Looking To Purchase Your First Horse - Make Sure You Ask These Questions

By Dr Kate Mornement Ph.D, BSc(Hons)

 

You've probably dreamed of buying a horse since you were a kid. Or maybe you discovered your passion for horses as an adult. Either way, buying a horse is an incredibly exciting, and perhaps daunting, experience. Horse ownership is a big commitment and responsibility.

When you begin your search for your new equine friend, there are some important questions to ask when buying a horse to ensure you make a great choice and buy the right horse for you.

 

What do you want to do with your horse?

But before we look at questions to ask when looking for a potential horse, lets first consider what you want to do with your new horse. Are you interested in pony club or adult riding club? Are you looking for a pleasure or trail horse? Will you have riding lessons?

Perhaps you're after a show jumping, cross country or dressage horse? Or are you into competing in breed shows? Maybe you live on a farm and want to use your horse for mustering. It’s important that you know exactly what you want to do with your horse before you begin your search.

You should also consider where you will keep your new horse. Do you have appropriately fenced paddocks at home or will you need to agist your horse nearby? Either way, preparing to bring your horse home is important for a smooth transition.

 

girl riding a pony club horse

What breed of horse do you want?

Do you have a preference for the breed or type of horse? Some breeds are better suited to certain disciplines. For example, thoroughbreds and warmbloods are popular in show jumping. Whereas quarter horses and stock horses are commonly used for mustering and barrel racing. Arabians are often preferred as endurance mounts. 

If you’re horse is going to be used for pleasure, trail riding or to attend pony club or adult riding club then the breed is less important and the temperament and experience of the horse should be a bigger consideration.

 

Mare or Gelding?

The debate over whether a mare or gelding is better is a common one. Geldings are generally considered easier to handle and more forgiving compared to mares who some people believe can be moody and difficult to handle at times.

Interestingly, a recent study has found that these sex stereotypes do not ring true. This means that the temperament of the horse should be of more importance than it’s sex.

 

What level of experience do you have?

When it comes to riding experience there are four broad categories. These include Beginner, Novice, Intermediate and Advanced.

When looking to purchase your first horse, it’s important you get one that suits your level of experience as not all horses are suited to all abilities.

Here’s a description of the difference levels to help you determine which level you’re at:

Beginner

A rider with very little or no prior experience riding horses. 

Novice

A rider with some prior experience riding horses. Novice riders are able to mount and dismount unassisted, apply basic aids and are comfortable and in control when walking, trotting and cantering for short periods. 

Intermediate

A rider who is experienced, in control and confident in all gaits (walk, trot, canter and gallop). Intermediate riders have lots of experience riding on trails, in the arena or in open country and are reasonably fit, able to ride comfortably for several hours in the saddle.

Advanced

A very experienced rider who is confident and controlled at the walk, trot, canter and gallop. Advanced riders are comfortable riding across all terrain alone or in a group, have an independent seat and soft hands. They are comfortable in the saddle for extended periods of time.

Once you’ve decided what kind of horse is a good fit for you it’s time to make a list of all the questions you should ask sellers.

Asking these questions will help to ensure you find a great match and that you avoid any nasty surprises once you bring your horse home.

 

Questions about the temperament of the horse

What’s the horses temperament like? Temperament, similar to personality, refers to the general demeanour of the horse. Just like we humans vary in our personality traits, a horse's personality can also vary. Questions to ask when buying a horse should aim to find out about the horse's temperament.

Temperament and personality are often described in sales advertisements and is a very important factor to consider. Sometimes an owner selling a horse may refer to a horse temperament scale when describing their horses temperament. A horse temperament scale from 1 to 5 or 1 to 10 is most often used.

A horse that is scored a 1 is described as very calm (or bombproof) and not easily startled by noises or new environments. Whereas horses that scores on the top end of the scale is described as hot, easily spooked, nervous or anxious. 

Horses on the lower end of the scale are better suited to beginners or nervous riders whereas those that score higher on the temperament scale are more suited to experienced and confident riders. 

Common words and phrases used to described the temperament of horses suited to a beginner or novice rider include bombproof, well mannered, been there done that, no dirt or vices, calm with the farrier, vet and dentist, good to float and catch, more whoa than go, good after a spell.

Words and phrases used to describe horses that are more suited to more experienced riders include forward moving, spirited, green, hot and spicy.

Other key questions to ask when buying a horse about the horse’s temperament include: Does the horse stand quietly when being clipped or tacked up? Do they ever shy, bolt or rear up? Are they good to ride alone and in a group with other horses? Does the current owner use a particular bit? Dos the horse have any bad habits? Do they get separation anxiety? Are they used to other animals, new environments and traffic? Has the owner experienced any training issues? Asking the owner why they're selling their horse may provide clues as to whether the horse has any vices.

