Buying Your First Horse

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Congratulations! You are interested in purchasing your first horse. Whether you are a seasoned horse pro or a beginner, this is one of the most exciting times in your horse career. There is a lot to know about buying your first horse. This article will guide you on what to look for, how to evaluate a horse, questions to consider and ask, and so much more. 


The first horse:


The first horse you buy will always hold a special place in your heart. That moment you officially become a horse owner is one of the greatest in the world. But, do you know what is even better than just becoming a horse owner? Finding THE RIGHT horse for your needs, skill level, and goals. 


Over any horse person’s life, they will go through a few different horses, and the horse you purchase now will mainly depend on where you are at in your riding skill level and what kind of goals you have. Choosing the right horse is an essential step in becoming a skilled horseman or woman. The right horse will aid in your learning process and advancement and lessen the frustration you may face in the near future. 


First things first… you need to ask yourself some questions before you even start looking for a horse. 


  1. How long have I been riding? 
  2. What is my current skill level?
  3. What are my goals for the long-term future?
  4. What kind of horse do I think I need?
  5. What is my budget?
  6. Where will I be keeping the horse?
  7. What will my expenses look like?
  8. Am I set up to purchase at the moment?
  9. Will I be working with a trainer?
  10. What is my showing or riding goals for the near future? I.E., within the first few months of owning the horse.
  11. Do I have a trailer and truck to haul my horse?
  12. Do I have a vet to work with during the purchase process for vet checks?
  13. What is my timeline for purchasing a horse?
  14. What kind of horse am I looking at getting?

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I think the next most important thing to outline is the actual process of buying a horse. Knowing the process gives you knowledge that will help you feel much more confident in your horse purchasing experience. If you are a greener rider, it really is best to go horse shopping with a professional. Finding a trainer is a great idea to alleviate issues along this journey while ensuring that you are picking the right prospect for the stage of life you’re in and the level you ride at. Trainers will inherently be better at horse selection than you will be and will be able to pick out potentially catastrophic issues you may not even be aware of. 


The process of finding a horse takes time and requires a few different phases. 




  1. Find a trainer or equine professional to work with. 
  2. Find a well-recommended vet to work with. 
  3. Evaluate the checklist, and determine your budget and other expenses and the timeline for the purchase.
  4. Have a sit down with your trainer and discuss the horse buying process and what your goals/ expectations will be, along with what theirs will be. Horse trainers also usually charge a finders fee or a fee for their time. If you decide to travel for the purchase, you will also be paying their way, i.e., hotel costs, diesel or gas expenses, rental cars, meals, etc. This needs to be laid out with your trainer, and discuss what your responsibilities are. If you are not working with your trainer, then you may skip this process, although I highly recommend it. 




Working WITH a trainer:

  1. Your trainer will do most of the work finding the potential prospects along with the inquiring process. 
  2. Phone call: You and your trainer will call the seller and discuss the horse.
  3. Trying the horse out: You and your trainer or even your trainer alone will go to try the horse out to see if the horse is a good fit. If the trainer goes solely, they will likely go again and bring you with them the second time if the horse seems to be a good fit. 
  4. If you and your trainer decide to move forward, you may even watch the horse at a show, ride them at a show, or visit the horse multiple times. 
  5. If all goes well, you will begin the negotiation process.
  6. Once the negotiation process initiates, this is generally the point where you have the horse examined by a vet for the pre-purchase exam. 
  7. If the horse passes and you and your trainer move forward, you continue with negotiations and contracts.
  8. Once negotiations finish, you purchase the horse and take them to your desired facility. 
  9. Purchase insurance for your horse.

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Working WITHOUT a trainer:

If you choose to work without a trainer, you can definitely find a great horse still. You just need to make sure you are very thorough, take your time shopping, do your research, and make sure you have a pre-purchase examination done on the horse(s) you are interested in. 


  1. Begin searching for a horse on classified sites such as or, through breed registration websites such as AQHA, APHA, or with the association(s) of the events you want to compete in. You can also contact various breeders or trainers to see what their “sale barn” looks like at the moment. If there are any local shows you are able to attend, many people with horses for sale will post fliers near the restroom or by the registration office. They usually will have the entire sale ad and even a stall number so you can visit the horse and talk with the owners. 
  2. Contact the seller over the phone and ask them about the horse. You will want to ask questions like:
    1. What is the temperament of the horse like?
    2. Are they sound?
    3. How much time under saddle do they have?
    4. Have they been shown or hauled much?
    5. Where are they located?
    6. Can you come and test ride them (without the horse being previously worked)

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Make sure the seller has good standings and recommendations. People may drug or work the horse prior to you coming to test ride to ensure that they will act sanely. You will also want to ask for a video of the horse before you check them out to rule out poor fits. Make sure you assess the video well, but also take it with a grain of salt until you see the horse in person, as videos can be doctored in many ways. Trainers may also lunge, work, and give the horse “downers” prior to videos being filmed, but they still are a necessity to evaluate movement, training, and skill level, and if it’s the right type of horse for your goals. 


