Nothing you do will be more important than purchasing the right horse if you are truly interested in developing your horsemanship skills. It is the single most important decision you will be making and probably one of the most expensive. So take some educated considerations before you start out on this fundamental task.
And it will be a task. You need to look at a lot of horses before settling on one so get ready for some serious leg work, lots of driving, and unfortunately lots of disappointment.
But before you grab the paper and start making the phone calls lets talk about what you need versus what you want.
We can start out by finding a breed that suits us best, and then refine our wishes amongst the breed. Lets look at what a breed means. The horse was a basic animal of survival. He needed to survive, and thus he was equipped with a body and markings that allowed him to survive more easily. His coat blended into his environment, his nostrils were shaped to allow him to breath most efficiently in his environment, and so forth. He was built solely for survival.
Then man entered his world and we started fooling with the genetics a bit. We started refining the breeding to produce animals for aesthetic and pleasure purposes. We started breeding for mass and muscle like in the drafts we now see. We bred for entertainment purposes and that is how we have brought forth all the variations in the species of the equine.
We now have spotted ones, red ones, black ones, tall ones, little ones, shaggy ones, sleek ones and aside from the physical appearance of the animal, we have also bred them for temperament and use. And our breeding programs have been so successful you can pick out an entire breed that best suits your needs.
That is not to say every Arabian is a certain way, or every Quarter Horse is a certain way, but they do have a certain quality that makes them more apt to act, look, and behave a certain way. We did that. We have engineered each breed to meet a certain use. Now within that breed each horse may have a different personality and temperament based on its own individuality and experiences.
Do a lot of research and find a couple breeds that interest you most and would fit your level of experience and own needs. Lets say you have aspirations of becoming a barrel racer, you would look more to the Quarter Horse than to the Clydesdale. You are going to need a horse with a certain physical size, shape, and ability to perform the task at hand.
If you are looking for a riding horse for pleasure riding alone, then maybe a Tennessee Walking Horse would make a good partner. Learn the breeds and find the breed that best suits your needs.
It is funny how people will research the purchase of a dog longer than they do the purchase of a horse sometimes. Research those breeds, buy and read books, see what horses tend to be popular in the areas you are interested in most.
After you pick a breed stick to it. I am such a sucker when it comes to animals. I may have my mind set on one thing until I look into the big brown eyes of the exact opposite thing. Or worse I feel an animal is being neglected or abused and that I need to somehow rescue it. For me reason used to fly straight out the window. But unfortunately I have learned the hard way and it has often ended up costing me lots of money. With horses mistakes always cost you lots of money.
So shop with your head first and then use your heart. Make rational not emotional decisions even though this may be hard, in the end you will be happy you did.
After you look at the breeds and make up your mind, buy the paper or go online. Start making some prospect picks based on the price. If you only have 1000.00 to spend, rule out the 5000.00 horses. If maybe you are fortunate and find some 500.00 prospects well then maybe you will get lucky and come out with a little spending cash for hay.
You at this point really need to have an honest evaluation of your own skills. Be honest because if you are not honest with yourself here, you are going to really regret it later. Pride may keep you from admitting that you are not the greatest rider in the world as of yet. It may be tempting to outclass your abilities and this will only end in a disaster or even worse a pasture ornament you have no fun at all with but still have to feed. Be completely honest about what level of rider you are. Beginner, intermediate, or advanced.
In the age of the Internet there are sites that show ads for horses in your area that you can filter out by distance, price, etc. You can even see full color photos of the animals so you can get a rough idea of what you are interested in. Many of these sites also have a sliding scale to depict the horses temperament. The more gentle the horse the better for the beginner, only an advanced rider should even ponder owning a horse that scores poorly in temperament. This can be a deadly mistake for a novice.
This would be a good time to talk about age in horses because lots of great horses are overlooked because of their ages. The recent research that has helped us all be more aware of the nutritional needs of horses has helped them to live longer, healthier lives. Just like people horses are living longer due to better nutrition and health care. It is not uncommon to see a horse that is in their late twenties even thirties still competing and doing well despite their age.
