Buying a horse is not easy even for an expert and can be quite a daunting and worrying task. Here are a few pointers to try and help set you on the right track when buying a horse.
Unfortunately these are only guidelines of what to avoid and no one can “remotely”, (unless they are present on the day), tell you what to look for specifically as a rapport between horse and rider is an integral part of a successful relationship with your horse. That means riding it to see if it suits you is essential and no matter how much you like the horse if it is not possible to ride it - walk away or come back another day when you can ride it – but as riding a horse is part of buying, an owner who lets you arrive in their yard only to say the horse in question can’t be ridden, is probably hiding something.
You can ask to see the horse load, as if you intend to transport it to shows, pony club, rides and elsewhere a bad loader can be a huge nightmare.
Note: A horse that does not want to load does not indicate a bad horse but, more commonly a horse that has had a bad experience in a box, so this only matters if you want to load it to take it places.
Ask if it is sound and say you will buy it “subject to a vet’s exam” to determine if it really is sound. Find out who the vet for the yard is and get a different vet to do the exam. The yard vet may feel a responsibility to provide a sound certificate when another vet may give it an unsound one.
It is a good idea to take an experienced horse person with you and if you do not know anyone, offer to pay an instructor from a local livery yard or riding stable to go with and advise you.
Never buy on any basis where it is not 100% suitable. Buying a horse because it looks nice; is a lovely colour; is young and you can keep it a long time; the owner told you the horse has fallen in love with you and any other non-relevant thing should immediately be discarded as useless.
The horse must be of a level and type that suits you; a novice rider needs an experienced horse, a person who wishes to compete needs a mount that can do likewise, and you must feel comfortable with that horse and the horse must feel comfortable with you.
You can always ask to take the horse home on a week’s or month’s trial. The owner may agree or they might be justifiably worried about a stranger having their horse, but unless you ask you will never know.
Even if you are not an expert there are certain things that are easy to spot and are warning signs for buying that horse:
- Laminitis can leave rings around a ponies hoof, (horses too but ponies are more prone to this problem), so look carefully at the hooves to see if there are indentations on the outer hoof wall. These may cover most of the hoof or be quite high up, but if there are rings there you will find owning this animal a trial come spring when grass is at its sweetest. Once an animal has had laminitis it can be more prone to getting it again, so unless you have time to dedicate to moving a pony from field to field or field to stable to avoid this, try looking for another animal.
- Weaving may not be easy to spot unless they are chronic weavers and in that case the owner will probably admit to it. Horses tend to do this when they are bored, but if you are visiting the yard they may find enough of interest watching you and resist doing this during your visit. However, there are ways to try and deduce if it is a possibility or not. Look at other stables, (and the one your potential new horse is in too), to see if weaving bars are fitted. These are bars that fit onto stable doors and are “V” shaped, allowing the horse to put its head out but not leaving enough space for him to swing it from side to side. Horses are mimics and easily copy others, so if there is one weaver in the yard it is likely, although not definite, there will be others. Be wary of buying a horse that weaves as this can seriously damage their legs and they will probably set others who come into contact with them on this course too.
- Look at the stable door where your horse is kept – has it been badly chewed, especially in one place. This can indicate many things, some harmless, but can also be a sign the horse windsucks, (many hang onto something with their teeth to do this), so ask why the door is chewed.
- Look closely at the horse’s legs to see if there are any bumps or scars. These could indicate a problem so ask how they came about.
- Stable manners are a good indication of a horse’s character and the training it has had. If a horse bites or kicks in the stable there is a chance it will be a bit difficult to handle elsewhere too. This is not a sure thing, but happens in a good many cases.
- When trying a horse try to ride it in as many situations as possible; in a field to see if it takes off, over jumps to see if it tries to stop, and say you will take it for a 10 minute hack along the road to cool it down. It they do not want you taking it on the road, chances are it is badly behaved in traffic.
- Get the owner, groom or someone who knows the horse to ride it first – this is important as some people advertise bad horses as totally safe. Look carefully at how they dress to see if they are wearing spurs and carrying a whip. If they have these things it usually means they are needed – and a well-trained horse does not need this sort of equipment. Next look at the bit they use on the horse, again if it is severe it probably indicates a hard mouth, a horse that pulls or takes off.
- Do not be afraid to ask any questions, but do not count on a totally truthful answer. Many horses are ridden for hours before a prospective buyer arrives to make sure they are so tired they will not buck, take off or pull too much. They may also have been deprived of water to get the same result, so check the stable to see if water is available.
- Fiddle with the horse, try picking up its feet to see how it reacts, stroke its back, (but be ready to get out of the way of flying hooves), rub its ears, give it a piece of carrot or bread – all things you would normally do, but look at its reaction and watch its ears. A horse’s ears are as good a sign of their mood as any. Ears forward, they are interested and content; back they are mad and anywhere in the middle they are bored, getting mad or if they are 70% towards the front slightly wary. (These are simple indications and only to be taken as signals not definite proof. Horses are more complicated than this but it takes years of experience to know what a horse is really thinking.)
Hope this helps and enjoy your new horse when you find a suitable one.
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