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Buying and Selling a Horse

Buying and Selling a Horse

Whether buying or selling a horse, having a little savvy can make the difference between a positive transaction and a disaster. Here are just a few main points to help ensure all parties are protected in the business of horse buying.

For Buyers

Know your abilities. Being a responsible buyer means asking a few basic, but very important questions, not only of the horse’s seller, but also of you. When people have the dream of owning a horse, Do a needs assessment, in which they need to evaluate their riding skills, the type of riding they want to do, and their budget. Simple points perhaps, but somehow getting them out of your head and onto paper can make the picture clearer.

If you do not go to a qualified trainer to have your skill level evaluated, then at least be brutally honest with yourself about your abilities, including your personality. Many a bold, but very green rider has come to me towing a horse far beyond their skill level. But the rider’s personality allowed the pair to persevere to success. However, very few timid riders ever conquer their fear when starting with an over-matched horse. In fact, fear being the powerful instinct that it is, too much horse is usually the death knell on a riding career.

Know what you want. The next thing to do is have the person create, on paper, their dream horse, with such details as color, size, ground manners, and abilities. You may think you know what you want, but this exercise often reveals some surprising clues.

For example, one client discovered that she could overlook the very annoying habit of cribbing if she could just find a horse that could take her to third level dressage. Another client, deadset on finding a palomino, discovered that what was actually most important to her was that she feel safe on the trails. The point is that you may think you know what you want, but writing it all down ensures it.

Ask the right questions. Like a skilled courtroom attorney, asking the right questions can reveal a lot about the horse and the horse seller. Here is a list of just a few basic, but pointed questions.

How long have you had the horse?

Why is it being sold?

What are its ground manners like?

What is the horse’s history, including injuries and how it was ridden?

Would you be willing to let me call your vet and your farrier to discuss his history? (Anyone who balks at this request must have something to hide, so no matter how much you like the horse, walk away.)

And the most important question: Since I don’t want to waste either my time or yours, will this horse pass a vet check?

Always vet out any prospective horse. A basic pre-purchase exam can run anywhere from $150 to $300 (without x-rays), a fee that can prevent financial heartache later on. Even if you know the horse well, have it checked out.

Get a second opinion. Unless you are a professional, get a second opinion. Have a knowledgeable friend or professional offer an opinion. If this threatens your trainer, it might be time to look at a new trainer.

Take Your Time. No matter what, don’t let anyone pressure you. This is a huge decision affecting not only your life, but also that of the horse. Think it through.

Put down a deposit. If you find a horse you like, show your good faith by putting down a deposit and writing a letter of intent pending a pre-purchase exam. Even if the seller tells you it’s not necessary, do it anyway. It protects you, and it protects them.

For Sellers—Operate with Honor:

Horses add value to our lives that far exceed some nice exercise and a little fresh air.  Having horses we think of something other than ourselves, to value teamwork, and to be patient. Also learning the importance of integrity and nowhere is that more important than when selling a horse.

From representing the buyer as well as the seller (no lawyer ever represents the prosecution as well as the defense), to recommending inappropriate horses just to make a dollar, the stories of unscrupulous trainers are myriad. For the good of horses and the health of the industry, it is imperative that trainers and horse seller raise their standards. Imploring any trainer or horse seller to make a commitment to representing the well being of the horse and the satisfaction of the rider first. Put the dollar last.

The rules are easy. Don’t take advantage of novice buyers. Don’t tell them this is the perfect horse, when you know it’s not. Disclose all vices. Disclose the correct age. Disclose all injuries. Be honest!

If you’re a trainer helping someone buy a horse, support the notion of getting a second opinion. If you have faith in your own knowledge and teaching ability, and you are operating with integrity, you should not be threatened by this request. If you are threatened, check in with your ego, or upgrade your teaching skills so that you have more confidence in your ability to hold on to your clients.

The art of buying and selling horse has many more fine points than can be discussed in this space. But the advice given here is a good foundation from which to start. Above all, remember that the purchase of a horse is an enormous commitment, and one that is worth pursuing with great care and forethought.


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