horse shopping

Our top seven tips to make horse shopping easier!

Shopping for an equine partner can seem a daunting task, and is something many people don’t find particularly fun. As one client put it to me: “How am I supposed to know if I’ve found my special horse from a video clip and a 30-minute test ride?” It isn’t easy, and in many cases you’re taking a leap and a chance based on a few brief meetings, but here are some guidelines to get you started.

Know What You Want…Within Reason

Before you even start shopping for a horse, you have to have an idea of what you want/need. You’d be surprised how many people have a tough time defining this, even on a basic level. Schoolmaster or young prospect? Jumper or trail horse? What will fit in best with the rest of the horses in the herd?

Now, I added the “within reason” part because I have had clients come to me with a list so extensive and detailed that the chances of finding that exact horse were fairly slim – or would at least entail a long wait. If you are dead set on the exact breed/breeding, age, sex, height, color, training, health and performance record of your future horse, that is fine – as long as you have the patience and budget to back it up. Otherwise you may have to be prepared to compromise on certain points. I laugh when I look back to when I purchased my first horse – I got pretty much exactly what I “thought” I wanted: bay, Warmblood, 17.2hh, gelding, jumper, in my age range. And after a couple of horses, what has my “heart horse” turned out to be? A 16.2hh red roan Tennessee Walker/ Mustang mare. And am I ever glad I didn’t rule her out because of her color or breeding, or the fact she was a mare.

Along these lines you also need to know in advance what your shopping budget is and how flexible you are. Make sure you take into consideration the cost of horse shopping itself – travel costs, vet checks, coach fees and trailering to name a few.

Window Shopping

I think we are really fortunate in this day and age because we can preview thousands of horses for sale at our own convenience, thanks to the internet. For some, this may make things more difficult because it really opens up your choices in comparison to just going to your local auction, but that’s half the fun (or insanity?). So once you have your basic criteria in mind, start searching – the ads that will make things easiest for you will have photos at the very least. Video is a bonus and can sometimes be requested from the seller.

Whether it’s your first horse or your twentieth, it can always be helpful to have someone else look at the photos and video with an unbiased eye. Once you think you’ve found a horse you would like to see in person, you can contact the seller to get additional information, ask questions, and from there set up a “date” with your potential future equine!

Try Before You Buy

Everyone has different preferences when they go out to try a horse, but I like to see everything the first time – from the horse being caught and haltered in the field, to grooming and tacking up, warming up/lunging, riding, cooling out, untacking, bathing and stall/barn manners. I take notes on all aspects of the horse’s personality, training and manners.

As well, the first time I see a horse I’m comfortable with (and I recommend this to clients, too) I have his owner, trainer or rider ride him first so I can observe. Pending that, I will get on the horse.

If possible, have someone else go shopping with you. Again, a critical unbiased eye can be super helpful for reminding you of how broncy the horse got during the canter departs when you start gushing: “But I loooove his mane and tail!” If said person can also take photos and/or video, that is a big bonus. And it is always advantageous having your coach or trainer go with you whenever possible.

A Second Date?

If they have a positive experience, many people will go back to see a horse a second time (and sometimes a third – after that you may be trying the seller’s patience a little). This gives you an opportunity to determine whether the horse’s personality is consistent or not, and maybe ride him right from the get-go so you can see how he warms up with an unfamiliar rider. You may also be comfortable doing a little more with him than on the last ride; for example jumping a course or going on a short hack.

On Hold

If you like the horse and want to ensure you have the first right to refusal on him, pending any vetting or other viewings, you may want to consider putting a deposit down on him. This should be accompanied by signed paperwork stating that a deposit of X amount was given, and that the agreed upon price will be paid in full pending a vet check, trainer visit, etc. Make sure you check with the seller in advance to see whether your deposit will be refunded should you decide not to purchase the horse.

The Vet Check

Whether the horse is $1 or $10,000, I always recommend at least a basic vet check to my clients. The $1 horses are frequently (though not always) the ones that cost more down the road. The vet check can help alert you to any issues that already exist or might arise later, and assist you in determining whether the horse is physically suited to what you would like to do.

If the horse you have selected vets out – congratulations! Make sure an appropriate sales contract is drawn up and signed by both parties, and that you receive any paperwork (i.e. registration papers) that should accompany the horse. From here you will just need to arrange trailering to your farm, and then you can begin enjoying your horse! If the sales process was a pleasant one, keep in touch with the sellers from time to time – they may be able to answer questions or offer tips down the road should you run into any issues with your new friend.

Happy shopping!