A Guide for First-Time Horse Buyers

Many novice horse folks buy horses that are unsuitable for them and end up having a bad experience that commonly results in expense, injuries, and residual fear issues.  Why do people buy unsuitable horses?  In my experience, there are several reasons.  One of the key reasons is money.  In spite of the fact that someone has now decided they want to have their very own horse, they don’t have realistic ideas regarding the costs.  Another major factor is emotional attachment, often leading people to fall in love with a rescue horse, a wild mustang, a pretty color, or an untrained youngster.   Sadly, first-timers often fall victim to their own lack of knowledge or are targeted by horse dealer types just looking to make a buck.  In an effort to cut down on the number of unhappy partnerships resulting from such purchases, we’d like to offer some tips on avoiding trouble and successfully finding the horse that is right for you.

Before you log onto Dreamhorse.com and start making a list of prospects, take a few minutes to evaluate your reasons for horse ownership.  Owning a horse is a big time commitment, much more so than taking a weekly lesson or heading out on the trail each weekend.  If you ride three days a week or less, consider the option of leasing rather than buying.  Leasing gives you the opportunity to work with one horse consistently, ride several days a week, share a lesson horse, and engage in partial care of a horse without the burden of full responsibility.  Leasing is a great way to “test-drive” horse ownership without a long-term commitment and can also serve as an effective trial period for a potential purchase.  If after serious consideration you have decided that buying is the right option for you, then forge ahead and consider the following guidelines:

DO:

Educate yourself as much as possible prior to beginning your search:  Horses are costly, both in money and time.  Be realistic and have a plan.

Budget more money up front than you think you need:  Most people typically don’t set aside enough money initially and the “right horse” always costs more than you think it will.

Be open to the right horse:  Don’t limit yourself with regards to breed, sex, color, or age.  The right horse may not be exactly what you envision, but he will be the perfect horse for you nonetheless.  Be open to diverse prospects and don’t get stuck on that flashy palomino gelding.

Hire a trusted professional:   A professional can give you appropriate guidance and whittle down the prospects to horses that are suitable for your skills and temperament.  They will help immensely to assess potential horses and evaluate test rides.  Be appreciative of an instructor or trainer who volunteers their time and expertise for you – this service normally involves a fee.  If you can’t hire a professional, find a trusted friend who is a skilled horseman and ask them for help.

Invest in lessons:  Remember that only investing in training can be a waste unless you are trained along with your horse so that you are competent enough to maintain the training once the horse leaves the trainer and comes home.  A true horseman is always learning and horses are a lifetime classroom.

Show up early for your appointment:  Observe how the horse is caught and handled.  Is he being heavily lunged or ridden beforehand?  How is he behaving?

Tack up the horse yourself:  Horses are about connection.  Spend some time handling the horse and see how he responds to you.  This is also a good way to assess the horse’s ground manners and spot any potential behavior issues.

Ride the horse more than once if possible:  Horses respond differently in different environments.  See how the horse behaves inside an arena versus outside, and on the trail.

Ask for a medical history:  Good sellers have records of vaccinations, shoeing, major injuries, allergies and so forth.

Ask about the horse’s current work schedule:  Find out how often he’s being worked, what his typical routine involves, and what his fitness level is.

Get a vet check:  The depth of a vet check depends on the age, type, and work history of horse, but you should always have a vet check the horse out prior to purchase.  Take into consideration what you plan to do with the horse. Start with a general health exam and flexion test.  If you are planning on a sport career for your horse, then x-rays of major joints are a good idea.  Basic blood work is recommended for show horses or horses that have come from the racetrack.

THINGS TO AVOID:

Steer clear of ads offering the “free” horse or the bargain horse who “just needs a little tune-up”.  Although there are occasional gems, these horses are a largely a gamble and typically have behavioral issues or other problems aren’t visible up front.

Skip the “do-it yourself” approach.  Many people mistakenly believe that buying a young prospect horse and training it themselves will save them big bucks over spending money on that “expensive” trained horse that is ready to go.  Unfortunately, a frequent result is that people often get in over their heads and don’t seek help until the problems become so severe that the horse scares them.   At this point a lot of work is often needed to fix behavior issues and it costs additional money for retraining.  In the end, the sum total costs as much or more than that “expensive” trained horse you originally passed on.

Avoid making an emotional purchase:  Although it’s tough to say no to a horse you’ve fallen in love with, it’s best for first-timers to pass on horses with questionable soundness issues, untrained youngsters, rescue adoptions, or personality conflicts.

Don’t buy a horse based on the assumption that you’ll grow into him.  First-time owners frequently think they want more horse than they actually need and end up disappointed or frustrated because the amount of work the horse requires overshadows the enjoyment of riding him.  Buy the horse that is right for you right now.

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