, request the horse stays in your yard for a few days so you can see him without being worked first.
  • Bad habits are disguised by moving the horse to another stable. Few people will take a chance on a horse with vices such as weaving or wind-sucking. When you come and try a horse, and he is already standing at the mounting block waiting for you, it could just be good manners on behalf of the seller. It could also be something more sinister. Be sure to ask to see the horse in hand and in the stable, so you have a better idea of what to expect when he isn’t under saddle.
  1. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured

Everyone is telling you the horse is perfect for you and that you aren’t going to find a better horse in your price range, but you just have that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that something is off. Despite what everyone is telling you, deep down, you would rather look around some more, but you don’t feel comfortable saying so. After all, you don’t want to come across as one of those ‘tricky’ clients, right? Wrong. Remember, at the end of the day, it’s your money, and while other opinions are valuable, the final decision is yours. Saying no can be awkward when you’re being showered in compliments and told you’re going to win a Grand Prix, but play the long game here. Don’t spend a lot of money on something you aren’t completely sure about.

A few more purchase pointers

  1. Take your potential horse on an outride before you buy him. You don’t want any nasty surprises the first time you want to hack around the block.
  2. Consult your farrier and get their opinion on the horse’s feet and any potential shoeing issues that may arise.
  3. Check the horse’s show records and look for patterns such as eliminations at a certain height or on a certain surface, regular scratchings, and multiple owners with below-average results.
  4. If possible, observe the horse in a show environment.
  5. Have a close look at his stable for signs of kicking, wind-sucking, or crib biting.

Enjoy the journey

Buying a horse is a journey in itself; one that can be extremely rewarding as you search for your perfect equine partner. Remember, we are all here because we adore these amazing animals. If you are looking for a horse, enjoy every moment of the search and best of luck. We can’t wait to see your new partnership develop.