So You Want To Buy A Horse
Here's what you need to know to make your horse buying experience successful.
Owning a horse is much more expensive than owning a dog or cat, and requires a lot more skill and knowledge. Keep mind that a horse is a prey animal (not a predator like a dog or cat) that weighs over 1,000 lbs, whose main defense is to run like crazy away from a scary thing (which could be a plastic garbage bag), and whose digestive systems only work in one direction. (If you feed a horse something harmful, he can’t vomit. Instead, his stomach will rupture.) You can read more about horse facts here: Facts About Horses
Before you buy a horse, check out the boarding facilities in your area to see how much boarding costs are. You will need people who are knowledgeable to take care of your horse for you. Don’t plan on keeping the horse on your property unless you’re very knowledgeable about what can cause a horse to colic, what to do about colic, what choke is, which weeds are toxic to horses, which feed regimens are suitable and which will harm your horse, how to take a horse's vital signs, and how to administer first aid to a horse—to name just a few things you’ll need to know. You can read more about taking care of horses and how to choose a boarding facility here:
Deciding Whether to Board Your Horse Or Keep Him At Home
Three Questions You Must Ask When Deciding Where to Board Your Horse
If you’re new to riding, also budget for riding lessons. Riding a horse is like being on a moving wobble board that has its own mind. You’ll need instruction to keep yourself and your horse safe. You can read about all the expenses involved in owning a horse and how to choose a good riding instructor here:
How Much Does It Cost To Keep a Horse?
How to Tell Whether You Have a Good Riding Instructor
Now, as to breeds: If you are a beginner, avoid hot breeds like thoroughbreds and Arabians. Look instead for Quarterhorses, Appaloosas, and warmblood-draft crosses, which tend to be very calm horses. If you’re looking mostly for trail riding, I’d also suggest looking for a gaited horse, such as a Tennessee Walking horse or a Rocky Mountain horse. These horses have a gait that is very easy to sit, and they typically have very sweet temperaments. If you're an experienced rider, look for a horse that has experience in your discipline of interest. Thoroughbreds and warmbloods excel in jumping, warmbloods are excellent in dressage, and Quarter horses, Appaloosas, and Thoroughbreds do very well in barrel racing. Other breeds can also do well in these disciplines, depending on the horse's conformation and training.
Sites such as Dream Horse Classifieds and EquineNow - Horses for Sale list horses for sale. You can search according to a number of different features, such as breed, age, temperament, training, geographic location, and price.
I’d also recommend having an experienced trainer or horse owner assist you in finding a suitable mount. When you go to see a horse that sounds suitable, have the horse’s owner or trainer ride the horse while you and your expert watch, then have your expert ride the horse, then ride the horse yourself. If you don’t feel safe, it’s best to pass on the horse.
When you make an offer to buy a horse, make the offer contingent on the horse passing a veterinarian purchase exam (vet check). The vet will make sure the horse is sound (no lameness issues) and is suitable for the kind of riding you plan to do. Be sure you get a bill of sale transferring ownership to you. And you might also ask to have the sale contract specify a “right of first refusal” for the horse, which means that if you decide to sell the horse, the previous owner is given the right to buy the horse back first, before you seek other buyers.
One last important bit of information: Do NOT buy a young horse unless you are a very experienced rider. They are spookier and typically unsuitable for inexperienced riders. Horses can live to be 30 or older, so a horse that is 10, 15, or even 20 years old can bring you a decade or more of riding happiness.
Copyright Denise Cummins, PhD April 24, 2018; updated April 25, 2018
The Thinking Equestrian
Denise Cummins has over 30 years experience as an equestrian and horse business owner. In The Thinking Equestrian, she shares valuable tips on caring for and training horses, giving riding instruction, and running a successful horse business.