Shopping for your first horse? Not sure what to look for? Or, maybe you’ve bought a horse or two that haven’t been the “right fit” and you want to be sure to get it right this time. This is an important and serious endeavor and a big commitment to be sure, so here are some tips to help you have success in finding that perfect partner.
First, bring someone along who is knowledgeable about horses and familiar with you when you go to test ride. It’s always good to get another’s perspective, and a trainer or instructor or even a friend who has horse experience can give you a different viewpoint and maybe see things that your excited self doesn’t see.
Examine the horse’s conformation carefully. If you don’t know what to look for, this is an area that your trainer or experienced friend can help.
I would like to encourage you to make color a very, very low priority. I’ve seen so many times, people buy the wrong horse because it’s the color they want. Disposition, conformation, training level, suitability to your needs are things that are way more important than the horse’s color. In all my years of training, the “best” most desired colored horses are usually not the best for training or working with, but the sorrels and bays, often times, they are the bomb.
Go to look at the prospective horse more than once. Try to schedule one viewing on fairly short notice. Horses are like us in that they have good days and not so good days. You want to see the one you wish to own in as many of his moods as possible before committing.
If you have $2000 to spend on a horse, don’t go look at $5000 horses expecting the seller to come down on his price. If you are wanting or needing a $5000 horse, save up your money and expect to pay for what you want/need. Remember, you get what you pay for.
If the horse is tacked up and/or sweaty when you arrive, it’s probably a good idea to walk away. A horse that needs “warmed-up” that much before you can see him might not be best suited for a beginner or even an intermediate rider/owner.
Ask the seller to handle the horse first, to demonstrate to you how they behave and their training level. Ask to see the horse lunge both directions and ride in all gaits. I would encourage you to then handle the horse yourself, starting with some simple ground exercises, and riding in all gaits (if you’re comfortable) for a good amount of time. I don’t believe you can assess if a horse is a good fit for you in a 5 minute ride. Preferably before your ride, handle the horse’s feet yourself. It’s a good idea to get your hands on their legs to feel for any swelling, heat or scars. Also, to see how they are to give their feet to you.
You may want to obtain a pre-purchase exam before the sale is final. Most sellers are not opposed to this. If you come across one that is, probably ought to run, not walk away from that horse. The expense of the exam is yours, and you should retain your own veterinarian to perform the exam.
Ask lots of questions! Here are just a few to get you started. You may also want to ask questions about the suitability or experience the horse has for the purpose you’re looking for.
- Any vices?
- What is the horses personality like? Any quirks?
- Up to date on vaccines, teeth, feet, deworming, cogins test?
- When was the horse last ridden? How often typically does he currently get ridden?
- Does the horse go out alone and in company?
- Does the horse trailer/load well?
- What feed and supplements is the horse on now?
- Are shoes required?
- Is the horse spooky or jumpy? What does he do when he sees something new or startling?
- How is he to catch?
- Has the horse ever bucked, bolted or reared?
- What is the seller’s opinion on what the horse would be best suited for?
- Is all paperwork in order? Registration, transfer report, health certificate, brand inspection.
A lot of prospective buyer’s have asked me specific questions about the horses’ history. In my opinion, it’s less important that a horse has had specific experiences as long as they handle the way you need them to. If a horse has a good handle, soft feel, is responsive to cues, and connected to his rider, he can most likely navigate any situation that will arise.
Good luck and happy shopping.