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Advice on buying a horse

Buying a horse is a serious long-term commitment, it is both time consuming and financially expensive. If you are thinking of buying your first horse or adding to your existing horses there are a few things you need to consider.

Initial considerations

  • If this is your first horse, do you have the time for such a big commitment? Owning a horse can be very rewarding but you will need to make sure you have the time and energy to care for and exercise your horse every day.

  • If you are adding to existing horses, another one will obviously take more time, can you spare the time to care for an extra horse?

  • Where will your horse be kept? Are you lucky enough to be able to keep your horse at home, if not you will need to consider livery charges, this can be one of the biggest monthly outlays you will need to make. If you are already at a livery yard, does it have the space for your extra horse, don’t just presume as you already have one there that the livery will be able to accommodate it.

  • Can you afford to keep a horse? You may find a horse for sale that is reasonably inexpensive but ongoing costs can be high e.g. insurance, vet bills, shoeing etc.

Deciding on a horse

If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, particularly if this is your first horse, you need to consider what type of horse you are looking for:

  • Will the horse just be ridden by you or will it also be ridden by members or your family or friends. You will have to take into consideration all potential riders ages and abilities.

  • You should be realistic about your own abilities, what are you capable of handling / riding. A flashy thoroughbred may look appealing but if you only want the occasional fun ride / hack a less temperamental breed may be more suitable for you.

  • Do you have the time, patience and skill to bring on an inexperienced horse or do you need one that is a little older and more established.

  • If you are already an experienced rider, do you want to compete, and if so do you want to compete right away, choose your horse accordingly. 

  • Make a list of ‘deal breakers’ This could be anything from price or build to age, if there are things you are not willing to budge on write them down and stick to them, also write a list of things you are willing to compromise on and take the lists with you when you go to view a horse.

  • When searching for your horse make sure you read the advert thoroughly, look out for phrases like ‘ not a novice ride’ this horse will obviously not be suitable for an inexperienced rider and you should discount horses that do not fit into your ‘deal breaker’ ideals. Ask around and work out what you should be paying for the kind of horse you require, be wary of anything that looks under-priced.

Contacting the seller

Once you have found a horse you are interested in, call the seller and ask plenty of questions, by asking the right questions you may well save yourself a wasted journey viewing a horse that is not suitable for you. A genuine seller will not mind these questions as they will obviously want to find the best home for the horse.

Things you may want to ask about are:

  • The horse’s experience and capability

  • The horse’s temperament

  • How long has it been with the current owners and why is it being sold

  • Do the owners have the full history of the horse

  • Is it good to hack, both alone and in company

  • Is it good in traffic

  • Is it good with the farrier, clippers and if going into livery stables, is it good with other horses

  • Can you take it out in a horsebox or trailer on your own

  • How often does it need riding, will it start to misbehave if you cannot ride it every day

  • If you wish to compete with the horse, does it have a competition record and if so what has it achieved with the present owners

  • If a relatively young horse, what do they think the horse’s potential is

Arranging a viewing

Now you have found a horse you think may be suitable, arrange a viewing and try it out. Try and take someone with you, preferably someone with good equestrian knowledge, this could save you from making an expensive mistake. If this is not possible take a friend and get them to video you interacting with and riding the horse, showing the video to someone with equestrian knowledge can be as helpful as taking them with you.

Take your list of deal breakers and compromises and stick to it. It can be difficult to be objective when the horse you think you want is in front of you, viewing the video at home can help you to be a little more impartial, but if it doesn’t meet your ideals you may find yourself landed with a horse you cannot ride / handle and you may be giving yourself future problems which, with a little common sense, could have been avoided. A video can also help you to recall each horse if you are looking at more than one.

When viewing, things you may want to consider are:

  • Generally first impressions count and you should trust your own judgement, this includes first impressions of the seller as well as the horse.

  • Take a quick look around the horses stable and watch the behaviour when they are tied up, being groomed, rugged and turned out, are there any signs of vices such as a chewed door or a weave grill in place.

  • Ask to see the horse trotted and take a good look at its feet to see how it is shod

  • Has the horse been worked to calm it down before your arrival, are there sweat marks visible, a lack of water in the horses box should ring alarm bells, sadly it is not uncommon for a seller to subdue a horse with a flighty temperament, dehydration and poor fitness can mask a highly strung horses temperament. If you have any doubts, question the seller, if they cannot offer what seems a reasonable explanation there may be a problem

  • Ask the seller to ride the horse before you try, if they seem reluctant to do so it may indicate a problem.

