Buying A Horse In 10 Steps


Thinking about adding to your herd? Congratulations! It’s surely an exciting time, but it’s a process that requires thought, consideration and patience. Too many prospective buyers get swept up in a rash, have-to-have-it-now mentality. No good comes from that! The worst thing in the world for a buyer to do is fall in love with a flashy horse recently posted on Craig’s List or Facebook, then decide—sight-unseen—that that’s the horse for her.

Suppose the buyer finds out that someone else is also interested in her dream horse. Whatever is the love-struck buyer to do? Should she make a full-price offer on the horse to secure her ownership before visiting the horse (and the other interested party has a chance to snatch him up)? I mean, he’s gorgeous and the ad says that he can pull a cart, easily clear 4’, ride double on the side of the highway, run 1D barrel times and consistently score 70 on his dressage tests. Sounds legit, right?

This might shock some of you, but horse ads aren’t always to be trusted. WHAT? I know; I know! Horse traders usually have such sterling reputations, though!

Though not everyone selling a horse is trying to weasel you out of your money and into their horse, it’s helpful to do your due diligence—you’ll be glad that you did! Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Be realistic. Champagne tastes on a beer budget? Better save your money for a little longer, or find a taste for beer! In all seriousness, don’t expect to find a Grand Prix horse for $3,000 or a sound and sane 1D barrel horse for $2,000. It just probably isn’t going to happen. If you do run across those, run in the other direction because something is up!

On the contrary, don’t look for more horse than you need just because you can afford it. If you’re looking for a solid trail horse who will take good care of you while you spend countless hours wandering the trails at Moss Foundation, don’t pass up that 12-year-old grade draft cross who has thousands of trail miles and is sound as a bell just because he isn’t registered.

Also, remember that beginner riders do not do well with green horses. Green + green= black and blue! If you’re a beginner rider, your best bet would be to find a seasoned or older horse in whatever discipline you desire.

  1. Set expectations. Before you ever even look at your first horse ad, make a list of your must-have’s, like-to-have’s and deal-breakers. Perhaps you must-have a horse who has an aptitude for cow work, you’d like to have a horse with color, but you won’t have a horse that’s cold-backed. Stick to your guns!
  1. Bring help. You might consider yourself an excellent judge of horse flesh, but it’s always best to bring a second opinion. Whether you bring your trainer or your riding buddy, having someone who isn’t emotionally invested in the horse or the purchase will help keep you objective. They’ll help keep you grounded so you can remember what questions to ask the seller, too!
  1. Get him fresh from the pasture. I am a stickler for this. If I arrive and the horse is already sweaty, I leave immediately. I want to see how the horse acts from the time you catch him to the time you throw a leg over. The seller could be hiding anything from the horse’s favorite catch-me-if-you-can game to a cold-backed issue.
  1. Ask questions. This should be obvious, but we’re only human and can forget the most basic of questions. Ask:
  • Is the horse UTD on all shots? Coggins? Teeth?
  • Any health or soundness problems?
  • Any riding problems (bucking, bolting, shying)?
  • Has the horse been hauled?
  • Current registered owner/will the paperwork transfer?
  • Copies of vet records?
  1. Ride the horse. There is no substitute for finding out if you and the horse will jive—get on the horse! But, before you do, ask the seller to ride the horse. A seller’s word will mean doodley squat if you’re sitting in the ER due to an injury you sustained on the prospective horse.
  1. Be smart. Don’t get wrapped up in the excitement of a potential new horse—use your head and stay logical. Not long ago, we looked at a beautiful, grey three-year-old filly who was bred to the hilt. Luckily, the sellers were very honest and had disclosed that she had a bit of a cold-backed issue when she was first saddled.

When the filly was still kicking out 30 minutes after I had started riding her, it was clear to me that this was more than a “cold-backed” issue. No matter how pretty she was or what her papers said, there was a lot of work that would need to go into this little horse. We decided not to pull the trigger.

While this horse’s issue was obvious, keep a keen eye on the horse. Does the horse look drugged (droopy bottom lip, relaxed genitals, half-open eyes)? Is the horse totally sound? Does he look sore in any way?

  1. Consider a vet check. While the $500 or so bill might not seem worth it to you if you are buying a $1,000 horse, a vet check is the only way to find out if your horse is everything physically that the seller claims.
  1. Ask for a 30-day guarantee. We have a 30-day money-back guarantee on all the horses that sell from Bar T Horsemanship. This gives you, the buyer, a chance to get the horse home and really test him or her out. If there are any issues, they’ll surely pop up within that 30-day window!
  1. Continue training. We’ve probably all seen the graphic floating around on social media these days that says, “Most people need a $1,000 horse and $34,000 in lessons.” There’s a lot of truth to that! By continuing your education, either with a trainer or the person you bought the horse from (if applicable), you’ll ensure that you and your new horse stay on the same page. This means years of happy riding for you and your companion.

Only you can decide if an available horse is “the” horse for you, but I do encourage you to keep this list handy! If you need help evaluating a potential mount, we’re only a phone-call away. Until then, Have A Good Ride!