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8 Things to Look for When Buying a Horse

No matter your age, buying a horse is an exciting time. However, before you make the big purchase, you will want to know things to look for when buying a horse.

Purchasing a horse is a big commitment. A lot of money, time, care and dedication goes into owning a horse. It is important that you find the right horse for you in order to create a positive relationship.

Before you start horse shopping, it is important to figure out what you want in a horse. Do you want a trail horse, a show horse or a lesson horse? Is there a certain breed you want? Be sure to know what your plans are for you and your new horse to help you find the right match.

Here are eight things to look for when buying a horse.

1. Age

For many people, it can be desirable to buy a foal and raise it as their own. However, raising a foal calls for a lot of work, dedication and skill, requiring a person with a lot of experience.

For most people, it is ideal to buy a horse that is fully trained and has experience under its belt. The best age to buy a horse is typically between 5-16 years old, as this is when a horse will be in its prime. Typically, younger horses are not a good match for first-time owners as they generally are not experienced enough yet.

Buying a horse in its late teens or early twenties can be a good choice for an inexperienced rider looking for a reliable mount. However, it is important to note that an older horse may be more prone to soundness and health issues. In addition, they may only have a few years left of riding before retirement.

An old common saying is that when buying a child a horse, the combined age of the child and horse should be at least 20. If you have a 10-year-old child you want to buy them a horse that is at least 10 years old.

For adults, this saying can also apply with years of experience. Though it is a good formula to rely on, you also need to factor in the experience, background and temperament of both the horse and rider.

2. Conformation

Not only are horses with good conformation attractive, but they are also generally more likely to have sound builds. Good conformation is an indication of balance, structural correctness and good muscling.

A good conformation is particularly important for show horses. A horse that is well-balanced, strong, and is structurally correct is more likely to be a good mover. In addition, in some classes at horse shows, conformation is part of the judging standard.

Also read: 10 best horse breeds for first-time owners.

3. Experience Level

An inexperienced horse and an inexperienced rider do not mix well. As the old saying goes, “green and green equals black and blue,” implying that an inexperienced rider handling an inexperienced horse can be dangerous.

An inexperienced rider often does not have the skills needed to handle a green horse. They need a horse that is level-headed and well-trained. First-time buyers should always steer clear of horses listed as “needs finishing” or “green” as they will not make a good match.

You should always look for a horse that matches your experience level. Beginner and intermediate riders should look for fully-trained horses that have several years of experience. Experienced riders with the proper skill set may be interested in more of a challenge, such as a young or green horse.

When checking out a horse for sale, it is always a good idea to bring your trainer with you. They can assess the horse and help you determine if the two of you would be a good match.

Girl stroking a horse on the nose

4. Soundness

If you plan on competing or regularly riding your horse, soundness is vital. An unsound horse will likely lead to lots of vet bills.

Whenever you are viewing a horse for sale, ask to see it in hand and under saddle, as well as riding it yourself. This will allow you to get a good idea if the horse is sound, fit and is what you are looking for.

Since not all soundness and health issues are noticeable, it is always recommended to get a vet check prior to purchasing. During a pre-purchase vet exam, a vet will evaluate the horse’s overall condition, check for evidence of a previous injury, listen to the heart and lungs, examine the teeth and check the eyes.

5. Price

Before you go horse shopping, decide on a budget. Not only do you have to consider how much the horse costs to purchase, but the upkeep as well such as board, farrier costs, vet costs, tack, equipment and lessons/training.

Be realistic with your budget and understand what it can get you in a horse. You will often be able to find quality trail horses or lesson horses for a few thousand or less. A quality show horse will likely be much more, easily costing anywhere from $7,000 all the way up to $80,000 or more.

If a horse seems too good to be true at the price it is listed at, be wary. The seller could be leaving out crucial information regarding the horse’s soundness or temperament if they are desperate to sell. Always do your research on the horse and ask lots of questions.

6. Temperament

When finding a horse to buy, temperament is an important factor to take into consideration. For a first-time buyer, it is particularly important to look for a horse that is well-mannered, kind and reliable.

A horse that is “hot” may be a fun challenge for an experienced rider. However, a hot horse that is high-energy and excitable can easily overwhelm an inexperienced horse rider. Look for a horse that matches not only your skill level, but also your energy level.

If you are wanting a trail horse or lesson horse, you will want a calm, easy-going horse. For a show horse, you will likely want something more flashy with a bit more go.

When buying your first horse, you want to look for one that won’t spook easily and is bombproof. A nervous, inexperienced rider and a horse that spooks at easily are not a good match. Look for a horse that you can trust and feel confident around. 

Girl riding a horse in a ménage

7. Pedigree

If you are looking for a horse just for trail riding and pleasure riding, then the horse’s pedigree isn’t normally a big deal. However, if you are in search of a show horse, a good pedigree can be important.

If looking for a show horse, you will want to know if it is registered and view its papers. Study the horse’s pedigree to help you get a better understanding of its background.

A horse’s pedigree, particularly the sire, dam and damsire, can be a good indication of how the horse will turn out. Breeders will carefully study pedigrees in order to produce the best-performing horses possible. If the horse is by a champion stallion that has proven to sire quality horses, chances are that horse will be quality as well.

8. Background

Before making the decision to buy, it is important to know the background of the horse. This will give you a good idea of what you can expect from your new partner.

Ask the owner if the horse has any prior injuries or health issues that could be of concern. Find out what the horse has been used for. See if the horse has done trail riding, lessons or shows. Ask about how often it gets ridden, if it has any vices or quirks and what level of riders have ridden it.

If the horse is a show horse, research its record. Look to see how the horse places at shows and how often it is shown. If possible, ask for videos and pictures of the horse showing to compare to how it goes at home.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does it Cost to Own a Horse?

Before buying a horse, you need to take into consideration the monthly cost of horse ownership. Boarding generally costs between $150-$1,000 a month, depending on your location and if your horse lives in a stall or pasture.

Oftentimes board covers the cost of food, bedding and basic care. You will also need to pay for a farrier to trim your horse’s hooves every 6-8 weeks, which typically costs between $45-$150. Annual veterinary costs will also be around $200-$400, with dentistry costing $80-$250 every six months to a year.

You will also need tack and grooming equipment. A saddle can easily cost between $700-$3,000 or more and a bridle can cost $50-$200. Grooming supplies such as brushes, fly spray and hoof grease can easily add up to $100 or more.

How Much Does a Pre-Purchase Vet Exam Cost for a Horse?

In general, a pre-purchase vet exam will be between $250-500. The exam is a thorough evaluation of the horse to ensure that it is healthy and in good shape. In some cases, further evaluation through X-rays and blood work may be necessary to complete the exam.

What is an Alternative to Buying a Horse?

Buying a horse isn’t realistic for everyone, but there are other options available. Leasing and joint ownership are the two main alternatives to owning your own horse.

Some owners may offer their horses up for lease, which generally requires a small monthly fee as well as the cost of boarding. This gives you the opportunity to have full, or in some cases partial, use of a horse at the fraction of the cost. In addition, another alternative is a limited liability company (LLC) or partnership, which splits up the costs of buying and owning a horse.

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