What to look for when horse buying?
Buying a new horse is an exciting time for any rider. However, the more time I spend in the equine industry, as an adult, the more I understand that buying a horse is harder than it seems.
What would you do, as a third party, if you knew information that may jeopardize a potential horse sale?
During a show in Tryon, I overheard a conversation between two well-known horse trainers. One mentioned a client’s horse for sale. He described the horse as “a 1.60m horse that jumped amazing, no spook, no stop, and that it had lots of scope.”
Of course, I was interested after hearing this. Although, after he said the name of the horse, I realized I knew the show jumper. I watched it go for about a year and saw firsthand that it’s a terrible stopper. The horse’s owner purchased it with this trainer. Interestingly, she stopped riding when the horse’s naughty behavior became dangerous. The trainer started showing the horse probably with hopes of fixing the rearing issue, but he was unsuccessful.
I couldn’t believe it. I wondered, was I really hearing this correctly?
The horse has issues. Yet, the horse trainer represented him in another light. This was a trainer I looked up to until that moment. I lost all respect for him.
Well, the jumper sold to a junior rider surprisingly, especially since the trainer specifically stated, “the horse I have for sale is a man’s ride.”
Do horses automatically change into something else, once the faint smell of cash is in the air?
This incident and many others like it, make it difficult to trust some horse sellers. Even some horse trainers, when acting as their client’s agent, are tempted to stretch the truth or flat out lie due to their own greed. Therefore, that makes horse buying more complicated.
Perhaps for some horse sellers, getting paid a 15% commission (or multiple commissions) is more important than long term business relationships or the horse’s well-being.
As horse buyers, it becomes our responsibility to conduct our own due diligence before buying a horse. We can hire an equine lawyer to help us (yeah, that’s a thing) after we’ve selected a sale horse with our horse trainer. Although be advised, your horse trainer or agent may tell you something very different.
In the past, I’ve purchased horses that were unsuitable for me as a rider with the guidance of a horse trainer. I’ve been told things when trying horses that were untrue, but I was too young to know better.
Bad horse deals
When I was eight-years-old, my family purchased a large grey pony. During the trial, the pony was dull compared to what my family and I found ourselves with a week after the purchase. During the trial, she appeared a suitable match for me, a beginner riding student, although she wasn’t.
In fact, my childhood horse trainer set up the pre-purchase vet exam. The veterinarian stated, “this is the prettiest pony I’ve ever seen.” During the vetting, neither my horse trainer nor the veterinarian encouraged bloodwork as part of the pre-purchase exam.
We were new to horses, and my parents counted on my horse trainer. They were unaware of how to protect themselves when buying a horse, much less during the pre-purchase exam. Shortly after purchasing the grey pony, it became dangerous on the ground.
A couple of weeks later, my mom called the pony’s former owner asking about the mare’s breed papers. That’s when her old owner randomly asked if the mare exhibited any “funny behavior.”
It was only then that my parents realized that we were the victims of a bad horse deal.
In the end, my parents donated the pony because she wasn’t suitable for my needs as a beginner horseback rider.
The equine industry is overrun with horse deals gone bad often due to misrepresentation. Not only is this dangerous for riders, but it’s also unfair to the horses.
Smarter horse shopping
So how can you protect yourself when horse shopping?
Here are a few tips from my own horse shopping experiences.
Watch the horse’s show videos, and that includes show video not provided by the horse’s contacts.
Additionally, check USEF’s show records as well as FEI if the horse has an international record. Depending on the location of the horse, talk to your connections, including horse trainers and amateur riders that you trust, to see if they’ve seen the horse go.
Check to see if the horse has a microchip and confirm whether or not the horse competed under a different name. It is very common for trainers to reinvent a horse by giving him a new USEF number and name.
Also, the veterinarian should disclose any conflicts with your trainer or horse’s ownership when you schedule the appointment. If the vet doesn’t mention it, ask.
Once the pre-purchase vet exam is scheduled, make sure you plan on being present when it is done. If you aren’t present, pre-plan to call in to speak with the vet to get the results to see if you want anything else done before the vet wraps up. Also, consider videoing the pre-purchase exam.
And, make sure the vet pulls the horse’s blood.
Many amateur equestrians blindly trust that their horse trainer will find them a horse that best suits their riding style and skill level. A lot of horse trainers have the ability to make great horse-and-rider pairings, but it’s difficult to always know their motivations.
What to look for when buying a horse
Personally, I make decisions based on my best interest. Regardless of what I’m told, if something doesn’t feel safe or good, it’s a red flag. Unfortunately, in the equine industry, it seems some clients are easily persuaded away from their gut instincts.
Take time to get to know the horse on the ground and under saddle. We can learn many things from spending time with our future partner.
As I shared, I’ve lived and have witnessed the ugliness of misrepresented horse deals. I find it sad that some horse trainers, even some that we may look up to without knowing the truth, mislead horse buyers.
Clients spend their hard earned money on horses for themselves and their children – hoping for fun. In many cases, fun isn’t the outcome.
So, if the horse feels differently than what your horse trainer or anyone else represents, pay attention, there are probably other holes!
Don’t feel pushed into liking a horse that doesn’t pique your interest. Just because a trainer tells me “you’ll like this horse, it’s your ride” that doesn’t mean it’s true or that I’m going to click with the horse.
Additionally, don’t ever feel rushed to make a decision because emotional horse buying decisions are usually what get people into trouble. Instead, our brain should work with our heart so that our horse buying is logical.
Horse sales contract
Signing on the dotted line of the horse sales contract should feel great, not scary. And yes, always sign a horse sales contract when buying a horse. And if something doesn’t feel right, pause and seek additional guidance from your equine lawyer (that has no affiliation with anyone else in the deal).
Happy horse buying!
Olivia Kasper has been a part of the equine industry for the majority of her 22-years. Now, Olivia helps around her family’s private Georgia horse farm. Additionally, she works with her younger sister to handle their horses’ training needs. Their first project horse just made his successful debut as a Grand Prix Jumper in fall 2018.