10 top tips for buying your first horse
Ready to take your passion for riding to the next level by investing in a mount of your own? Katie Allen-Clarke, Head of Marketing at Horse & Country, shares ten essential tips for choosing, buying, and transporting a new equine companion.
Owning a horse can be incredibly rewarding, offering years of fulfilling riding and companionship. However, as you’ll no doubt already know, it is a big commitment and finding the ideal match for your riding skills, needs, and lifestyle can be a challenge.
This article will walk you through the intricate journey of buying a horse, from finding a winner right through to getting your new animal home safe. Let’s get started.
1. What do you want?
Whether you're looking for a gentle giant for leisurely trail rides, a seasoned competitor for jumping events, or a versatile all-rounder, understanding what you need is the first step. Having a strict list of requirements will help you narrow down your options and help you later on when the time comes to view some horses.
If you’re not sure where to start, ask yourself the following questions:
- Work: Determine whether you're seeking a horse for leisure riding, competition, or breeding.
- Experience: Do you want an experienced horse or a blank slate?
- Age: Consider if you want a younger horse with potential or an older, more experienced one. Horses reach maturity at around eight years old, so consider getting a horse younger than this if you want to train them yourself.
- Longevity: Many breeds will live around 25–30 years (older for ponies) and often retire from work around 20-25 years, so you should bear your own age and circumstances in mind, too.
- Budget: What can you afford to spend? Make sure to take in account maintenance costs such as livery, feed, farrier bills, equipment, vets bills etc.
- Your fitness: What is your fitness like? Could you manage a very young, energetic horse that needs a lot of training and development?
- Size: What size is right for your build, height, and riding style and experience?
- Breed: Do you have a particular breed in mind?
- Livery: Where will the horse be stabled?
2. Spread the word and ask around
Once you’ve drawn up a detailed list of requirements, it’s time to start shopping around. Before looking at ads, it’s often a good idea to get the word out in your local community. Reach out to equestrian friends and contacts and let them know what kind of horse you’re looking for — they may be planning to sell or know someone who is.
3. Read adverts closely
Next, it’s time to start browsing ads and listings on horse sites and magazines. Shortlist any with potential and take the time to analyse the wording very carefully. Be on the lookout for phrases like ‘no novices’, as these horses probably aren’t suited to a first-time owner. You should also stay alert for any adverts that are vaguely worded, or sound too good to be true for the price listed. For example, if an ad states that a horse has no vices at all, is that reflected in the price?
4. Do your homework before committing to a viewing
When you find an ad that ticks all your boxes, you’ll want to do your due diligence to make sure everything is legitimate before arranging to view the horse. Phone the seller directly where possible and ask them a few questions to make sure the listing is real and that everything is legal. For example, does the horse they are selling belong to them, or are they selling for a third party? Is buying and selling horses their main source of income, or a hobby?
Once you’re sure everything is OK, you can arrange to view the horse in person. Make it clear to the seller what you want to see on the day: for example, if you want to see the horse ridden, or even try them out yourself. This will ensure you get an accurate idea of the soundness, temperament, and abilities of the horse during the viewing.
To protect yourself from scammers, never send money as an advance or deposit ahead of a viewing, even if you’ve spoken to the seller — there’s always a chance the listing could be fake.
5. Consult the professionals
Even if you have a strong idea of what you’re looking for, it’s still best to ask an equine professional such as your trainer to accompany you and assess their suitability for the type of work you want to put them into.
6. See the horse up close
At the viewing, start by taking a good look at the horse in hand, paying close attention to his posture, condition, and temperament. Then, move on to walking and trotting in hand or on the lunge. How is his movement? Does he appear sound?
7. …and being ridden
Next, ask if you can see the horse under saddle. Watch closely to see how he moves and if there are any issues with soundness. If you’ll be putting the horse into a certain kind of work, ask the rider to demonstrate any related skills or paces. If you’re looking for a dressage horse, now is the time to check his rhythm and see what he can already do. Pay close attention to mounting and dismounting, too: does the rider need help getting on and off? Do they take the horse out of the arena to do this?
You’ll also want to pay attention to the horse’s temperament during the ride, so you can judge whether he’s suitable for your own personality and riding needs. Is the horse raring to go, or does he need a lot of encouragement? Does he respond to the rider’s directions or ignore them? Is he energetic or lethargic? Anxious or calm? All of this will inform your decision about whether he’s the one for you.
If you feel it’s safe to do so, now’s your time to ride the horse and see how they go for you and see whether they would be suitable for you. Of course, building up a relationship with a horse takes time, so don’t expect a perfect ride right away. But this can help you to get a better sense of whether you’re compatible.
8. Assess breeding history and conformation
Ask for information on the horse’s breeding: what were the sire and dam like? Looking at the characteristics of the horse’s bloodline can help give you a rough idea of what work they might be suited to, as well as any issues they might have in future.
Next, take time to assess the horse’s conformation — that is, the shape and proportions of the animal, created by its musculoskeletal structure. While good conformation is no guarantee that a horse will be a champion, it can give you a clue about how prone to injury he might be and what kind of work he might be suited to. Your vet and trainer should be able to help you decode the horse’s conformation.
9. The legal side
Think you’ve found your dream horse? If you’re certain this is the mount for you and your vet and trainer agree, then you can go ahead and make an offer. The seller may be open to a bit of haggling, so it’s worth seeing if you can negotiate on the price. If they aren’t willing to go any lower, you could also ask if they have any tack or other gear they’d be willing to bundle in, which can save you money and time later on.
When you’ve reached a deal, there are a few more bits of paperwork to sort out before you can take your new horse home:
- Check the horse’s passport
- Get the horse vetted to check it is fit for purpose
- Get a written contract and have both parties sign it
- Get a receipt for your payment
- Insure your new horse as soon as possible
- Ask the seller to pass on medical records or other important documentation
10. Transporting your horse to their new home
You have a few different options for transporting your horse to their new home. The best solution for you will depend on how far you need to travel, and how comfortable you feel handling some or all of the process yourself.
If you’d prefer to do it yourself, then renting a self-drive horsebox may be the best option if you don’t already have your own transport. This gives you complete control over the process, and you’ll be there to keep an eye on your new horse throughout the journey. However, it can be time-consuming, especially if you’re travelling long distances. Take a look at My Horse Network’s guide to travelling your horse to learn more.
The other option is to employ the services of a professional horse transporter. Finding a service that is located close to the seller can be faster and more efficient, and as experienced professionals, transporters are usually skilled at keeping horses and ponies calm during long journeys. You can use My Horse Network’s listing page to discover a transporter in your area or near the seller. Remember to always check any potential transporter’s DEFRA approval and insurance documents to make sure they are fully certified, legal, and safe.
Buying your first horse can seem like a complicated and drawn-out process, but with the guidance provided in this article, you're well on your way to making an informed decision and welcoming a new equine companion into your life.