December 18, 2017

How To Buy A Horse

            You want a horse! Or your kid wants a horse. Or your husband/wife/partner/friend/ acquaintance wants a horse. What should you do to make sure the right one is purchased the first time? Or does it really matter what horse you get? Horses can be trained to do anything, right?  Wrong! Here’s some information to help you on your way to horse owner bliss.

1.         Decide what you want to do with your horse. This will tell you what kind of horse to buy. Pretend you were buying a car. Let’s say you want something large enough for the whole family, a 100 lb. dog and 10 bags of groceries. You certainly wouldn’t buy a 2-seater Porsche just because you liked the color!  You would probably look for a station wagon or SUV. The same principle applies to horses. If you want a Show Jumper you shouldn’t buy a 15 hand, 1200 lb quarter horse that’s lame on one leg. You would look for a 17 hand Warmblood that was already jumping at least 3-4 feet. 

            So decide what you want- Training style and level, size, gender, age, breed, color, registered or not, and what level of experience the horse requires. Then, make a checklist. Start with a list of things you must have, like must be good on trail or jump 3’6′. Then move on to things you want, like 16 hands tall or have a good flying lead change. Then lastly things that would be nice but you can live without such as color (Palomino, Black or Buckskin Overo).  

2.         Find horses- With the internet you have many, many places to look at horses before you buy them. YouTube is full of horses for sale along with web sites like DreamHorse,, and many more. You should also check with trainers, bulletin boards at stables, show arenas, feed and pet stores, equine vets and farriers. If you have friends who have horses, contact them as well. Put the word out on your Facebook page, LinkedIn, Twitter or any other social networks you may use. Make a list of potential horses to call about.

3.         How to make first contact with owners- Call the owner of any perspective horses on your list and ask about the items on your must have list.  If they don’t meet the minimum requirements pass and move on to the next one. If they do, ask about the want list. If they meet most of those requirements the go to the last part of your list. Rate the horse based on the information received over the phone and decide which ones you will go look at.

4.         Go Look at Horses- Make an appointment and give yourself at least 2 hours per horse. It will take that much time to properly  evaluate each horse. Bring your check list. You should  now have two lists- one that you used for the phone calls and one for the in-person evaluation. Watch the owner/trainer take the horse from the stall or pasture, lead, tie, groom, saddle and perhaps lunge or round-pen the horse. Evaluate the horses manners and conformation. If it’s all good watch the horse being ridden. Then ride the horse yourself. (If you don’t have enough experience to ride and properly evaluate your prospective horse, you aren’t ready to purchase one. Look into a good lesson program until you have the necessary skills.) It’s a good idea to take video or pictures of the horse because they will all become a blur after you have looked at a few (dozen). Video can be especially helpful because you can show it to your trainer or an experienced friend to help you make your decision.

5.         Narrow down the choices- If all went well the on the first look. Call the owner back and set up as second date to see the horse or perhaps a short-term lease if the owner is willing. Go see the horse again and bring a knowledgeable friend or trainer who has no vested interest in you buying the horse. They will be able to give you an impartial opinion about the horse. This is important because you already like this horse and will make excuses for its shortcomings. Your trainer should  discourage you from buying a horse that is clearly wrong for you. However, your trainer doesn’t have the final say, yes or no. Their job is to give you information about the horse you didn’t have. It is ultimately your decision.  

             If after the second look everyone likes the horse, confirm a price with the owner, pay a refundable deposit and sign a purchase agreement. The purchase agreement outlines the details such as description of the horse, price, etc. and gives you a set number of days/weeks to complete the agreed upon additional evaluations, vet checks and finalize the deal. It also requires the owner to maintain the current work, feed, and care program for an agreed upon length of time and effectively holds the horse for you. If the owner won’t agree to this, pass and move on to another horse.

               Now it’s time to set up a pre-purchase exam by your veterinarian. If the horse is too far away for your vet to do the exam, have them refer you to someone in the area. If possible, do not use the sellers vet. Most vets would not do a pre-purchase exam for their own client because it’s a conflict of interest. Remember, the vet check is not a pass or fail thing. Just like your trainer, the vet is there to give you information about the horse so you can make an informed decision.

6.         Finalize the deal- After the vet check is complete, contact the owner and finalize the agreement. If something came up during the vet check, you may need to change the terms, perhaps lowering your offer. Agree on the price, type of payment, who the payment should be made to, amounts paid to brokers, trainers or any third parties. Arrange a pick-up date and time. Make your transportation plans. Make sure you have a bill of sale along with all the necessary paperwork including- Copies of health certificates if the horse if being transported across state lines, registration papers, transfers, breeding certificates, complete health records, show records, Incentive Fund paperwork and copies of payments.  Make sure all the paperwork is signed by the appropriate parties. Also, pick up any tack that is being sold with the horse.

            Welcome to the world of horse ownership! It’s a crazy journey that will keep you on your toes, but it is well worth the time, energy and patience it took to get the right one. Have a great ride!

What do you do when you go looking for a new horse? Help us all be better owners by adding your tips and comments below!

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  1. What’s next? See the blog post- How much does it cost to own a horse.

  2. Great article, Cheryl. Something every horse buyer could benefit from knowing.

    If you expand or update it in the future I would like to see you include another checklist for the first-time buyer— one that covers a pre-purchase Cost of Ownership Assessment. Many first-time buyers do not have a detailed understanding of what it actually cost to own and properly maintain a horse nowadays, especially those in urban areas. I think first-timers benefit from having a realistic understanding of annualized expenses for hay/grain, nutritional supplements, veterinary fees, training fees, board (if used), farrier, tack/supplies, insurance, showing (if that is their primary interest), and of course unexpected/emergency expenses such as a major surgery. Each year I get quite a few inquiries from families interested in making a first time purchase and they have not taken any of this into consideration. Many are taken back when I give them a detailed COO assessment for their area and situation. This is especially hard on those who live in heavily populated urban areas which in my opinion have a higher than average COO. Many are so wrapped up in the emotion and potential joy of having their own horse, which is understandable – we’ve all been there! — they do not consider these basics until after the purchase. Too late for some they soon realize they cannot afford to keep or show the animal in the manner they had hoped to do. Of course as breeders we want them to experience the excitement, joy, and good therapeutic value that owning a good horse brings, but first-timers really need to know the level of commitment needed. This is especially important for those with modest means.

    I enjoyed the article and appreciate you for taking the time to write and share it.

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