27 March 2017

Buying a horse




Above is a link to an excellent article, found on Haynet, on how to sell a horse. Haynet is an excellent website devoted to horse crazy folks such as ourselves. 

I do hope Haynet doesn't mind that they inspired this post. 

Having been both buyer and seller of horses, I thought I might chip in with a post on what a buyer should do in the process.

There is more than just money involved when you are shopping for a horse.Of course, you want to do a lot of homework on the process of buying a horse: Conformation, pedigree, etc. This is concerning a few other things that might not immediately come to mind when you head out on the road to look at a prospect.

First and most important: you must be honest with yourself. Precisely WHAT do you want a horse for? How experienced are you as a rider? How good a horseman are you, meaning how capable are you at the everyday care of a horse?
Do not go horse shopping with ‘unrealistic expectations’. If you want a horse on which to learn to ride, you are looking for a completely different horse than if you are looking for a 4th level dressage horse on which to compete.

EQUUS magazine, (issue 13, which is many more years than I care to admit), published a matrix titled “The 7 Attributes in buying a horse”. It is undoubtedly long out of print, and I do not have the time (or money) to ask permission to reprint it.

Essentially, the Y axis is the rider’s experience level and the X axis is the aspects of the horse. The human experience level ranged from raw beginner to high level competition, as well as breeding. The horse’s attributes were: temperament, size, conformation, age, skill, soundness, and pedigree, with a score of each attribute of 1 being essential and 5 unimportant. With the exception of breeding, the higher the score, the greener the rider.

In a nutshell, it enabled you to decide what horse would be best for you.

  If you are a novice or a beginning rider, you do NOT want that drop dead gorgeous but green as grass three year old colt (a wise old horseman told me once, Green + Green=Black and Blue).
You want an old timer,  in his late teens who’s been there, done that.  He might have leg issues or not be the best in conformation, but if he has a reputation as a ‘babysitter’, give him a really good look. Pedigree is nice but you can't ride it. A 'grade' horse can be just as good a horse as the most blue blooded one.

If you have no experience whatsoever at training a horse, you don’t want that cheap-in-price mustang just three months off the range. If you are looking for a mount for a child, a Shetland pony might be the right size, but an older horse is a better bet. Shetlands have a deserved reputation for being little monsters,because they are so small an adult horse trainer can’t ride them. On the other hand, if you are a Grand Prix dressage rider or an eventer, you might be in the market for a hot tempered off track Thoroughbred that, with a steady hand and a little retraining, can become a gung ho eventer.

Decide what characteristics (i.e. vices) are acceptable to you. I would never take a cribber or a barn sour horse, but some folks can accept that if the horse meets their criteria in all other aspects. If you’re not going to breed them, a gelding or a mare with less than ideal conformation is perfectly acceptable. With age, horses develop common sense and wisdom. As my vet once said about my Arab, Jordan…”he didn’t get to be 25 years old by being stupid.”

When you contact a person who’s advertising her horse for sale, do so at a decent time of day. Understand that the seller is busy, too. Mom taught me, never call before 9 (AM) or after 9 (PM). These days, texting and emails are acceptable and convenient forms of contact.

I once had a woman call me at 11 PM without so much as an “excuse me, is this a bad time to call? (It was…I’d been asleep). She said the horse I was selling; a 16.2 TB/Appaloosa gelding; was “perfect for her daughter who wanted to do eventing.” I said "He doesn’t jump". She proceeded to shriek at me, what did I mean, he doesn’t jump? He has to jump, how can he do eventing if he doesn’t jump?”  “Nowhere in my ads does it say he jumps. He doesn’t jump.” I said, aggravated at the woman’s arrogant insolence.  She then called me a liar and hung up.   

If you go to see the horse, be there ON TIME. The seller has taken the time to prep her horse for you. She’s got things to do, too, and it’s rude for you to show up two and half hours later.

If you have to cancel, let her know as soon as possible. Set a return date and KEEP it.

When you get to the barn or stable, remember the Golden Rule: leave the gate as you found it. Other rules include not feeding any of the horses anything, being polite to the staff and other horse owners, etc.

Don’t be a ‘looky lou”. If you’re definitely horse shopping, it’s okay to go and look, but don’t  go 'shopping' solely  because it’s a lovely day and you want to see horses.

