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How To Buy Your First (Perfect) Horse

Buying a horse or pony is a big decision. It can be the culmination of a lifetime dream for some. It can also be one of the most costly purchases that you make. For that reason, it is important to approach the horse search with some forethought. Whether the purchase is for you or a loved one, the following guidelines should aid in this important acquisition.

Know your Motivation

Why are you buying a horse? Did you always love horses as a child and now that you are an adult, you can fulfill your own dream? Are you the parent of a horse crazy child who has been asking for the proverbial pony at every gift-giving occasion since the age of 2? Whatever your reason for buying a horse, make sure that you are prepared for all aspects of ownership. Are you prepared to pay the upkeep, which may include unexpected vet bills? Are you willing to live with limitations on your time if your boarding facility requires you to do stall cleaning? If you want to keep the horse at home, are you prepared for even more time limitations and the extra hassle of finding qualified help to take care of the horse while you are away? The amount of time you have available to spend on horse activities should also be examined. If your time is limited to only 1-2 times a week for a few hours, leasing a horse may be a better/ more economical option. These are questions that only you can answer for yourself. It is vital that you go into this purchase with your eyes open to all aspects of horse ownership If you have decided that yes, you and your family have the time and economic resources for a horse, you need to move on to the next step, determining your needs.

Determine your Needs

When deciding what horse or pony to buy, you need to determine the rider’s ability and the proposed use of the animal.

It is important to be realistic in assessing the rider’s skills. Buying a horse beyond the skill level of a rider is very different than buying a child a shirt a little large so that they can grow into it. It can be downright dangerous to buy a horse beyond the ability of the rider. If the horse if for your child, and they are taking lessons, ask the instructor about your child’s abilities. If you are an adult who rode “years ago” and are trying to get back into it, sign up for a lesson or two to brush up on your skills and get the trainer’s opinion on what level of horse would suit you. If you don’t have access to training, at least enlist the aid of a horsey friend to help you get a comfort level of where you stand. This step in the decision process is critical. So many horses are for sale because they are just too much for the owners to handle. They just fell in love with the way the horse looked or how it nuzzled them over the stall door. If you can only confidently walk and trot, it is probably be best that you not go after a world-class barrel racing prospect. Once you are clear about the skill of the rider, you need to look at the intended use of the horse.

What do you want to do with this horse? Is it for trail riding? Is it going to be used for showing? If you are showing the horse, what level of showing do you expect to reach..schooling, local, National? What discipline do you plan on riding… English? Western? Endurance? Dressage? Driving? Rodeo Events? Also, think about your long/midrange plans for this horse. For example, you might just be looking for a trail horse now, but know that you would like to do some showing in a year or two. If this is the case, look for a horse that will be able to transition to the show ring from the trail. This might mean that you spend a little more money for a registered horse with some training, but it is cheaper and easier on your emotions than having to sell your horse after a short time because he/she doesn’t meet your future needs. If you want to go to a breed show, you will need to make sure that the horse is registered as well. There are a lot of great horses out there, however, not all horses are great at the same things. If you can clearly define how you want to use this horse you will be able to narrow down your choices considerably.

Decide on a Budget

Money is often a deciding factor in the purchase of a horse. We see ads all the time – “wanted safe horse for my child, can only afford $800-$1000.” I would like to offer one caveat. In general, it will cost you just as much to pay for the upkeep of a cheap horse as it will for an expensive one. Sometimes, the cheaper one can be a bigger financial cost because of health/soundness issues that account for the lower price. The purchase price is only one part of the financial outlay you will make for this animal and in the long run, It will become less significant. For example, you might pay $2,500 for a horse and it will cost you $3,000 the first year for board, $200 in vet bills, $500 in farrier bills and another $1,000 for miscellaneous tack and other items. That means you spent $2,500 on the horse, but $4,700(almost twice as much) that year to pay for keeping it and the figures I am using are pretty conservative and don’t take into account any emergency vet visits etc… I am not trying to discourage horse ownership because of the cost I am trying to drive home the point that you should spend as much as you comfortably can. You are more likely to be happy with the horse if your budget allows you to buy one with better breeding or more training/experience. If that means that you wait a month or two longer to save the extra money, it will probably be worth it. Some people will also take payments, so you can spread the cost over several months. However; if all you really can afford is $800, go back and reread the sentence on how much it will cost you to keep the horse for the year and rethink this purchase. Having a horse is a rewarding experience, just make sure that you have the budget to support its needs. It is difficult to give you an idea on how much you will need to spend to get your perfect horse. Breeding, age, experience, training and supply/demand for the horse will all factor in to the price. You will need to do some research when you decide on the breed/use to find out how much you will need to spend to get the mount you want.

Get Yourself Some Help!

Ok, now you know why you want a horse, what you want to do with it and how much you want to spend. You can go looking now, right? Maybe, but if you want to be even more sure of your purchase, get yourself some help.

