So, You Want to Buy a Horse? Pt. 3: Lets Evaluate

You’ve made the decision that you have what it takes to own a horse, you did your thorough research, and you found some options that interest you. Now how about the evaluation process and narrowing it down so you can get to your perfect match?

Once you locate some potential prospects, start screening them over the telephone. Ask questions and be honest with the seller regarding your needs, riding ability, and expectations from the horse. After you have narrowed your prospects, you will want to see and try him/her. If you are a novice, take a professional horse person with you.


The first point to consider in evaluating the prospect is its disposition and level of training. As soon as you arrive at the farm, begin your critique of the horse in question. Do not wait for the seller to bring the horse to you; go with him/her to find out how the animal reacts to its present owner and to other people. Disposition and training are very closely related in determining the horse’s suitability and serviceability. The horse may have a beautiful disposition, but if it is untrained or improperly trained, it most likely won’t be a good match for you.

Next, observe the horse as the seller approaches and opens the stall door. Does the horse appear to be calmly awaiting the handler, or does it charge the door with pinned ears? If the horse is in the pasture, is it caught easily? If you intend to transport it, question the seller about its trailering manners. Once the horse is in possession, observe its motion while being led. Is the walk sure-footed and even, with each foot striking the ground with the same amount of force? Note any indication of stiffness or lameness.


To find out if the horse is suitable for you, try handling it yourself from the ground first. Lead it, brush it, and then ask to assist in saddling and bridling. Does the horse accept the bit and tightening of the girth readily? If you cannot tack it up yourself, there is no sense in proceeding any further. Assuming that the horse has been tacked up, ask if you can observe the seller riding the horse. At this point, check on limb soundness, respiratory ability, smoothness of gaits, and manners under saddle. Does the horse move with a long, free-flowing stride?

Next, you and/or your instructor should ride the horse. Is it responsive to your aids in a pleasant manner? Does it respond quickly and readily? After you have ridden the horse in the ring, take it on the trail, in open fields, past cars, bicycles, dogs, etc. If you have progressed to this stage and are still interested in the horse, thank the owners and leave the farm for a critical evaluation of the animal in your mind and with your professional horse person. If you are still interested, go back and ride the horse several times, preferably at different hours during the day.


After deciding on a likely candidate that fits your criteria, ask a veterinarian to perform a pre-purchase exam. These exams range in cost and in the services that they provide. Depending on the type of horse and the purchase price, a qualified veterinarian will be able to advise you on what should be done. A veterinarian’s fee is money well spent.

If the horse passes the pre-purchase exam to your liking and you are seriously considering buying the horse, ask the seller if he or she would give you a ‘trial period’. There are many ways to do this and it is up to the seller and the buyer to come up with terms and conditions. Some may allow you to take the horse to your farm for a month with a certain down payment. Others may require you to keep it at its current farm. Always have a written agreement as to what is allowed and what is not.


At the time of purchase make sure you receive a dated bill of sale describing the horse, how much you paid for it, and its papers if the horse is registered. Check registration papers closely to be sure that they match the horse in question. When transferring the horse to your name, mail them to the breed registry yourself.

Remember, buying an inappropriate horse results in dissatisfaction. Never buy the first horse you see until you have seen many others. Always buy the most suitable horse you can afford. Do not settle for more than you can handle or less than you expect. If you have done your homework and your expectations are realistically in line with your ability and budget, you should be able to choose from a handful that fit your needs.

Megan Overfelt