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Women & Horses by Mary D. Midkiff - horseback riding fitness techniques for women

Women & Horses, knowledge for the female equestrian; female equestrian fitness training and riding tips

The Women & Horses Newsletter - April/May 2004

Considerations for Buying a Horse

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Recently I have been on several horse buying ventures for students, clients and myself. I would like to pass along a checklist of items for you to consider and implement while you are looking for your next partner.

1) Create an Interview Document.

Treat your search for a horse similar to questions you might have for a human business partner. Ask these questions of the horse you are considering.

  • Do you have the same goals that I do?
  • Are we matched physically?
  • Are we matched temperamently?
  • Do we share the same outlook toward work and training?
  • Do our skills and knowledge complement each other?
  • Can you stay quiet in your work even though I can't ride you as often as I would like?
  • Or can you handle a great deal of work toward a performance goal?
  • Do you require a great deal of medical maintenance to be comfortable?
  • What kind of budget is it going to take to keep you comfortable and happy to be ridden and used?
  • Are you safe even when you are scared?
  • What is your background? How much under saddle experience do you have?
  • What have you accomplished under saddle?

2) How to find horses for sale

  • Word of mouth is still the best way to find out about horses for sale. Ask around your barn, your tack store, trainers, other horse owners if they know of anything that might work for you. You never know, your next horse could be standing right in front of you. The gossip chain is alive and working in the horse world!
  • Check your local bulletin boards and organization newsletters. Tack and feed stores usually have cluttered bulletin boards full of useful information including horses for sale. State, county and local organization newsletters often carry classified ads with a horses for sale section. Your local newspaper will also feature a horses for sale section.
  • Search the web. There are thousands of websites featuring horses for sale. www.dreamhorse.com is helpful in that it narrows the search to each state and breed.

3) When you contact the owner or agent of a horse for sale have a list of questions ready to ask.

  • Tell them what you are looking for, what level of rider will be riding the horse, what you absolutely will not accept (for example: no cribbers, no navicular problems, no stall walkers or weavers, etc.)
  • Breed, age, height, color, sex, asking price are at the top of the list
  • Summary of horse's past experience
  • What is the horse doing now?
  • Is the horse currently taking any medications?

4) If the answers suit your needs then set up an appointment and tell the owner/agent you would like to see the horse without tack when you arrive, and that you would like to see the horse ridden before you try him or her out. You may want to bring your own saddle in case you do not fit their tack.

5) From a long distance - If you are interested but too far away to see the horse in person then request a video. If after viewing the video you are still eager, ideally, you should have a friend or trusted professional check the horse out for you or if you can afford it, drive or fly to see the horse and plan to ride the horse two days. People do it, but I certainly would not buy a horse sight unseen unless I had a trusted friend or professional to fully support the purchase.

6) Going to the check the horse out for the first time:

  • Arrive on time and be dressed to ride
  • Notice the surroundings and how the horse is presented to you (Is it a clean safe environment and is the horse beautifully and professionally presented?)
  • Take a knowledgable horse friend or professional with you to give you a second opinion. Sometimes they will see things you do not because you are so involved with the horse and owner.
  • Go over the horse from head to tail with your eyes and hands. Check his mouth for proper teeth alignment. See if he will let you handle his ears comfortably. Ask him to pick up a foot, he should gladly give you that foot. Look for injuries, scars, bumps and ask about them all. What is your first overall impression?
  • After the first inspection, ask that he be tacked up. Watch how he is bridled and saddled and what kind of equipment they use. Is he comfortable and happy about it all or are their signs of stress and fear? What kind of bit are they using? Does the saddle fit?
  • Watching the horse under saddle: If the rider/trainer asks what you would like to see ask that he/she just go about their usual warm up. Watch carefully to see how comfortable and happy the horse is about his/her work, canter leads, etc. If there is more you would like to see such as lateral work or more advanced movements ask for it. The trainer/rider will either explain that the horse is not at that level of training yet or he/she will perform it for you. Just don't hesitate to ask for what you want.
  • Now it's your turn to take the horse for a drive: If you are less experienced you may want to ask your friend or professional to ride the horse. But if possible, get on the horse and feel what they are like to you. The riding relationship is very personal and you have to feel comfortable. Try all three gaits and make sure the horse has sufficient knowledge of "whoa" and "go". It is acceptable if your friend wants to stand in the middle of a circle and basically give you a lesson on the horse.
  • Another helpful exercise is to take the horse out on the trail or in a field to see how they go outside of an arena. They should be able to perform all three gaits comfortably and quietly with sufficient brakes if you need them. You may want to have your friend walk beside you or take another horse to accompany you.
  • If you still like the horse, ask to come back again at least once maybe a third time to make sure he/she is the same horse everytime you visit.

