buying a horse

Top 3 Things to Consider When Buying a Horse

There’s so much excitement when shopping for a horse. This transaction is not like any other purchase you’ll ever make. Ensuring you choose the right partner is paramount to a happy and harmonious relationship in the future so let’s consider the top 3 things to look for when buying a horse. After all, this purchase buys a relationship with another living being. That’s a big deal!

#1 Who is educating whom?

Who is educating whom? When buying a horse, this is the question you need to ask yourself. The #1 thing that will keep you from buying the wrong horse is a realistic answer to this question.

  • Are you an experienced rider looking for a horse that you plan to educate?
  • Are you a novice rider looking for a horse that can educate you?
  • Are you an educated rider looking for an educated horse?

If you are a novice rider who is just beginning to establish their own knowledge-base then buying a horse who is “green” (no matter how good they are) is not a great idea. A “good horse” and an “educated horse” are not necessarily the same thing. Remember that the term “green” is another word for “uneducated.”

When you start shopping, be clear on your requirements:

  • I’m looking for a horse to learn on.
  • I’m looking for a horse to teach.
  • I’m looking for an equal partner (to compete with).

#2 When Buying a Horse, Character Counts

Horses are amazing creatures with the ability to learn just about anything we want to teach them. The one exception that I have found is that you can’t teach character. A horse’s character defines who they are as an individual. The exception would be that you can sour a horse with good character. Once you have turned a cucumber into a pickle you can’t turn a pickle back into a cucumber.

To help simplify things when you’re looking at multiple horses try giving them each a two word description. The first word describes their education level and the second word describes their character. This should help to quickly eliminate those that are unsuitable. Here’s a run down of our barn as an example:

  • Junior: Educated/ Opinionated
  • Wick: Uneducated/Kind
  • Dylan: Educated/Kind
  • Yogi: Scholar/Reliable
  • Champ: Uneducated/Sensitive
  • Ferris: Scholar/Saint
  • Simon: Educated/Teacher
  • Roman: Educated/People-pleaser
  • Cam: Educated/Reliable

Buying “The Winner”

Learning to execute the attributes of a winning-ride takes a horse that will allow you to make mistakes as you learn. Many times, the horse with the “heart of a champion” is not also the horse that is tolerant of mistakes. They can easily get impatient and annoyed by the monotony of the learning process that the rider must go through.

The horse that is the “winner” is not necessarily the horse that is the one a rider learns to “win” on.

If you’re in need of a partner that will be patient with you while you learn, allow you to make mistakes, and practice the same thing over and over again then choose the horse whose personality is that of a teacher. When you’re shopping, be clear on the character qualities you require and stick to them.

#3 Conformation Criteria

You are buying an athletic partner when you buy a horse. The horse’s physical attributes and deficiencies matter. This is bigger than the question “Is the horse sound?” We need to consider the realities of their confirmation and the impact the intended job will have on them. The physical needs of a jumping horse are not the same as those of a dressage horse or of an event horse.

We don’t need a horse to have perfect conformation; however, we do need for them to have conformation that begets soundness, performance and rideability.

There are two main ways the horse may not meet our physical criteria. First is the horse’s natural conformation. Second are a variety of training flaws that have caused problematic movement patterns over time.

Conformation concerns to consider

  • Low Heels/Mismatached feet/Club Foot
  • Over at the knee
  • Long back/Short croup
  • Straight hindlimb
  • Downhill
  • Straight shoulder
  • Disproportionate neck/back/hindquarters

For more on conformation I recommend checking out “Confirmation Clinic” by Julie Winkle in Practical Horseman. I encourage you to get clarity on the physical attributes that will be necessary for your equine partner to “work” for you. In simple terms, don’t get a Great Dane and expect him to be a good Frisbee dog.

Training flaws to consider

  • Behind the bit
  • Leans on the bit
  • Over-bent in the neck
  • Improper Collection (shortening at the base of the neck rather than a loaded hind-end)

Recognize when the previous training methods have created a compensation pattern in a horse. Some of those flaws can be fairly easily corrected by an experienced rider. Others are almost impossible to fully correct.

An Immediate “No”

For me, the number one flaw that gets an immediate “no” is a horse that has learned to get behind the bit. This is something the horse learns to avoid the rider’s hand. It is next to impossible to correct. Remember, we want and need a horse to “take the bit” – if they have learned to avoid it and created muscle patterns around that avoidance correcting it is incredibly difficult. Without true contact in bridle, the necessary feel between leg and hand becomes unattainable. The rideability is impacted and the horse is more likely to sustain injuries.

Of course, there are additional considerations when buying a horse. A big one is the option of leasing rather than buying. For more on this check out my post Pros and Cons of Leasing vs Buying a Horse. Whether you decide to buy or lease your next horse getting clear on my Top 3 will ensure you are well on your way to making a good decision and finding a great partner!

Providing Helpful Horsemanship skills to horse-people of all disciplines. Curated by Robin Martinez, a lifelong horsewoman with a passion for learning and teaching. Together with her husband Dionicio, they own Blackjack Farm in San Diego, CA where they train and compete their own jumping and dressage horses.