Department of Animal Science, University of Connecticut
Effective Horse Management - First in Horse Selection Series
Jenifer Nadeau, M.S., Ph.D
Associate Professor Equine Extension Specialist
Department of Animal Science
Caveat Emptor - Let the buyer beware: How to avoid mistakes when buying a horse
Jenifer Nadeau, M.S., Ph.D.
Whether you're buying your first horse or your twenty-first, it is both an exciting and scary process. You have dreamed of the day when you could own this horse, and you want everything to be perfect. There are several things you can do to improve your chances of selecting a suitable horse for you.
1. Know your requirements. If you don't know what you
are looking for, you won't find it. Have a list of what you
want in a horse and imperfections you are willing to accept
because there is no perfect horse. Consider your equestrian
goals and what attributes a horse would need to attain these
goals with you. Determine your riding level or have a
riding instructor or professional trainer assess your skills.
2. Enlist a professional. If you are inexperienced, enlist the
help of an equine professional. In an online query by Equus
magazine, one of the major causes of a sale that did not turn
out well was
buyers purchasing unsuitable horses. Another cause was the buyer
lacking knowledge or the financial assets to keep the horse healthy
and able to perform to its ability. Make sure that the professional
you enlist has no conflict of interest through prior contact with the
3. Consult a veterinarian. Have your veterinarian perform a
prepurchase exam including taking radiographs (X-rays),
checking for lameness and taking blood samples in horses you
are seriously considering buying. Blood samples may be drawn
for the purpose of determining a complete blood count, chemistry
analysis, Cogginsí test (for equine infectious anemia) drug testing
for analgesics and tranquilizers, equine viral arteritis (EVA) titers
for broodmares and EVA or piroplasmosis testing for horses
traveling abroad). You should discuss testing with your
veterinarian to see what tests he/she recommends for the type of
horse you are interested in purchasing. The most common deceit
practiced in horse sales is use of local or systemic medications to
mask physical or behavioral problems. Make sure the veterinarian
does not know the seller; most will refuse to do the exam if they
know the seller due to possible conflict of interest. Attend the
exam yourself so that you can hear what is said. Realize that the
prepurchase exam is not a guarantee.
4. Check all paperwork. Carefully inspect the horse to be sure it matches the description on the papers and consider contacting the registry to double check that the horse is registered. Consider contacting previous owners to ask about the horses' physical condition and normal behavior under their care.
5. Ask direct questions. In general, sellers not legally obligated to volunteer information about the horse they are selling unless directly asked. Under the Uniform Commercial Code, Sales Article 2, horses are considered "goods." This code has been adopted by every state with minor variations. According to the code, the seller must truthfully answer the buyer's questions, or the seller may be guilty of fraud (knowing misrepresentation) and selling a horse that was not as warranted. Instead of asking if the horse has any vices when riding, ask "Does he buck when ridden? Does he rear when ridden?" Direct questions such as these will result in hesitation by the seller when responding if the seller is hiding something. If looking for a seasoned show horse, ask for a list of shows where it has competed and any awards its won and then verify the information. Watch the horse in action at a show if it is currently showing in order to see how the horse behaves in that environment.
6. Show up early. By arriving early, you may be able to see things like how hard a horse is to catch, halter, lead, and tack up. You will get a good idea of its ground manners.
7. Evaluate the horseís conformation. Do not be distracted by an attractive head, this does not mean that the rest of the horse has good conformation. Remember the old adage "pretty is as pretty does." Have knowledge of the ideal horse for the breed and compare the horse you looking at to this ideal to see where it comes up short or consult an equine professional for assistance in judging conformation.
8. Watch the horse as it is ridden. Ideally, the owner, or the representative, should be able to ride the horse and show it in its best form. If the owner is injured, it may be from the horse. If the owner does not provide a rider to ride the horse before you, assume there's a problem. Examine its attitude, is it calm or tense, does it avoid work or is it ready to go? Watch for head tossing which could be a sign of resistance, mouth problems or allergies. Look for lameness when it is trotting as well as stiffness.
9. Ride the horse yourself. When the horse is cantering or loping, watch and determine if the horse has an even cadence and if it picks up the proper lead readily in both directions. Also listen to its breathing during cantering and see if it is regular, relaxed and in time with its strides with no rattling or gurgling. As another test, take the horse out of the arena and trot it up and down some hills. Does the horse have comfortable gaits? Is the horse relaxed and fun to ride?
10. Write a good contract and get a bill of sale. Be wary of a seller anxious to close the deal that day, regardless of his/her reasons for a quick sale. Donít rush into the purchase. If others want to buy the horse, let them. You should only purchase a horse when you are absolutely sure that the horse is suitable for you. Write a strong sales contract including at least a 3 week trial period, if possible, using a readymade form or one prepared by a lawyer. Be sure to get a bill of sale. It is important because it will prevent misunderstandings and protect your interests in the event of a legal dispute. Consider having a lawyer draft the document so that it will be written with your needs in mind.
Hopefully these pointers will aid you in your next equine purchase. Remember that there is no substitute for knowledge and experience and do not be afraid to admit you need help and enlist the aid of a reputable trainer and veterinarian in your search. Good luck and caveat emptor! If you would like further information on this topic, please consult the sources listed below.
Branam, J. March 1990. Too Good to Be True? Equus 149, 65-70,134-135.
Dart, A.J., Snyder, J.R., Pascoe, J.R., Meagher, D.M., and Wilson W.D. 1992. Prepurchase Evaluation of 134 Horses. Proceedings of the annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners: 317- 327.
Hillenbrand, L. April 1998. Special Reports: Dreams for Sale. Equus 246, 43-61.
Kopp du Teil, K. July 1989. How to Buy the Right Horse. Equus 141, 58-131.
Mackay-Smith, M. February 2001. Pondering prepurchase exams. Equus 280, p. 10.
Murphy, SM. November 1991. How much must a seller tell? Equus 169, pg. 20.
Rowat, C. and Bonner L. October 1999. Wise Buys. Equus 264, 73-78.
Soule, S.G. History and philosophy of prepurchase examinations. 1988.Proceedings of the annual convention of the American Association of Equine Practitioners: 205- 215.