“Buying a new horse”
As I’m sure we are all aware, buying a horse can be an extremely difficult and frustrating experience, and whist experience is certainly an advantage finding the right horse can be a minefield.
When you put it in perspective, it’s not surprising that it is hard to find the right horse. It’s a bit like you meeting someone for the first time and having to decide if they would be a good long term partner. To make things harder you only have an hour to make your decision and its love at first sight; the perfect body and cutest smile. Your subject is in familiar surroundings, being very relaxed and extremely polite. Now whilst this may be looking great, would you really want to make a serious long term decision based on a one hour chat? You could be lucky, but how much can you really find out about someone’s personality and behaviour in such a limited time?
Unfortunately buying a horse can present a similar scenario. We generally don’t have much time and are often under pressure to make decisions both for, and against the purchase that are influenced by such things as, emotion, ego, price, and convenience.
I often inspect and give advice on the suitability of horses that are for sale. The most important thing is to try to match the horse to the rider while making sure the horse is suitable for its intended use. Whilst all horses can generally do most things to some degree, they are like humans or dogs in that they will often have a particular talent. You can make life much easier for yourself by working with natural ability. For example if you had the choice; you wouldn’t choose a Labrador to work sheep, or a Boarder Collie to lead the blind. Similarly, you generally wouldn’t choose a thoroubred straight off the track for you child to take to Pony Club!
I’ve put together a few rules, some criteria and a bit of a check list which might be helpful when choosing your next horse.
Be honest with yourself about you own ability. Don’t let your ego, heart or your child talk you into a horse that may look fantastic, but is simply too much horse.
It’s sometimes a reality check, but you wouldn’t buy a formula one racing car to drive the kids to school.
Match the experience. This is where many go wrong! The general rule here is that green horses need experienced riders and green riders need experienced horses.
Match the size. Be realistic about size and power. If you don’t need a big and powerful horse, don’t go there.
Previous rider/trainer can be very important, as an experienced rider or professional trainer can often make a difficult horse well behaved and easy to ride. The potential problem here is that in less capable hands this horse may well deteriorate. This is in no way a criticism of good horsemen; it is simply a fact that you need to be aware of in order to make appropriate enquiries and decisions.
Remember the first impressions may not last. Where possible spend the time to go back several times if possible. Even a couple of visits on the one day may bring out some alternate behaviour.
You don’t really want the horse saddled and warmed up before you arrive. You want to watch the owner catch, tack and ride first. Watch everything that happens and ensure that the owner can do all that you require with the horse. If you’re not completely satisfied with a particular result, then ask for that task to be repeated or expanded on. Don’t avoid issues! That’s exactly what you’re looking for! You want to see what happens if confronted and I am always a bit sceptical of excuses for poor behaviour or work. Remember this is probably as good as it gets, the horse is still in his comfort zone.
Confirm that the horse ties up!
Confirm that YOU can then re-saddle the horse and put his bridle on and off without a problem.
Confirm that the horse will stand still. Having untied the horse, ensure he will stand still whilst you again adjust the saddle. If all is going well and you feel comfortable move the horse to somewhere suitable and prepare to mount. It is important that he is relaxed and stands still whilst you mount. If you are not completely happy, repeat it. Get on and off several times to confirm you are both happy at that point.
Ride the horse taking all the time you need to get relaxed and comfortable with him. Some people may be intimidated by riding in front of others, but it is really important that you get relaxed and confident with the horse. Ensure that the horse is moving freely and responding to your basic aids.
Where possible, try the horse outside his comfort zone. When you are confident, you could ask to ride him out and away from the normal work area. (If you’re not confident then you shouldn’t buy the horse!) If it’s practical and you’re getting serious about wanting the horse; you might try floating him down the road to the local showground or a similar area. It would be a courtesy if you wanted to try something like this, to organise and plan it with the person selling the horse prior to your arrival.
Put the horse under a bit of pressure to work properly. By this I mean to push him and be a bit demanding, don’t just let him plod around in the same circle for ten minutes. It is not until you start to push a horse a bit that they may start to object. The pressure you need to put the horse under is relevant to your experience, his experience and what you intend doing with him. You simply need to be able to make the horse do what you need without any resistance. So if all you want is a trail horse that can walk, trot and canter without any fuss, then we want to push him to do just that. Ask him to work just a little more that he is offering and note his response.
If you didn’t float the horse down the road in your own float earlier, then you need to confirm that the horse loads and floats easily. In particular that the horse floats on the type of float you want to use.
You may have specific needs, such as a horse that will be safe on the road and in traffic. Maybe you’re an Eventer, and you need a horse that is good with water or ditches. You may require a good heart rate or a big trot, It doest matter what your requirements are but if they’re important to you, then you have to ensure the horse will be suitable for your needs.
Age and sex are generally extremely important criteria to be considered.
Check that the horse is easy to: worm, wash, shoe, rug
Check that the horse has no vices such as: wind sucking, chewing fences, kicking, biting, ripping rugs, and putting their tongue over the bit or out the side of their mouth.
Ensure that the horse is sociable with other horses. Check that it doesn’t get either intimidated or stirred up by other horses. There is only one thing worse than a horse that can’t live in harmony with others; and that’s one being “horse dependant”. This is a horse that you certainly don’t want, as it can’t relax or go anywhere on its own.
Ensure that the horse is easy to fit a saddle to. If the horse has an unusually shaped back then you may find that you will have to have a saddle specially fitted, which may add to the cost.
Ensure that the horse has: suitable conformation for your requirements.
Good feet and no obvious skin problems.
- How long has the owner had this horse and why are they selling it?
- Has the horse always been sound
- Are there any illnesses or injuries that the owner is aware of, that you should know about?
- Has the owner ever had any bad experiences or things that they feel you would like to know but didn’t think to ask. This puts some onus on the seller to reveal any known issues or problems that they are aware of.
- Has the horse been receiving any professional training? If yes, for how long and why?
- Is the horse’s feed and water intake normal? No special requirements.
I have tried to give you some ideas and a bit of an insight into the way I think when buying a horse. Not all situations and circumstances are going to be the same and so some planing is necessary for you to make the most of your inspection opportunities.
It is always a good idea if possible, to take someone experienced along with you to inspect the horse. It is also generally advisable to purchase a horse subject to a satisfactory vet check. It depends a bit on the value of the horse and its intended use, just how extensive you need to be with a vet check.
An important point you need to be aware of, is there are things that can temporarily affect the appearance of a horse’s behaviour, such as: lack of condition or feed, recent intensive work, or an administered sedative.
All of these things have the same effect of making a horse more relaxed and easy to handle.
As I have previously said, where practical it is a good idea to inspect a horse on more than one occasion. In an ideal world you would negotiate a trial period, but this can also be impractical or unacceptable to the owner.
Like me, there is always someone ready to offer an opinion or advice on how you should make your decision, but unfortunately no one can guarantee the long term result. Ultimately that will be up to you!
The overriding factors in the decision are:
- Having considered all of the above and any other advice you may have received; is this horse appropriate and correct for you needs?
- Do YOU like and feel confident with the horse?
- Do YOU feel relaxed and safe with the horse?
Lastly, Cheap is not always cheap!! As we’ve been discussing it’s often hard to find the right horse. Safety and education come at a price.
Whoever does the most homework wins