This afternoon, I noticed a new voicemail waiting on my iPhone that I hadn’t yet listened to. Granted, this isn’t an uncommon discovery for me since I always let my calls go to voicemail when I don’t recognize the caller, but this was unexpected since I wasn’t showing any missed calls and the phone had never rang.
The message was from a woman who remembered me from years ago (though I couldn’t remember her) and knew that I was involved with horses, so she was hoping I could help her with a horse situation.
Curiosity peaked, I called her back to find out more. It took the woman only a few moments to explain what her family was dealing with, and I quickly caught on that it was a scenario I see all too often: green owner vs. green horse. I immediately had a lot of compassion for the woman’s family even without knowing her, because I have been there myself. It was a classic case of being matched up with the wrong horse.
It’s not at all uncommon for inexperienced owners to run into some trouble with horses early on. If that’s you, don’t feel bad about it, because more of us have been there than you may realize.
So if you’re thinking about buying a horse and you consider yourself to be a beginner, here are a few tips that will help you avoid falling into a situation where you end up with an animal that’s not suitable for you or your family.
1. Be excited, but stay smart.
I remember my family’s horse shopping days when I was in my teens. Every horse we looked at was the “perfect” one for me. Parents, don’t just buy a horse because it’s pretty and your kids like it. Chances are, they’ll take just about any pretty horse because many young kids don’t yet understand the consequences of owning a horse that’s not right for them. Don’t buy impulsively just because everybody’s excited. It’ll break everybody’s heart a lot more if you buy the horse and have to sell it later, than if you walk away before making the purchase.
2. Invest in some riding lessons.
This is a step that I initially skipped when I was 13 years old, and that was why I kept getting bucked off of my family’s 6 year old Quarter Horse mare (over and over and over). I was so clueless in the beginning. Everyone who buys a horse should have some basic knowledge how to care for it and how to ride. NOTE: Knowing how to ride a horse and paying for a pony ride at the fair are not the same thing. Just because someone can lead a horse around while you sit in the saddle doesn’t mean you know what to do. You should also buy a riding helmet to ensure your noggin stays protected should anything happen.
3. Take an experienced horse owner with you.
This is imperative when you’re new to horses and don’t know what to look for, even after you’ve taken some riding lessons. An experienced horse owner or trainer will know how to check for signs that the prospective horse is sound, healthy and rides well. These are things that can easily be missed if you aren’t yet familiar with what to look for. Don’t know anybody like this? If you’ve been taking lessons (like suggested in #2) just ask your instructor to come along if they can.
4. Handle the horse on the ground when you arrive.
If the seller suggests having the horse all ready to ride when you arrive, ask that they wait to saddle up until you get there. You’ll want to see how the horse behaves coming out of the stall or pasture, being led around, and getting groomed and tacked up. If the horse is giving its owner trouble before it even gets the saddle on, you may want to keep looking.
5. Ask the seller to ride the horse first.
If the seller isn’t comfortable getting on the horse before you do, that could be a problem. Ask the seller to ride the horse around for a while so you can see how it moves and how it behaves. Next rider up should be your experienced horse owner friend that you brought along, then if things still look good, you can go next. Keep in mind that a horse may do really well for an experienced rider, but it might not be the same for someone who is just learning.
6. Find out about the horse’s history.
How long has the seller owned the horse? Why are they selling? Does the horse have registration papers that will be signed over to you upon the sale? You can never ask too many questions. If the seller won’t say much, or hasn’t owned the horse long enough to provide this information, find out if there was a recent previous owner you can get in contact with.
7. Don’t expect that every seller is going to be honest.
Hopefully, you will be able to get a feel for how honest somebody is being based on some of the things they say or do, though that’s not always the case. There are a lot of shifty sellers who are looking to get a quick sale, so be careful about who you deal with. If you’re new to horses, stay away from auctions or mass horse traders for the most part. They turn over horses so fast that they couldn’t possibly tell you much about the animal before you buy. If your gut tells you something isn’t quite right, avoid the purchase. Ask around at local barns and try to find a reputable seller.
Ask the seller who their regular farrier and vet are. Get phone numbers if you can, then call them. Find out if the horse has any kind of health issues that you should be aware of. You may also want to bring in your own vet to do a basic check up on the horse before buying.
9. Keep your options open.
So, what do you think, does this horse look like it might be a good match for your family? If it is, awesome! You may want to go ahead and make arrangements for the sale if everything lines up, or if you’re still hesitant, go home and think about it. Don’t be afraid to go look at several horses before buying. Talk to your knowledgable horse friend and see what they think.
10. Continue learning as often as possible.
Once you finally find the horse that’s right for you, continue to educate yourself. The best thing you can do for your horse is to be knowledgable. It’s far too common that green riders are the root of riding problems, so find the resources that will allow you to better understand how a horse thinks.
As you gain more experience, some of these suggestions won’t be needed any longer, because you’ll know what to look for when you’re horse shopping. Remember, safety always comes first. Things aren’t always going to go smoothly and even great horses act up once in a while, so you’re going to want to learn how to handle various situations in the most safe way possible.
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