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Horse-buying checklist

From: Amy Patterson

Hi Jessica, Love your email, keep up the great work of trying to make our horses lives better!

My mother is about to sell her Egyptian Arabian (very long story) but she wants to purchase another horse. We haven't started looking yet but I was hoping you could give us a few pointers for when we do begin to look. I know about the vet check but there are other things we should look for and look out for. She is not really interested in showing (maybe enter a small local show for fun) and mainly wants to ride a few times a week and trail ride with me. She knows she wants a gelding and something smallish (14.2 - 15 hh). No particular breed in mind (I am pushing for an Appy because I have an excellent one) but she wants something dead-broke and bomb-proof. Can you give us a "check-list" of what to look for or "do's and don'ts" when we start looking? I have a great dressage training who would be willing to come and check the prospects out but Mom likes to ride western. Would that matter - a dressage trainer "test ridding" a western horse? Any pointers you could give us would be great!

By the way, I checked through your archives but didn't really see anything asking this specific question.

Thanks!! Amy and Mom

Hi Amy, hi Mom! ;-)

Horse-buying is a very individual pursuit. Unless you are trying to find horses that meet some particular standard for a specific type of showing, or for a breeding farm, you have a lot of options, and personal preferences come into play. Some people look for a particular size or colour or show record -- some want a horse that is already experienced in a particular discipline. It sounds as though your Mom would be happy with a low-key, quiet, school-horse type -- but don't imagine that this will be easier to find than a high-powered show type. A good school horse -- comfortable, sound, cooperative, and accepting -- is worth its weight in gold, no matter what it looks like or how old it is, and people who are lucky enough to own horses like this usually KNOW what they have. ;-)

On the other hand, she's looking for a small gelding, and that's generally fairly easy to find. So here are my thoughts:

You already know the basics: soundness is a must, attitude is a must, talent is nice, pretty is a nice bonus. The important thing is to have a horse that can do what you want it to do, stay sound, and have a good time.

If you have a good dressage instructor, by all means have her look at your prospects -- the "finalists", anyway -- and 'test-ride' them if she's willing to do it. A good dressage rider can certainly 'test-ride' a Western horse -- if she's looking for a good trail prospect for your Mom, she'll know exactly what qualities she'll be hoping to find. She'll look for balance, soundness, smooth movement, a good attitude -- a horse that provides a comfortable, pleasant ride. She'll want to try the horse on the trail, because that's where your Mom will be doing most of her riding. Always try a horse in circumstances that come as close as possible to the actual riding conditions you will be experiencing! Some horses are dead calm and quiet in an indoor school, or even in an outdoor arena, but become nervous, sweaty, stumblers on trails. Others are wonderful on trails but lose all interest if you make them go around and around in an enclosed space.

It would also be nice if the horse is a generally friendly type that doesn't have a problem with other horses -- you and your Mom will have a better time riding together on trails if your horses are both quiet and well-mannered. On the trail, you or your instructor should find out if the horse is equally happy to lead the ride, bring up the rear, or be somewhere in the middle. It's very annoying to have a trail-horse that insists on being in a particular position in the line -- especially if there are only two riders and one horse wants to be in the middle, or if BOTH horses desperately want to lead or to follow. Another thing to think about is STRIDE LENGTH -- if your horse and your Mom's horse aren't compatible in terms of gaits and speeds, one of you may be jogging while the other walks, or someone may get left behind. That's not much fun.

If your Mom wants to go to an occasional show, the horse should be able to work with others in an arena, and shouldn't worry about trailers or panic when it hears a public-address system...

You and your instructor can do a lot of the basic horse-hunting work for your Mom -- but when you have the search narrowed down to a few good "finalists", bring her with you. The horse is for her, after all!

You and your instructor and your vet can deal with basic conformation, soundness, experience, general attitude, and physical and mental suitability for your Mom's needs. But she will need to get on the horse herself and see whether she is physically comfortable on the horse, whether she likes its gaits and responsiveness, and whether she thinks that she will ENJOY this horse over the long term.

One final note: when you have the vet look at the horse for you, be sure to be really, really honest about your plans. Vets have to look at a horse on a particular day and evaluate it in very specific terms: on that day, when they see the horse, do they think that it is suitable for EXACTLY the things that the client wants to do with it? In other words, if you say that you want a horse for light trailrides three days a week, and the horse checks out fine for light trailrides three days a week, and a few months later you decide that it would be fun to train it for endurance rides, or barrel racing, it may NOT be suitable OR sound for those activities, and you won't be able to reproach your vet for not warning you!

Good luck -- and have fun horse-shopping.


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