Buying a horse should be a great experience but unless you go into it with your eyes wide open it can be problematic which is why it’s so important to take your time and not rush out and buy the first horse you see. This is even more applicable when you’re buying your very first horse, regardless of how much you know about horses you’re inexperienced when it comes to ownership. In fact, many first time owners choose a horse that isn’t suitable for them. This, sadly, often leads to frustration between horse and owner at best, or the first time owner giving up on horses altogether.
If you take your time though then the chances of everything working out well are far higher. That’s why I decided to put this article together, I know I’ve written other articles on buying a horse before but I’ve not covered the steps you should take BEFORE you actually start the whole buying process.
What do you want?
Okay, that’s a bit of a blunt question (and probably a dumb question too – of course, you want a horse) but it’s still a question that you need to ask yourself before you even think about looking at horses. We all want horses for different reasons and have our own requirements but knowing the answer to this question will really help you to focus your search.
When answering this question though it’s a good idea to consider the following:
The age of a horse is something that is all too often overlooked but is probably the most important factor to consider (if not it’s certainly one of the most important factors). You might think that buying a young horse is great because you’ll have many years together but young horses haven’t always finished their training and are inexperienced. On the other hand, while an old horse will be more experienced and unfazed by things, the two of you won’t have as much time to spend together. Age wise, an ideal horse will be somewhere between the ages of ten and fifteen, although this is only a guide and each horse is different.
There are no hard and fast rules for the size of horse you should be going for, it’s more important that they can carry you without affecting their balance. Some horses are capable of carrying more weight than others, depending on their bone structure, but if the horse isn’t struggling, you can comfortably mount and dismount and your feet aren’t hanging too much when mounted then that’s more important. For a more in-depth article on the size horse, you should be riding check this article out.
This is something that comes down to personal preference and what your specific requirements and needs are. Not everybody will choose to go for a particular breed, you may be completely open-minded to this. Just like dogs some people like to have a pedigree horse, if you’d prefer to have a registered horse but don’t know which breed to go for them I’ve written a number of articles on various breeds that might help, you can see them here.
Again color is a personal preference but some colors are more prone to certain genetic disorders. For example, pure white horses (while also being extremely rare) are more likely to carry the lethal white syndrome. Also, Paint Horses with blue eyes (those with the overo coat pattern) are also more likely to suffer from genetic deafness.
Mare or gelding
While a stallion is a bad choice for a new owner, both mares and geldings have their advantages. Many mares never show signs of being in season and are generally quiet but geldings are often thought of as being less moody and more dependable. That doesn’t mean to say all geldings are like that, nor are all mares moody, it just means as a general rule.
Is owning or leasing a horse better for you?
Horse ownership isn’t for everybody and if you’re not sure if it is for you or not then it might be better to consider leasing a horse. Some people prefer to lease a horse because they can simply give the horse back when they’ve outgrown it but on the other hand if you own a horse then there are no restrictions on how often you can ride, nor do you have to worry about whether or not you’re allowed to compete.
Some owners will allow you to lease a horse on a pre-purchase basis, this means that you lease the horse for a set period of time and, at the end of the period, you can buy the horse if you want to or give him back if not.
If you want to know more about leasing a horse then you might want to read this article I wrote recently.
Keep your budget in mind, and don’t forget additional fees
Unless you’ve won the lottery (in which case congratulations!!) you’ll probably have a finite about of money to spend on actually buying a horse. While it’s important to keep this figure in mind when looking, don’t forget to factor additional costs into your budget. A pre-purchase veterinary check and transport for the horse are likely to be the two biggest additional costs but, unless it’s included in the price of the horse, you’ll also need to think about the cost of buying tack and other equipment.
You may also have to pay a sales commission to your instructor if they’re looking at horses for you. Not all instructors will charge for this but you need to find out beforehand and take this into account as well.
As a rough guide, you shouldn’t look at horses that are more than 20% above your maximum budget. This will give you a little bit of room for negotiating but will also help to widen your search.
