Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Basics: Buying a Horse

I recently talked about the Cost of a Horse. That post talked about the approximate costs in owning a horse and an approximate purchase price of a horse. Today I will be talking about the process it takes in finding and purchasing that perfect horse for you.  So, if you have checked your funds and you KNOW you have the funds to properly take care of a horse, then you can start looking around for a horse.

Find out What You are Looking For

First things first, you must know what you are going to be doing with the horse before going on the "hunt" for one. You do not want to buy a trained eventing warmblood and then a month in say, oh well I want to change and start using this horse for X other activity. Unless you are a trainer or a very experience equestrian professional, this change will be a bit hard on the horse and on yourself. Some horses just don't transition all that well from one discipline to another. Not to say that it cannot happen, but it can be nonetheless hard.

If you do not know what kind of discipline / activity you want to go into, I would suggest taking some riding classes. Here are some of the main activities that you can choose from:

  • Western pleasure
  • Barrel racing/ Western Games / Speed events
  • Eventing
  • Jumping
  • Saddleseat
  • Polo
  • Hunter
  • Dressage
  • Trail riding/ Pleasure
Leasing a horse in the discipline of your choice is another great option. It may actually be better than owning a horse if you are new to everything horse. 

If you are still set on buying a horse for your own, but have no idea what you plan on doing with the horse even though you have done the classes and or leased before, there are options out there. If you have leased before and or done the riding classes, you are at least competent enough to look in the "general horse" category. This is where those horses that have either done it all, have been a riding school teacher, or have a little bit more than the basic horse training are put. They might not have the specific training of a western pleasure horse or a dressage horse but they have enough training to be fun to ride in anything. I must note however, that if you are going for the horse that has basic horse training, you MUST have a competent all around understanding of horses, their nature and what it takes to own them (this includes not just the money).  

Once you get past what kind of horse you need regarding the type of discipline, you should look into the height of the horse you want, the age of the horse, possibly the color of the horse, the price you are willing to pay (*please note that you pay for what you get, as in the lower the price, the worse your prospects will look), the gender of the horse, the breed of the horse, the pedigree of the horse, and what kind of horse fits what you are capable of doing (the horse has to match your skill level and fitness level).

Where to Look for Potentials

Now that you know what kind of horse you want, you can look for that specific kind of horse you need.  Depending on what you want the horse for, it can be hard or it can be easy to search.  Here are some of the resources to look into:

What to Ask/Do when Buying a Horse

As a general rule of thumb, you will want to find a reputable veterinarian to bring along with you for a pre-purchase exam. They will or at least should check a number of things included in the health of the animal. Do not rely on the owner's veterinarian telling you everything that might be wrong with the horse.

Make a list of things to ask the seller regarding the horse. To make things easier, I have included a nice PDF link to a Horse Buying Checklist. You can print this out and bring it with you to the showing of the horse.

If you want to make your own list, some basics to include are:

  • Confirm everything in the advertisement
  • History and Breeding
  • Papers available?
  • Coggins available if moving across state lines?
  • Competition history
  • Medical History
  • Any vices or bad habits (i.e. kicking, biting, rearing, weaving, cribbing)
  • Can the horse be loaded on a trailer? How well does it take traveling?
  • The horse's current management (i.e. feed schedule, bedding style, grain and supplements given, hay given, riding schedule, etc.)
  • Any security markings and registrations?
  • If tack and equipment is available free or at a price from the owner

What to do before buying a horse

Visit the horse again, just to make sure that that horse is the one that you want. Do not allow the seller to force you into buying something that may or may not be right for you. This is your decision and you need to make it on your time. If you feel at all uncomfortable, take a few days to think about it, and if the horse is still available, go back to see the horse before making your decision and paying for the horse or walking away. Please also note that the horse may have other potential buyers looking at him/ her, so do not take a month to decide on that exact horse as it may be gone by the time you decide. Don't be afraid to ask the owner for a trial period with the horse. The worst they can do is say no. When you do decide to buy the horse, make sure to get a Bill of Sale (read it over before you sign it to make sure there isn't anything unreasonable included).

As stated in my post about the Cost of a Horse, you need to find a facility to keep the horse at. I suggest looking around before even thinking about buying a horse for a place to keep the horse so you do not have to run around at the last moment. Talk with the boarding facility owners about prices, and what is included in their boarding options. As my own rule of thumb, if the owner does not call you back within a timely manner (one day is good), then it is time to move past that barn. You do not want to keep your horse at a barn that will have communication issues. Make sure that the facility has a stall available, and ask if you can "reserve" that stall. You also do not want to have the horse on the property and at the last minute the owner says, oopsie, we gave that stall to someone else.

You may also need to look into transporting the horse from the seller's location to it's new home. Not all sellers will trailer the horse for you.  Ask around at the boarding facility if anyone can help you with this task. You will need to pay for their gas expenses, but this can be worked out between you and the owner of the trailer.

You will also need to buy the required equipment (for right now a halter, lead rope and grooming supplies will be good) if they are not included with the horse.

Once the horse arrives at its new home it will take time to adjust. It shouldn't take that long, but it is needed. Try to keep the horse on the same feed schedule that the seller had the horse on. Try to also take it slow when introducing your new horse to other horses. The situation can turn bad fast if the horses do not get along.


  1. Knowing what to look for in horses as you do, do you think that next time you consider obtaining a horse you might adopt via Craigslist? (or other such websites)

    1. If I were to adopt I would go through a reputable source such as The Standardbred Retirement Foundation (rehabing Standardbreds off the track), ReRun (rehabing Thoroughbreds off the track), or a PMU rescue facility (rescuing horses born at PMU facilities). Adopting through a reputable source such as those sites promotes support for what those organizations do. Not to say that I do not look for horses on craigslist from time to time, as that is definitely a guilty pleasure of mine.

  2. These are some great tips! It would've been handy to have when buying my first horse, and is definately a tool I can utilize to organize myself before getting my next one.
    One thing you mentioned thinking about was what age you want your potential horse to be; I think this is almost worthy of its whole own post, because it seems horse ages are often almost...misunderstood. I mean, you've got the classic "I want to grow up with my horse" cliche, and then there are those people who are convinced that anything in its teens has at least one foot in the grave, even though some of the best sport horses are in their mid to late teens.