Warning signs to pay attention to when horse shopping

There is an old truism: It’s just as hard to buy a horse as it is to sell one. Unfortunately, in my experience that often holds true. I don’t buy horses all that often but when I have been in the market it seems like I’ve had to kiss a lot of frogs before finding that prince.

Based on my own experiences, here are some sure signs that you probably don’t want the horse.

  1. Horse is tacked up and ready to go when you arrive = this horse is a witch on the ground and needed two handlers and a twitch to get the saddle on. I once bought a mare that I’d seen taken out of the field and tacked up. She was fine. It didn’t occur to me that they had not groomed her until I took her home and discovered her aversion to being touched. Eventually she got over this, but she had a wicked cow kick that they neglected to mention.
  2. Horse was lunged before I arrived and is still breathing hard and is damp = this horse is a maniac if it’s not ridden seven days a week or the owner is scared of the horse and needs to take the edge off. I went to look at a horse like this was stupid enough to ride it. Even after being lunged this horse had a gigantic spook in him that was no fun to sit. After this experience I decided that I wasn’t giving away any more free training rides.
  3. Owner won’t ride the horse = this horse is a complete maniac who has already put me in the hospital. I’m too old and the ground is too hard. I want horses that basically want to play the game.
  4. Horse is slightly off and owner has too many excuses = owner knows there’s a big problem and wants you to do a PPE so she can find out what it is. I have a good eye for lameness. I once looked at a horse that I just knew was NQR. The owner swore it was caused by a mild case of thrush. I really liked the horse but before I could make a deal we bought a house and it turned out I didn’t have as much money in my horse budget as I originally thought. Someone I knew later vetted the horse and it turned out that 1) the mare had a problem with her sesamoid and 2) the owner knew about it.
  5. Owner tries to get you to buy the horse without a PPE or puts pressure on you that someone else is interested = they don’t want you to look under the hood. I try hard to avoid a competitive buying situation. I’m not ever in the market for something so specific that I have to have “that” horse.
  6. Horse is terrible for owner/rider = horse has not training or has no sense of humor. I’ve seen a few “demo” rides that scared the crap out of me. I don’t need to ride those horses even if I think I could do a better job.

When I go to see a horse I expect to see it taken from its stall (or pasture), groomed, tacked up, lunged and ridden. By that point I have a pretty good sense of it’s attitude, it’s aptitude and its suitablility for me.

3 thoughts on “Warning signs to pay attention to when horse shopping

  1. Make sure you see the horse doing the job you would like it to do. Don’t buy a horse that is supposed to trail ride w/o trail riding it first. Or an event horse that you haven’t jumped over a few x-c jumps.

    I totally agree with never ride if the owner/trainer won’t ride the horse first. That is always clue number one for me!

  2. Good advice for buyers and sellers alike. At my barn they believe that having the horse ready to go and warmed up is a “customer service”… I saw a potential buyer walk away because of this. Point being not everybody is trying to hide something but the folks who made it difficult for the honest ones.

  3. I had to laugh out loud when I read your first point!!! It’s one of those sad-but-true points. I’ve been glad more than once I brought an extra riding helmet when checking out potential mounts. Unfortunately, there are too many horse sellers who will do everything they can to unload their maniacal lemon on an unsuspecting buyer. I know they say you should never look a gift horse in the mouth (which is ridiculous!), but you brought up some great points we all should keep in mind.

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