In my article
4 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a Horse,
I compare buying a horse to getting married after only one or two dates. If you think about it, we acquire what we hope will be our ideal equine partner based on the briefest of acquaintances. Is it any wonder the relationship often doesn’t work out?
Buying a new horse is a big investment in your future happiness (and his). It’s worth taking the time to do it properly. Here are steps you can take to maximize your chances of finding the right horse.
1.Make a List
Before you fall in love with a horse for the wrong reasons (which I am guilty of having done) make a list of what you’re looking for.
The least important part of the horse is his color. Don’t set your heart on a dark bay with four white socks and a little snippet of white on his nose. Take to heart the saying: “A good horse has no color”!
Ask a trusted person to help you make this list, for example, your instructor or an experienced riding friend, who will be more objective than you.
Once you have your list of desirable traits, prioritize them. No horse will match everything you’re seeking, so you need to have an idea of what you’re willing to sacrifice, and what is essential.
An example of where you might be willing to compromise is gender. Many people are prejudiced against mares, yet the best horse I ever owned was a mare. If everything else is right, don’t reject her because she’s not a gelding.
Examples of must-haves are:
(a) Complete soundness, with no history of lameness (other than from something minor, like a bruised sole)
(b) Good temperament
(c) Good conformation
Now you have a well-thought out list and can begin looking for the right horse.
2.Where to Look
There are many places to find horses for sale, but the best source is word of mouth.
Check with your local riding school, your instructor and riding friends. Ask them if they know of any horses for sale which match your requirements, and if they would put out the word for you among their horsey acquaintance.
There are a lot of websites advertising horses. One I recommend from experience is http://www.dreamhorse.com.You can enter the details of your ideal horse, plus the farthest you are willing to travel to find him.
Also visit your tack shop and pick up a free copy of your local horse magazine.
Ask the owner lots of questions, over the phone and after you arrive to meet the horse. Remember, as the buyer you are entitled to be properly informed about the horse.
Don’t let the seller make you feel as if you don’t know anything about horses. If that happens, thank them for their time and hang up the phone. The same applies if the owner gets defensive about any of your questions.
4.Don’t Visit the Horse Unaccompanied
A golden rule when trying out a new horse is to have someone accompany you.
Take an experienced horse person with you e.g. your trusted instructor. This will help the owner stick to the truth about the animal. Your instructor can also ask any questions you may not think of, and be a sounding board for you. A second opinion on a horse is always useful.
5.Don’t Mount the Horse First!
Don’t be taken in by the owner’s stories about having a bad back or some other excuse not to ride their own horse first. If that happens, walk away.
Make sure the owner, or some other person who knows the horse, rides him in all three gaits before you get on him. Don’t trust what you’re told about the horse – actions speak louder than words. Watch how the horse is ridden: is the rider tentative, or does she look comfortable on him?
Does the horse behave well, or is he spooky or naughty, excitable or misbehaving in some other fashion? Does he look sound? Does he move well?
Don’t feel obliged to get on the horse if you’re not comfortable. If you’re an inexperienced rider, ask your instructor to ride him first. She knows what kind of horse will suit you, and can judge whether this is a good candidate.
Next Friday we’ll look at the final five steps to help you decide whether a horse is right for you.
Horses are my big obsession, and I'm constantly striving to get better, smarter and more in harmony with my equine buddy, Cruz Bay.
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