Don’t take your dog(s). I know, he ‘goes everywhere with you.” But it’s not your barn, and the seller’s dogs might not appreciate a stranger peeing on their turf.
You might not believe this, but not everyone likes dogs. Just because there are dogs everywhere in horse circles doesn’t mean that everybody is fine with it.
Your dog may be well behaved at home, but in his eye, that strange barn cat is fair game. Do not take your dog, even if you keep him on a leash. Don’t take your dog with the idea that he can ‘stay in the truck’. You are at someone else’s barn, not an offleash dog park. In this State, it is illegal to leave a pet (or a child) in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes, especially if it’s extremely hot or cold. Don’t expect the barn’s staff or horse seller to keep an eye on your mutt.  Leave your dogs at home.


Don’t take your babies or little children. This is business, not a trip to the petting zoo. Some folks, (like my barn lord) have dogs that have proven to be untrustworthy around small children.  The seller is trying to sell you her horse, not be your free babysitter. Don’t expect her to keep an eye on your kid while you ride.

The only reason you should take your child is if you are buying the horse for the CHILD, in which case, the care of the child is on YOU.

Go to see the horse with a definite plan in mind, and don’t waste the seller’s time. For instance, if you’re looking for a jumper, discuss whether the horse jumps or not BEFORE you go to the barn.

Take your own equipment with you. That means, YOUR boots, helmet, gloves, etc.

You don’t want to wear a helmet? Understand that, at least in the US, horse barns/stables are not liable for any injuries you might sustain while trying out a horse. If the seller insists you wear a helmet, wear it.

Keep your opinions to yourself regarding the seller’s appearance, weight, experience, etc. You’re there to look at a horse she is selling, NOT criticize her or impress her with your show record or knowledge.

Do take someone with you, preferably a trusted friend who knows more than you do about horses and knows your capabilities.


Do be careful. There are scammers in the horse world just as everywhere else. If the seller says “this horse was Canadian World Champion Dressage horse in 2010”, ask to see the ribbons, or pictures. If his price is high because he’s registered, ask to see the papers, and don’t accept a cock and bull story about “well, they were left out in the sunshine so you can’t read them.” Ask about the background of the horse: what was he used for, where did you get him, how long have you owned him, any medical issues he’s had? DO ask about vices. An honest seller will tell you.

Handle the horse. Groom him, look at his feet, his eye, his general attitude. Tack him up, (with HIS tack, as it fits him). Lead him up to a horse trailer. Lead him away from the barn and his buddies. Will he load? Will he start crying for his friends? Will he stand tied? Do ride the horse. Yes, I have had occasions where a looky lou refused to actually get on the horse. Have the owner ride the horse in front of you, to see what he can do.

Have the horse vet checked. Your vet may even be willing to come with you for a fee, of course.  You may even arrange to take the horse home for a few days: (leaving a good check for the agreed price as collateral). Why? He might be sedated for your inspection. Don’t ask me how I learned this-it’s a long and infuriating story.  Remember he’s going to be stressed in a new barn, but there is stress from new situations and stress from coming down from a chemically induced state of calm to find himself in a totally new barn.

If you like him, make more than one visit.  

Do have a formal contract with a return clause, as well as a bill of sale. Forms for this are available on the net for a nominal fee. Contracts will save your butt. Trust me. 

If you truly want him, leave a down payment for him, contingent on the horse passing a vet check. Half the selling price is a good down payment.

 Don't  leave the seller hanging.  A down payment is strictly that: something that says I am going to purchase this horse. Taking him "off the market' makes him almost yours, but it's not fair to keep the seller waiting for weeks. Three  business days is the unofficial limit on 'holding' him with a down payment. 

 If you realize he’s not the horse you are looking for, Say So. Don’t hedge. If you don’t like the price, she may be willing to negotiate, but don’t expect it.  Americans don’t like to haggle. Don’t say, “well, I’ll see what my husband says,” or “I’ll let you know in a couple days.” Or “I’ll have to look at that price after payday”. If he’s not what you want or you can’t afford him, be honest. There is nothing wrong with saying, “I can’t afford him” or “She’s a nice mare but I realize she’s not what I want.” Then THANK the seller for taking her time to show him to you.

Good luck and good hunting. Your horse is out there. It is just a question of finding him.

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