  1. The next step is if you feel that this horse may be worth your time and the investment of looking at them in person, go try the horse out. Ask that the horse not be worked prior to your arrival, and if you are potentially interested in purchasing the horse right away, you can bring your vet and or farrier with you for evaluation and even drug testing. 
  2. Visit the horse at a show or event. 
  3. Schedule a meeting with the owner or trainer selling the horse and discuss negotiations on pricing and address any concerns or questions you may have. 
  4. Perform a vet check and put your offer in if you have decided that this is the horse for you! 
  5. Purchase the horse, or agree to terms. If you are making payments, please ensure you have legal help and a written, signed, dated contract stating every area of the purchase and negotiation terms. 
  6. You may be able to take the horse home right away; sometimes, horses will need to stay in their current location if you agree to a lease to buy, have an agreement with the trainer, or are making payments. 
  7. Purchase insurance for your horse. Markel insurance is a great company that has a team of insurance experts available to you. 


Common problems and mistakes first-time buyers make and how to avoid them:


I want to address some common mistakes and problems that first-time horse buyers frequently run into. There are many ways you may accidentally sabotage yourself, as I have, and I am hoping you can learn from my mistakes to avoid some heartache. 


Buying the first horse, you see or fall in love with:

This is a trap that almost every horse lover will fall into. You find a horse, fall head over heels in love with them, and just want to run really quickly into a purchase. Let me tell you, do not immediately go out and purchase ANY horse. Even if this horse turns out to be your dream horse. TAKE YOUR TIME and go through the appropriate steps and ensure you ask the right questions. Trust me, I have been there myself. I used to get so excited when horse shopping I would draw pictures of the horse or their registered name and just want them so greatly that I couldn’t handle the hard facts. 


You need to take a deep breath and leave your emotions out of the equation. If you do not do this, you will end up more than likely, purchasing a horse you can’t handle, having issues, soundness or conformation problems you may not be able to handle or get around, or training problems. 

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Buying the horse sight unseen:

Sometimes you will find the perfect horse out of state, and you can’t go see them at the time. This is totally fine, and I have firsthand witnessed many successes of doing this, but there are usually always drawbacks. The owner or trainer may not be fully transparent, and you will end up with a horse that isn’t what you expected or is totally out of condition. While it may not be the end of the world, it can leave you with unexpected expenses or delays. It is always a better idea to see the horse in person or have someone see them for you if you are unable. There have also been instances where the person selling the horse didn’t even have that horse in the barn and ended up sending a different horse, or even worse, no horse at all. 


If you must purchase sight unseen, make sure that the seller is a legitimate and well-known individual with good standings. You may also want to speak with your equine legal representative. 


Putting a deposit down on a horse without some form of legal and binding agreement:

Please be aware that there are many scammers out there. You always want a proper and binding agreement if you plan on making payments or putting a downpayment on a horse. A handshake agreement does not work any longer. It may have been the way our grandparents purchased everything, but people’s intentions and morals have declined so much over the past years and decades. You need to make sure you protect yourself and your investments. 


Buying without accurately looking at the horse’s registration information or transfer/ vet work papers:

Carefully looking over a horse’s registration papers will ensure that you are getting what you are paying for. If you are transferring registration into your name, you need to ensure that the seller has signed all the appropriate paperwork. You can contact the breed registration or club you plan to transfer the papers with to ensure everything is in order. 


Making written agreements before the pre-purchase exam:

There are many times when you find the right horse, and everything seems to work out. You sign the papers agreeing to purchase the horse and THEN do the pre-purchase exam only to find out that your horse didn’t pass, in your opinion. Vets often don’t say definitively whether the horse passed or didn’t. They give you a clue as to what their findings were on the horse in question. Everything is subjective. The seller may feel that the horse passed, while you may feel that the horse didn’t. Make sure you don’t get too hasty in signing papers to overlook this aspect. 


Having no written forms regarding trial periods with the horse and return options if things don’t pan out:

The seller may agree to let you take the horse on a trial period. You need to have definitive answers as to the trial length, returning ability, and who covers the cost of the horse if, for some reason, they become lame or unsound during this period. There is always a risk in taking a horse on trial, but it may be beneficial at the same time. Make sure all expectations are written and legally binding. You should also look into insuring the horse during this time period as well to protect yourself, the horse, and the seller. 


Buying at an auction:

Buying a horse at an auction can seem like a great idea as you can pick up what may be a great horse for pennies on the dollar. Keep in mind that auctions will usually not allow pre-purchase exams, and once sold, the horse is sold as is. If you are a beginner or new to horse shopping, I would try to avoid auctions. You never know what you are going to get. 


Pre-purchase examinations and why they are important:


Pre-purchase examinations performed by a licensed and experienced vet are crucial in the horse buying process. Without them, you may purchase a horse with a disease or soundness issue that may render them unusable or create a plethora of vet and maintenance bills in the future. You also will know what you are buying if you have an exam done. Most horses will have issues here and there (for example, arthritis or other non-deal-breaking issues.) But you need to know where your potential prospect stands health-wise. Your vet will generally do bloodwork, routine tests, and a flexion test. Generally, there are no conclusive answers to a PASS or FAIL, but your vet will share with you all of their findings so you can make an accurate and wise purchasing decision. 

Checking conformation and movement:

Conformation and the way your horse moves are both imperative aspects when deciding on purchasing a horse. Choosing a horse that moves well and has good conformation is essential to having a sound horse that is able to perform its job. Make sure you fully understand equine conformation and movement and how to decide what is correct and what isn’t before you purchase a horse. Poor conformation and movement can lead to a host of problems down the line and potentially a lot of heartbreak on top of it. 




Picking out a horse is the funnest experience, and bringing them home is even better! I hope that this article has shed some light on understanding the process of purchasing a horse and what you should look out for. If you need any help with finding and purchasing a horse, please feel free to reach out to us. 

All the best!

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