BUYING A HORSE
As Iím sure we are all
aware, buying a horse can be an extremely difficult and frustrating
experience, and whist experience is certainly an advantage finding
the right horse can be a minefield.
you put it in perspective, itís not surprising that it is hard to
find the right horse. Itís a bit like you meeting someone for the
first time and having to decide if they would be a good long term
partner. To make things harder you only have an hour to make your
decision and its love at first sight; the perfect body and cutest
smile. Your subject is in familiar surroundings, being very relaxed
and extremely polite. Now whilst this may be looking great, would
you really want to make a serious long term decision based on a one
hour chat? You could be lucky, but how much can you really find out
about someoneís personality and behaviour in such a limited time?
Unfortunately buying a horse
can present a similar scenario. We generally donít have much time
and are often under pressure to make decisions both for, and against
the purchase that are influenced by such things as, emotion, ego,
price, and convenience.
I often inspect and give advice on the suitability of horses
that are for sale. The most important thing is to try to match the
horse to the rider while making sure the horse is suitable for its
intended use. Whilst all horses can generally do most things to some
degree, they are like humans or dogs in that they will often have a
particular talent. You can make life much easier for yourself by
working with natural ability. For example if you had the choice; you
wouldnít choose a
to work sheep, or a Boarder Collie to lead the
blind. Similarly, you
generally wouldnít choose a thoroughbred straight off the track
for you child to take to Pony Club!
Iíve put together a few rules, some criteria and a bit of a
check list which might be helpful when choosing your next horse.
Be honest with yourself
about you own ability. Donít let your ego, heart or your child
talk you into a horse that may look fantastic, but is simply too
Itís sometimes a reality
check, but you wouldnít buy a formula one racing car to drive the
kids to school.
Match the experience.
This is where many go
wrong! The general rule here is that green horses need
experienced riders and green riders need
Match the size. Be
realistic about size and power. If you donít need a big and
powerful horse, donít go there.
can be very important,
as an experienced rider or professional trainer can often make a
difficult horse well behaved and easy to ride. The potential problem
here is that in less capable hands this horse may well deteriorate.
This is in no way a criticism of good horsemen; it is simply a fact
that you need to be aware of in order to make appropriate enquiries
Remember the first impressions may not last. Where possible
spend the time to go back several times if possible. Even a couple
of visits on the one day may bring out some alternate behaviour.
You donít really want the horse saddled and warmed up before
you arrive. You want to watch
the owner catch, tack and ride first. Watch everything that
happens and ensure that the owner can do all that you require with
the horse. If youíre not completely satisfied with a particular
result, then ask for that task to be repeated or expanded on.
Donít avoid issues! Thatís exactly what youíre looking for!
You want to see what happens if confronted and I am always a bit
sceptical of excuses for poor behaviour or work. Remember
this is probably as good as it gets, the horse is still in his
Confirm that the horse ties up!
Confirm that YOU can then re-saddle the horse and put
his bridle on and off without a problem.
.Confirm that the horse will stand still. Having
untied the horse, ensure he will stand still whilst you again adjust
the saddle. If all is going well and you feel comfortable move the horse to
somewhere suitable and prepare to mount. It is important that he is
relaxed and stands still whilst you mount. If you are not completely
happy, repeat it. Get on and off several times to confirm you are
both happy at that point.
Ride the horse
taking all the time you need to get relaxed and comfortable with
him. Some people may be intimidated by riding in front of others,
but it is really important that you get relaxed and confident with
the horse. Ensure that the horse is moving freely and responding to
your basic aids.
Where possible, try the horse outside his comfort
zone. When you are confident, you could ask to ride him out
and away from the normal work area. (If youíre not confident then
you shouldnít buy the horse!) If itís practical and youíre
getting serious about wanting the horse; you might try floating him
down the road to the local showground or a
similar area. It would be a courtesy if you wanted to try something
like this, to organise and plan it with the person selling the horse
prior to your arrival.
Put the horse under a bit of pressure
to work properly. By this I mean to push him and be a bit demanding,
donít just let him plod around in the same circle for ten minutes.
It is not until you start to push a horse a bit that they may start
to object. The pressure you need to put the horse under is relevant
to your experience, his experience and what you intend doing with
him. You simply need to be able to make the horse do what you need
without any resistance. So if all you want is a trail horse that can
walk, trot and canter without any fuss, then we want to push him to
do just that. Ask him to work just a little more that he is offering
and note his response.
If you didnít float the horse down the road in your own
float earlier, then you need to
confirm that the horse loads and floats easily. In
particular that the horse floats on the type of float you want to
You may have specific needs, such as a
horse that will be safe on the road and in traffic. Maybe youíre
an Eventer, and you need a horse that is good with water or ditches.
You may require a good heart rate or a big trot, It doest matter
what your requirements are but if theyíre important to you, then
you have to ensure the horse will be suitable for your needs.
Age and sex are
generally extremely important criteria to be considered.
Check that the horse is easy to:
worm, wash, shoe, rug
Check that the horse has no vices
such as: wind sucking, chewing fences, kicking, biting, ripping
rugs, and putting their tongue over the bit or out the side of their
Ensure that the horse is sociable
with other horses. Check that it doesnít get either intimidated or
stirred up by other horses. There is only one thing worse than a
horse that canít live in harmony with others; and thatís one
being ďhorse dependantĒ.
This is a horse that you certainly donít want, as it canít relax
or go anywhere on its own.
Ensure that the horse is
easy to fit a saddle to. If the horse has an unusually
shaped back then you may find that you will have to have a saddle
specially fitted, which may add to the cost.
Ensure that the horse has: suitable
conformation for your requirements.
How long has the owner had this
horse and why are they selling it?
Has the horse always been sound
Are there any illnesses or injuries
that the owner is aware of, that you should know about?
Has the owner ever had any bad
experiences or things that they feel you would like to know but
didnít think to ask. This puts some onus on the seller to reveal
any known issues or problems that they are aware of.
Has the horse been receiving any
professional training? If yes, for how long and why?
Is the horseís feed and water
intake normal? No special requirements.
I have tried to give you some ideas and a bit of an insight
into the way I think when buying a horse. Not all situations and
circumstances are going to be the same and so some planing is
necessary for you to make the most of your inspection opportunities.
It is always a good idea if
possible, to take someone experienced along with you to inspect the
horse. It is also generally advisable to purchase a horse subject to
a satisfactory vet check. It depends a bit on the value of the horse
and its intended use, just how extensive you need to be with a vet
An important point you need
to be aware of, is there are things that can temporarily affect the
appearance of a horseís behaviour, such as: lack of condition or
feed, recent intensive work, or an administered sedative.
All of these things have the
same effect of making a horse more relaxed and easy to handle.
As I have previously said,
where practical it is a good idea to inspect a horse on more than
one occasion. In an ideal world you would negotiate a trial period,
but this can also be impractical or unacceptable to the owner.
Like me, there is always someone ready to offer an opinion or
advice on how you should make your decision, but unfortunately no
one can guarantee the long term result. Ultimately that will be up
The overriding factors in the
considered all of the above and any other advice you may have
received; is this horse appropriate and correct for you needs?
YOU like and feel confident with the horse?
YOU feel relaxed and safe with the horse?
Lastly, Cheap is not always cheap!! As
weíve been discussing itís often hard to find the right horse. Safety
and education come at a price.
Whoever does the most homework wins