Purchasing an Equine Companion

Buying a horse is an exciting, but tricky endeavor. The goal is to find the ideal companion that will be a partner for many years. The horse, however, may fail to live up to the owner’s expectations. This month’s article is about making an informed choice and minimizing the chance of a mismatch.  

There are several rules when purchasing a horse.  First, decide what type of horse fits you and your purpose best before you start looking. Second, always bring a trainer or another experienced horse person with you when trying out the horse.  Third, ride several horses before your purchase. Fourth, ride the horse you like several times. Fifth, when you are ready to buy, have your veterinarian perform a pre-purchase exam.

It is important to identify the qualities you want for your next (or possibly first) horse.  By jotting these qualities down, it will narrow your search and it will keep you focused on purchasing the right horse.

Sitting down with your trainer or another experienced horseperson can help.  Qualities that should be identified are breed, age, gender, discipline, training level, potential, character (hot versus quiet), soundness level, and price tag.  

A couple of tips:

  1. A novice rider should be paired with an experienced, well-trained, good mannered horse.
  1. Only experienced horsemen/women should train young horses.
  1. Only experienced horse people should attempt to train BLM (Bureau of Land Management) mustangs and burros.
  1. When considering a high-level, older schoolmaster, soundness level may be a compromise.

Now it is time to look for a horse.  Put the word out that you are in the market for a horse, talk to your trainer, go to training/sale barns, read the for sale ads in the magazines, go to horse shows, and search the Internet. Wherever you go, have your trainer or another horseperson go with you. A trainer can let you know immediately whether it is a horse to consider or not. They can assess a good match, conformation, baseline soundness, and price. Plus, a second opinion can add reason to an emotional purchase.

Ride several horses before purchasing. It could be that the first horse is nice, but the second, third, or fourth may be an even better match. Riding several mounts will let you know what type of horses are on the market, will give you a better idea of your riding ability and style, and will solidify your choice when you have found the right companion.   

Ride the horse you want to purchase on multiple occasions. It may take some time to get to know the horse and its preferred riding style.  The horse may react differently on one day, or you may find you mesh better after a few rides. Riding the horse in different situations, such as time of day, varying the arenas, or adding a trail ride can help assess the horse’s personality.

Sometimes it is possible to have a trial period of two weeks to ride and get to know the horse. During the tryouts ask questions from the owner: Is the horse an easy keeper, is there a history of colic, lameness issues, spooking/bad behavior issues, who trained the horse, how long has the current owner owned the horse, etc.? The owner is supposed to disclose the information if you ask it.

You are ready to purchase the horse. It has all of the qualities you want, the trainer or experienced horseperson has approved it, you have enjoyed riding the horse, and you are comfortable with its history.  Now it is time for your veterinarian to perform a pre-purchase exam.   This exam can be very extensive and expensive, or it can be a minimal health and baseline soundness exam.  

The purpose of a pre-purchase exam is to gather as much information on the horse for you to make an informed decision. It is important to consider what you want the horse to do, and what your investment is going to be. In other words, an expensive horse that will be competing at a very high level may have an extensive pre-purchase exam, including a health exam, blood work, complete lameness exam, radiographs, and possible ultrasound, endoscopic exam, and a nuclear-scan. However, an inexpensive horse that will be used as a backyard companion will not likely need such an extensive exam. In this case, a general health exam and baseline soundness exam may be all that is needed.  

Too often buyers will skip the pre-purchase exam and discover later that their new horse has navicular disease, chronic laminitis, chronic colic, or recurrent uveitis (moon blindness).  Although many of these health issues may be managed at some level, they are usually expensive to diagnose, as well as difficult and expensive to manage.  Sometimes the health issue is so severe that the horse is not useable for its intended purpose.  

The pre-purchase exam takes time and proper conditions, so be prepared. For an accurate lameness exam, a level and large area is needed, as well as favorable conditions (dry weather and hard ground).  Another precursor to an accurate pre-purchase exam is a horse that is able to trot on a straight-line in-hand, and in a circle on a lunge line or in a round pen.

After the pre-purchase exam, the veterinarian will assess the results and give a prognosis for serviceability for the intended use.  Unfortunately, we veterinarians do not have a crystal ball to predict the future, but we are able to gather the information and explain the horse’s general health and soundness on the day of the exam. This allows the buyer to make an informed decision on whether or not to go ahead with the purchase.

Congratulations! By patiently adhering to the above listed steps, you have given yourself the best chance of purchasing the perfect equine companion!  

Corine Selders, DMV, owns Cedar Creek Equine Veterinary Practice Inc. She lives in Ramona with her husband Todd and their two daughters. She may be contacted at 760-484-4426 or via e-mail at dr.selders@cedarcreekequine.com.

   
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