A Guide to buying a Horse

by Jess Chapman

Horses are wonderful creatures who have had a partnership with humans for thousands of years. Today though we ride them mainly for enjoyment. So you want to buy a horse, but don't know where to start? As a serial horse-buyer for Chapman Valley Horse Riding (near Sydney) I have picked up a few lessons of what to look for when buying a horse and I'd love to share those with you.

First and foremost, sit down with a piece of paper and decide exactly what you need.

Set a price limit - and try to negotiate on price
Set your height limits – nothing too small for you but nothing so tall that you don't feel comfortable. Get an experienced horse-rider's advice on what size is suitable for you.
Set an age limit – younger horses are often more difficult, older horses are great but be wary of arthritis and old injuries … and also consider value for money. It may sound harsh but you obviously won't get as many years out of a 20y.o horse as a 10y.o horse – so factor this into the price.
Set a geographical limit – how far are you willing to travel? Within your local area? Within your state? Country-wide? If you cannot fathom travelling interstate to purchase a horse don't bother searching these horses.
How often will you ride? Some horses become fresh and silly after a break in the paddock. Be sure to ask how the horse responds after a rest.
How much experience do you have riding and caring for horses? If the answer is none, don't buy a horse…yet. There are plenty of horse riding schools which offer training in horse care and riding skills so make sure you know at least the basics before purchasing to ensure the safety of both yourself and your new four-legged friend.
Perhaps you've had one or two rides and are looking at continuing your horse riding journey. Are you nervous on horseback? Beginner riders and green/young/difficult horses don't make a good mix. It may seem like a nice idea for you and your horse to ‘learn together' but this rarely works. There needs to be at least one knowledgeable party in the partnership between horse and rider, otherwise bad habits and injuries will inevitably happen.

For riders with previous experience on quiet horses who want to further their horse riding education you will need to pick a discipline and choose an appropriate horse. For example if you are interested in jumping a Clydesdale X who's only ever done cattle work is probably not suited!

Dishonest sellers – they're out there!

Ideally we would like to think everyone on the Earth is honest, kind and wants the best for all of humankind. Unfortunately though there are many fraudsters and dishonest people out there who are trying to make a quick buck by selling dangerous horses without telling you the full story. Always ask around as to who is honest and who you should avoid. Bad reputations spread rapidly so hopefully with a bit of research you can eliminate some people early on.

For nervous riders and beginners make sure you look for horses that are advertised as being quiet, bombproof and suitable for beginners. There are certain words which you are best to avoid, such as:

‘forward moving'
‘capable rider'
Look for words such as ‘quiet'*, ‘safe', ‘reliable', ‘bombproof' and ‘suitable for beginners'.

*Note: Too many people describe horses as ‘quiet' that are anything but. The word quiet cannot be relied on, especially if it's followed with a ‘but'!

Trust your gut

I cannot stress this enough…trust your gut! Listen to your brain, ignore your heart but trust your gut. If you view a horse and something just doesn't seem quite right, walk away. If you don't fall in love with the horse straight away, walk away. If either the horse or the seller makes you feel uncomfortable, RUN away. I can't explain why this one works, but it does. If you don't know what your gut is saying, there's no rush to make a decision. Purchasing a horse is a bit step – do not do it unless you are 110% sure you're doing the right thing.

Get a second opinion

It is way too easy to be blinded by a horse's beauty and the desire to own a horse can make you blind to a horse's flaws. I have come way too close to making some very big mistakes when considering horses just because I had such a huge desire for the horse I was viewing to be the horse I needed…but when you show the horse to another horse-experienced person they can give you their opinion from a neutral perspective. It is also very wise to obtain a vet-check before you purchase a horse as there are many ailments and injuries that may not be apparent just on observing the horse. Another benefit of vet-checks is you can usually weed-out the dishonest horse sellers with the simple suggestion of getting their horse looked at by a vet. They may try to talk you out of it, avoid it or even berate you for wanting to do such a ‘silly thing'. This is a major red flag, so walk away in this case. No matter how perfect a horse is if it's unhealthy or lame it won't do you any good.


A few other things to be wary of are:

- Skinny, tired looking horses.
     Quite often in order to get a horse to behave people will work them very heavily before your inspection. Withholding food and hard, heavy work will obviously make the horse tired – too tired to act up. A good sign is when you arrive the horse is caught straight from the paddock and comes in fat, happy and still behaves well.
-"I have other people interested"

       That old line! Whilst it may be true that there are other people looking at the same horse, do not allow this to rush you into making a decision as it quite often just that … a line!
- Do not buy simply on looks.

        Pretty horses aren't always well behaved. Scruffy horses aren't always of lower quality. It's as simple as that. Look for the diamond in the rough!

 There are many more things that go into purchasing a horse but I will end it here for today. Overall remember to enjoy this process, you are choosing your future best-friend! If you have further questions or would like assistance in assessing a horse please feel free to contact us here at Chapman Valley Horse Riding. We are located near Sydney in NSW, Australia.

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