7) Most sellers are negotiable. They publish or tell you an asking price but are open to offers. I have come across one owner who is always firm on her prices and she will tell you that upfront. She has evaluated her horse and is confidant in the price and you either take it or leave it.

8) When you make an offer on a horse have your offer points in line. You have a price to offer and then give the reasons why you are offering this price. If you are lucky the owner will accept your offer and you can begin the purchasing process, on the other hand the owner may want to get back to you which is perfectly normal. The owner may make a counter offer and as in real estate or buying a car you may be negotiating back and forth a few more times or one of you may set the parameters and be done.

9) Now that you have agreed on a price you need to contact a trusted veterinarian to conduct a pre-purchase exam. I highly, highly recommend the pre-purchase exam. You need to know exactly what you are getting with no suprises later on. The cost will vary from vet to vet, location to location but you can expect at least a $200-$300 bill or higher for this exam and it's worth every penny.(I've seen situations where the buyer waived the exam and the horse turned up wtih a screw holding one of his bones together or a disease in his hock joint that could have been prevented.) The vet should check out the horse's general health, teeth, legs and feet, give flexion tests on the leg joints and take X-rays of the hocks, knees and feet. If the vet finds a problem that you can live with you can inform the owner and make a new lower offer based on the vets findings or you may decline the horse due to the problem. It just depends on the severity of the issue, and what you plan to do with the horse. If you are pleasure riding a few times a week then many physical issues can be overlooked but if you are planning to show and perform seriously with the horse the problem may be enough to disuade you from the purchase. Your vet can help you make these decisions for the future.

10) If the horse passes the pre-purchase then you will need to discuss with the owner how he/she would like to receive payment. In exchange for payment you should ask to receive the horse's registration papers (if any), Negative Coggins test, any X-rays or medical papers they may have, vaccination, worming and shoeing records, and brand inspection card (if any). Each state has its own veterinary travel requirements and if the horse will cross state lines you will have to have those documents secured before the horse travels. Many national horse carriers will include this process and documents in their shipping price.

11) Finding a reliable and responsible horse shipper is also best accomplished by word of mouth. Everyone at one time or another has probably shipped a horse so ask a vet or a trainer who has done the best job. Prices may vary but you want the best possible as it's not worth risking your horse's health over saving a few dollars.

12) Upon the arrival of your new horse have your vet do a simple general health exam. Horse's can go through a great deal of stress traveling long distances and their immune systems can be compromised. Catching a cold or a respiratory infection is not uncommon. Give your horse lots of comfort when he/she arrives. Spend as much time as possible for at least the first three weeks with him/her. There are considerations for horses coming from hot weather to cold or going from sea level to high altitude and visa versa. Make accommodations for these changes and give them time to adapt without stress.

Hopefully the horse will be everything you expected but if you have questions most owners will be happy to hear from you. Don't hesitate to contact me if you have questions about buying a new horse.

Happy Riding!

Mary Midkiff

Equestrian Resources PO Box 20187 Boulder, CO 80308 USA

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