Saturday, August 25, 2012

Buying your First Mount; Not a good Time to Horse Around.

By Donna OShaughnessy  AKA  The Midlife Farmwife

The first time I bought a horse went like this. I witness some kids throwing rocks at a large pony in order to make him run. Each time he stopped the stoning started again. It mad me angry, so I marched up to the kids father, standing by watching the abuse and told him to stop. He told me I should mind my own business unless I wanted to buy the pony from him. So I emptied out my bank account, thrust $25 into the fiends hand and walked my first equine home.

I was 12.

My mother was none too pleased with my impulse buy, especially since we lived in town,  with a tiny yard, but with my equally impulsive fathers help, we convinced her to let me keep him.

Since then I've learned a little more about how to buy the first horse of your dreams and in this decreased economy there is sadly a glut of horses on the market. It is both a great time and a horrible time to buy your first horse. There are deals to be made but there are also dealers out there made to to part fools with their money.

But by following a few self-learned tips you can still come home with a decent riding horse bound to give you pleasure for years to come.

1. If you've never owned a horse before take a horseman with you. Note I said "horseman" not a horse trainer or plain horse owner but someone who really knows and understands horses and preferably is well versed in Natural Horsemanship.

2. Learn the Lingo. Some common phrases and their real meanings follow.

 "Bombproof"  There is no such thing. Horses are animals of prey. If they perceive danger they   will run. A blowing leaf become a ferocious panther. The backfiring of a car equates to a war zone. Instead look for terms like "Has been ridden on many trail miles" or "Lots of groundwork done" and /or a Temperament rating of 1-2 on a 0-10 scale. 
 " In your pocket kind of horse" meant to describe a horse that follows you everywhere, can also mean a horse that doesn't respect your space. It may seem cute to have a horse rub all over you with his face but this habit is disrespectful and dangerous. A horse who does this to a child or small adult can knock them over. A well trained horse will quickly back up out of your space with a well aimed look or gentle jiggle of the lead rope.
 "Easy Keeper" could mean he maintains his weight well or simply that he is too fat.
 " Needs a job" often means the horse has not been ridden much lately. Ask for specifics such as number of times the animal has been ridden each week and for how long.
 "Green-broke" Most overused term in the horse world. Could mean the horse has been under professional training for the last 6 months and is well prepared for the next step or it could mean the neighbors kid threw a saddle on him three times two years ago. Again ask for specifics. Rule of thumb for a novice horse owner  never buy a horse that is less well trained than you are. Green plus green equals trouble.

3. Ask the owner (or someone else in their family) to ride their horse in your presence. If they won't then you don't want to either. Instead of watching the horse watch the owner. Are they nervous around their animal? Do they start making excuses for the animals behavior? Ask them to walk behind their horse and pick up and clean all four feet. You can learn more about a animal by watching their owner than by riding the horse yourself.

4. Look for the obvious. Does the horse limp? Are its eyes, ears and nostrils clear and without discharge? Are there any open wounds?  Does he paw at the ground when tied? Does he refuse to move from one gait to the next?

5. Look for the not so obvious. Feel its front legs for any hot spots or tender areas. Could be an injury or infection. Ask the owner to feel its back legs in your presence. Does the horse swish his tail or throw its head when asked to do a task. This is often a sign of impatience, disobedience or the warning of a soon to follow buck or rear.

6. Ask for written proof that the horse is up to date on all vaccinations and Coggins test.

7. Ask the owner to refund your money within a mutually agreed amount of time if after getting the horse home you discover it is not the horse you thought it was or hoped it would be or simply is not a good match for you.

8. Finally, take a good hard look at your prospective new horse. Does she make your heart sing? Then go ahead and buy her.You know you were going to anyway.



  1. I fear with the drought & the economy the way it is that there will be a continuation of horse sell-offs. Another thing that I'd like to add in your "things to do before buying a horse" is to make sure you KNOW how much it's going to cost to feed, medicate, shoe (if needed) and otherwise take care of that "Cheap" or "Free" horse. Then take that figure....and double it.

  2. Excellent point Carolyn. "Free" is never without some kind of COST

  3. This is a great post and Carolyn is right regarding the cost of keeping a horse. Most people don't even think about that when they want that new puppy or kitty. But not only is it $$$: you should also ask yourself if you are willing to commit the TIME to have a horse. They have to be fed, brushed, and worked.

  4. Hi Donna, If I'm ever in the market for a horse, your on the hook as my horseman...or should I say horsewoman!

  5. Great post Donna, I wish I could get a horse but I know nothing about keeping a horse. I've always wanted a big Belgian or Clydsdale out there in my field! Maybe in my next life...


  6. Great article! My first horse taught me to train horses :-) She threw me off every single day until I figured out a way to teach her to stand still so I could get back on. The crazy logic of children -- she still threw me off every day and then waited for me to remount and I thought that was success.

  7. Fascinating blog post, Donna. I've never owned a horse and probably never will, but it was quite interesting to see what's involved.

  8. I would add to this, always get a vet check. This is not the time to save money! Then go away privately and confer with the vet.

    If the horse is too far for your vet to check it, I would make sure in the purchase contract that you have a week to return the horse if it fails your vet's examination.

  9. Cranky, Especially now with feed costs skyrocketing which is why I am such an advocate of NOT breeding your own horses right now. Far too many out there without homes.

    Black Squirrel. Of course, its the least I can do for all your super soap business! Of course if you buy our farm I could get you ahorse of your own right away...

    Janice, Believe me , when I was 12 I knew nothing about horses either. Oh wait. Probably not the best example.

    Inhale. At 53 I am still learning what NOT to do with horses. I am finally getting smarter about the same time my bones are getting more brittle. Falling off while trick riding just isn't the hoot it was when I was 15!

    Karen. Always a thrill to have you comment on my posts. THANKS

    Zephyr. Excellent excellent advice. Money paid to a vet is money well invested.

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  11. These are excellent tips and suggestions. I also want to recommend that amateur equestrian buyers consider hiring an attorney who specializes in equine law, especially, if they are purchasing with the intent of entrepreneurship.


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