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Advice to Self When Buying a Horse

Submitted by Leslie Allen 

I have ridden horses most of my adult life. When my oldest daughter wanted a horse, we made the decision to purchase an older Quarter Horse gelding that had the patience of a true saint. He made us believe we could ride. As true greenies, he allowed us to properly nurture the “horse bug.” When he could no longer carry a rider, we were “gifted” a Quarter Horse mare that demanded we learn the value of a horse. She was a task master with her mounted partners. Our “horse bug” was firmly implanted; even eating dirt sandwiches while learning to ride our mare seemed a reasonable request. 

Start with an open mind. Know your strengths and decide what strengths and characteristics you are  looking for in your equine partner. For example: don’t buy a draft horse and then expect the speed and agility of a thoroughbred.  

Over the last 35 years, I have owned four horses. Each one taught me to be a better and more astute equestrian. In my 50’s, my journey led me into the equestrian sport of eventing. With my Quarter Horse gelding, Tango, and the guidance of wonderful instructors, we achieved proficiency at the beginner novice level. As Tango aged, Eventing became too demanding for him and it was time for me to  seek my next and possibly final horse.  

For months, I looked for my new horse. The common thread was most of these sale horses were “Off  the Track Thoroughbreds” or OTTB’s. All were picked up from track traders to “rehome” into other  disciplines. Thoroughbreds are smart, fast, graceful and for the most part good natured horses. I was  surprised by the number of them available for purchase. What these horses have is “tons of try.” However, for all of their efforts most will end up in sale pens. 

My purchase goal was a seasoned “schoolmaster” gelding. Instead my search led me to a  4.5 year old OTTB mare. Her breed and age gave me pause. Her body and coat were not in good shape and this made her overall health questionable but she was delightful in spirit and so amenable. I decided to purchase this young, skittish mare.  

I don’t regret for a moment my decision to buy my thoroughbred. She has shown more grit and  determination than any horse I have ever owned. I will remain in her camp to see her to full glory. She  and I have plans together. My toast for this NYE is, “2023 will be our year!”

A year and a half into our journey, addressing her health issues has been our priority.  We work tirelessly with equine professionals to help her body fully recover. She was diagnosed with soft tissue damage, ulcers, kissing spines and complex hoof issues. OTTB’s are raced from very early ages.  Funds are typically not used to care for them. Some, but not all OTTB’s, may be compromised in their hooves, back, neck and legs. I will always wonder if her current health issues were directly related to  the lack of care she endured during her formative growth years.

I have learned a lot about purchasing horses and want to share some of that wisdom with our younger generations. Hopefully, my journey helps someone looking to purchase their next horse. There are so many fabulous horses waiting for their new home. The most important thing is take your time and get to know the details about the horse. If you are comfortable with the details, you may have found your new equine partner. 

“Actively engage in critical reflection, especially about matters that concern values we should live by, not simply waiting until our views are challenged or run into difficulties.”


Notes to my younger self when buying a horse: 

If possible, have an unbiased professional assist you in the purchasing process.

On-line purchases are an option, but nothing is better (if possible) to true eyes and hands on the horse  during the search process.

If the horse is not in good physical shape, it can take lots of care, love, professional help, money and more money to bring them back to good health. You can’t ride a sick, injured or lame horse; the healing  process will take a while.  

KNOW there are risks in this process, but understanding those risks before purchase can save you a lot of heartache and stress. 

When you find a prospect you are interested in – questions to ask & research you can do: 

  1. Know the breed. Know the work the horse was doing prior to your purchase. Try to get as much  information as possible about your “prospect.” Look at health statistics associated with the specific equestrian discipline. Understand what their “prior” life might mean to the horse’s overall current and future health and training opportunities. 
  2. Ask if the horse needs to be stalled for periods of time during the day. If so, when and why? Does the horse have a special diet? Know the feed and hay given daily to the horse and when they are fed. Does the horse mesh well with other horses in a pasture or do they need to be kept in their own space? Does the horse have allergies to certain grasses or environmental issues?  
  3. How many times has the horse been loaded on a trailer? Can the horse be loaded easily on a trailer? 
  4. Ask if the horse is only ridden by professionals? If so, why? Can you ride like a professional? Be objective and honest about your own equestrian abilities. 
  5. Review the horse’s public competition record(s) within their discipline. Does the horse have many different riders? If so, why? Are the horse/rider team(s) competent and consistent at certain levels of  the sport? Do you competently ride at this particular level? If not, do you have a professional trainer that will assist and guide both of you? 
  6. Ask the professional helping you to call the seller or seller’s agent prior to seeing the horseIf possible request videos of the horse being ridden. 

When you are ready to try the horse:

  1. Watch the horse in the pasture with herd mates, being caught, haltered and groomed. Ask how they stand for the farrier. Go out and catch the horse yourself: groom, pick hooves, tack, ride, wash, turn-out.  
  2. Get a pre-purchase veterinary check and x-rays (include neck, back, legs and hooves). Only use a vet that you know or is highly recommended and objective. Do not use the vet associated with the sale barn. Ask for all documents associated with the horse to include prior vet records. 
  3. Ask the current owner if the horse was/is drugged in order to be handled, groomed, ridden, trailered, for the farrier, and while in training for competition. They will probably be offended by the question; however, some people believe and defend sedation as a “training tool.” Ask anyway. Do a drug test.  
  4. Insist the professional helping you ride the horse first so they can give you guidance as you mount and prepare for your first ride. 

Editor’s Note: No guidance about buying a horse would be complete without recommendations assessing under saddle, but the reality is every horse buyer has different goals and needs even within one discipline. Maybe we will cover that another day. 

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