As an Equine Expert Witness for horse related law suits and a Buyers Advocate when people are shopping for horses, I have often seen individuals coming to me when they find themselves in a bad situation. It is important that you have an advocate you can trust to take care of you and your horse. Here are some guidelines that will help protect you when you are searching for your next equine partner.
Be honest with your skill and level of riding. If you and your horse are both inexperienced, you are not going to learn and grow together. A young, inexperienced horse needs months, if not years, of training by an experienced rider in order to be a safe and competent mount for a novice rider. It would be more efficient for a novice to put the training dollars into riding lessons versus training lessons for the horse. A novice rider should buy an older made, or “finished”, horse so the rider can concentrate on learning. Once you are a confirmed skilled rider, then consider purchasing a green horse to bring along.
If you are a parent buying your child a horse, a young green horse is most often a very poor and costly choice over an older and “made” horse. You will have to pay a trainer to un-train bad habits learned by both young, green horse and inexperienced rider. Unfortunately, it is often an accident waiting to happen and many young promising riders end up giving up due to fear and injury. The horse is then sold for pennies on the dollar because it has developed bad habits and/or is dangerous. My analogy to parents is this: “would you give the keys to your car to your 16 year old to teach your 14 year old how to drive?”.
Do not be afraid to ask questions. Horses are a big expense and commitment. The cost of the purchase of the horse is just a small step. Depending on what the horse will be used for, it’s skill level, age, health and breeding, some horses may cost as much as a car or home. Even if you are buying an inexpensive trail or pleasure horse, you want a safe, reliable and rideable animal. Do not let anyone make you feel stupid or inappropriate for asking a question about the horse looking at purchasing. It is your money and should you purchase the horse, it will be your responsibility and yours to deal with any unforeseen issues. As in any large purchase, do your own due diligence, and do not assume anyone else is looking after your best interest.
I receive numerous calls yearly from clients asking me to appraise their horse for a donation to a non-profit riding program such as a therapy or collegiate program. These are very nice horses and when I ask the owner why they are donating and selling, they tell me their trainer had no interest in helping them sell the horse. Monthly board is expensive and it was easier and less costly in the long run for them to donate. People will try to get you to buy a horse for a lot of money, but selling a horse for a lot of money is a lot of work Many people find agents and trainer who were helpful when buying, turning their back on them when selling, especially if they have no plans of buying again. Please do your homework and be your own best advocate.
When you ask your questions, really listen to the answers. If it doesn’t sound (or feel right), chances are it’s not. A woman called me to consult in the purchase of a hunter. She had been burned twice before by different trainers/agents. Though she was working with her trainer, she wanted an unbiased opinion before she pulled the trigger. When providing me the information on the horse, the buyer repeated several times that she was told the horse was an “easy keeper” and was especially fat just coming from Kentucky showing for two weeks. Red flag alert!! When competing, horses typically do not gain weight due to stress of being on the road and they do not have the luxury of large grassy turnout for grazing. I suggested that she request the horse be tested for metabolic syndrome before she does a full pre-purchase exam on this six-figure horse. Yep, the broker and owner denied her testing the horse.
Inconsistent stories or answers are also red flags. When this happens, re-ask the question a different way or just ask them to clarify. An answer will often lead to another question, that’s good detective work. Information gives you reassurance and purchasing power.
Take a professional or experienced horse friend with you to try the horse. It is always a good idea to work with a professional when purchasing a horse. A professional will typically charge 10-15% commission on the purchase price. To earn this commission, the professional should be doing a job that is similar to a real estate agent. They should be using their expertise and knowledge to source potential horses that suit your needs and skill set that will be sound and mentally fit. Multiple horses should be lined up for you to try and you should never be forced or pressured into buying a particular horse. Do not try just one horse. Yes, the first horse might be the horse, but you can always go back to him. If he sells, there is always another better one out there. You are in control because you are paying a commission for a service provided, take your time and do not be pressured to buy.
If you do not have a trainer, take a trusted and knowledgeable friend with you that you know will be honest and truthful. Resist the friend who may be excited for you, but is too afraid to give their honest opinion. Remember this is a big decision and your responsibility once you make the purchase.
Make sure the seller rides the horse before you do. Always request the seller rides the horse and demonstrates it’s ability before you get on and ride. Side note: I always request that I see the horse with no tack on when I first arrive. This allows me to see it’s conformation right when I get there and I am able to watch his behavior as he is tacked up. You want to watch the horse being ridden before you get on so you can check for unsoundness and behavior issues under saddle.
I went with a client to try a horse that was to be used as a trail/pleasure horse. The buyer was told this was a safe trail horse, years earlier had been a western pleasure show horse, was very well trained and had a great mind. When we arrived, the seller was not there, but an assistant was getting the horse ready. We were told the seller was delayed. After 30 minutes the seller called the buyer and said she could not make it but to go ahead and ride the horse. My client said ok and was going to get on but I stopped her. I asked the young assistant to get on and ride the horse first for us. He refused pretty firmly. I pressed him hard and he then admitted the horse had bucked a buyer off so badly the day before the buyer was sent to the hospital in an ambulance. We left.
