After being around horses for most of my life, I took a break about 15 years ago. I am now 46 and recently purchased another horse. I want to share with you some pointers for buying a horse – things that I experienced recently – so that your horse-buying experience is a pleasant one.
To start with, do some research. There are lots of free horse magazines that you can pick up from your local feed store. Browse through them for articles on buying a horse, listings of horses for sale, and barns where you can board in the local area. Surf the web for sites with the same information, listed regionally for your area. These websites and magazines are also great for listing horse events in your area, so find a few and go hang out on the weekends – you can learn a lot just by observing!
Now, if you don’t have pasture and/or a barn at home for your horse, you will want to shop around for a barn with self, part or full care. Trust me, a good barn is hard to find and there is no “perfect” barn, so be wary. If the barn has absentee-owners and a manager lives on the premises, it may not be a well-managed barn. On the other hand, a live-in manager may be the key to a very well-managed barn. You have to do your homework, inquire of other horse boarders, and visit more than once at different times of the day and week, all to ensure the facility is a place you can trust with your new family member. A well-run barn has YOUR best interest in mind – that is, the owner lives there and keeps an eye on the horses, and takes care of them himself. Also ask what vet they use, and farrier – and make sure they are reputable in the area.
Another key item to consider is WHAT type of riding will you be doing? If you are going to show dressage, you probably don’t want to board at a facility where there is primarily western reining and roping cows going on. If you plan to buy a hunter/jumper horse, you might want a barn with an arena where there are jumps you can use. A barrel-racer is going to need barrels to practice on. Find a barn where people are already training their horses in what you are interested in.
Another word about barns – location, location, location! If the barn you find is located very far from your home – are you prepared to spend time driving back and forth, time that takes away from riding your horse? Think about it, because it is important. How often are you going to visit your horse when it is snowing outside and the drive is twice as long as in the summer? If your barn is too far away, eventually it will be inconvenient to make that drive everyday; pretty soon you will visit every other day, then every few days…you get my drift.
Don’t forget to evaluate WHERE you will ride your horse. Is there an indoor arena? Is it located in a cold region – and therefore covered or enclosed? Are there so many boarders at the barn, there will be a line to use this arena? Are there alternative places to ride your horse without needing a trailer to get there, such as a round pen, outdoor arena or nearby trails?
So, after you find a barn where you will board your horse, it is time for the hard work: finding a horse. Due to the recent downturn in the economy, horses are flooding the market. They all seem to be advertised as “well-broke,” whether they are free, $500 or $5000. Be wary of false advertising and do your homework. A lot of people use photos that are not recent, because it makes their horse look better. Well, sure it does! That’s the photo of the day YOU bought him – four years ago, and he was groomed and pretty because someone ELSE sold him to you that day!
It will take a lot of calls, and wading through a lot of white liars (people who withhold the truth) before you find a good horse, so just bring your patience with you. You might call on an ad for a well-broke trail horse, and when you show up – the horse hasn’t been ridden in 7 years and it wasn’t on trails, and he’s green broke. People will say just about anything to get you out to their property to see a horse, in the hopes of selling you something else they might have. Be prepared to put invest a lot of miles driving around looking at different horses for sale.
A good piece of advice I was given was don’t make an appointment to see a horse. You want to be able to “drop by” so that they don’t have the horse warmed up and ready to go for you. This is in case the horse is a nightmare and needs to be lunged for an hour before riding, or even doped up in order to saddle and bridle them. Yes, there are dishonest horsemen out there and you need to be aware of their tactics. It’s best to make arrangements to come by “sometime in the afternoon” so they don’t have a particular set time. Or, call and ask if you can come by right now; an honest person won’t mind if you drop by. If you have to set a time, make it a point to show up early so you can see if anything shady is going on.
It’s always good to get an experienced horse-person to come along with you when you are looking to buy a horse. Maybe someone from the barn you will be boarding at can give you some pointers – they are typically the nicest people on the planet, those horse people! Another way to go about buying a horse is to let people at the barn know you are looking; find other people who own the breed you are interested in and talk to them. Word of mouth is the best advertisement! Don’t forget to go to the feed stores, too and check the bulletin boards.
ALWAYS test drive the horse you plan to buy, and always wear a helmet when you ride, especially unknown horses! If the horse is advertised a certain way, i.e., western or english, then have the seller saddle up the horse and show you. Then hop on and check it out for yourself (assuming it’s broke to ride). After all, it’s going to be your ride. Put the horse through it’s paces, or if you aren’t experienced enough, have the seller or the horse friend you brought along demonstrate. But ALWAYS make sure you are able to mount and ride the horse yourself. What if this is a “man’s” horse and you are a girl? You won’t know the horse doesn’t like you if you don’t climb aboard yourself.
Don’t forget to invest in a pre-purchase exam with your local vet. They are more than willing to come out and exam a horse on your behalf. Here’s a tip: Be sure to mention to a potential horse seller that you plan to do this, and see how uncomfortable they get. If they start fidgeting and stuttering, it’s wise to look for a horse elsewhere. You can arrange the exam in advance by calling the vet and asking about their availability and pricing. You just don’t know what you are getting without a professional opinion. It is well worth the investment to know you are getting a sound horse.
Here is something to consider, too: Are you willing to invest more money than you originally planned, when you find that perfect horse, because he *IS* trained and has been shown and won awards? You might think differently after looking at a lot of horses; it’s something to consider.