Can you really afford to keep the horse
On top of actually buying the horse, you will also need to consider if you can realistically afford to keep one. The cost of buying a horse can be huge but, over the years, the cost of keeping one can be just as big, if not bigger. If you’re keeping your horse at board (you can read more about boarding here) then you’ll also need to take the fees into account. As a guide though the monthly costs for keeping a horse are:
Monthly costs for keeping a horse at pasture board or grass livery
|Board||$1,100 – $1,750||$1,350 – $2,310||£840 – £1,440||$1,500 – $2,570|
|Hay||$115 – $205||$150 – $275||£95 – £170||$170 – $300|
|Feed||$120 – $305||$160 – $400||£100 – £250||$180 – $445|
|Monthly total||$111 – $188||$138 – $249||£86 – £155||$155 – $276|
Monthly costs for keeping a horse at self-board or DIY livery
|Board||$2,605 – $3,645||$2,220 – $4,815||£1,320 – £3,000||$2,360 – $5,355|
|Hay||$135 – $230||$175 – $165||£110 – £190||$195 – $340|
|Bedding||$160 – $510||$110 – $675||£130 – £420||$230 – $750|
|Feed||$305 – $670||$400 – $885||£250 – £550||$445 – $980|
|Monthly total||$267 – $421||$242 – $545||£151 – £347||$269 – $619|
Monthly cost of keeping a horse at full board
|Board||$4,375 – $11,660||$5,780 – $15,415||£3,600 – £9,600||$6,430 – $17,140|
|Hay||Included in board/livery cost|
|Bedding||Included in board/livery cost|
|Feed||Included in board/livery cost|
|Monthly total||$365 – $972||$482 – $1,285||£300 – £800||$536 – $1,428|
Other monthly horse care expenses
|Vet fees||$60 – $180||$80 – $240||£50 – £150||$90 – $270|
|Insurance||$60 – $300||$80 – $396||£50 – £250||$90 – $440|
|Farrier||$270 – $970||$350 – $1,285||£220 – £800||$390 – $1,430|
|Dentist||$60 – $120||$80 – $160||£50 – £100||$90 – $180|
|Worming||$50 – $135||$65 – $175||£40 – £110||$70 – $195|
|Approximate month total||$125 – $225||$138 – $271||£118 – £201||$144 – $260|
While you can’t account for any unforeseen circumstances (such as the current Covid-19 pandemic) it’s also important to have a reserve fund that you can use if your situation changes and you’re not longer able to comfortably keep your horse.
Where should you buy a horse from?
There are a number of different places where you can buy a horse but looking at classified adverts in horsey mags, or at your local tack shop or checking out online forums are all great places to start, as is speaking to your instructor.
The world has become such a small place these days and you can now literally look for a horse anywhere in the world but, certainly, for your first horse, it’s still a good idea to keep your search localish. Keep in mind that you’ll want to (and need to) see the horse beforehand so traveling a long way could be problematic.
There’s a vast number of resources now that make buying and selling horses much easier but there is also the option of buying a horse at auction, although if you do choose this option then it’s even more important you take an experienced horse person (ideally your instructor) with you. If you are considering buying a horse at auction then this recent article may help you.
What to look out for in horse adverts
When you begin trawling through the adverts of horses for sale you might start to think that they’re written in a foreign language but fear not the guide below will help explain the terminology.
|A great x prospect, In training for x, Loads of potential, Well started, Needs finishing, Ready to start, A bit green, Very little mileage||These all mean that the horse is still being trained. If you’re a new horse owner then horses advertised as any of these should be avoided|
|Broodmare prospect||This, while not always, often means that the horse is no longer rideable but can be used for breeding|
|Forward-going||This is usually used to describe horses that are strong, fast and don’t like to stop|
|Easy keeper||Horse that are easy keepers (or good doers) don’t have trouble putting weight on and keeping it on, they’re often on the heavier side|
|Not a novice ride||Horses described as not this can be a handful and should be avoided by inexperienced riders and owners|
|Bombproof, Quiet, Steady, Calm||Any of these expressions in an advert are a good thing, they’re saying that the horse has a good temperament and won’t be easily spooked|
|Proven track record, Anyone can ride||These mean that the horse is well trained, a great choice for first time owners|
What should you avoid when buying a horse?
If you’re a first time owner then you’ll want to avoid mares that are pregnant (often referred to as in foal), you might think that it would be great to have a foal as well but you won’t be able to ride the mare for a long time and you’ll need to have had plenty of experience before you can even consider raising a foal.
Horses that are described as not being suitable for beginners should also be avoided unless you’re a very experienced rider. They can be difficult to handle and ride. At the same time, you should also avoid horses that have health or soundness issues, these horses can often prove to be very expensive when it comes to veterinary bills.
What should you look out for when buying a horse?
Horses that have good natures, kind temperaments, and are well trained are ideal for new owners and novice riders. Understandably though everybody wants a horse like this so, while there are plenty of horses like this, they’re often sold quickly.
The horse scoring system
Some websites use a scoring system to help potential buyers quickly see what a horse is like. While every website will have its own system in place as a rule 1 is the calmest and 10 is the most highly strung. If you’re inexperienced then the closer you can get to 1 the better, although you don’t want to go above 5.
