What are you looking for?
Do you want a pleasure horse for riding on the trails, are you looking for a reliable children’s mount, are you interested in competition? How much money do you have to spend? Are you looking for a younger horse or a finished animal?
If you want to be extremely competitive you will pay more for a proven horse, or can take a risk buying a younger animal, and raising it to the level for competition. Foals are generally the cheapest horses to buy, but it takes years of feeding and months of training, before they are “ready”.
Decide what you want to do, and determine what breed is best for you by doing research to determine which breeds are suited to your goals. If you just want a riding pleasure horse, you may decide an unregistered “grade” horse is right for you.
Mare, Gelding, or Stallion?
Stallions are powerful creatures, who can easily harm an unexperienced person. They require special fencing and are not for beginners. Mares can be moody. In general geldings are often the best riding horses.
Where to look?
There are many places a person can buy a horse. None are without risk.
You can look for horses for sale on the Internet, at on bulletin boards in saddlery shops or at local riding stables. If you find a selle always ask “Why are you selling?”.
Auctions. You can pick from many horses, but will not have long to “think about it”. There are different levels of auctions, from open ones with mixed horses to “herd dispersals” or “production sales” held by one seller with limited added consignments, or none at all. Auctions by multiple sellers are risky – especially when you do not know who is selling. Sometimes no information, not even age or name, are provided. You may get lower prices but assume more risk.
Word of Mouth. When you let people know you are looking for a horse to buy, they may eagerly offer suggestions of sellers.
Horse Shows. You may find horses for sale at the shows or, if you can afford it, may approach owners and inquire about if they are selling.
How to look?
If you are buying from a private individual, or stable, make a morning appointment to view the horse, and show up half an hour early. This will catch the sellers off guard, thus if they are working the horse to tire it out, you will find out. If the horse is hard to catch, or behaves bad during saddling, you will find out. Feel the horses chest if you suspect they have worked it hard prior to your arrival, if it is warm, then this should be a warning signal to you.
Ideally you will be able to see them catch, groom, and saddle the horse. Watch somebody ride it before riding it yourself. Watch how it moves and behaves. Also determine the ability of the rider compared to your own skills. Have them trot it directly towards you, and away. Watch for any movement in the legs other than straightness. When you ride, make sure you ask the horse to preform all the gaits in both directions, ask it to halt from different gaits, and to back up. What kind of bit are they using? A harsh one or gentle? A harsh bit may indicate a strong mouthed horse. Inquire about how easy the horse is to catch, load into a trailer, has it been stabled and what kind of stall, is it good with other horses, and ask how long they have had it. How long has the horse been for sale?
From the ground examine the horse, check the legs for bumps, and make sure you can pick up all its hooves. Look in its’ mouth, even if you do not know how to tell a horses age by its’ teeth, the owner does not know that. An older horse will have teeth that are more sloping than a younger horse.
If you like the horse and are paying a substantial price you may request a vet check, it is standard to give a deposit to show commitment which will be refunded back to you if the horse does not pass the vet check. Get this deposit information in writing.
If you are buying a young animal, it should be at least halter broke and you should watch it being let around. Have them walk it towards and away from you so you can see that its legs travel straight. Have them trot it past you so you can see if it moves well or not. Ask to see its parents if possible.
A child’s mount.
Special consideration should be given if you are purchasing a horse or pony for a child. Make sure you can touch every part of the animal, its’ ears, feet, and tummy, without a reaction. Make sure you can pick up all hooves easily and that the horse does not react to sudden movements or noise. Test the horse by jumping suddenly, screaming, and coughing. Do not over match a child and horse.
Height is important when considering a childs mount. Can the child get on and off safely by themselves? How long will it be before the pony is “sadly outgrown by owner”?
What to pay and get.
Horse prices are going to be different from area to area and may fluctuate with feed costs and the time of year. What you pay is entirely up to you, just make sure you have a budget and do not go over that, or it will leave you short for other expenses.
Make sure you get a signed sale contract. The contract should be dated and have a description of the horse as well as any agreed conditions. Such conditions may include delivery, any known health or behavioral issues, or make note if the horse comes with any sort of health guarantee. Basically what you want is the owners word that the horse is sound and has no issues that they have not told you about. Thus if a major problem shows up and you can prove they knew about it but did not disclose it to you, you have some proof that they never told you about the issue should you try to return the horse. Is the sale final or is there a “trial” period?
Horses should always be sold with a halter and lead shank. You should also be given a vaccination and deworming record if they have one. Registration papers should be signed and given to you as well.
A group of horses, photo from Wikimedia