What to look for when buying a horse

by | Feb 2, 2020

When I was a little child, I found a length of rope that had no apparent purpose laying around my parents garden. I immediately claimed it as a lead rope for the horse I would one day own. I finally got my first horse when I was 25 years old, and the preparations I undertook before purchasing him were a bit more involved than simply picking up a rope and announcing that it would be my new horse’s lead rope. 

The dream of having one’s own horse is one of the biggest goals a horse lover can have. Those of us who grow up riding lesson horses, begging and pleading for a pony of our own, or offering to exchange barn chores for rides and lessons often sustain ourselves with the hopes that someday, someday we will have a horse of our very own and not need to be dependent on someone else’s generosity. But before you let your fantasy run away with you, you need to ask yourself an important question: Are you ready to be a horse owner?           

A wise first move to make, before getting your first horse, is asking yourself how much experience you have with horses. How much do you know about their care and their needs? Do you have knowledgeable people around you who can support you and help you learn about how to care for your horse? The next question is whether or not you can afford a horse. It is helpful to make a budget and fill it in as best as possible before buying a horse. 

Whether you have a sporthorse for competing every weekend, or a glorified organic lawnmower, your horse will need a fair bit of care, and that care tends to be quite expensive. The initial purchase price of a horse is the very least of a horse owner’s financial concerns. Vaccinations are required twice yearly, and deworming is necessary at regular intervals. Whether your horse has shoes or remains barefoot, he will need regular visits from the farrier every six to eight weeks. Finally, one cannot forget feeding: horses require hay every day, and many also require some sort of grain in addition to their hay. If you ride or compete regularly, there are additional costs for tack, riding lessons, training and competition fees. Whether you get a horse for free or spend over $10,000 on him, he will certainly find a way to injure himself or develop a condition that requires maintenance. Tracking your expenses with a budget notebook is a good way to stay on top of these finances.

Ok. I Crunched The Numbers, And I Can Afford A Horse. Now What Do I Look For?

Congratulations! How exciting that you can afford to fulfill your dreams! Make sure to let your head and heart both lead you as you search for your new partner. 

Take your own abilities and experience into account as you search for your perfect horse. If you are not a professional, it is best to look for a horse that is older than 7 years old, either a mare or a gelding. Do not even think about looking at a stallion as a first horse. Don’t worry about the color of the horse, or even so much about the breed of horse. There are calm, steady-eddie types and high-strung dragon types in every breed. Temperament and size are much more important to look at than breed when evaluating a horse. 

Look at online ads and sale groups, or better yet, ask your trainer for local recommendations for people who are selling nice horses in the area. Look for words in the sale ads such as “safe,” “dependable,” “kid-friendly,” “beginner-friendly,” and “bombproof.” Avoid sale ads with words like “loads of potential,” “jumper/barrel prospect,” and “fun ride.” These horses tend to be energetic and challenging for beginner riders. When looking at sale prices, make sure to budget for a pre-purchase exam by a veterinarian. A pre-purchase exam will often include X-rays of the horses legs and joints and a full physical exam. The pre-purchase exam is important in terms of determining what you can generally expect of your potential horses capabilities, though of course it is not a guarantee. 

You should ask to see the horse in person, and to take a knowledgeable horse person with you when you are going to look at a horse. Try to handle him on the ground, see how he behaves when picking up his feet, handling his ears and head, cinching up the girth, etc. These are the things that are important for determining how your everyday life with your horse will be. Ask to see the owner riding the horse, and observe not only the horse’s way of going, but also how he is ridden. Observe what kind of bit the rider uses, whether the rider uses spurs or a whip. Also observe the facilities, whether there are tubes of calming paste in the trashcans, and how the horses are managed in general. After observing the rider, if you feel comfortable, try the horse out yourself. Don’t worry if you don’t have a magical connection right away, but it is important to see how well you can manage him at all three gaits.

I Found My Dream Horse. What Do I Need Now?

Tack companies will try and convince you that your horse needs three of everything in five different colors. The reality is that this money would be far better invested in an emergency vet savings account! That said, there are some things your horse will need. A spare lead rope or two, especially if your horse doesn’t come with his own, are of the greatest importance. If your horse is going to be turned out with a halter, make sure he has a breakaway halter. Your horse’s previous owner may be willing to sell his tack to you, which would be an advantage since you will be certain that they fit him. Well-fitting tack is one of the most important investments you can make. Another thing that is very important, but many people do not think to buy, is a first aid kit. Horses have a way of getting themselves into mischief as though it were their job.  And a stall sign with the horse’s basic information is helpful for barn staff or emergency workers.


Getting a new horse is a big decision, especially when it comes to finances. There are a variety of important decisions that need to be weighed in order to determine if it is best for you. But if you are experienced and financially stable enough to give a horse the best possible care, it will be one of the most rewarding relationships you can have. 

What is your dream horse like?

About The Author

<a href="https://www.equiniction.com/author/ani-petrak/" target="_self">Ani Petrak</a>

Ani Petrak

Ani Petrak is a freelance linguist and writer based in the Czech Republic. A lifelong English rider and groom, she has experience showing in dressage, hunter-jumpers, trail, and young horse in-hand competitions. She is currently working with a Grand Prix showjumping and dressage trainer while raising and training her young warmblood gelding for a career in dressage, working equitation, and cross-country hacking.

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