The safest way to buy a horse is to locate an honest seller and take along an experienced horseman to help you. Take the horse on a week's trial basis if possible, and buy subject to its passing a veterinarian examination.
There are many happy horse owners. Satisfaction comes from knowing what you want and searching until you find it. Insist on quality, even at a higher price. Remember that a horse is not essential; therefore, the market favors the buyer. Reject a horse if it isn't what you want or doesn't meet your needs.
Don't let a fancy pedigree hide poor quality. A poor horse usually means extra expense and dissatisfaction.
Horses can become a life-long hobby, and owning a horse may also encourage development of responsibility in young people.
A horse is a long-term investment. Buy the best horse possible a good one eats no more than a poor one.
Feed and bedding (together called board), shoeing and veterinary expenses range from 50 cents to $5 per day. The cost of tack and equipment normally ranges from $150 to $500, depending largely on the type of saddle.
Upkeep and replacement costs and new equipment may be $25 to $50 a year. Personal items must also be considered.
Boarding stables, if available, may be expensive or inconvenient. Also consider farrier and veterinary services, and locate feed sources (especially hay) and bedding supplies.
Check out where a horse may be ridden bridle paths, trails, show rings and training facilities. Exercise areas are essential. If the horse must be hauled to an exercise area, a trailer or other vehicle is needed.
A buyer can often buy a top-quality older horse at the same price or less than he would pay for a younger horse of lesser quality. Although most older horses can't perform as actively as they did when younger, they may have many years of useful service left.
Be ready to decide whether you prefer a younger horse or if an older one would do as well. This decision can't be made until you evaluate each individual horse.
The age of the horse you buy depends on what you can afford and what horses you find available. Your experience is also important. An inexperienced horseman should not purchase an untrained young horse, unless both he and the horse will receive training from a competent professional.
Mounting a green rider on a green horse is a serious mistake. The rider can't improve his horsemanship if the horse is not trained to behave properly, and the horse can't learn to respond properly if the rider has not been taught how to give cues. Neither rider nor horse is capable of handling potentially dangerous situations that may arise on any bridle path or trail.
Visit horse shows and breeding farms. Observe different breeds of horses and different styles of riding. Ask questions. Most horsemen will be glad to help a newcomer.
The age, sex and training of the horse and maybe its breed must be matched with what it will be expected to do. Few horses can do everything, and certain types may be better at particular tasks than others. For example, if you want to compete in stock seat equitation events and also raise a foal, the horse must be a stock-type mare with some training.
Riding interest can greatly affect the cost of a horse, too. A jumping champion may be too expensive for you, so your interest may have to be adjusted to match what you can afford.
A horse should be selected with a specific rider in mind. The age, experience, training and interest of the rider must be carefully matched with the horse. Untrained horses and untrained riders are not a good combination. Young children should not be mounted on large horses, nor should adults expect to ride ponies.
Since you must spend the money and live with the horse afterward, you should become as knowledgeable as possible. Know the type of horse you want, why you want it and what to look for.
The most common sources of horses are breeders, private sales, dealers, and auctions. Each has advantages and disadvantages.
Breeders When you have decided on the type of horse you want, you probably will have selected a specific breed. Buying privately from a breeder is usually one of the best and safest ways to get a horse.
Lists of breeders are available from state and national breed associations. Breeders' names are also found in stallion directories, show lists, breed magazines and from other persons interested in the breed.
Breeders have a reputation to uphold and probably want business sent to them by satisfied customers. They frequently give some kind of assurance or guarantee. You may expect to pay slightly higher prices when buying from breeders.
Most horses on a breeding farm are either brood stock or young horses three years old or under, which will required additional training. Mature, well-trained pleasure horses may not be available.
Private sales As a rule, buying from an owner privately is safer than buying from a dealer or at an auction. The buyer must be experienced or have experienced help. Individuals who own a few horses and sell one or two may be fairly experienced, but they also may be inexperienced horsemen themselves who are unable to evaluate the horses they are selling.
A good private owner to buy from is a person who has been forced to sell: someone who is moving; a student leaving for college; or the family with grown children. Check newspapers, publications and bulletin boards. Go to a stable or horse event and visit horse owners. Remember advertisements are designed to sell, and the advertiser may not be a knowledgeable horseman.
Dealers Buying from a dealer requires horse knowledge, but it is usually better than most auctions. Although many dealers are honest, some are interested only in making a profit. It may be impossible to tell the difference. To stay in business, a dealer must buy horses cheaply enough to pay for their feed and care and still make a profit.
If you buy from a dealer, first learn something about him. Check with other horsemen who are acquainted with him or who have bought from him. Good dealers have good reputations and are willing to stand behind their sales.
Auctions In general, buying at auctions is risky. Don't assume that all sellers are honest. Even an experienced horseman can't tell for sure if he will be satisfied and whether a horse has faults or unsoundness when it can be observed for only a few minutes before the sale and in the ring.
There are several types of auctions, ranging from private auctions to breed sales, consignment sales and public auctions.
