The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Horse – Everything You Need To Know!
Buying a new horse can be one of the most exciting and nerve-wracking experiences for any horse-lover. It’s a huge commitment and it’s incredibly important to get it right, so you’ll want to make sure you’ve covered all bases. Whether it’s your first horse or your fifteenth, there’s nothing worse than parting with a large sum of money, only to discover that the horse you’ve bought isn’t what you thought it was.
Owning a horse is a huge commitment, not just in terms of money. Caring for a horse is incredibly time consuming and this needs to be a key factor in your decision making process. When buying a horse for the first time, any prospective owner needs to consider whether they will be able to adapt their routine adequately to provide the care needed. This often involves needing to be free during working hours for regular appointments with farriers, vets, saddlers etc, and can also mean adhering to the horse’s existing routine, as some horses can become stressed or anxious if this is not upheld.
The most important consideration is the welfare of the horse itself. Animal welfare charities in the UK have to take in huge numbers of horses per year, after they’ve been abandoned or neglected, and this is often due to their owners having found they could not afford to provide the horse with the financial care or time required.
There’s no question that buying a horse is a huge decision with a lot at stake, so we’ve put together this extensive buying guide to take some of the stress out of the process, help you ask the right questions, and know what to look out for. Here you’ll find everything you need to know, from initial research to bringing home ‘the one’.
How to use this guide…
- There are 5 main sections to this buying guide. We’ve broken it down so to ensure that you can quickly and easily find the section most relevant to your stage in the buying process.
- Prior to viewing a horse – Advice on how to select horses to view at the beginning of your buying journey
- When viewing a potential horse – Tips on what to look out for and how best to maximise your visit(s)
- Pre-purchase considerations – What to do when you’ve found a potential horse, before committing to the purchase
- Purchasing a horse – Making the final checks and completing the transaction safely
- Once you’ve bought your new horse – Some post-purchase advice on bringing them home
Prior to viewing a horse
Know your requirements, ability, and budget
It’s important to have a checklist of things you are looking for in a horse, and try to stick to it as much as possible. This should include things like making sure the horse is suitable for your level of experience and is trained in the discipline you want to pursue. Be realistic when deciding which horses to go and view; there’s no point in going to see a horse that you are likely to be incapable of handling or riding. The same rules apply in regard to training, as the training for each discipline is very different, and trying to retrain a horse is a huge gamble that doesn’t always pay off. Lastly, be realistic with your budget and make sure you’ve factored in the care of the horse, from livery options to vets bills, not just the initial purchase payment.
Although this term seems a little inappropriate for use when talking about a living being, it is important not to rush into buying the first horse you see. The process of buying a horse should be researched and considered at length, with the average buying cycle taking weeks or months from the initial browsing to the purchasing stage. Looking at a good range of horses will help you find out what’s available, get a feel for the market, and work out what your priorities are in your next horse. The more experience you have of viewings, the more confident you will feel when it comes to finding ‘the one’.
Always read the fine print
When trawling through hundreds of ‘horses for sale’ adverts, it’s easy to become a little blind to the details. Make sure you read the advert information for each horse thoroughly and beware of any key phrases such as ‘not a novice ride’ and ‘can be spooky’. Also, be sure to ask yourself what’s missing from the ad details; if it doesn’t say ‘no vices’ or ‘loads well’ make a note of this so you can ask the seller about these points.
Never be too embarrassed to ask!
Most sellers will be more than happy to answer anything you ask, and asking a lot of questions shows that you are not only interested in the horse they have for sale, but that you are serious about caring for them properly, which is reassuring for any seller. If they are genuine, they will probably want to ask you a lot of questions too, to ensure you’re the right fit for their horse.
Getting most of your questions out of the way before a visit is beneficial to both you and the seller, as there’s no point in either of you wasting time arranging a viewing for a horse that doesn’t suit your needs.
These questions could include things like;
- How long have you owned the horse, where did you get it, and why is it for sale?
- Is the horse currently in work, and if so, what sort of work?
- What is the horse’s normal routine in both summer and winter?
- Has the horse ever been ill or injured, or does it suffer from ongoing ailments like sweet itch or laminitis?
- What is the horse’s temperament like and how does it behave in various circumstances; with other horses, while loading, out hacking, at shows, whilst being clipped, with the farrier/vet?
- Is the horse shod?
- Is the horse vaccinated and are they up to date?
