Should You Send Your Horse out on Trial?

In an ideal world, you find a horse that you think you’d like to buy. The seller lets you take the horse on trial for a week or two, you buy the horse, and everyone goes home happy.

In real life, it often seems to be more complicated than that. There have been several stories discussed on the Internet that have certainly put the fear of God into me: Horses that are neither returned nor paid for; horses that come back lame or underweight; horses that come back with behavioral problems; and horses that are held “hostage” by trainers or agents who demand boarding or training fees before they will return a horse.

Some of these folks sent their horses off with a handshake and a prayer; others had seemingly iron-clad contracts. Horse traders apparently live up to their bad reputations.

In the past I have taken a horse on trial and have sent one on trial. In the first case, I insured the horse, signed a contract, and would have bought him if the PPE had not turned up a problem that I didn’t want to deal with. In the second case, my horse went on trial for a week. The lady insured her, signed a contract and at the end of the trial, bought her. It’s unfortunate that these straightforward arrangements are overshadowed by the actions of potential buyers (and their agents) who do not treat a horse on trial with respect.

While I don’t know anyone who has had their horse literally disappear, I have several friends who have had less than positive experiences with trials. One woman I know sent her horse on a two week trial to a barn/trainer that came highly recommended. The horse came back underweight and lame. Apparently, they had jumped the crap out of this horse. It took several months of TLC before the horse could be put back on the market.

Another person found out that her horse had been used as a school horse by the resident trainer. As a result, she found that her horse now rushed fences and was head shy.

While I used to support the idea of trial periods, now I’m not so sure. However, in today’s tough economy, sellers may find that it’s difficult to sell a horse without a trial period, so what is a seller to do? There are several ways that you can protect yourself and your horse, maybe not from the truly dishonest but certainly from the tire kickers and the careless.

  • Ask the buyer to pay for the horse in full, but offer a return policy within a given period of time if the horse proves to be unsuitable (think 7-10 days, not weeks or months).
  • Have the buyer insure the horse for mortality and loss of use during the trial period. Many insurance agents offer a two-week policy (or a cancellation option) that is suitable for trial periods.
  • Insist on a PPE before the horse leaves your barn. Then, there is no debate about the horse’s soundness when it leaves your property. A video of the horse before it leaves can also be helpful.
  • Have the buyer sign a contract that specifies exactly what they can/cannot do with the horse during the trial period. Be very specific — for example, how often can the horse be jumped and how high, what type of turnout is acceptable, does the horse need to wear boots, can the horse be taken off property, etc.
  • Provide your own feed for the horse.
  • Trailer the horse yourself, if possible.
  • Make at least one unannounced visit to where your horse is stabled to check on its welfare.
  • Pick up your horse at the end of the trial period. Many trials seem to go bad when they are extended and the terms become more nebulous.

But if possible, have the potential buyer try the horse at your barn under the supervision of yourself or your trainer. The old saying, “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” is good to remember.

3 thoughts on “Should You Send Your Horse out on Trial?

  1. Great post. I had a lady contact me about wanting to lease my horse as a trial. She wanted to try to breed her, even though my vet had already determined that the mare was too old to breed. I got a really bad feeling about it, and everything that could go wrong started running through my head. I decided that I would only sell the horse to a proven good home with the option of returning her to me if it didn’t work out. The buyer had to have realistic expectations about the horse’s abilities and use her for a reasonable purpose.

  2. All good points and information regarding horses out on trial. I don’t think I would do it unless I really knew who would be taking care of my horses. I once boarded at a barn where they got in trial horses and the trainer used them in lessons and jumped the hell out of them, they got injured, came up lame etc… And then they were returned, I’m sure with a story.
    You make a lot of sense with your contract stipulations too, and of course a video is worth a thousand words and a unexpected pop-in can certainly tell a lot about what’s actually going on.

  3. I have never put any insurance on any horse that I knew I wasn’t guaranteed to buy. Even if it’s a 2 week trial and I can end the policy at that time, I feel it might be too much hassle for me, especially if I have more than 1 horse on a trial period. That doesn’t happen too often but occasionally it does.

    If the seller asks for the horse to be insured for a trial period, I instead ask if a contract could be drawn up that would allow me to not pay for the fees to draft a temporary insurance policy. The horse would be kept wherever it is located and the trial period would be there. Instead of an insurance policy payment, I offer to chip in on 1/2 the board (2 week trial) or the full month’s board (30 day trial). In the event I don’t buy the horse (for whatever reason), I will not be losing the money for an insurance policy. I would just lose out on 1/2 or full month’s board, which could then be considered a short term lease.

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