First Time Horse Owner’s Checklist

Where should I buy my first horse?

Now that you have an idea of how much it might cost you can start to look for your perfect horse. It can be difficult to know where to start looking for a horse, especially if you’re not after a particular breed or type of horse (such as a reiner or showjumper). Start by asking at your local stables or riding center. They may even have some horses for sale already.

Tack shops and local papers can also be a great place to find a good horse. You’ll be surprised how many are advertised there by people who’ve outgrown their horse, students moving to college or even people relocating and not able to take the horse with them. Local is always a good place to start, it makes it easier for you to visit the horse multiple times and you can always ask other people what the horse is like.

If you’re after a particular breed then the registry is the best place to start. Most breed societies have a list of reputable breeders who will be more than happy for you to show you their horses. Buying from a registered breeder will usually be a bit more expensive but you’ll know the horse’s full pedigree (often going back multiple generations). The same applies if you’re looking for a competition horse, a lot of disciplines have a society that not only helps to promote the sport but has a list of reputable breeders.

Personally, I would avoid going to an auction to buy your first horse. Yes, you could buy a perfect horse but if you end up buying a horse with a lot of problems there isn’t a lot you can do about it. You have no guarantee that the horse is what it seems, it may be a problem horse that has been drugged to make it seem like a sound horse or may have even been stolen.

Buying from a dealer can be problematic too but I wouldn’t necessarily avoid them completely. Some dealers are only in the business to make money while others really care about the horses. If you are thinking about buying from a dealer then I would strongly recommend you have every check done that’s possible to help validate the horse’s health, behavior, and whether or not it’s been stolen. In some countries horses have to be microchipped so having a vet check for one is a good idea.

What should I do when I’ve found a horse I like?

When you find a horse that you like the sound of you need to make arrangements to go and see it. 

What happens when I first visit a horse?

You don’t have to take somebody with you the first time you go to visit a horse but I would recommend taking your instructor with you if you can, or if not somebody else who’s experienced in buying horses. They’ll be able to help access the horse from an unbiased point of view and will also be able to give you a second opinion.

Everybody is different and there’s no rule as to what will happen when you first go to see a horse. Some owners will leave the horse in the field until you arrive so that you can catch it. Others will have the horse already tacked up for you to ride. There’s no right or wrong way of doing it so don’t go with too many expectations of how the horse will be.

If you have to catch the horse yourself don’t rush to do it straightaway, watch him in the field for a little while first. How does he act around other horses, is he good-tempered with them or does he try to bite or kick them? There’ll always be a certain amount of bossiness going on with horses but is it just that or does it look like the horse has a bad temper? If the horse is already tacked up when you arrive then make sure you turn it out after and watch it before you leave.

It’s important to handle the horse yourself, this will help you to see how alert he is and how responsive he is to you. While he’s in a halter walk and trot him up and also ask your instructor or the owner to do the same. This will help you get a feel for the horse but also allow you to see how he moves, if he’s sure-footed, and if there’s any sign of lameness. Don’t listen to the owner if they try to cover lameness up with excuses such as they’ve got new shoes that have caused the lameness. If the horse is already tacked up don’t be afraid to remove the tack and walk the horse about. If the owner isn’t trying to hide something they won’t mind at all, if they do mind then walk away.

Make sure that you groom him too, it might not be your first thought you but can tell a lot about a horse from grooming it. You’ll be able to closely examine him and will notice any injuries that the seller hasn’t mentioned. It’ll also give you the opportunity to get a rough feel for the horse and his temperament. By no means a scientific way of accessing the horse’s personality, but I find that it at least gives me a sense of it, for example, does he feel tense when you brush him or relaxed?

You need to ride the horse on your first visit but take it slow to start with. Begin by just walking, stopping and turning so that you and the horse can both get a feel for each other. When you’re both ready you can start to trot and canter as well as possibly try a small jump if you’re hoping to jump your new horse. Some people like to ask the seller to ride the horse first. It’s up to you whether you do this but if they’re reluctant to do so and there’s no obvious reason (such as a broken limb or they’ve clearly outgrown the horse) for their reluctance then it’s not a good sign.

If you don’t know the owners then trust your instincts on your first visit and don’t go back for second visit. If something doesn’t feel right then it’s best to walk away. Buying the wrong (or bad) horse can be a very bad thing and can have dire consequences so listen to your instincts, there are plenty more horses so don’t feel as if you have to buy that horse. I personally think you should NEVER buy a horse on your first visit, if you really like the horse you can place a holding deposit so that nobody else buys it but don’t make the full payment – you need to have the horse checked by a vet before you should consider actually buying the horse.

How many times should I visit the horse before buying?

There’s no rule as to how many times you should visit a potential new horse but I like to make a could of extra visits, an arranged one at a different time of day and at least one unannounced visit. The reason for a second visit is so that I can view any paperwork such as vaccination certificates, pedigree records, etc. Seeing the horse at a different time of day is also a good idea because it allows you to get a more rounded picture of the horse. I also like to make a couple of unannounced visits to make sure the horse is what they say it is. Sadly some owners will do anything to get rid of a problem horse and if you just turn up then you’ll be able to see if the horse really is as you remember it or whether the owners had ‘prepared’ the horse for your visit.

What do you do know you’ve decided you want to buy the horse?

Before you take the final step in buying a horse you need to ask a vet to examine it. Most vets will carry out a complete pre-purchase examination (PPE) which will help give you an idea of anything you should be aware of. It’ll also look for potential problems in the future. Some countries offer different grades of examination but I would always recommend going for the best, most extensive examination. It’s better to find any problems now rather than later after you’ve bought the horse.

If the vet checks all go well then the next step is paying for the horse. You’ll need to agree with the owner how you’ll do this but make sure you get a detailed bill of sale, this should include any registration numbers as well as a description of the horse. You also need to make sure you have all of the paperwork you need and should have. If the horse is registered then you’ll need to get a copy of all of the transfer arrangements and mail them to the registry yourself. If the horse has a passport then you also need to check this to make sure it matches the horse you’re buying.

Page 1 – Before you look for a horse

Page 3 – Before the horse arrives

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