Tips you need to know when buying a horse
I am the proud owner of two beautiful horses; one I bought, Lily and one I rescued, Thunder. It took me a while to find Lily and it has been a long journey for both of us to get where we are today. The bond we have is amazing. Sadly, I see many horse owners who do not have such a relationship with their horses and it is obvious for an outsider that they were not made for each other. Horses get bought and sold all the time and it is a traumatic event for them and can be disheartening for the owners. So it is very important that the horse you buy will be one you will keep for a long time, and maybe forever.
If you are someone who has been in contact with horses only at the equitation school or pony club, then there are many things that you should keep in mind before acquiring a horse. A human can form a long lasting relationship with a horse and therefore, it becomes vital that you make your choice wisely. There are very few things more disheartening to a horse than being transferred from one owner to another because the buyer made the wrong choice.
This article is designed to give you some tips on the purchase of a horse, be the first or the tenth.
Where can I find my horse?
You can find ads in various national and local magazines but also in various local outlets like notice boards posted in produce stores, saddleries, pony clubs and riding schools.
If in Australia, Horse Deals magazine and website are highly popular. In the UK, and even in Australia, Horse and Hound website is a favourite destination for horse buyers because they can find a large variety of horses there.
If you are looking for your first horse or pony, you can collect enough information from your local equestrian centre, where you will get to know of any horses which are for immediate sale, but this is not always a fast option.
Understand that finding the horse who will become your partner might not happen overnight. It took me 3 months to discover my mare Lily.
Before you are searching the advertisements for horses, or you organise to see them, make sure that you know what you want and need. You might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- How experienced are you in riding horses?
- What is your experience in horses and horse care?
- How much time will you be able to commit to your new horse?
- Why do you need a horse for? What type of riding do you intend to do?
- Would you like to compete in some discipline?
- How much can you spend on the purchase, the tack etc?
- What breed do you like and why?
Answering these simple questions will help you define whether you are in need of a performance horse who will take you to the top of your discipline, an all rounder who is easy to take care of, or a young horse who requires much attention and training.
Once you are ready to buy your horse, be prepared to go through some hard times before you actually find the perfect pony. Since it is a decision which can affect your routine, never rush through it. Be honest with yourself and ensure that you do not fall for the wrong horse; there has been cases where people selected the wrong horse and ended up in big troubles. To avoid any heartache for both you and the horse, it is wise to choose the right horse which will ensure that you and the horse have a good connection.
One should be aware of the fact that having a horse is not a cheap exercise and you can’t send the horse back once you acquired him.
Be realistic, be honest, don’t believe everything
The person who is selling you the horse should be interested in knowing more about you because he cares about the horse and wants to ensure the horse will be looked after appropriately.
If you feel the owner is pushing you to buy the horse, then you should rethink the deal and ask yourself why the current owner wants you to buy his horse so badly.
Don’t believe everything the seller might tell you and always insist in seeing the horse for yourself.
If the horse is in a paddock, it is best that you see how the owner approaches him and catches him. This will give you an idea of how many tricks you might need to use to catch your new horse in a 50 acre paddock! Observe all his mannerisms and how well he abides to the commands. A horse might seem well-behaved when it is ridden, but he could be a totally different animal in a stable or when other activities are performed around him. As a horse owner, you should know how difficult it is to have an unruly horse, and you won’t be popular if you can’t handle your horse in public.
When you inspect a horse, be sure to check for sweat marks on his back. It is a common practice by sellers to make horses undergo stressful exercises so that they will be calmer during a test ride. You should also be aware of the amount of exercise that the horse requires, and if you see that it is something you might not be able to commit to, you might probably end up with a horse with higher levels of excitement than what you actually expected. This is especially true with young, green horses and horses off the track. These horses require a lot of handling and riding to arrive at a level satisfying to everyone.
Once at the premises of the vendor, observe how the horse reacts to humans and other horses. Inquiry about this too and see how the owner responds.
Ask the owner to walk the horse in front of you so you can look at his body to see if there is any unusual unbalance in his gait.
Check his eyes to see if they are bright and healthy. If they seem dopey or vague, it is possible the horse has some eye problems or he may have been drugged to appear calm.
Check his conformation. Good conformation will avoid musculoskeletal problems later on in life.
If you are unsure of what to look for, ask an experienced horse person to come with you. Even better, ask an equine veterinarian to accompany you. Remember that you might have to pay but it is worth the expense.
Some people like to use their own tack when trying a horse. I don’t particularly recommend this because a saddle doesn’t fit all. It is best to use the horse’s current saddle, unless, of course, the saddle doesn’t fit the horse in the first place!
Be wary if the horse is already saddled when you arrive as the current owner might be hiding some unwanted behaviour from the horse. If it is the case, unsaddle the horse and resaddle him to see for yourself.
Should I ask the owner to ride the horse first?
Yes, you should. If the seller starts to find excuses of not riding the horse then there is something wrong. One reason might be that the horse is too hard to ride. If you are experienced in judging a horse, go for it, or else inform the seller that you will attempt this purchase once he can arrange someone to ride the horse first. or maybe simply forget about this horse and look for another one. Of course, the seller might be honest and tell you straight away that they can’t handle the horse. In this case, make an informed decision whether you want to try the horse out yourself or not.
You can ask the owner to take the horse for a similar kind of exercise you will be testing the horse on so it will be much easier for you to evaluate the horse’s response. If you see that the horse is receptive to its owner’s commands better than yours, be reassured that the horse will pick it up with some good training once he gets accustomed to you. Remember that the caretaker and the horse might have a good bond and work well together. It might take sometimes for you and the horse to get used to each other.