Make a shortlist of horses you like
Before you go to visit any horses it’s always a good idea to spend some time looking through the various adverts and making a shortlist of the ones that you really like the sound of. This will help you to compare the ones you like but also give you a good idea of what’s for sale at the moment.
Once you’ve got a list of horses you can then speak to your instructor to see if they think any of them would be suitable for you. Between the two of you, you’ll be able to narrow down your list to a handful of realistic choices. The next step after this is to start calling the sellers!
Contact the sellers
Don’t rely too heavily on email when contacting sellers, it can be great if they send you photos or videos of the horse but otherwise it’s better to speak to them over the phone. Speaking to them will give both of you a chance to ask any questions either of you have. It’ll also give the seller reassurance their horse is going to a good home as well as giving you confidence the horse has been well looked after and cared for.
If, after speaking to the seller, you’re still interested in seeing the horse then the next stage is to arrange to go and see the horse. When you do this make sure you’ve got clear instructions of how to get there are well as a cell number so you can call the seller if you get lost or are held up.
NEVER buy a horse without seeing it
It’s a sad fact of life these days that you can’t always trust what you see online (or in adverts) which is why you should never agree to buy a horse without seeing it. If the seller is pressuring you to buy the horse beforehand then there’s something wrong and you should walk away. I know it can be difficult if you think you’ve found the perfect horse but trust me, you can only tell if it really is perfect after seeing the horse.
Take your instructor with you when viewing a horse
Buying a horse is not only a huge step it’s also an emotional and exciting one but that can often mean that you’re looking at a potential horse with your heart rather than with your head. Taking your instructor (or another experienced horsey person) with you will help to balance that out, they’ll be able to spot things that you may not have noticed.
Your instructor will not only be an experienced horse buyer but will also know your level of riding as well as your potential and will be able to advise you accordingly. They’ll be able to tell very quickly if the horse is suitable for your needs or not.
It’s also important to ride the horse which is another reason to take your instructor with you. They’ll ride the horse first and put it through its paces then it’ll be your turn to ride. Don’t worry though your instructor won’t be assessing your riding, they’ll be looking at how well you and the horse get on and also look for potential problems or areas of improvement.
Have a good look around the yard
In most cases, you’ll be moving your new horse away from his current yard but it’s still a good idea to have a look around. Most sellers won’t mind you doing this but you should question why if they don’t want you to.
Look in the trash for sachets of painkillers, tubes of calming paste, or anything else that might give you cause for concern. While these could, of course, be for another horse, if they’re on top of the other rubbish they’re been put there very recently so you should at least ask the seller.
Don’t be shy about negotiating the price
Not everybody likes to negotiate and it can be very difficult to do, but you shouldn’t feel embarrassed or shy about it, a lot of owners will price the horse a little bit higher because they expect buyers to haggle a little.
They say that you should never negotiate on a deal you’re not willing to walk away from but when you’ve got your heart set on a particular horse it can be difficult but you should try and keep it in mind. Don’t let the seller pressure you into paying more than you can afford or buying before you’ve decided. They may tell you that they have another person interested in the horse or that somebody else has already made an offer. Regardless of whether this is true or not you shouldn’t let it influence your decision.
Always check the horse’s identification and history
If you’re buying a horse, in part because of its breeding or previous competition history, then you need to check the paperwork for this. If you’re buying a registered horse then you’ll want to see the horse’s registration documents as well as its pedigree. Some countries require all horses to have passports, even if they’re never going to leave the country, so you should ask to see this too.
If you’re buying a competition horse then you want to see evidence of their abilities, this can be as simple as a video of them competing or as detailed as their full competition record.
A vet check is a must!
If you’re happy with everything else so far then the last, and most important, thing you need to do is have a veterinarian check the horse. You might not think this check (often called a pre-purchase veterinary check) is necessary because the horse looks okay but it absolutely shouldn’t be skipped.
You should use a veterinarian who hasn’t seen the horse before and both you and your instructor should be there during the check. The veterinarian will check the horse’s soundness and general health and may also take blood tests. The blood tests will tell if the seller has given the horse any sedatives or painkillers, this is sometimes done to mask other issues such as lameness.
The cost of a pre-purchase veterinary check will vary from state to state, and also be dependent on how in-depth it is, but as a rough guide, they tend to cost between $250 and $600.
Get it in writing
Once you’ve agreed on a price (and terms) with the seller then it’s important to get it in writing in the form of a purchase contract. This will tell you the terms of the purchase as well as what’s included in the price (in terms of tack, equipment as well as any warranties or guarantees the seller is providing).
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I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