But the greatest benefit these older horses have for the beginner is that most of the things that would spook a young horse have been totally desensitized out of the older horse. She has usually been around the block a time or two and will be a quiet calm horse for someone who needs that to build up their riding confidence.
Thats not to say that you have to buy an older horse. There are exceptional 8 year olds and even younger, but it is usually much safer for the beginner to stick with horses that are up in their teens and twenties even. There are exceptions to this rule as well. Sometimes a horse won't be broken until they are 12 or even later. I find this absolutely absurd to wait that long, but it still happens, and this is the same situation as buying a green broke 3 year old. This horse would be best left to an advanced rider.
Look through the ads, read them and start picking out some horses that sound compatible with your needs, are in line with your price range, and are suitable for your experience level. And please if this is for a beginner don't pass up a horse just because it says he/she is 18. As long as they are sound it really doesn't matter the age.
Then start making some phone calls. Do this in a relaxed manner the same way you would call about something else for sale in the paper. Even though you may be rather excited about it, stay calm and don't sound so eager. There are many reputable people selling horses. Sometimes it is individuals that need to find a new home for a horse they no longer can afford or are looking to replace the horse they have with a more advanced horse. But unfortunately horse trading still is very active and you never know who is on the other end of the line.
Here are some good questions to ask on the phone before driving out to a farm to look at the horse.
1. How old is the horse?
We just talked about this, and you need to make a wise decision on the ability of the horse versus the ability of your rider.
2. Who currently is riding the horse and how often do they ride?
This is important because if a horse has been sitting in a pasture for a year or too and no one is handling it, there will be a lot of refresher training going on.
3. Has the horse ever received professional training?
This will let you know what the people actually know about the history of a horse. History is important, and if a certain trainer has worked with the horse ask who it was and give that person a call. If they remember working with the horse they can provide some really valuable insight on the animals behavior
4. Is the horse current on its vaccinations?
If it doesn't have its tetanus and rabies shots at least, it is going to cost you money off the bat with the vet. These little added expenses can soon add up. Keep track of anything you will have to spend when you get the horse home and tack that onto the asking price.
5. Does it do well with the farrier and are its feet currently trimmed?
If a horse is a nightmare for a farrier it can be hard to find one that will deal with it on a regular basis. And again if the shoes are not current, there will be additional money to consider when the horse comes home. If a person cares for their horses feet on a regular schedule it also lessens the risk that the hooves develop issues from not being trimmed (broken edges, cracks, etc all come from unshod feet)
6. Has the horse ever had an injury to its legs or any other part of its body that the owner knows of?
Old injuries can lead to a lifetime of treatment and they can also throw off the horses confirmation so severely they lead to future problems.
7. Has the horse ever offered to bite or kick at a human?
This is a really important question and you can only hope to get an honest answer. A horse that bites or kicks should never be considered for a beginner or a child. Biting and kicking are all signs that the horse feels superior to humans. Now it could be the current owner is just really submissive to this particular horse, but still, biting and kicking are something I would pass on. There are so many wonderful horses that need homes, try to pick one with the least problems to start off with.
8. Where in the pecking order does the horse exist?
If a horse is a very dominant horse you could have problems controlling it. If it is really low on the totem pole you may have to deal with self confidence and fear issues. Both can be as dangerous as the other. For instance a horse that is the lowest member of a herd is often hard to catch because she is so used to running away from more dominant animals, she will instinctively flee instead of deal with a possible conflict. It is annoying to have a horse running away from you all the time.
9. Does the horse have any vices like cribbing? Cribbing and other vices can not only cost you a lot of money in the long run due to damaged property they can be detrimental to the physical well being of the horse.
10. What do they currently feed the horse?
This is a HUGE question and listen closely to the answer. Proper nutrition is the basis of good health. A horse that is not fed correctly can have issues with it's eyes, kidneys, stomachs, and hooves. Just like a human, health is determined by getting the proper nutrition to feed our bodies. Horses that have been underfed or are sustained on a low grade food can have a multitude of ill effects that will in the long run cost you a lot of money to correct. The horse should be getting grain twice a day and as much hay as it can eat, or the equivalent of nice pasture that it can graze as much as it wishes. If you get a skinny horse trust me it takes a lot of time to put the weight back on. Skinny horses often have really dry, brittle hooves with cracks, that can take a while to correct. The eyes may have suffered from malnutrition too. I do not tolerate anyone's excuse for having a skinny horse. There is only one explanation in most cases and that is it is underfed. If you can't feed your horse you shouldn't own one.