If after you’ve asked your initial questions you intend to go and see the horse, it’s also a good idea to request whatever it is that you would like to witness the horse doing on your visit. This could be anything from being tacked up to being ridden out on the roads, so it can be helpful to use the seller’s answers to your previous questions to determine what it might be important to see them doing. For example, if they have indicated that the horse is difficult to load, this might be one of the things you want to see for yourself.
When viewing a potential horse:
Take someone with experience
Taking someone knowledgeable along with you is a great idea, as they can help you to spot things that the untrained eye wouldn’t notice and they’re probably more used to asking the right questions. It’s also great just to have someone to discuss the pros and cons with, and when you do find the right horse, they will be able to give you that extra security that you’ve made the right decision.
Inspect the horse visually
It’s likely you will have asked the majority of questions you have about the horse’s health prior to a visit. However, a visual inspection of the horse’s condition, looking at their coat, hooves and legs for any abnormalities, can provide a chance to ask any further questions you may have and flag up anything that has not already been mentioned. While watching the horse in action, take note of anything that stands out to you as unusual about their movement, conformation, or way of going, and ask questions about anything that concerns you.
Always ride it first
We recommend never buying a horse you haven’t ridden yourself. That being said, you should also never get on a horse you haven’t seen ridden by someone else first, as you can never be sure of their temperament. Ideally, when you’re out on a viewing, the seller or handler should ride the horse for you to show you what it’s capable of before you get on and have a go yourself (if you feel comfortable to do so).
If for any reason it’s not possible for you to ride the horse yourself, you should still request to see it ridden by the owner or handler (maybe even by more than one person). At the very least you should request multiple videos of it being ridden or, even better, for them to ride it on a video call to you, while someone else films them.
Check out their surroundings
It’s worth making sure that when you visit a horse, you also take a look at their surrounding environment, such as their stable. This can tell you a lot about whether the horse has any vices and will allow you to check whether it looks like their current owner provides them with adequate care and attention. Look for telltale indicators of stable vices, such as a chewed door. A common trick is to restrict the horse’s water consumption prior to viewings so that the horse appears to be of calmer temperament and more responsive to commands, so look out for a lack of water provisions.
Film your visit
Having footage to look back on once you are no longer with the horse is incredibly valuable, so be sure to take a video camera or smartphone so that you can film the horse in action. The more of the visit that you film, the more you’ve got to support your decision, so if you can, record everything from the initial trot-up to the owner riding them. If you’ve brought someone else with you and you decide to ride the horse yourself, ask them to film you too so you can assess it afterward and get a clearer picture of you as a pair. If you weren’t able to bring anyone with you then at least you’ll have the footage to review with someone after the event.
See them more than once
While it should go without saying that you should never buy a horse you haven’t seen in the flesh, we also recommend viewing a horse more than once. Three separate visits will give you a better overall picture of their health and temperament.
Try to visit at different times of the day, in different conditions, and ride the horse each time you go. If you’re going to want to go eventing on your new horse, it might be sensible to ask whether you can ride them cross-country schooling to see how they handle the environment.
A balance of head and heart
It is often said that you should make a decision like this with your head and not with your heart, and while it’s important to remain practical, we believe that the best decisions are made with a bit of both! Although it’s true that you shouldn’t be drawn in simply by the beauty or spectacular breeding of a horse, we still truly believe that you should ‘feel’ something for your prospective equine partner. The relationship between horse and rider is an important bond, so if when you visit, you find that you enjoy riding them (despite the obvious nerves involved in riding a new horse!) and you are attracted to more than just their looks, this is a good indicator that you could have a future together. If you don’t get ‘the feeling’ then maybe there’s a good reason why. Never buy a horse that scares you, one you don’t feel comfortable riding or that doesn’t respond to your aids, as these things are unlikely to change as much as you might hope.
Once you’ve found a horse that in all ways seems suitable for your intended purpose, you’ll want to consider some final checks before you go ahead and make the purchase.
Get a vetting
Although this is a hotly debated topic, we would always strongly advise you to get a vetting on any potential new horse that you are likely to buy. A vetting can not only give you more confidence in the condition of the horse, but it could save you a fortune in vets bills further down the line. Despite the extra cost, we recommend opting for a five-stage vetting over a two-stage, as vital information can be missed by a lesser clinical examination. A five-stage vetting will usually be required for insurance purposes anyway.
