What Do I Need To Know When I Buy My First Horse

by Sarah Macey

You’ve been riding for a while, you know what’s involved, you can commit the time and now you are ready for your first horse, so let’s look at what you need to do.

What Are Your Riding Capabilities?
You need to firstly determine your own riding standards and what type of horse you need to look for. Be careful not to buy or loan a horse that is beyond your immediate capabilities as this will make what is supposed to be an enjoyable partnership into a potentially painful, dangerous and disappointing experience!

Don’t be afraid to admit you are not an expert and that you are not the best at everything.  You do not need to be an expert to own a horse, but you do need to have the sense to admit you are not. The willingness to learn and take advice is essential and ask yourself:

  • What are your horse riding abilities?
  • What activities will you want your horse for?
  • Will your horse be used for hacking, competition or purely as a companion?
  • Is there a particular type or breed of horse that you desire within your height range?
  • What are the essential qualities your horse must have?

Other Considerations That Are Involved In Owning A Horse?
When you buy a horse it is a huge financial commitment. The initial purchase cost is minimal compared to the cost of keeping a horse.
Consider what else you may need to finance as well as buying your first horse, i.e. getting your stable block built, the tack, the rugs, grooming kit etc. You also need to remember the longer-term on going financial commitments like feeding, worming, feet, teeth, vaccinations, bedding, livery, vets fees, competition fees and on and on. Do you get my point?
When you start looking for your first horse, always set a budget and get advice from other trusted and knowledgeable horse owners. Consulting with a person who has good equine knowledge is a must for the novice.
Write down a list of what you desire in your horse and stick to them. For example:

  • What Height Do You Require
  • What Age
  • The Breed You would like
  • What particular Blood lines
  • The Colour
  • The Sex

Consider what personality traits your horse will need to have. Does he need to be calm, lively, friendly, patient etc?
What previous training might he have had?

Ask yourself, Does he need to have, competition ability along with a written history?

It is all too easy to fall in love with the first horse you see. Don’t rush, finding the right horse takes time and in many cases you will see a number of horses before you find the one that is absolutely right for you.

You will find horses are advertised in many different places both for sale and loan. Some horses will be advertised in your local saddlers shop and a larger number will be advertised in equestrian magazines, local papers and on the internet.

It’s always a good idea to make enquiries at local riding establishments, livery yards, pony or riding clubs and with equine experts which could be farriers and instructors in your local area. Let it be known that you are looking for a horse.

If this is your first horse, I would avoid buying a horse at a sale, a market or a fair as you don’t get to see the horse in his home environment and you probably won’t be able to have a pre-purchase trial. You need to be extremely knowledgeable and experienced to go to a sale and purchase a horse that is suited to you. Even the most experienced people can get caught out.

Unfortunately, there are a number of people who deal in buying and selling horses, not all are reputable. Always check them out before you go and see the horse you are interested in.

Where Will You Keep Your Horse
There are advantages and disadvantages to owning your own land or keeping the horse at livery. Should you be lucky enough to have your own land and stabling provisions then the cost of keeping a horse will be reduced considerably, however the time commitment may be increased in comparison to keeping a horse at full or part livery.
Horses in field

If you do not own your own land or stables and are going to keep the horse at livery then you will need to think about the type of livery, the location of the livery yard, its facilities, the level of care offered and the costs involved.

Buying Your Horse
Prepare yourself for the initial contact with the seller by making a list of various questions to ask over the phone. You need to do this to find out whether the horse that you are interested in is going to be suitable.
The main questions you should consider asking are:

  • Why are you selling the horse?
  • How old is he?
  • Tell me about his temperament?
  • What height is she?
  • What is the cost?
  • What sex is the horse?
  • What colour?
  • How experienced is the horse?
  • Has the horse ever had any injuries or illness?
  • Does the horse demonstrate any vices like weaving, crib-biting, box walking etc?
  • Does the horse have any conformational faults?
  • What is the horse like hacking and how does he behave in traffic when ridden alone, and when ridden in company?
  • Tell me the daily routine for the horse?
  • How does the horse behave with other horses, both when ridden and turned out?
  • Does the horse have a passport?
  • What is the horse’s breeding? Is the horse registered or eligible for registration?
  • Are tack and rugs included in the price?
  • Is the horse vaccinated? what is he vaccinated with? and are his vaccinations up to date?
  • What is the horse like to load, catch and clip?
  • How does the horse behave with the farrier and the vet?
  • How long have you owned the horse? Where did you get the horse from?
  • Has the horse ever suffered with laminitis or sweet itch?
  • Is the horse shod?
  • Is the horse in full work? When was the last time the horse was ridden?
  • How does the horse behave at shows and competitions?
  • Would you class the horse as a novice or an experienced ride?

