Owning a horse or pony is the ultimate dream of many horse lovers, and it can be an incredibly rewarding and exciting experience. However, finding the right horse can be a daunting experience for first-time buyers. Here, we guide you step by step on everything you need to know about buying your first horse.
Before You Buy
Owning a horse is a long-term commitment, both financially and time-wise, so consider carefully beforehand by asking yourself the following questions:
- Are you ready for the responsibility of owning a horse?
- Do you have the finances, time, and knowledge to look after one properly?
- Where will you keep it?
Prepare yourself by:
- Having regular riding lessons with a qualified and experienced instructor on school horses.
- Learn all you can about horse care. Inquire at your local equestrian center about stable management courses, and ask to volunteer in the barn to gain more experience.
- Leasing a horse, either full or partial, for at least six months, gives you a good idea of what owning is like and whether you can devote the necessary time required.
As well as the initial purchase, you need to budget monthly for various expenses such as:
- Boarding fees
- Veterinary costs
Other possible extras include riding lessons, plus the services of an equine dentist, saddle fitter, chiropractor, or similar services when required.
There is also tack, rugs, and other equipment to buy, plus entry fees and transportation costs should you wish to compete. The list is endless and will put a strain on your finances for many years if you are not prepared!
If you are still keen to buy a horse, the next step is deciding where to keep him. Most horse owners opt for a boarding facility at a barn. Ideally, this should be no more than a 30-minute drive from your home. Costs vary depending on location and services:
- Full care – included in the service is feeding, hay, bedding, cleaning of the stall, and turn out. Ideal if you can afford it and don’t have much time to care for a horse due to work, family, etc. If you require exercising or training as well, this will cost extra.
- Self-care – your horse is given a stable and possibly turn out, too. You must provide hay, bedding, and feed and take care of all your horse’s needs yourself. This service is a cheaper option, but you need to have the time and commitment. Often, other owners will help each other out when necessary, so it is a good idea to get to know them.
You also need to consider if the facilities are suitable for what you want to do with your horse. If you want to compete, is there an arena with jumps available and are you allowed an outside instructor? If your interest is trail riding, are there plenty of places to ride?
Visit barns before you start looking for a horse to make sure there are vacancies. Tell the proprietor if you are interested so you can reserve a stall.
What Type of Horse Should You Buy?
When deciding on what kind of horse you should buy, your safety must take top priority, so be realistic about your abilities. Take your time looking for a horse. It is a huge investment so you want a horse that you can enjoy and make progress with for many years.
Some of the top things to consider are:
- What is your budget?
- Is the horse just for you or other members of the family?
- Do you want a schoolmaster that can teach you and help you improve? Don’t be put off by older horses. They know their job and, with proper care, can go on for many years.
- If buying a youngster or green horse, do you have the knowledge and experience to bring it on? Don’t believe that you can learn together as this is very dangerous.
- You want a horse you will feel comfortable on, so what size should you get? Avoid too big and too small.
- What type of work will you require the horse to do?
- Mare or gelding? Geldings are typically easier to handle. Mares can be challenging and temperamental, especially when they are in season. However, it depends on the individual horse, so don’t necessarily be put off by a mare.
How to Find a Suitable Horse
So, how do you find the right horse for you?
First, ask an experienced person, such as your riding instructor or a knowledgeable friend, if they know of any suitable horses for sale. Otherwise, search for adverts in local and national equestrian magazines and on equine websites that have horses for sale.
The most important point to consider when buying a horse is a good temperament. Look for terms such as “bombproof,” “steady and reliable,” “easy to do,” “snaffle mouth” and “quiet.”
Avoid terms like “needs experienced or strong rider,” “green,” “very forward going,” and “has potential.” These are clear indicators that the horse needs training or is difficult to ride. The advert should also state that the horse is good to catch, lunge, shoe, clip and trailer with no vices. Make a note of any omissions so you can ask the owner.