  • The advert may have said ‘good to load, clip, shoe and in traffic, don’t assume this is true, try loading the horse yourself and test the reaction towards clippers, it is not unreasonable to ask to come back on a day when the horse is being shod to see how it behaves with the farrier.

  • You may have to go out of your way a little but find a road with traffic to ride the horse on.

  • The seller should also be asking you lots of questions, a genuine seller will want to make sure that you are a suitable new owner for their horse. Be wary of a disinterested seller. 

Do's and don'ts

Different people will give varied advice when it comes to buying a horse so here is a basic list of Do’s and Don’ts:

Do

  • Ask if the horse is on any medication or supplements, if it is find out why and how long the horse has been taking them.

  • Think carefully about buying a horse that has ‘potential’ it may work in your favour but you should be prepared for things not working out the way you had hoped.

  • Try to ride the horse in different environments and, if possible more than once.

  • Ask as many questions as you want, it is a big decision and no question is too small or irrelevant.

  • Contact any previous owners to see if the details the current owner has given match up, any previous owner details should be in the passport.

  • Have a pre purchase vetting, don’t feel pressured to agree to anything if the seller says the horse may be sold during the waiting time.

  • Look out for dealers posing as private sellers, buying from a private seller gives you fewer rights so some unscrupulous dealers may pose as private sellers. Tell tale signs include things like not knowing in depth details about the horse or its background.

  • Trust your instincts, if something doesn’t feel quite right or you don’t trust someone from the start, walk away.

Don't

  • Waste your time considering inappropriate horses, this also comes back to you being realistic about your abilities, you should have made your checklist, stick to it.

  • Buy the first horse you see, you may think its ‘the one’ but there are plenty out there, shop around, this will also give you a feel for the price you should be paying.

  • Buy a horse that you cannot sit on or bridle yourself unless you are very experienced.

  • Buy a horse that scares you thinking you will get used to it, if you do not feel confident or comfortable getting on it look elsewhere.

  • Buy a horse unseen.

  • Part with money over the internet.

  • Agree to anything you are not comfortable with, this includes feeling rushed into an agreement.

  • Buy a horse from a sale or a market unless you are very experienced.

  • Shop with your heart, although this can be tricky, using your head may save you from making a very costly mistake. 

Final considerations

You have found a horse that you love and it has passed the vetting, there are a few last considerations you need to remember:

  • Ask to see the passport again and check the details to make sure it matches the description of the horse in question and there have been no alterations made, you must then transfer the ownership details within 30 days.

Remember the passport should be handed over at the time of the sale (or transfer of ownership) it is illegal for a horse to be sold without a passport. 

  • When agreeing the final contract it may be worth asking for a trial period, this will allow you sometime with the horse to see if you are a good pairing, not all sellers will agree to this but it is worth asking.

  • Negotiate on the final price, most sellers will expect this unless they state ‘no offers’ on the advert.

  • You could ask for the tack and rugs to be thrown in, again you don’t know if you don’t ask.

  • Once you have come to a verbal agreement get it in writing.

  • Always ask for a written receipt and ask the seller to write on it what the horse is suitable for e.g. a child’s first pony, a novice ride etc

  • Once you have purchased the horse, get it insured immediately for your own peace of mind.

Once you have your new horse home you will need to let them settle in, moving is a big change and one they will need time to get used to:

  • Don’t expect too much too soon, set yourself and your horse small goals to start with giving the necessary praise when they are achieved. Small steps will help ensure you and your horse have a good future together.

  • Don’t try anything new with them yet, the seller should have explained to you what the horse is used to and what they have achieved so far, it is best to stick to the familiar for the first few months. 

  • Spend time getting to know them, your horse needs to trust you just as much as you need to trust them.

Sharing and loaning a horse

Should you decide that keeping a horse is too expensive for you there is always the option of sharing, some horse owners may find themselves with less time or money than previously and would welcome someone to share the workload and the bills.

Most equestrian magazines and websites will have a horse for loan / share section. Word of mouth can be a good way to find a sharer or an advert in a local tack shop. Talking to a potential sharer may feel like an interview but the owner will obviously want to know their horse is in good hands on the days that you have it. Because sharing usually involves the horse remaining at its current yard it can be less problematic than a full loan.

A shared horse remains in the ownership of the current owner who will decide the days and times the horse will be available for riding. Obviously there has to be a degree of flexibility and the schedule should be reasonable. The owner will retain the right to sell the horse but any sharing / loan agreement with the owner should be terminated first.

If you decide this is a better route for you make sure you have the sharing terms and conditions in writing. There is a sharing contract available on the British Horse Society website which can be downloaded free, the agreement can be adapted to suit your needs and will ensure each person knows the scope of their responsibilities. 

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