Ask if the horse is registered in any breed or sport registries and require possession of those papers at the time of sale. Registrations and records from breed and sport registries are key information to review and require upon purchase. Prior to purchase, make sure you request a copy of the horses breed registration papers and a copy of his sport registration certificate if he is registered with any associations. Even if he is a gelding, breed registration papers are important to have for date of birth, bloodlines, breeder information and a host of other information. Registration information from clubs or associations are also important information to have for show records, rider information and who the previous owners were.
After 2018, the USEF requires every horse registered to be microchipped. Horses are easily tracked when sold and this prevents horses from being “reinvented” when sold and then re-registered so no past show history or ownership could be discovered. Thoroughbred horses foaled in 2018 or after are required to have a digital tattoo vs. a lip tattoo. AQHA launched a Microchip Pilot Program in 2019 to educate on the benefits of microchipping. As of 2009, all European Union (EU) horses are required to be microchipped.
I once was an expert witness on a lawsuit involving a fraudulent sale of a warmblood. Said horse was delivered to new owner who received registration papers/Passport several weeks after purchase and only after numerous request. Horse and passport did not seem to quite align and horse did not perform as represented. I suggested to the attorney to have the horse scanned for a microchip to determine if the horse and Passport belonged to each other. I was not surprised when the two did not match.
When you buy a horse, require in the Bill of Sale that you receive all registration papers be sent to you and received within a time-defined period. The sale remains contingent upon receipt of those papers. Make sure all registration and microchip numbers are included in the Bill of Sale. Any papers requiring a transfer of ownership must also be signed at this time.
Make sure you have a Pre-Purchase Exam performed on the horse before you buy it. It’s a really good idea to have a PPE done on a horse before you commit. A vet should not Pass or Fail a horse, but rather provide you with their findings. A PPE is a snapshot in time that provides you information of that horses health that day, but it cannot predict the future. Having said that, no horse is perfect and you are trying to determine if the horse is serviceably sound for the purpose being purchased. Information found in the PPE may also be used to negotiate a better price.
I personally like to see a horse that does his job day in and day out with no history of unsoundness, but may have bumps and issues that show up on the PPE. I know that horse is stoic and has a great work ethic. I have purchased a horse in the past that vetted perfectly, but I was constantly dealing with soundness issues, hives and tummy aches. On the other hand, I once purchased a horse that I knew was perfect for me, despite having issues on his x-rays. I never had one issue with that horse. EVER. It is a good idea to have blood pulled and tested for drugs and a blood panel run on the horse.
I also recommend that you deal directly with the vet, not your agent. But consult with your agent on the findings of the vet. Again, your money, your horse, your future problems. It’s also an educational experience and you are paying for it. You might as well get the benefit of that education. I would highly recommend being present at the PPE with your trainer/agent. If you cannot be there, make sure you have access to the vet on the phone during the PPE and after for a direct but private consultation.
As a side note, I always request access to the horses vet records prior to the PPE. The owner is not required to provide them. You are also not required to provide the results of your PPE. But if the seller does not have anything to hide, why will he not provide access? You may at this point walk away. Hard to do but often the smart thing to do. No horse is perfect and there most likely will be issues that pop up. By having previous vet records, the PPE vet can compare any finding with older issues. Finally, do not ever use the sellers vet or a vet recommended by the seller.
Be sure to have a Bill of Sale/Sales Agreement signed prior to transferring any money.
I highly recommend that you have a Sales Agreement signed between buyer and seller. It is well worth the money to have an attorney draft an agreement for you or review the agreement provided to you by the Seller. This Agreement should fully outline the terms of the purchase. If an agent is involved and receives a commission, make sure their name, the amount of the commission and who is paying the commission is written in the sales agreement. If the agent(s) balk at this, you should seriously question going forward with the purchase. There is always another horse to buy.
Buying a horse is a very emotional purchase. I’m sure you have worked very hard for the extra money you have to purchase and enjoy a horse. Do not lose your sense or wits about you over the excitement of buying a horse. It should be treated as a business transaction because it is a business deal! I tell clients and friends all the time that it is easy to buy a horse and difficult to sell one. By utilizing the above steps, you will surely find the perfect equine partner.
Bridget Brandon is President of The Equine Expert LLC, a multi-discipline equine expert witness and consulting firm offering legal expert witness and consulting services in court cases, legal matters, appraisals and business affairs. Bridget is also owner of ValueMyHorse LLC, providing equine appraisals, a buyers advocate service, breeding operation and retirement board. Bridget is also a property and casualty field agent for Marshall Sterling selling equine and farm and ranch insurance. For more information on Bridget visit www.theequineexpert.com, www.valuemyhorse.com or you may contact Bridget at Bridget@theequineexpert.com or Bridget@valuemyhorse.com.