Questions to Ask the Owner Before Viewing a Horse
Once you have found certain horses that you consider suitable, contact the owners to learn more. Discover as much as you can so you can tell if the seller is genuine or not, and whether the horse sounds right for you. That way you can avoid a wasted journey.
Questions to include are:
- Does the horse have a good temperament?
- Is he good to handle?
- Is he good to catch, tack up, clip, shoe, trailer, lunge?
- What is his experience?
- How long has the current owner had him?
- Why is he being sold?
- Is he good to ride out both alone and in the company of other horses?
- Is he good in traffic?
- Does he have any vices?
- Has he ever reared, bucked, or bolted?
- Is he spooky?
- What kind of bit is used when riding?
- Is he ridden with any training aids and why?
- Does he have a competition record?
- How is his behavior at shows?
- What is he like with other horses?
- Does he require any special shoeing?
- What is he fed/does he need supplements?
- How often is he currently ridden? Must he be ridden every day?
- Has he had any lameness or illness?
- Has he ever had colic?
- Are his vaccinations, worming, and teeth floating up-to-date?
- Does he have a passport?
Also, ask the owner if they have any videos of the horse that you can watch before attending a viewing.
Viewing Horses for Sale
Once you have decided that a horse is worth trying, arrange to go and see it with an experienced person, like your riding instructor. When trying out horses, trust your instincts. You want to feel happy and safe with any horse you intend to buy.
On the day of the viewing:
- Before you arrive, ask to see the horse caught in the paddock. Is he easy to catch?
- Look at his confirmation.
- Check his legs for signs of injuries.
- Watch him trot-up in hand so you can assess his movement.
- Ask to brush and tack him up yourself in the stable. Does he stand quietly and have good manners?
- Look around the horse’s stall for any signs of stable vices such as a chewed door.
- Have the owner ride him first. Watch him ridden in walk, trot and canter, and then over a few jumps if you want the horse for jumping.
- If you are happy with what you see, ask your expert to ride him, then try the horse yourself, being videoed if possible.
- If you are comfortable riding the horse in an arena, ask to ride him outside.
- It is a good sign if the owner is asking you many questions as well. It shows they are genuine and want their horse to go to the right home.
- Listen to your expert’s opinion and whether they think the horse is suitable.
- It is recommended, if you like the horse, to return for a second viewing. Ask to see him lunged and loaded into a trailer as well as riding him again.
Deciding to Buy
Once you have found the right horse for you, it is vital that you arrange a pre-purchase vetting with a veterinarian who has never treated the animal. You and your expert should be present, along with the owner, who will know the horse’s health history. Discuss thoroughly with the veterinarian as to what you want to do with the horse. That way they can see if the horse is fit for the purpose you want it for and make sure they are in good health.
The veterinarian will give a basic health and lameness assessment, neither passing or failing the horse outright, but sharing their observations with you. They may suggest further tests and x-rays.
Before making the final decision to buy, it is a good idea to ask the seller if you can have the horse on trial for a week or two. The trial may take place in the owner’s barn or where you intend to keep the horse.
If the seller is happy to do this, they will probably want a written agreement and request you provide insurance for the horse. They are most likely to ask for a deposit or other payment as security.
Once you have decided that the horse is right for you, you can negotiate a price with the seller. Ask if this price includes any tack and rugs. You should then have an equine purchase agreement drawn up with details of the horse as described in the seller’s advert. Speak to a lawyer to ensure that it is legally binding.
Make sure you gain as much knowledge and experience as possible before you buy a horse and find a suitable place for boarding. Take your time, trust your instincts, and always take somebody experienced with you.
There may be wasted journeys and disappointments, but you will eventually find your perfect horse, and you will undoubtedly enjoy many happy years together!
Alison O’Callaghan, our Equine Editor, is a professional horse riding instructor and has owned many types of pets. When she is not riding horses or walking her dog, she loves to write about animals. If you’d like to contact Alison, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.