I haven’t bought a horse for a long time, thank God. Because horse shopping even more painful than buying a bathing suit! The horses rarely resemble the photos in the ads (maybe they did once but it was several years ago) and sellers are often deluded about what they have (their horse is sound, athletic, kind and talented even though it hasn’t been ridden in a year). It must be like Internet dating; it is certainly like looking at real estate — all photos are taken with a super wide angle lens and always from a perspective that you can’t replicate.
Last week I went to look at a horse with a friend. It was such a delight to find a horse that was absolutely as it had been represented! Calm, sound and apparently uncomplicated.
However, the trip made me break out my list of horse shopping rules:
- Never go look at a horse alone. If you fall off and get injured, you need someone to pick up the pieces. And yes, it did happen to me. I was trying a horse that belonged to my trainer and the darned horse fell down. It didn’t trip. It just collapsed underneath me and then landed on me. It turned out the horse was recovering from EPM, I just didn’t understand the implications.
- Pass on horses that have had EPM (see above). I know that some people report their horses have had full recoveries, but for me, it’s not worth the risk.
- Better than bring just a driver, bring a trainer or friend who has a good eye for lameness and who has no vested interest in having you buy the horse. It’s way too easy to fall in love with the idea of having a horse and overlook signs that the horse may not be suitable for you or the job you want it to do. Do not bring enablers!
- Never ride a horse that the owner won’t ride. There’s usually a reason for that and your horse shopping expedition doesn’t need to turn into a training ride for someone else’s horse. I remember riding a horse that had the biggest spook that I’ve ever sat on — and it was in it’s own arena! That owner had been reluctant to mount up and that should have been a dead giveaway.
- Don’t feel you need to ride a horse to be polite. See above. I shouldn’t have gotten on that horse that spooked at all. Luckily, the training session went fine and I didn’t fall off. Likewise, don’t ride horses that are visibly lame. I saw several horses that were shown to me under saddle where I was astonished that the rider kept going.
- Have your enabler/friend/trainer take video of you riding the horse. This will allow you to evaluate the horse’s gaits, do another check for lameness and also reflect on how the horse and you look together. If you think you like the horse, send the video to your vet to evaluate too. I once tried a horse that felt very slightly off to me, although the owner swore she was fine. The video confirmed what I felt — not every step, but certainly around the corners — the mare was off.
- Watch the horse get tacked up. If possible, watch him get brought in from the paddock. I bought a mare once who was saddled in the pasture while I watched — they knocked the dust off of her and threw the tack on. What I didn’t discover until I got home was that she was a witch to groom. She got over it, but I realized that if I’d seen her on the cross ties getting groomed I would have had a more complete picture of her.
- Whether you choose to do a full PPE, pull blood or go with your gut is completely up to your comfort with risk. But remember, it costs more to keep a lame horse than a sound one and it’s not nearly as much fun.
In my friend’s case, I think it will work out. She is planning to pick up the horse next weekend. He seemed like a good fit for her needs. She wants a foxhunter and this horse has hunt experience and the brain to handle it. If only all horse hunting trips were quite so satisfying!
What are you favorite tips for successful horse shopping?