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See what the horse is like on the ground by walking him around in-hand

Choosing a competition horse

[dropcap]C[/dropcap]hoosing a competition horse can be a daunting prospect, as there are so many horses out there and loads of factors to consider like age, breeding, conformation, temperament and experience. Buying a horse requires a huge investment in time, money and emotion, so you need to get it right if you want a successful partnership. With creatures as beautiful as horses, it’s easy to let our hearts rule our heads, so some planning and forethought is necessary before you start your search.

Look at yourself first

You need to be honest about your abilities and expectations, so that you have a clear idea of what you’re looking for and so that you can find a suitable match. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What kind of rider are you? Are you novice or experienced, nervous or brave?
  • Are you looking for an all-rounder or will you focus on a particular discipline?
  • Are you willing and capable of bringing on a young or inexperienced horse or do you need something that’s going?
  • Do you prefer a hot horse or would you like something quieter that you can also hack out on?
  • Will you want to sell him on in the future?
  • What are your deal-breakers?

It doesn’t matter how good the horse is, you have to get on with him and he has to suit your needs.

See what the horse is like on the ground by walking him around in-hand


While the idea of a young horse is attractive, they require more input and you have to be prepared to take him slowly up the grades. Age is not in itself a reliable indicator of training and experience. Some young horses are far more sensible than older ones, and their more experienced counterparts may not necessarily have been brought on in a way that suits your riding. Generally speaking, it’s a good idea to get a horse who is currently competing in your chosen discipline at the level at which you want to compete. Don’t take on a 13-year-old horse who has been competing at Prelim dressage his whole life and think you’re going to turn him into a Grand Prix dressage horse or Open showjumper. If you do buy a horse in his teens you will probably get a good few years out of him, but be prepared to look after him in his retirement as he’ll be difficult to sell on.

Sticking to the budget

Be committed to what you do and don’t want and don’t settle for just any horse

Many sellers will be prepared to negotiate on the asking price depending on a variety of factors, such as how long the horse has been on the market, how well he vets and even if they feel you’ll provide him with a good home. Consult with your instructor about whether you think the price is fair. If you really like the horse and he is well-priced, you may not want to negotiate. You shouldn’t insult the seller by offering more than 20% less than the asking price. When you work out your budget, remember to factor in your instructor’s commission, the vetting, and the price of kitting out your new purchase with tack, boots and blankets. Don’t rely on making a profit if you want to sell the horse on later, as horses are unpredictable.

Dos and don’ts when buying

  • Don’t even inquire about a horse unless there’s a possibility you could buy him.
  • Don’t look at horses who are priced over your budget.
  • Don’t try to negotiate the price of the horse before you have even seen him.
  • Do let the owner ride the horse before you do. If you don’t like the look of the horse, there is no obligation for you to get on.
  • Don’t be afraid of offending the owner if you decide the horse isn’t right for you. Tell them as soon as possible and move on.
  • Do check the horse’s show record if he is already competing.
  • Do check his temperament on the ground, such as easy handling and loading.
  • Don’t be pressured by a seller who tells you that another prospective buyer is making an offer. If someone else does actually buy the horse before you are ready to make an offer, you will find another horse.
  • Do ask if you can try the horse in your own arena after you’ve ridden him the first time to see how he goes in unfamiliar surroundings. You may even be able to take him on trial for a few days.

Text: Jan Tucker

The full article appears in the February issue (119) of HQ > Shop now