by Olivia Kile September 03, 2019 7 min read
Buying a horse is definitely a journey not to be taken lightly, but to embark with a plan, a budget and someone to lean on when you need advice. Whether you are seeking to buy your first schoolmaster, “been there, done that” type or a green youngster to be brought up through the levels, buying a horse is a long process. We will discuss a few points from where one can buy a horse, top mistakes people make while buying, things to consider before buying a horse and the effect it could take on your pocket afterwards.
Before purchasing a horse, it is imperative to come up with a realistic budget. Horses can cost anywhere from $0 to over $1 million. Establishing a budget is essential before even clicking that search button! If you have a budget of $10,000, you are not going to find a proven grand prix dressage horse (try multiplying that by at least 10).
How much horse costs highly depends on their level of training and experience as well as serviceability and soundness. If you are looking to refine the basics of riding and possibly attend a few schooling shows, you do not need to have a huge budget. An older, more experienced horse will suit just fine for this job. Those “been around the block” horses are usually forgiving teachers and perfect for beginners. If you are an intermediate rider and are serious about advancing through the levels, finding a horse that will be a safe, but challenging mount may require a little bit larger budget.
Evaluating horses is very subjective and mostly comes down to how much someone is willing to spend on a horse or what value 1 person puts on 1 horse. A proven hunter-jumper at the local circuit level may be worth $4,500 to someone but worth $9,700 to someone else. The price of a horse may also depend on location as well, just like the cost of living.
Keep in mind that buying the horse is the cheapest part of owning a horse. After initial purchasing, there are endless bills with horses. If you are boarding your horse at a facility, there will be the expected monthly rent, lessons and some barns require arena renting time slots. If keeping your horse at your own farm, keep in mind that feed will be your biggest expense and often times can overwhelm the caretaker. There are also show entry and trailer fees, farrier visits, equine dentist dates and the dreaded two words that no one ever wants to hear: VET BILL *cue the Halloween music*.
Many professionals find outside investors when purchasing horses and paying for big shows, so do not ever feel embarrassed about your budget; for the amateur, there is almost always a horse for your budget. If buying a horse outright is just not in the books in the near future, leasing is always an option as well. Some sellers provide payment plans; it never hurts to ask!
Make sure your trainer and whoever else that is helping you find your perfect horse is on the same page with you when it comes to how much money you are willing to shell out.
There are many options of where to start when looking to buy a horse. There are sales barns that specialize in selling horses that they purchase and resell for a profit. There are also many websites such as-
Offer advanced search options where you may pick and choose the qualities, discipline, budget, age, height etc. Social media platforms also may have groups to join specifically for horse sales. There are many that include just hunter/jumpers, only dressage horses, eventing mounts, etc. These posts can be made from anyone, so scroll with caution.
Old fashion word of mouth seems to still be a prominent way of moving stock in the equestrian world as well. Sometimes purchasing (and this goes for anything) from a trusted person or acquaintance is the best bet. You will know you are most likely getting the true and full background of the horse and important details to consider.
There are big equine sales barns that specialize in re-training and selling for a profit (flipping horses) that should have their own website and string of horses for sale listed. Buying a horse from one of these facilities has advantages and drawbacks.
You usually know the horse has been worked with recently and generally you won’t find a “barn sour” horse for sale from a sales barn. These horses also usually already have a show and off property experience as well. Another advantage of purchasing a horse through a sales barn is that sometimes they come with a certain time frame guarantee for lameness and any health issues. Be sure to be confident with the details of this agreement before purchasing. Unfortunately, sometimes the trainers may not know any chronic issues with the animal due to small-time windows between the initial purchase and the selling of the horse.
Sometimes you will see “inquire for price” where a dollar amount usually can be found. This means you must contact the seller for more information regarding the horse. Do not get excited as this phrase is usually reserved for horses that require large or non-existing budgets to purchase.
Purchasing a horse can be a huge financial commitment. Making sure you know what you are getting into before handing over the payment is crucial to having a successful buy. There are many mistakes people make when buying a horse, where do we even begin?
As hinted to earlier: over purchasing. Many people find the “perfect horse” only to realize a few months down the road that they are unable to afford board, the dreaded and inevitable surprise vet bill, or even their own car payment (then you won’t even be able to go to the barn to ride the horse!). Make sure you are fully aware of all expected and the surprise expenses having a horse will lead to.
Is it in your head yet? Good. Keep it there.
Another popular mistake made when purchasing a horse is “over-horsing”. This is a term used for someone that purchased a horse that is too “hot” or overbearing or green for the rider to safely and confidently ride. When purchasing a horse, test riding it is a good idea and tests your compatibility with the horse. While it may sound fun and exciting to train a green horse, it should only be attempted by experienced horsemen/women and/or with a trainer to keep a close eye on improvement.
Getting a pre-purchase exam before handing over the check tops off the list of the most important things to know before buying a horse. A pre-purchase exam, also called a “PPE”, is an official exam performed by a qualified veterinarian that be as in-depth as taking Xrays of all limbs to as quick and brief as your vet just feeling the legs and taking a TPR (temperature, pulse and respiratory rate).
With an in-depth exam, you will be able to find out if the horse you are looking to purchase has any bone chips, chronic illnesses, abnormal limb formations, and any foreseeable issues that could prevent your horse from being able to do its job in the future.
This could also bring up the possible need to inject limbs or administer medication every so often, which would incur another expense for the horse. This is where you hear a horse either “passes or fails its PPE” (you always want them to pass). No one wants to pay for a horse and then find out a few months later that it was never serviceable enough to last even a year of moderate work.
Considering age when buying a horse can be important in some cases. As a beginner looking to purchase their first horse, don’t rule out looking at older horses. An older horse usually has years of experience schooling, trail riding, showing and trailering. If you have the desire and time to devote to more intense training and improve through the upper levels of discipline, you may need another horse that is either in its prime or before it. With this said, horses are just like people in that they each age at different rates and stay “younger” with proper diet, exercise and a life of as less stress as possible. There are many upper-level horses that still compete in their upper teens.
When visiting the horse for the first time, take notice of their alertness, are they over-reactive and strung out or are they dull and aware of their surroundings? Both are cause for concern! Look for a horse that is alert, aware of their surroundings and acknowledges your presence, yet is calm and steady-minded.
Beginners should stay away from ads that state one or more of the following:
“Not for beginners”- this one should be a dead giveaway, right?
“Advanced rider only”
Temperament numbers that approach 10, the closer the hotter the temperament.
Take into consideration that horse sellers want to make their horse seem as desirable as possible. Appreciate sellers that are upfront about their horse’s temperament and experience level. Be weary of conflicting info about the horse as this could be a concern for deceitful sellers. Finding out a seller has not told the full truth is a cause for concern about other details of the horse.
Buying a horse can feel like a full-time job. Knowing a few do’s and don’ts ahead of time makes the experience a little less stressful and sets you up for success in the future! Buying a horse should be an exciting and happy time in any equestrian’s life, not a financial and stress-ridden burden!
To dive more deep inside you can do a free course "Purchasing and Owning a Horse 101" from a very well known Michigan State University.
Olivia has a passion for all things equestrian and equine health and still enjoys riding. Olivia earned a bachelor's degree in Equine Science from Delaware Valley University and currently works as a sales and marketing assistant at Breeches.com
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