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Horse of your dreams, or your worst night mare?

The seedy side of horse sales

Horse of your dreams, or your worst night mare?
Finding the perfect horse shouldn’t be impossible

HQ has researched the ways in which fraudulent practices affect the equine industry and this article provides information on the most common problems, plus advice on how to avoid potential disappointment when purchasing a horse.

Horse of your dreams or your worst nightmare?
Horse of your dreams or your worst nightmare?

False representation

The most common types of fraud in the equine industry include altering the animal’s personality for a period of time to mask behavioural issues, deadening pain receptors to mask lameness or muscle pain, and substituting one horse for another after a sale or in competitions, often referred to as using a ‘ringer’. In terms of misrepresentations made during sales, buyers are particularly vulnerable to fraud when buying horses advertised on the internet.

Legal standpoint

Legally horse sales are considered to be ‘as is’ and ‘buyer beware’. There is no cooling-off period in horse sales where the buyer can rescind the purchase, unless such a clause is included in a written contract. However, the law does not give a seller carte blanche to cheat a buyer and, if fraud can be proven, there are legal remedies.
To quote Equine Legal Solutions in the United States, “Fraud is present when a seller intentionally makes a false representation to the buyer.”

Ask questions

The potential buyer needs to ask many, many questions of the seller and should document the answers in writing. A seller is obligated to tell the truth if a specific question is asked, so it is wise to have another, experienced horse owner along when looking at an animal. Equine Legal Solutions has a free online horse-buying checklist that provides a comprehensive set of questions to ask and spaces to record the answers.

In South Africa the most common types of fraudulent practices regarding the sale of horses include advertising a horse as a specific breed when the animal is not registered with the breed organisation acknowledged by the South African government; stating that the horse can be registered when he cannot; selling a horse who has been injected with a substance that provides long-term, mild sedation that masks personality disorders; selling a horse who has soundness issues that have been masked in some fashion; advertising a horse with photographs or videos of another animal; making claims about the horse’s ability that are false; and substituting one horse for another after a sale has been concluded.

Taking precautions

Get a qualified veterinarian to do a thorough pre-purchase examination

The seller should verify ownership of an adult horse by asking to see the registration certificate(s). If the seller cannot produce the certificate, if the seller is not the recorded owner, or if the description on the certificate does not match the horse in question, the buyer should be extremely cautious.

If the buyer is satisfied that the horse is registered and owned by the seller, he should have a qualified equine veterinarian do a thorough pre-purchase examination. This examination should include collection and storage of blood, so that if the animal’s personality changes dramatically or he suddenly becomes lame after the sale, the presence of foreign substances in the blood prior to the sale can be documented.

Be informed

The intelligent horse buyer will be well informed about the breed of horse and the discipline he is interested in. He will ask many questions regarding all aspects of the horse: behaviour in the show ring or on outrides, behaviour for the farrier, show history, soundness history, and the like. The buyer should take photographs, try the horse out thoroughly in a variety of situations, get a thorough vet check, make sure the purchase agreement is in writing, get all of the paperwork, check with the relevant discipline association to confirm any representation of success in that discipline, and do a thorough check on the seller by word of mouth.

Good reputation

There are many reputable breeders and trainers who have outstanding horses for sale
There are many reputable breeders and trainers who have outstanding horses for sale

The equestrian community in South Africa is very small and individuals who consistently misrepresent animals are known to many. While people are reluctant to put opinions of others in writing or to speak negatively in front of witnesses, many will talk in private. In addition, what is not said about a seller can be much more informative than what is said.

There are many reputable breeders, trainers and owners who have outstanding horses for sale and who represent these animals honestly. It is in their best interest to maintain a good reputation because of the potential for future transactions. Buyers need to be especially diligent when purchasing an animal from a friend or relative, because misunderstandings can lead to animosity and loss of trust.


Buying a horse can either be a very positive experience or a nightmare. Being exceptionally cautious and documenting every aspect of the transaction can ensure that the horse purchased will be the right animal for the tasks the owner wants him to perform.

Text: Deborah-Ann Buchan

The full article appears in the May issue of HQ.