 

Questions about the health and physical characteristics of the horse

Finding out whether the horse you’re interested in has any health problems can save you a lot of heart ache down the track. Common health issues can include things like windsucking, past injuries, lameness or underlying illness. You might also want to know if the horse has any blemishes (scaring from previous injuries or procedures), especially if you intend to show it.

Is the horse vaccinated and wormed? Can you have the vet records and details of the current vet?

Height

One of the most important things you’ll want to know is how tall the horse is. Horses are measured in ‘hands’ and you want to ensure that the horse is the right height and build for you and your ability as well as for your chosen discipline.

Fitness

How frequently is the horse ridden? Is the horse currently in work or is it in paddock condition. This will give you an idea of how fit the horse is. If you plan to compete on your new horse or ride it frequently, you may need to bring it back into work for a period of time before it’s competition fit. 

Conformation

The conformation of a horse refers to its physical structure. Poor conformation can affect a horses athletic abilities and contribute to wear and tear on bones, joints and soft tissue. For improved joint health view our In-Fusion HA supplement or In-Fusion MSM supplement.

Although good conformation is desirable, it’s rare to find a horse with perfect conformation so other factors, such as talent and temperament, can make up for conformation faults.

 

How experienced is the horse?

Ask about the horse's background and how experienced it is in terms of the training methods used and disciplines you want to participate in. For example, if you’re relatively inexperienced then a been there done that horse with lots of riding experience is considered much safer. So too is a horse trained and ridden in the areas you’re interested in. Whereas a young, green horse is better suited to an experienced rider or trainer willing to put in the time to bring them along. 

 

Can I organise a vet check?

If you’ve found a horse that you believe is a good fit it’s highly recommended you organise a vet check before committing to buying. This is also called a pre-purchase exam. This is a very thorough examination of the horse which will help to identify any existing or potential health issues or injuries.

The vet will check the horse from head to tail and will also provide you with feedback on the animal’s confirmation and general soundness. The exam should include a dental examination so the stated age of the horse can be confirmed and because dental disease in horses in very common. 

 

Questions to ask about feeding and caring your horse

Asking questions about the horse's current routine such as what it's fed and how it’s been cared for will help ensure you continue to provide the same care the horse is used to. For example, diets can vary quite a lot depending on whether or not the horse is currently in work and what kind of discipline they're used for.

High level competition horses require a more energy dense diet whereas a pleasure horse occasionally used for trail riding doesn’t have the same energy requirements. 

Was the horse in a paddock or stabled? Was it rugged? Did it have company? These questions will also help you understand what your new horse was accustomed to.

Also ask the owner when the horse last saw the farrier, dentist or vet and how often the horse has it's feet shod. How often is the horse ridden?

RELATED: In-Stride Hoof Supplement

Bear in mind that changes to diet and husbandry practices might vary depending on your local climate and riding routine. 

 

The test ride

So you’ve spoken in depth with the seller, asked all the questions you could think of and you think you’ve found the perfect horse? The final step is to organise a test ride.

A test ride is a step you don’t want to leave out because it’s your chance to meet the horse and have a ride, before you commit, to see if you are indeed the perfect match.

If you’re a beginner or novice it’s a good idea to take a knowledgeable horse person with you. They will have a keener eye for any issues, may have some final questions to ask that you hadn't thought of and will help you decide whether this horse is the right fit for you.

When you arrive, It’s a good idea to ask the seller to ride the horse first. Then you can observe how the horse behaves when being ridden before you have your turn.

If, for whatever reason, you are unable to meet or ride the horse yourself you should organise for a knowledgeable horse person to do this on your behalf. Buying a horse sight unseen is considered very risky!

If something doesn't feel right or the horse doesn't meet your expectations try not to lose heart. You may feel disappointed, however test riding other horses may be necessary before you find the right one.

 

girl test riding a horse

Before you bring your new horse home

You’ve paid your deposit and you’re about to bring your new horse home. Now is the time to organise those last minute purchases to ensure you have everything you need to care for your horse.

Some gear, such as tack, may be included with your horse and this is something you should discuss with the seller. A basic checklist should include feed, rugs, halter, lead rope, grooming kit, bridle, saddle and saddle pad. There may be other gear you’ll need to purchase depending on the horse and what you want to do with them.

If you plan to agist your horse you will need to have organised this with the agistment facility. Visiting a few facilities nearby and comparing what they offer versus the cost will help you decide which one is best suited to you and your new horse. 

Once you’re all organised it’s time to arrange for your horse to come home or to be transported to your chosen agistment facility. Allow your new horse some time to settle in before asking too much of them.

Buying a horse can be the start of a wonderful friendship. Taking time to get to know your new horse and building a trusting relationship will go a long way to ensuring you both enjoy many happy years together. 

Have fun with your new horse!