We also advise you to be present at the vetting so that you can ask any questions you may have and discuss the finding with the vet. Where possible, your own vet should be used, or at the very least an independent vet that has no existing ties with the seller, to avoid any conflict of interest. If you are forced to use someone you don’t know, do your research and get recommendations from friends to ensure you are picking someone with a similar approach to risk as yourself.
The five-stage vetting process includes;
- A thorough external inspection of the horse whilst at rest, through visual observation, touch, and manipulation. This examination will include checking their teeth, eyes, heart, and lungs for any signs of abnormality.
- The horse being walked and trotted up in-hand (usually on firm ground) to identify any abnormalities in gait or movement. Sometimes additional flexion tests are performed, but they are not a mandatory part of the process and the vet may choose not to if they feel it would be unsafe or inappropriate to do so.
- An assessment of the horse during strenuous exercising or whilst being ridden, with an elevated heart rate and increased breathing effort. This will likely include looking at their gait during all three paces; walk, trot, and canter.
- Monitoring of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems whilst the horse is left to stand quietly after exercise.
- A second trot-up in-hand after the exercise and rest periods to ensure nothing has been strained or exacerbated by these stages of the process.
A blood sample will also be taken, which will be stored for roughly 6 months. If any concerns arise during this time, this sample can be accessed and analysed for any substances which may have been used at the time of the vetting in order to mask possible signs of ill-health.
After the vetting, the vet will fill out the necessary details on all documentation, and either ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ the horse based on the criteria to which it was tested. It is not the vet’s responsibility to decide whether the horse is suitable for purchase or not, but simply to give you the necessary information for you to make the decision yourself. If you are in any doubt, discuss the findings extensively with the vet, so you are fully informed about the potential repercussions of purchasing the horse in question. If the vetting flags up any causes for concern, but the horse meets all your requirements in other ways, further testing is available to determine the severity of any problem identified.
You can find more detailed information on the vetting process, and any other tests that can be performed prior to purchase, on the RVC (Royal Veterinary College) website.
Purchasing a horse
Finally, the exciting bit! You’ve found the one, you’ve had a vetting, and now it’s time to make them yours. But the process of actually purchasing the horse can present its own worries about how to do the transaction safely and legally, so we’re here to help guide you through it.
Get an insurance quote
Speak to your insurance provider to get an estimate of what it will cost to insure the horse in question, taking into account anything that was flagged up on the vet’s pre-purchase report supplied at the time of the vetting. If this is your first horse, or you don’t have a current insurance provider that you need to stick with, it might be worth getting comparative quotes from a range of insurers to make sure you are getting the best cover for the best price possible.
Check the horse’s passport
It is illegal for a horse to be sold without a passport, so if you haven’t done so already, now’s the time to ask to see it. Make sure you check the description, age and any other details listed on the passport match those of the horse in question, and that there is nothing unexpected. Every horse must have a valid passport, issued by a recognised horse passport issuing body (IB) – also known as a passport-issuing organisation (PIO) – by 30th November of the year of their birth, or within six months of their birth, whichever is the later. The full list of approved IBs/PIOs can be found here.
In addition to a passport, you also need to check if the horse has been microchipped yet. At the time of writing, we are fast approaching the legal deadline for having to have your horse microchipped, and if this has not already been done, you will need to arrange for it to be done before one of the following dates, based on your area of residence;
- England – 1st October 2020
- Wales – 12th February 2021
- Scotland – 28th March
This is a legal requirement in the UK, and failure to comply is an offence which could result in a fine.
Once you have microchipped your horse, you should notify your PIO to update their records with the microchip number, which they will then upload to the Central Equine Database. From there you will be able to check your horse’s passport details using the National ChipChecker, quickly report your horse as missing, and even check if a horse is legally for sale, which will be a benefit to buyers going forward.
Enquire about a trial period
Some sellers may be happy to offer the horse for use on a trial basis, to give you some time together to further assess whether you feel you are a good match. Whether a trial is offered will be dependent on a number of different factors, from the seller’s own personal feelings about offering it, to the horse’s current condition and health. Again, the most important thing when agreeing a trial period is to ensure you get everything you have agreed clearly in writing, so if there is any debate about the parameters and rules during the trial, this document can be referred back to for clarification. Dealers will typically have a contract drawn up for terms agreed, so be sure you read and understand the ‘small print’ and ask questions about anything that’s unclear prior to the start of the trial.