First, if you have a trainer, they can be an excellent resource. They can go with you to look at horses that you think you might want and give you an opinion on the suitability for you. Just keep in mind that trainers often have their own horses to sell too and they may steer you towards their horse instead of another one from an outside seller. If you don’t feel comfortable with a horse that your trainer is pushing you to, do not buy it. If you are in love with a horse that your trainer is not in favor of, ask for specific reasons. If you agree that those limits are valid, then the horse may not be right for you, if you don’t agree, you can get another trainer or a horsey friend to help you with the evaluation. If you don’t have a trainer at all, a friend or barn mate with some experience with horses is better than going it alone.

A second vital resource is your veterinarian. It is almost always a good idea to have the horse vet checked before you buy it. This is no guarantee that the horse has no medical problems, but can reduce the chance that you will be stuck with an unsound horse. A pre-purchase exam can help you find out whether the horse will be able to hold up to the demands of your proposed use. There may be health issues you can live with, but a veterinarian can give you the best indication of whether the problem will be an obstacle that cannot be overcome. Keep in mind that no horse is perfect. The vet may point out that the horse “toes in” a little or paddles when he trots. These “faults” may not interfere with your use, but it is important to go into the purchase with as much information as possible.

A third resource to use when evaluating a horse is you. Get on the Internet; talk to friends, read magazines. Learn all you can about the kind of horse you want. The more you know about what you want, the easier it will be for you to recognize it when you see it. The first two resources will cost you money and the expert advice is very valuable. However, don’t pass up the chance to become your own “expert” for free.

Find the Right Horse

You are ready to buy! Now it is time to find prospects. This can be fun, but also can be frustrating; many people oversell their horse. You may think you are going to see a show jumping prospect and find a 14.3-hand cow-type horse when you get there. Truth in advertising is not always reliable. But the following will give you a place to start your search.

If you have a trainer, look to him/her first. Trainers often know of horses and ponies available for sale. They may have a student looking to move up that has a horse that would be perfect for you. Just remember that they may have a vested interest in selling you these horses since many trainers receive commission on horses that they help to sell. If you are on your own, or your trainer does not have any leads for you, there are several places you can look on your own. They are listed below with explanations.

Classified ads in Newspapers – All your local newspapers will have classified ads for horses and livestock.
Notices on Feed/Tack Store Bulletin Boards – Many of these establishments will allow people to post fliers about horses for sale.
Horse Shows – Sometimes you will find people advertising their horse for sale at shows. They may have it announced in a class or posted on the stall door or trailer. This will give you a chance to see the horse in action.
Internet – There are tons of sites that you can search on the Internet for horses. Haynet is a good national one and the Bay Area Equestrian Network is a good one in the local Bay area. Look not only for the classified sections, but also for breeders and training facilities as they may have horses available.
Local Riding Facilities – Local Barns may have horses for sale or have boarders with horses for sale.
Ask around the barn – If you are affiliated with a barn, ask people if they know anyone selling a horse. This may be hit or miss, but you might come across that “divorce sale special.”
Auctions- These can be risky because you may not be able to know the background or health status of the horse, but they can be a place to find your reasonably priced horse. Auctions are probably better suited to the more experienced horseperson who will be able to spot issues of health and training. You also usually do not have a very long time to make your decision. You might have to look at a horse in the morning and decide by that afternoon whether it is right for you.
This list may not be all-inclusive, but if you are looking for a horse, you should be able to come up with a good selection of prospects from one or more of these resources.

Making Your Selection

If you have found a horse or three that might meet your needs, you need to decide which one, if any, to buy. Since this is a major decision, do not make it quickly or impulsively. Ask the owners if there is any possibility of a trial period, either at your barn or theirs. Many people do not like to do this because of the risk that the horse could become injured in someone else’s care. If a trial is not possible, try to go see the horse more than once. See if the behavior you saw the first time is consistent. Go back with friends, your trainer, and at least one more time with a vet of your choosing. While you don’t want to “wear out your welcome” you do want to be sure that this is the horse for you. Anyone selling a horse should understand this and allow reasonable revisits. That does not mean that you go to their barn and try the horse out every day for two weeks, but make sure that you are comfortable with how much time you have been given to make your decision. If you have done your research, gotten the expert advice of a trainer and a vet and spent some time with the horse, you should be ready to make a decision. If you still are unsure if this is the right horse for you, back away from the deal. There are many horses for sale and you will know when you have found the “perfect” horse. You may pass up some mounts that would be suitable, but since this is such a big investment, you really have to feel comfortable with your choice.

Once you have found your horse, enjoy! It may have been a long search, but you can be surer that you will be happy with your new friend if you have followed all the steps. Just remember, you need to know why you want the horse, what skill level the rider has and what you want to do with the horse. Then you need to determine how much you can spend. Find yourself some people like a trainer and a vet to help you make the decision when you find a prospect. Round up a list of likely candidates from various places. Enlist your resources to help you make the final choice. Have fun with your new horse, knowing that you have done everything possible to make an informed decision.

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How To Buy Your First (Perfect) Horse