11. How many hands is the horse?
This is just to allow you to understand if this particular horse is the right size in proportion to the rider. You don't want a horse that is too big or too small. You want it to be just right.
12. Has the horse been shown or competed in events that you are interested in?
If you have any desire to compete with the horse you want one that has already been exposed to the show/rodeo atmosphere. There are lots of things going on there that a horse who hasn't experienced it could consider frightening. If you are an experienced showman then you could consider show training a prospect. If not than try to find a horse with experience already.
13. Has the horse had regular vet care?
This is also important. Without health a horse just like a human has nothing. Having seen a vet on a regular basis will help to catch any health issue the horse may have, like heart murmurs or kidney stones. You will also want to have the animal checked by your vet, so make sure they feel comfortable with that idea before purchase. If the object to that, then that is a good sign something is wrong that they are not telling you about.
14. Does the horse trailer load easily?
Trailering injuries are quite common in horses that find this task difficult. But one of the reasons you need to ask this is because you will need to move the animal from their farm to yours in the chance that you buy it. If it is a bear to load, maybe arrangements can be made to have them move it to your farm where you can start working with it loading. Trailer loading a horse can be difficult for some people, it is great when a horse has no issues with it all.
15. What is the horses temperament like?
Hopefully you get an honest answer. People have gone through great lengths in the past to push off a high spirited horse as a gentle horse. They will even go so far as starving a horse down so that it is too weak to act up, which is one of the reasons to stay clear of underweight animals. (once the weight gets back on you may have a firecracker instead of a dud) Sometimes they have even drugged the animal with tranquilizers in order to quickly unload it on unsuspecting buyers. A little trick here is that in the case of a male you can tell because his penis will hang loose and low and will not retract back into his sheath if he has been drugged.
16. How long have they owned the horse and what do they know about its past?
A horse that has belonged to the same person for a long period of time should come with some history. This horse will have not only a behavioral history the owner can tell you about, but a medical and training history as well. If they haven't had the horse for long, try to probe them for past owner information, and anything else they can tell you about where the horse has come from. A good owner will know these things. A horse trader will have no clue about where the animal has been.
17. Why are they getting rid of the horse?
This is an important question. If they have just told you they recently got the horse then why would they be unloading it so soon? I understand things happen in life. Perhaps the man has lost his job and can no longer afford it. Maybe they are needing to move and won't have the land they need to keep horses. Medical issues can also dictate the sale of horses. Maybe an injury to the back or something else like a terminal illness makes the sale necessary. Maybe a beginner has decided to move up to an intermediate horse but can only afford to keep one horse so the beginner horse must be sold to make room for the new intermediate one. But if they tell you something like it just isn't working out, then a red flag pops up. Don't get stuck with another persons problem. This horse could have behavioral issues or even worse health issues. It is not unheard of for a horse that is near death to be sold dirt cheap and pushed off the farm in order to not have to deal with it's impending burial. In the horse buying business it is truly "buyer beware".
Feel free to make up as many questions as you would like and ask away. Hopefully you will be dealing with good honest people, sometimes you won't. You will have to trust your own judgments in cases where you feel people are being less than honest.
One of the questions you didn't see me ask was what does the horse look like. Some people ask this first. The appearance of the animal is less important than the temperament of the animal and the soundness of its body. That goes back to the human way of thinking about things. If you get lucky and you get a horse that is perfect looking and is on your skill level and has no health concerns then you will indeed be just that "lucky". This is not the norm. I would rather deal with a less than perfect looking horse who has a great attitude and temperament than one that looks great but is dangerously dominant.
The only time you should consider buying a horse based on looks would be for show competitions such as halter classes. But even then a good looking horse has to behave itself in the arena or it will find itself and its handler disqualified quickly.
