Other Riding Tips

Dream Horse Delivered: How to Buy Your First Horse

New horse
Written by Natalie Gasper

Your Horse Buying Checklist

Buying a horse is the cheapest part of owning one. Before you decide to purchase, know how much board and expenses will be at the facility of your choosing. Determine the cost of one year of ownership. Sound scary? Then you may not be quite ready to buy. If everything looks good, this guide will get you started as you look for your first horse.

First, be sure you can afford to own a horse (buying is one thing, long-term care and maintenance is another). Consult with a trusted trainer or experienced horse friend and decide what type, age, and level of horse is right for you. Be sure to look at and ride more than one horse before purchasing. A vet check is highly recommended. Try to stick to your budget, but be ready to spend at least $1,000 more than planned.

Why should you use a checklist?

There are so many things to keep track of, from what the horse looks like to their training to scheduling appointments. Without a checklist, something important could be overlooked.

Should you use logic or emotion to buy a horse?

Both, but the best outcome is usually from logic first, emotion second. Listen to the recommendations of your trainer, trusted horse friend, or vet over what your heart says. If you get the all-clear, however, it’s safe to let your heart make the final choice.

How should you determine your budget?

It depends on what you’re looking for in a horse. Something more casual, such as a horse for trail rides, or to teach you the ropes, may cost $5,000 or less. If you’re looking for a horse to show and take you up the levels, then expect to spend a minimum of $10,000.

Enlist Professional Help

No one should ever look at a horse alone, especially if you’re a beginner. Make an appointment with your trainer to evaluate the horse with you.

Here are a few things to look for:

  • The condition of the horse
  • If he stands and ties quietly
  • How he behaves while being tacked
  • All three gaits under saddle, in both directions

Should you expect to pay a commission on a horse?

This varies and depends on your trainer. Some may charge a small fee (10%-20%) and others may do it for free. If they don’t charge you, get them a small gift to say thank you.

Horse and owner

Photo Cred: Mya Brathwaite

Online Shopping Tips

Be very wary when shopping for a horse online. Pictures (and descriptions) can be deceiving. ALWAYS make arrangements to see and try the horse in person before you buy. Here are a few keywords and phrases to look for.

Avoid horses described as:

  • Not suitable for beginners
  • Spirited
  • More “go” than “whoa”
  • Barrel prospect
  • Any type of “prospect”
  • Lots of potential
  • Ready to finish your way

Consider horses described as:

  • Quiet
  • Bombproof
  • Proven
  • Calm
  • On a 1-10 scale (where applicable), 1-4 is ideal

What are the best online resources for horse shopping?

EquineNow.com is a solid place to start. Reputable auction sites (like SportHorseAuctions.com) are also worth checking out. Facebook has recently become a horse-shopping mecca, with many discipline or breed-specific groups.

What are some red flags in an equine sale ad?

Any ad without a picture or with a picture where the horse looks bad should be avoided. Mentions of lameness (or “serviceably sound”), sitting in a field for a while, or a nice (well-bred) horse listed for cheap should also be a flag.

Like most things in life, anything that sounds too good to be true probably is.

Three horses together

Photo Cred: Canva

Test Ride

Unless you’re looking for a companion horse, a test ride is a must.

Here’s what to consider:

  • The tack (what kind of saddle? Bridle? Bit?)
  • How the horse stands to be mounted
  • How they react to stimuli (for example, place a jacket on the fence while the owner rides)
  • Its transitions
  • How well they move
  • If they seem relaxed and willing

Never get on a horse if you feel nervous while watching the owner ride. If you do end up riding and it goes well, ask to ride the horse outside of the arena, as well.

How can you tell if a horse has been drugged?

The only way to know for sure is to have your vet draw blood during a pre-purchase exam (they don’t have to run it right away, but can check it later if the horse’s behavior suddenly changes).

A few things to look for:

  • Excessively calm (horses should be curious/interested in their surroundings)
  • Sloppy coordination (tripping or stumbling)
  • Looking “sleepy”
  • Sweating
  • Slow heart rate (sometimes also pale gums)

Vet Check

NEVER, I repeat, NEVER buy a horse without a vet check. While few horses will pass with flying colors, you need to have the horse checked for a number of things, including general health and soundness. Your vet should check:

  • Heart Rate
  • Breathing
  • Digestion
  • Hooves
  • Reflexes
  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Flexion (to check for signs of lameness)

Most horses will need some level of maintenance. Know what you’re willing and able to afford in this department (think joint supplement versus biannual joint injections) and decide accordingly.

Horse vet check

Photo Cred: Canva

How much does a pre-purchase exam cost?

On average, a pre-purchase exam costs between $200 to $500, but could cost more if your vet recommends x-rays or ultrasounds.

So You Bought a Horse… What Next?

Congratulations! Owning a horse for the first time (or the tenth) is exciting. Take a few days to enjoy some quality time with your new equine partner.

How long do you have to update registration papers

While there’s no set timeline, you should do this as soon as possible, as it can take up to 30 days to process.

Should you get equine insurance

Insurance can be a great choice if your horse was on the expensive side or is an investment. Check out this article for more info.

Can you get a horse on trial

You can, though not all sellers may agree to this. If they’re open to it, you can usually arrange a one- to two-week trial. Use this time to take some lessons and try your horse in every environment, from the arena to a field to trails to a horse show, to make sure you’re a good fit.

Horse profile

Photo Cred: Canva

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Should a beginner buy a horse at auction?

Short answer? No. Buying horses at an auction can be tricky, especially if the horse is out-of-state and you can’t try him before you buy. Especially for your first horse, try to find something local.

Q: Where do I start with buying a horse?

Your trainer! While you can browse sale ads on your own, don’t get serious without first consulting your trainer. They have connections and may know the perfect horse for you (and this horse may not even be listed for sale).

Q: What are good questions to ask when buying a horse?

There are far too many to discuss herein, but this article covers much more. A few basic questions include:

  • Does the horse trailer?
  • Any history of lameness?
  • Is the horse registered? (If yes, ask to see the papers)
  • Current living situation? (stall vs pasture)
  • Any bad habits or vices?

Parting Thoughts

Owning a horse is a wonderful experience, but it’s also time-consuming and expensive. Never purchase a horse outside of your budget or skill level. After all, the saying, “green plus green equals black and blue” got started for a reason. If you decide that horse ownership is for you, congratulations! Enjoy every minute of it, because the memories you make will last a lifetime.

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About the author


Natalie Gasper

Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!