One of the most frustrating things a horse person does in life is shop for the perfect horse. Despite the amount of hope, expense and time people put into searching for a new horse, a very large proportion buy something that they soon regret after finally getting it home. Why is this?
From my observations there are two reasons that are the primary cause of buying an unsuitable horse.
The first is that their idea of the horse they want is different from the horse they need. Some people have an unrealistic assessment of their ability to get along with their dream horse. They might want a huge warmblood with Olympic potential, yet are unable to ride a horse with big movement. Or they want an unbroken horse that has not yet been soured by human experience, yet don’t have the skills to work with a green horse. Or they want a quiet, easy-going Clydesdale to build their confidence on, but discover that many Clydesdales are not that quiet.
I think the second common cause of people making mistakes when choosing a horse to buy, is that even though they have a list of criteria they are looking for, the list gets ignored at some point along the way.
People go shopping for a 15hh, Quarter Horse gelding that is between 8 and 14 years old and done basic adult riding classes, then come home with a 3 year old 17.2hh mare that was failed racehorse.
They begin with all the right intentions to find the horse that best suits their needs, but get sucked into buying something they saw that was prettier or had more ribbons or had only been ridden by a little old lady to church on Sundays. For the sake of a momentary whim they lose sight of their goal and buy something that is totally unsuitable.
Every purchase is fraught with the potential to be the wrong purchase. It’s hard enough for even very experienced horse people with a keen eye to not make a mistake when buying a horse. But it becomes even more important that the average horse shopper does their research and stick to their resolve to only look for horses that meet their criteria.
To avoid both mistakes of buying on a whim or looking for something unsuitable for your needs, it is best to consult the brains trust of a good horse person who is not invested in your purchase. You may have to pay them a fee for their service, but it is money well spent. You need somebody experienced and who isn’t interested in selling you a horse or a friend’s horse or wants you to send the horse to them for future training. You need to put trust in their advice and listen to it even if your heart tells you the pretty golden palomino with the star on its forehead, is your life’s soul mate. Do not ignore the advice of a respected horse person just because your heart is set on a particular horse.
More often than not, I have experienced that people’s wrong choice is because they listened to their heart and not their head. Most times when there is a disparagement between what the heart wants and the head tells them, and the heart wins, it does not work out well.
So my biggest tip is to create a list of what you want in a new horse. Get your instructor or somebody who knows your abilities and circumstances to help write your list. The list should be divided into three sections. The first is things that you definitely want that are not negotiable – they are deal breakers (eg age, height). The second section is a list of things you’d like in a horse, but you can compromise on for the right horse (eg breed or cost). The third section lists the thing you don’t want in a horse – these are also deal breakers (eg wind sucker).
Then go shopping. When you have narrowed your list to 2 or 3 horses that you are seriously considering buying, go back with your dispassionate advisor for a second visit. Make sure the owner rides the horse first, and then you ride it, then your advisor.
If you are buying a horse for trail riding or competition, it is a good idea to have a third ride away from the horse’s home paddock. Arrange to meet the owner with the horse, for a ride somewhere that is not familiar to the horse, so you can ensure the horse is not crazy when taken out of familiar territory. This could be also useful if you are buying a horse for competition.
When you have decided on your dream horse (with the advice of your consultant), always insist on an independent veterinary check (independent vet is absolutely essential). Some people feel a vet check isn’t worth the money unless they are paying a lot for a horse. However, even if the horse is cheap, the vet bills and health care costs that you might be saddled with later will definitely not be cheap.
However, remember it is not the job of the vet to pass or fail your horse as suitable for purchase. Their job is to give you a detailed report on the physical condition of the horse. You are the one that decides if the horse meets the criteria on your list – not the vet. For example, if you are looking to buy a 12-year-old horse, it might have some arthritis or a clubfoot. But that does not mean it would not make a perfect trail horse or amateur competitor for somebody. A vet may fail the horse, but considering the sort of riding that the horse will be asked to do, that might be a mistake. A veterinary report should always be considered in the light of what you want to be able to do with the horse. If you look hard enough, all horses will have physical problems. The only question you have to ask yourself is, will those physical problems prevent you from doing the sort of riding you intend?
If you can get the owner to let you trial the horse for a couple of weeks, I’d advise that you accept that. But ensure a proper agreement is written and signed, so both parties know the terms and costs involved. However, many owners don’t allow trial periods, which is perfectly understandable.
If you are buying from a breeder or a professional horse person, it’s a good idea to check around and find out if they have a good reputation and are people of integrity. You can contact people who have bought horses from them previously to get their experience. Some dealers have seriously bad reputations and most of them are well known in the area. Asking on horse forums, or talking to the local saddlery or feed store can reveal the names of people to avoid dealing with. No amount of promises about money back guarantee or lovely quiet pony are worth anything unless properly written and signed.
Over the years, I have been asked many times to inspect and advise people about a horse they were interested in buying. About 75 percent of the time people have purchased horses against my advice. This is because people buy with their heart and not their head. In every case, it proved to be an unwise purchase. Don’t be one of those people that shop for horses with an emotional investment.