After you have a list of horses you feel meet your criteria, then it is time to start visiting them. This can be an exciting time, when you love horses it is always fun to go and be around new ones. But please do not let your emotions get the best of you. Keep in mind that a sensible decision will pay off in the long run.
Buying a horse that is well suited to you and your needs will enable horse ownership to be a joy. Trust me you will know if you make a mistake shortly after you get the animal home. Then you will be the one in search of a new home for the horse because of trying to get what you want instead of what you need.
When meeting new horses you will be meeting new people. Keep your eyes and your ears open. Any discrepancies in stories should signal that you can't trust everything they are telling you. And going with the old saying "believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see" can prove priceless when horse shopping.
Make them ride the horse for you. If they are afraid to do so, make sure you bring someone along who is advanced in riding that will ride the horse. With someone else in the saddle you will be able to observe the horse from the ground. This will let you see if he is lame or has any other physical issues. If you are in search of a riding horse then make sure you see it ridden. After someone else rides it, then you need to ride it yourself.
Do not buy a riding horse you personally have not ridden. If you are afraid to ride the horse in it's current environment where it feels comfortable, you will not grow any braver when you get home. In fact the horses behavior will probably head south for about two weeks until it settles in to its new home.
The other big mistake people make is buying a horse because they feel sorry for it after seeing where it lives. Horses sometimes do end up in deplorable situations and this is a sad fact. If you venture out to a farm and feel that the horse is being neglected you sometimes feel like you need to "save" it. Do not buy a horse solely because you feel bad for it. If by chance that particular horse is one you would buy regardless of it's current situation then buying it may be an option. But do not buy it on the grounds that you need to rescue it if it falls short of your expectations. What you can do is turn the owners into the authorities if you feel the animals life is being threatened due to neglect. That is the only way you can "help" that horse.
I hope I have been able to help you in providing you with a starting ground on buying a horse. There are so many dishonest people selling horses. It is like buying a car. If you don't know anything about the mechanics of a car you need to take along a buddy who does. Some people are more motivated by money than ethics. You need to educate yourself as much as possible and never be afraid to ask more experienced friends to ride along.
I recently purchased a horse from a friend who was thankfully honest enough to show me she had a slight inward curve to her hoof heels in the front. He didn't know how to correct it and didn't even know if it could be corrected. I called a very reputable farrier to come and take a look at the hooves before I bought the horse. I had to pay for his services of course. The $40.00 I spent on his consultation was worth the piece of mind it gave me when I wrote a larger more substantial check for the animal later.
The same goes for the vet, if you want to have the animal checked out by the vet, pay the farm call and examination fee before buying the animal. It is worth the piece of mind that it gives and it can also protect you from making a very costly mistake. Horses have ailments you can't see so easily like a limp, sometimes it is inside, like a heart murmur.
Always get a bill of sale. It doesn't matter if it is a friend or a stranger. Get a bill of sale. You will need this when registering the ownership with some breed registries. It doesn't have to be elaborate. Put that paperwork with all your other important papers.
The "Kid Safe" Horse
Sellers will often advertise a horse as being kid safe. This term is widely overused. I wanted to include some information about this, because as a mother, I know the concern people have for the temperament of the horse their child is riding.
It is important to keep in mind that the word child can be a relative term. There are children who have no riding experience and then there are children who can out ride even seasoned adults. So when someone tells you that their child rides the horse without problems, you need to ask the skill level of the child.
Also keep in mind that no horse is "child safe". A horse can act out, or become uncontrollable in an instant. I have been told that the most dangerous horse is the gentle one, because you become so relaxed around it you often forget that it can be very dangerous.
Trust the phrase "child safe" loosely. You need to be the judge of the horses character yourself. It is best to use the rule that your child needs to be "horse safe" before ever trusting him/her to control a horse by themselves. If they are truly "horse safe" they will be able to handle most any situation that could occur, on an old gentle horse, or even on a younger more spirited horse. Teach your children proper safety skills when dealing with any horse and they will be better prepared for all horses. Not just ones people label as "child safe".
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