So you've been learning to ride for a while, you feel confident in your ability and you've even enjoyed getting stuck in with friends' horses - mucking out, feeding, riding in the sunshine, grooming and bathing. You've been toying with the idea of buying your own horse for a while and you've finally decided to take the plunge...
But how do you negotiate the minefield of buying, without getting caught out?
You know horses cost money. A lot of money. But it's vital you fully understand the financial commitment involved in horse ownership. The actual purchase is the easy (and cheapest!) bit. You have to consider the costs involved in the upkeep of your new best friend. Things to consider include:
Some experts estimate the costs of horse ownership to be around £300 per month - between £3000 - £4000 per year. Be realistic. Can you afford the maintenance as well as the initial outlay?
As well as money, another thing you will have less of when you welcome a horse into your life is time. Yes you love riding. And yes you love being around these magical creatures. But do they seem quite so magical at 7pm in the evening, in freezing temperatures with the rain lashing down, you've just finished work and you have to ride because they've been stuck in the stable all day? They're fresh and you're exhausted.
Horses are hard work and demand an awful lot of your precious time; not because they're attention seeking, but simply because looking after livestock is hard work and takes dedication.
Mucking out, grooming, bathing, tacking up, riding, untacking, turning out - it all takes time, and you will have to check on them at least twice a day. Can you fit this into your life? A wise person once said of horse ownership 'you either have enough money and no time, or plenty of time and no money'. This couldn't be more true.
If you're considering buying a horse the chances are you know one or two people who have lots of experience either as owners or instructors or both. If you have someone you can trust to help you through the purchasing process great; you're going to need them...
A knowledgeable, reliable friend who knows you and your riding ability well, is worth their weight in gold. They can help you pinpoint exactly what it is you need from a horse, they can help you weed out potential purchases from the masses of ads both online and in the tack shops, and if they have the experience, they can help with the viewing process.
When trawling the classifieds for your new steed, be honest, brutally honest, about your capability as a rider, as well as how far you can stretch your budget. The Grade A show jumper might look pretty, but if you've never been over trotting poles then is it really the one for you? The 14-year-old schoolmaster might seem a little old, and perhaps a bit expensive, but if you're a novice it might be the best money you've ever spent.
Don't go for the most beautiful, or the horse with the flashiest paces if you're ability doesn't match up - it's a recipe for disaster. Similarly, don't go for the cheapest because it looks a bit sad in the photo. Be realistic.
Okay - so you've scrutinised your finances, had a look at the time commitments involved and decided that you're a Thelwell rather than a Grand Prix superstar. You've waded through the small ads and whittled your list of 'possibles' down to a handful of likely candidates. It's time to grab your wise friend and get viewing.
Be sure to have a good chat with the current owner when you call to arrange a time to go and see Neddy - there's no such thing as a silly question, but you really need to know:
You can ask these questions at the viewing, but if the owner is an honest one, asking over the phone can save a lot of time and effort.
How exciting! Viewing day is here! Don't be nervous, or too shy to ask important questions. This decision could affect the next ten or twenty years of your life...
Take your knowledgeable friend with you, along with your jodhpurs, hat and boots. Hopefully you will have spoken to your instructor about riding during a viewing and what you should and shouldn't do. You should ride, but ALWAYS get the owner to get on first. Be wary of anyone who says 'there's no one available to ride' or 'he's been exercised today', also be suspicious if the horse appears sweaty - it may mean it's been lunged before you arrived to get rid of any fizziness. Remember to look out for any signs of lameness while the horse is being ridden.
View the horse in the stable, remove the tack and give it a good look over and don't forget to pick all four feet up - it will indicate how the horse may react to having its hooves picked and being shod. Hopefully your friend will also be observing the horse's behaviour and conformation and noting anything they think might be suspicious. Ask any questions you feel you need to ask.
If you like the horse it might be tempting to say yes straight away - however it's important to make a rational, measured decision. Thank the owner and say you'll be in touch. Then go away and have a good natter about it. Even if it's just for an hour.
If you decide to go ahead with the purchase, it's worth arranging a vetting. Most insurance companies don't insist on this for horses worth under a certain amount, but it might just save you some huge vets bills in the future if it picks something up. Always use a vet that is totally unconnected to the owner.
If the horse passes the vetting, put your offer on the table and keep your fingers crossed!