Last Updated on February 28, 2022 by Allison Price
The wrong horse could be expensive and devastating. These key questions are from Clinton Anderson, a clinician.
One of the seven most important questions you should ask before making a purchase is “Will he fit my riding goals?” If you plan to compete in trail riding with your horse, ensure that your test ride includes many trail obstacles.
Are you looking to purchase a horse? Have you found a great deal? Be patient! Don’t think that a horse will be a “good deal”. He won’t be happy if he doesn’t meet your needs in many key ways.
Here are seven important criteria you should consider before making a purchase decision. I also have a list of strategies that you can use for any horse purchase.
This information will help you increase your chances of owning a horse that is fun to ride and a pleasure to train.
Sound good? Let’s get started, buddy.
1. Are you able to ride him?
This is the biggest deal. Your experience as a handler and rider must be matched with the horse’s temperament. My clinics across the country are filled with inexperienced riders and handlers trying to work alongside inexperienced horses.
If you are a beginner, learning on a horse that is not experienced can be a disaster. It will set you back in your training and make it difficult to handle.
Choose a horse with a bit of maturity and age, and who has had a lot of riding and training. A well-cared for horse can be serviceable and still rideable into their teens, while many older horses are great confidence-builders.
Do not think that you and your young horse will learn together.
After you have had the chance to learn from seasoned horses, you can then try your hand at starting a colt or a greener prospect.
A professional can help you determine your level of ability. Ask a professional trainer to give you some lessons and then recommend the horse that is best for your needs. You might find the right horse by asking this person to help. More information is available in “Smart-Shopping Strategies.”
2. He will suit your riding goals.
Ask yourself what you want to do for the horse. Enjoy quiet, peaceful trail rides. You can be competitive in Western pleasure and reining. You might try your hand at barrel racing. Each horse will need a different training background and experience.
Walk away if the prospect’s energy level exceeds the amount you can ride each week. You’ll end up with a horse who is too difficult to handle.
Credit: H&R file photo
For example, if trail riding is your primary goal, you shouldn’t fall for a horse that is a pleasure horse but has never been in an arena. Also, ensure that the horse is doing the things you want.
The same applies to buying a horse as a gift for your child. Make sure that the horse has been ridden in the same age range as yours. A horse that is great for an adult may not be suitable for a child. They may be, but it is safer to look for one that has been used as a child’s mount.
3. Are his energy requirements in line with your riding schedule?
This is a common mistake. This is how it works: A horse who has been in a 6-day-a-week program will be as calm, quiet, and well-mannered. You purchase him, take him home, and then you set him up on your schedule. This means that he will be available for three days per week, if you are able to manage it, or sometimes just weekends. Within a month, this quiet horse will be a nervous, powerful wreck.
It is a good idea to test the prospect in different environments. Horses that are calm at home can behave differently when placed in unfamiliar environments.
Credit: H&R file photo
This is a dangerous mistake. Always ask your horse what kind of riding schedule he needs. Be careful if the horse’s needs are different from yours.
Ask the owners to set him up on this schedule and then you can go back later.
This is also where a trial arrangement or lease-to-buy agreement can be very helpful. (Again, refer to the “Smart-Shopping” list at bottom of page.
If you only have a few days per week to ride the horse and work with it, make sure that you choose a calm one.
4. Is his behavior consistent?
This question is impossible to answer if you only ride him once. Ride him again, in as many settings and as often as possible.
Ask the owner for a second horse if necessary so you can ride together on trails. It is best to do this away from your home base as horses behave differently when they are away from their home.
If showing is your primary goal, you might ask the owner to take the horse to a local show where you can test his reactions in a show setting. You might be able to ride the horse in one or more classes, if the buyer agrees.
5. Are they willing to learn, able and happy?
You can best assess the horse’s ability to learn by doing some training. You want to see a horse that is willing to try what you ask, not just a smooth performance.
Also, if your partner tries to push his neck towards the ground or pull him out of your space, don’t be afraid if he is a little stiff or slow to respond. Instead, observe if he tries to understand what you are asking without becoming cranky, sullen, or defiant.
This impromptu training should be done on multiple days to see if your horse’s performance improves. If he agrees to the training and is willing to learn, it’s likely that he’s a good learner and willing to do so. This is a desirable trait.
6. He will lope peacefully?
It’s amazing how many people don’t learn to lope horses before purchasing them. But loping is crucial, not only to observe how the horse lopes but also to gauge his overall training, willingness and temperament.
Before buying any horse, regardless of its price, it is important to have a pre-purchase exam or vet check.
Credit: Photo taken by Cappy Jackson
Most horses will walk and trot without any backtalk. If you ask horses to lope, any naughtiness or chinks in their training will likely be revealed.
Start by asking the owner to lope the horse. It doesn’t matter what excuse he or she gives, it should be an issue.
If you aren’t comfortable with loping your horse (or you just want to get to know your horse better), then bring someone to help you.
The horse should be able to lope freely and calmly, if given the right lead. It is even better if he can do it with a loose rein.
Particularly if you are a timid rider, this is a key point to remember: Lack of confidence almost always stems out of a lack of control. Confidence is when you feel in control. You will feel more in control if your horse lopes happily and quietly right from the start.
[RELATED: “What horse ownership has taught” ‘]
7. Is he able to pass a vet exam?
Regardless of the horse’s asking cost, it is vital to have a pre-purchase exam or vet check. This is because you can be just as attached to a cheap horse as to a expensive one and any subsequent vet care will be as costly as for a more expensive horse.
Bear in mind, though, that every horse will have some negatives–especially those terrific, more mature confidence builders. Talking to your veterinarian about the limitations and options available to you based on the intended use of the horse is key. You may also be able negotiate a lower price depending on the results of your vet check.
If the horse is having a difficult time with it, you can reject them. There’s always another horse around. You don’t have a chance at this, so don’t let it be the end of your chances.