Should I ride the horse myself?
Well, I think it would be a good idea since you will be riding him eventually. You want to have a feel for the horse and vice versa. If you don’t feel confident to ride him, bring a competent rider with you. If you are a beginner rider or one who hasn’t ridden for years, you will soon find yourself needing an instructor to help you out. Therefore, it pays to be well trained regarding the routine that you will be using to test your horse on – this will let you know if you and the horse are meant for each other.
One commonly practised routine is to walk the horse around the yard to see if the animal is actually paying attention to you. Trace a 20m circle with the horse, also checking which side he is leaning on. notice if the horse pays attention to what you are asking him to do. Repeat the procedure after changing the rein. This will help you assess which rein he is stronger on – this is not exactly a fault, but it will help finding out if the horse is attentive to your cues.
It’s now time to actually make the horse trot, paying attention to any eagerness or disinclination to move forward. It is advised to use leg aid, on contrary to what you might have studied in the riding school. It is up to you to increase the speed because you must be in control. It is not wise to let the horse taking off on his own. Try a circle while you work on both reins. Watch if the horse drops out of the trot while bending. Does it try to move forward during a canter? Are you okay with this? If you find the horse very strong, expect an even healthier horse at your house as he might have been subjected to strenuous exercises before your actual test, and therefore, it might be normally more excited.
You can then canter him on each rein if the trot feels all right. The transition should be done smoothly once you give the command.
Pay attention on how the horse collects himself. Does he throw his head up all the time? Is he on the shoulder?
Do some circle eights to test his mouth and steering. Stop him and back him up. It gives you a good idea of the softness of his mouth. Horses off the track seem to have a hard mouth as they only go straight (and fast) and stopping them can be an issue. But they can be retrained though.
If you are looking for a horse to take on jumping, test him by making him jump over a small obstacle. Notice if the horse willingly jumps or if you need to strongly push him.
If you are seeking a trail horse, then you should take the horse on a small trail, outside his comfort zone to see how he reacts to traffic, noises etc.
You should have a clear idea as to what exactly you need and how much you can cope with. Be sensible in your approach. Never go by the looks and fall for a horse that will never meet your requirements, even if he is handsome.
A good piece of advice is to stay clear of green horses if you are not an experienced horse handler. A green horse is one that has just been broken in, and in some instances may not have been ridden. As such, he needs much handling and you are likely to require the services of a professional trainer. The professional training of a horse is costly and can take a few weeks. In Australia, depending on the discipline you want your horse to be trained into, it can set you up between $200 to $500 a week. You may ask: how many weeks? I’ll answer: how long is a piece of string? Really, it depends on the trainer and the horse. On average, it is about 6 weeks. You also need to be 100% comfortable with your horse being sent away for that long. Then when he comes back, expect to continue teaching him for many months to come.
Unless you are experienced, it is wiser to go with a 8 year old horse than with a 4. A 4 year-old is still a very young horse and will require much handling, patience and plenty of exercises!
Since the horse you choose will play a strong role in many events in your life, always make sure that you make the right choice by selecting a horse that meets your needs and expectations.
Talk to the horse and listen
Don’t be afraid to touch the horse, pick up his feet and talk to him while doing this. It is important you gain a feeling of how the horse responds to you. Is the horse attentive to what you are saying? Does he follow you with his eyes? Does he point his ears towards you? If he does, he is paying attention to your movements and voice.
Ask to groom the horse to see how he reacts.
Discover the hot spots
Although you are not a vet or equine therapist, you can see if the horse has any sore spots.
Softly and slowly glide your hand all over his body starting from the base of his ear down to his hind feet. Look for signs such as putting his ears back, licking his lips, blinking, moving away from you or turning his head towards you. All these signs tell you whether the horse is sore, enjoys being touched and is communicating with you. Repeat on the other side.
Gently touch the horse all over to see if he gets frightened, especially around his eyes, ears and mouth.
An old tale says that a horse who willingly gives his feet has a good, soft mouth. I cannot confirm this for sure but in my experience, it has been true.
Pick up each foot and look for any abnormalities such as flat feet (especially prominent among Thoroughbreds who have raced), cracks and horizontal lines around the hoof. These may be signs that the horse has had hoof problems in the past. Don’t be afraid to inquire about these.
Have a close look at where the saddle sits to see if there are any patches of white hair. These show that the horse has been ridden with tack that did not fit. Although the injuries might have healed, it is possible they have caused some internal muscular damage. Firmly press your fingers along the withers and the spine to see the horse’s reaction. If he flinches, arches his back, puts his ears back or has any other marked reaction, the horse is in pain and needs the attention of a bodyworker or an equine chiropractor.
It may take a while for you to discover your dream horse but it is worth the wait. Go with an open mind and heart, as the horse you have pictured to acquire might in fact look very different. I remember a time when I went to a breeder looking for a black yearling. I left with a 4-year-old grey gelding whose sole interaction with humans was when he lost his rank of stallion.
Sometimes, it is wise to rest on an idea before taking a decision. So don’t rush and tell the owner that you are interested but you will give a definite answer in 24 hours. Go home and think of the horse for 24 hours. What does your gut feeling tell you?
Request a second visit and bring an equine veterinarian for a pre-sale examination. At least you will have professional advice on the horse’s health.
Irrespective of the colour, sex or size of your horse, if you have spent the time to prepare for the purchase of your future horse, you are more likely to acquire the horse that was meant for you and build an amazing partnership for years to come.