Horse Shopping - What to Know Before Buying a Horse

"Basic steps to follow when shopping for a horse"

horse shopping, buying a horse

Most important is the horse you choose is safe and fun!

When horse shopping, keep in mind a good saddle horse is one that is comfortable with a saddle on its back, is gentle in nature, and is in good health. He should have the ability to carry a rider your size, be able to ride for long periods of time, and have a good disposition. Also, keep in mind who in your family will be riding your horse. If you are not the only rider, then you will need to base horse purchasing decisions with the least proficient rider in mind. If both adults and children will be riding, then the size of the horse will become particularly important. You will need a horse tall enough to accommodate the adults, but is short enough for children to feel comfortable upon.

You want a horse that you can ride now, based on your riding skill. A beginning rider will need a quieter, gentler horse than someone with riding experience. Some horses "spook" easily, have bad habits such as bucking or stopping abruptly, are "spirited" and need to be run to use up some of their energy before calming down--all of which may make these horses unsuitable for you. Other traits to evaluate when horse shopping are if the horse is halter broken, if it is jumpy or fidgety when being saddled, or tries to nip or bite at you.Tip: The height of a horse is measured in hands.

Tip: The height of a horse is measured in hands.

1 hand = 4 inches. An average horse is usually between 15 and 16 hands. A horse over 16 hands is typically considered tall and a horse under 15 hands is considered short.

For first time owners, what is most important is the horse you choose is safe and fun. You want the horse to have a good personality and is forgiving of small mistakes. Stallions are definitely not suited for the first-time owner. Younger horses are also not ideal. A well trained older horse of at least 5 years or older with a pleasant demeanor is more recommend.

When horse shopping, check the horse over to see how the hooves look and if they're in good shape. The horse's coat should be shiny and smooth to the touch. Its eyes should look clear, bright, and alert. How does the weight look-are his ribs showing or does he have a huge pot belly? A good saddle horse should have a long straight back with flat sides (with no ribs poking out).

Take the reigns and walk the horse. Does it limp or display any physical problem? Will the horse let you pick up his feet okay? Climb into the saddle. Does the horse stay still, or try to bolt away? You should feel comfortable in the saddle. Ride the horse and see how it responds to your commands.

Find out if the horse is generally stalled or left in an outdoor pasture or paddock. What is he like when tied or being trailered?

Have a horse expert and veterinarian help you with these decisions when horse shopping:

  • Breed of horse
  • Age of horse
  • Temperament of horse
  • Does the horse have any bad habits in the stall, such as kicking?
  • Do you have to watch out so you don't get bit?
  • How is the horse when around other horses? If he does not get along well with other horses, then a boarding stable may not be an option and you will need to keep him relatively isolated at home.
  • Horse's gender
  • Geldings generally have consistent good natured behavior
  • Mares, when in "heat," may effect their temperament and may effect their riding trait. This may not be an issue - check with the seller about her cycles and the effects it has her.
  • Studs SHOULD BE AVOIDED unless you are an experienced horseman. They can be very aggressive around mares.
  • Do not automatically rule the horse out if a health issue is raised. Discuss it with your vet, as it could be minor. You may be able to use this issue as a negotiation tool.
  • Shots and worming up to date? What form of worming has been administered to the horse in the past?
  • Experience of rider
  • Any previous illness or injury to horse

When horse shopping, you will also want to know why the horse is being sold and how old it is. Make sure the horse is registered and the papers available at the time of sale. Ask if the bridle and saddle are included in the sale of the horse.

Tip: Consider choosing an older horse that is five years old or older.

By choosing an older horse that is five years old or older and trained as a saddle horse, the horse should be gentler, more experienced, and trained to do what a rider wants and expects.

Basic Steps to Follow When Shopping for a Horse:

  • Before taking a long drive out to look at a horse, first see if it is worth a visit
  • Phone the seller and get details that may not have been included in the ad, such as breed, height, age, sex
  • Find out why the horse is being sold
  • Tell the seller what you are looking for and ask if the seller thinks his horse is suitable
  • First visit
  • If after you talk with the seller on the phone, and you determine the horse is worth a look, make an appointment to visit the horse
  • Watch how the seller handles and rides the horse
  • Ride the horse yourself
  • Ask more questions to get more information on the horse, such as health care, trailering, experience on trail, strengths and weaknesses, etc.
  • Take lots of pictures
  • Record your notes and first impressions
  • After narrowing down your choices to a select few, make a second visit
  • Take a knowledgeable horse person with you
  • Ask more questions, even repeating the questions you ask on your first visit, to see if the answers are consistent. Also be sure to verify horse ownership or registration papers.
  • See if the horses demeanor or handling are any different from your first visit
  • After narrowing your selection down even more to one or two choices
  • Make an offer that is contingent on a clean bill of health by your veterinarian (don't expect the seller to pay for the vet service)
  • Trial period
  • Ask for a trial period, so if it turns out this is the wrong horse for you, you can return it to the owner. If the owner agrees, the trial period should be no more than a week. You, the buyer, will be fully responsible for the horse while it is in your possession. You will be responsible for all costs during the trial period including any unexpected vet bills. Also, if you return the horse, do not expect to be reimbursed for any feed. If you negotiate a short trial period, the seller will probably provide you with enough feed during the trial.