Buying your first horse? Here are some tips & advice
This post is for my dear friend Stephanie who is casually starting her journey of buying her first horse. I am delighted and excited for her. About 2 years ago Stephanie began riding and taking the right steps toward lessons, learning basic horsemanship skills, as well as trying out different disciplines. She most recently settled (quite well I might add) into Dressage. I have put together a few tips to help her and others as they start their search for the perfect equine partner.
Establish your budget
First-time horse buyers often ask how much they should spend on buying a horse. The answer depends on your long-term goals. If you only plan on riding for pleasure or competing at a local level, you most likely can find a trustworthy mount for $5,000-$10,000. If you are willing to look past things like an older horse or minor maintenance, you may find a suitable horse for even less than that. Keep in mind your 'starter horse' should be a safe, reliable partner with whom you can learn fundamental horsemanship skills. Remember that the initial cost of the horse is just a small fraction of the long-term expenses of owning a horse, so make sure you have a full understanding of the monthly and "surprise" costs it takes to keep a horse.
Make a list
You should formulate a list of what is most important to you or 'must-haves' and also a wish list of 'wants.' It's necessary to have a realistic idea of what you plan on doing with the horse. The essential requirement of buying your first horse is safety. You want to have a good experience and also make sure it's a horse you can trust. For your first horse, it's helpful to purchase within your network of people, friends, or acquaintances so you can trace the history of the horse, and so you know you’re buying from a trustworthy source.
Buy for Temperament
Temperament is the most important consideration when buying your first horse (or any horse really). Your first horse should be kind and quiet. Though you may be tempted to go for beauty, buying a gentle horse that doesn't kick, buck or bite should be your number one priority. Regardless of all the lessons you take, mistakes in riding and handling are inevitable, you want a horse that is tolerant of your mistakes.
Age isn't always an indicator of training level or experience but, generally, you should avoid a very young horse. However, you also don't necessarily want to buy an older horse that has been hanging around as a "pasture puppy" for the last five years.
Read the ads thoroughly
For beginners, avoid horses with advertising terms that include "needs finishing," "green," or "suggested for an intermediate rider." You should look for ads that state things like; "proven youth horse," "bombproof," "anyone can ride," or "currently a lesson horse." Though sellers can exaggerate, this is an excellent place to start before you make any further inquiries.
It is useful to ask further questions, preferably through e-mail, before you consider scheduling a time to try the horse. Be aware that the seller may genuinely not know the answers to some of your questions, but, keep in mind, responses such as "not with me" or "not that I know of" are not the same as 'yes' or 'no' answers.
Example questions to ask the seller:
· How long have you owned the horse?
· Has the horse had any medical issues that required the vet besides routine care?
· Any history of colic or colic surgery?
· Have they ever been unsound?
· Do they have any allergies?
· Do they have any vices?
· Do they have any cribbing tendencies?
· Do they require on-going maintenance, including medications or injections?
· How often are they ridden?
· Are they currently in a training program?
· Are they 'beginner' or 'advanced-beginner' safe?
· Are they good on trails?
Try out the horses
At this point, you have narrowed down your list to a few possibilities. It’s now time to try the finalists yourself. It's imperative to take an experienced horse person or trainer with you to evaluate your horse prospects. If they are happy with the horse and think it will suit you, then it's time to try it out. You have probably narrowed down the horses that closely match your 'must-have' checklist. The big question now is, do you like the horse? Do you feel safe and comfortable on him? If your answer is "sort of" or "you’re not sure," then you should probably keep looking. If you are grinning ear-to-ear and feel 100% comfortable, the next step would be a thorough vet check.
Do a vet check
Make sure you select a veterinarian who has not seen the horse before. If possible, you should be present to hear the vet's comments and recommendations firsthand. Keep in mind the level of training you plan on doing when you discuss the exam with your vet. Most horses don't pass a vet check with a 100% complete evaluation. Rarely will a vet outright "pass" or "fail" a horse. Instead, they will relay their observations to you regarding the horse's soundness and general health so you can make a responsible and informed decision on whether the horse is a good match for your needs. A basic vet check will run between $200-$500. If you decide to do x-rays (which I highly recommend), the cost will increase depending on how many x-rays you choose.
After you negotiate the price, make sure you get a contract or bill of sale that clearly outlines the terms of the purchase.
Happy horse shopping, and I hope these tips help you find your perfect partner!