As you can imagine, once you have answers to all these questions, you will have a good idea as to whether you will go to see this horse or not. Make sure that you write down the answers to the questions listed above or else you could forget some details when you go to see the horse.

Do not make a decision immediately. Tell the seller that you will call them back to arrange a visit once you have had time to think about what you have been told.

If you feel sure that this horse may be suitable, then call back the seller and arrange a visit. Make sure you explain exactly what you want to see when you visit, i.e. lunge, jump, load, hacking etc.

Always take an experienced person with you. For example, a BHS qualified instructor, to view any horse. Now this is important. Never get on any horse without seeing somebody else ride it first. Why? Because this will allow you to observe the horse’s paces, movement and behaviour under saddle. Take every opportunity to assess the horse, ask to see the horse being hacked down the road, lunged, loaded, jumped etc.

Watch closely the horse being handled and make notes and check the general health of the horse including body condition, feet and legs. Look for any old injuries, lumps bumps or any abnormalities. Do not be frightened to ask what things are as this could be a potential problem if you decide to purchase the horse.

When you have seen the horse being ridden and you and your advisor are confident that this horse is safe, ask whether either of you could have a ride. Remember, this is a new horse for you and you are a new rider for the horse, however, putting him through his paces of walk, trot, canter and even a jump should not be too much to ask, especially if this horse may be potentially yours.

Having tried the horse and asked all the questions you feel appropriate do not make an instant decision, go away and discuss the viewing with your advisor.

Do not be afraid to contact the seller and ask more questions or to arrange another viewing. If you are not interested do not waste any more of the seller’s time. If you think the horse is suitable ask to visit again and ride it a few more times so you can develop a feel for the horse. Remember to refer back to your list of questions that you initially asked and ensure the horse has all the requirements and qualities you wanted, again don’t make rash decisions.

When you have found the horse that you feel is the most suitable for you and that he has met your criteria; I strongly recommended that you arrange for a vet to carry out a pre-purchase veterinary examination. This may seem costly it’s not. It may save you a lot of money and heartache in the future.

Always ensure that you obtain a pre-purchase agreement and a Pre-Purchase examination by a qualified Vet. This will reduce the chances of you buying a horse that may have health problems or become unsound in the future.You may choose to include the following:

  • The sale date and cost of the horse.
  • The name and signature of both parties i.e. the buyer and the seller.
  • The name of the horse, age, colour, sex and a brief description.
  • A list of any additional equipment sold with the horse including the registration documents, flu vaccination certificate, passport, tack, rugs etc.
  • The start date, termination date and conditions of the trial period. Trial periods can be fraught with problems for both the buyer and seller, it is therefore advisable to ensure that all aspects of this trial period are covered in writing, including whose responsibility it is if the horse is ill, injured etc, who pays the insurance etc.
  • Conditions of sale.
  • A statement of any known vices, injuries or problems the horse may have.
  • A description of the horse’s abilities and a “fit for use” statement.
  • A statement acknowledging that the horse will need a settling in period to adjust to its new environment.

This is purely for guidance only. Legal Advice should be sought on any documents to ensure that they are legally binding.

All equines within the UK  require a passport identification document. It is a legal requirement that the passport is transferred with the horse and is given to the new owner at the time of the sale. It is then the responsibility of the new owner to send the passport to the relevant issuing authority to amend ownership details.

Loaning a horse can be as exciting as buying one; the agreement will be between you, the borrower, and the owner. If you are not 100% sure that you can cope with the responsibility and financial commitment of owning your own horse, then loaning could be a sensible option. Loaning does bring with it as much commitment financially and requires the same time dedication and level of care as owning a horse.

However you do not own the horse, therefore you would not be responsible for the sale or finding a new home, unless specified otherwise in the loan agreement.

At Last You Own Your Own Horse.
For the first few weeks that you own your new horse she will be adjusting and settling into her new environment, be patient with her.  At the time of purchase you should check when the horse was last wormed and ideally get your vet to perform a faecal egg count to ensure that the horse does not have a high worm burden and that it is not going to infect the pasture.

Introducing the horse to companions or field mates should be done gradually to avoid bullying and to allow changes in the pecking order. The first few weeks should be spent getting to know your new horse and allowing the horse to get to know you.

It will take time for the horse to learn to trust you and for you to establish a good partnership.

Ideally before you even collect or arrange for the horse to be delivered you should register with a farrier and a vet.

By following these guidelines, your chances of having many happy years with your new horse will be increased. That special bond when you find the right horse for yourself can not be expained. So take your time and really make an informed choice, not a purely emotional decision.

Let me know how you are getting on when buying your horse. Good luck and enjoy your new companion.

The Stable Doctor
Research: British Horse Society
Advice is given without legal responsibility

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