Don’t be alarmed or put off by a seller that won’t offer a trial period, this does not necessarily mean that there is anything about the horse they are trying to conceal. It could simply be that they are trying to protect themselves from a horse being deemed as unsuitable and returned in a worse condition than it left, or that they could potentially miss a sale or interest from another prospective buyer while the horse is out on a trial. In these circumstances, subject to you living locally, it might be possible to agree to a trial on the basis that the horse would continue to be kept by its current owner, but could be ridden and cared for by the prospective buyer. Again, this is ultimately down to the seller’s discretion. Don’t be alarmed if this is not something they are happy to offer.
Negotiate on price and check what’s included
In general, most sellers will be used to negotiating on a final price, and unless it clearly states ‘no offers’ on the advert details, then this is perfectly acceptable. As part of the negotiation, you could enquire about whether the seller would be happy to include any of the horse’s rugs, tack or equipment. These are things that the seller will likely no longer require (if they are only used on the horse in question) but will save you time and money at your end, and can therefore be quite a good bargaining chip.
Get it in writing
Once you have verbally agreed on the terms of sale with the seller, make sure everything is put into writing. While the equine industry does operate largely on the basis of verbal contracts (and these are also legally binding), it is worth having everything stated clearly in writing so that in the event of a problem down the line, you can prove that the horse was not sold to you under those conditions. Without this it would be difficult, if not impossible, to prove the fault of the seller and in turn, resolve the dispute.
This written agreement should include the details of both parties (including their full names and addresses etc), as well as a range of details about the horse itself and the purpose for which it’s intended. This should then be signed and dated by both the buyer and seller before the horse is paid for in full. For more suggestions on what to include in the sale contract, take a look at this article on the BHS (British Horse Society) website.
In the case of a horse being found to be unfit for purpose post-purchase, your legal rights as a buyer will depend on who you bought the horse from, whether it be a private seller or a registered trader/dealer. In the case of any dispute that can’t be solved easily by referencing the terms set out in your initial agreement, legal advice should be sought specific to your circumstances.
More detailed information about your legal rights as a buyer can be found on the Leathes Prior Solicitors website, in their article ‘Buying a Horse – The Legal Aspects’.
Always get a receipt
Whether paying by cash or any other means, you should always ensure you receive a written receipt for the full purchase price of the horse. This is another document on which the seller should record the details of the horse, so it is clear that the receipt is for the same horse as all the other documentation provided along with it.
If you are buying a horse in response to an advert placed by the seller, it’s a good idea to keep a copy, as this could also help in the case of any possible future disputes relating to the claims about the horse made by the seller.
Once you’ve bought your new horse
So the horse is yours and it’s time to celebrate! However, it’s important not to get carried away, thinking all your work is done just yet…
Insure your new horse
Once you’ve purchased the horse, we recommend insuring them straight away whilst still at the seller’s address. Horses can easily be injured whilst being transported, especially if the horse is new to you and you are unfamiliar with their ability to load and travel. As so much of your time and effort has gone into finding your perfect partner, insuring them immediately gives you peace of mind, and will avoid any issues not covered by the sale contract about when legal responsibility for the horse is transferred to the new owner.
Take it easy once they’re home
Moving a horse from one yard to another can be a big change for them, and it will be worth letting them settle in gently to their new surroundings. When it comes to routine and exercise, stick to what they already know without introducing anything new for the first couple of months. Take small steps to begin with, getting to know your new horse on the ground first to build trust in your relationship. This will enable you to slowly form a solid foundation for your future together.
If you find yourself facing problems you didn’t expect to encounter, don’t be too proud to contact the seller. After all, they will know the horse better than you and may be able to offer some helpful advice. They will also want the best for the horse, so hopefully you will be able to resolve any issues together. If more serious issues arise that you feel unable to cope with, even with the help of the seller, you should seek expert advice from someone further equipped to deal with the situation.
We hope that you have found this guide useful and informative and that it can help give you the confidence to make your decision wisely and your purchase safely! The process of buying a horse is not one to take lightly and should not be rushed. There can be a lot of stress and disappointment along the way but it will all be worth it in the end. Take your time to do your research, ask all the right questions, and we’re sure you’ll find your perfect match!
Written by and all credits to: Genevieve De Lande Long from Horsemart