Usually, no guarantees are made and horses cannot be returned or exchanged. Some horses are sent to such sales because there is something wrong with them. Certain problems can be disguised by drugging or skillful handling.
A consignment sale is less risky than a public auction. The horses sold are sent by dealers or private individuals. Standards usually are stricter than those at public auctions, requiring higher quality.
Private sales and breed sales are the safest types of auctions because breeders, who must maintain a good reputation, consign the horses.
A gelding or mare is more suited to the pleasure rider's needs. For steady dependability, a gelding excels. Mares are usually more excitable, especially when in heat.
If you wish to raise a foal, of course, you must buy a mare. For breeding to be worthwhile, the mare must be of top quality. Don't expect to make a profit.
When you examine a registered horse, ask to see its registration certificate. Check the papers carefully to be sure the description fits the horse you are considering. Ownership transfers must be up-to-date. Don't buy a registered horse unless the papers come with it. You can send them to the breed association yourself as long as the owner has signed the transfer statement.
What does the horse do as you approach the stall? In a box stall, it should go to the rear, turn, and face you. If it turns away from you, it may kick.
Does the horse stand quietly as the handler enters the stall or does it charge to get out? Does the seller walk right up to the horse's head or does he seem to hesitate? Does the horse turn away, not wanting to be caught? If it has been properly trained, it should be easy to catch, its ears should reflect no fear or mistrust, and the seller should have no reason to be afraid.
Has this particular horse been bedded with sawdust, shaving, or peat moss while other horses are bedded with straw? The horse might have heaves or some other respiratory ailment. Ask why straw was not used.
Is there a path around the edge of the stall? Stall walkers are hard to cure.
Even the manure can give you a clue to the horse's health and the condition of teeth. If excessive long straw or hay and whole grain appear in the droppings, the horse may need some dental work.
Be alert for runny noses; listen for coughs. Has the horse been tested for swamp fever? Most horses purchased should be tested and shown negative.
Examine the feet and legs with care. Since a horse is no better than its underpinnings, sound feed and legs are vital. Any problem with one foot or leg is enough reason to reject the horse.
Give particular attention to the legs. Are they straight? Cannons should be set squarely below a flat knee. Tendons should be well-defined. Fetlocks must be strong. Pasterns should be directly below the cannon, and sloping not straight between fetlock and hoof.
The hoof should be well-shaped and form good angles to the wall.
A sound horse walks correctly from the first step. Some unsound horses, after having been warmed up, appear to be sound.
Look closely at the fetlocks, pasterns and hocks. Any swelling should provoke serious doubts about soundness.
Do the incisors meet? If not, and the horse has a parrot mouth or undershot jaw, it probably cannot eat properly.
Repeat the inspection from directly behind the horse to detect hip and stifle trouble. A horse is an athlete and, as such, must have enough muscle to perform well, but the muscle must be of the proper kind. Avoid the horse with short, bunchy muscles if you are looking for a mount with agility and sustained speed over a long distance.
Next, examine the horse from the side. Shoulder and pastern angles and straightness of legs are of major importance in this view. Does the horse seem to be a bit long in the back? Chances are good that a long-backed horse is a poor keeper. The shoulder is probably too straight as well.
Does it have enough withers to hold a saddle well? Are the withers too high and sharp? White marks at the withers or just behind the elbow indicate that the horse has old, healed saddle galls and girth chafes. There may have been problems in the past in fitting a saddle and keeping it in place.
Does the front half of the horse match the rear half? Lack of balance may not look the best but may not detract seriously from the horse's performance unless it is excessive. Remember that the main power and thrust comes from the rear quarters and deficiency here is the most damaging.
Watch the horse as it is ridden. Does it take the proper leads when asked? Does it stop collected on its hindquarters or bounding on its forelegs? Will it back readily with its mouth closed and head down? Does it toss its head or go quietly? Does it wring its tail?
Does it fight the bit or tuck its chin to avoid it? Does it move out freely with plenty of flexion in knees and hocks, or does it need a lot of urging? Does it require restraint? Does it have to wear any correctional equipment (martingales, tie downs, drop nosebands or similar items? Not all of this equipment is allowed in the show ring. Worse yet, it may be needed to prevent the horse from indulging in bad habits.
Ride the horse yourself, but remember that most horses will not perform at their best for a strange handler. However, riding it yourself gives you the chance to discover small details or to prove what you might have suspected. Does it handle easily? Is it responsive, especially to leg pressure? How sensitive is it? Does it accept handling by a stranger or is it unduly upset?
Ride the horse at least once and preferably several times if you think that you would like to purchase it. It is not fair to the horse to judge its performance in one short ride with a complete stranger in the saddle. When it becomes used to you and you both relax, you will be able to evaluate it more fairly. However, if there are several reasons for rejecting it and its performance is poor, look elsewhere.
No horse is perfect. Your budget may dictate a horse with minor faults. However, the horse you select should not have faults that are dangerous to it or to you. It should be sound and willing enough to perform the functions you require.
With patience and practice, minor problems can be worked out together and horse and horse owner can become a happy combination.
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