specially designed section for the
FIRST TIME HORSE OWNER
EVALUATING HORSES YOU
Your Horse Hunt
(From "Riding for the Rest of Us"
by Jessica Jahiel)
Hunt with a Camera
When you are horse hunting, take a notebook and a
camera. If you like a horse, take notes -- and photos. Get front, rear, and
side views of the horse. Put the numbers of the shots somewhere in your notes (24
August, Oak Tree Farm, brown mare, shots 9-12). This will help you match your
memories and your notes with the photos. If your camera puts the date on each photo,
so much the better. Photos will keep your memory fresh and accurate (the bay gelding
with the white foot -- was he at the first or the third barn? Or -- just a minute --
maybe the bay mare was at the second barn; the bay gelding had two white feet, didn't
he? Or was that the chestnut gelding?). Photos will also reveal details
that may have escaped you at the time of your visit. The pictures might show, for
instance, that the bay is built downhill, or that the gorgeous gray filly is tied in
behind the knees.
Look at as many horses as you can. You will
be able to eliminate most of them from consideration with no expenses other than your own
time and transportation. Then, when you have cut your list of prospects down to two
or three real possibilities, you can go back for a second visit. If possible, take
your instructor with you to look at your semifinalists and help select the finalists.
Expect to pay for her time: this is a
professional consultation. After the two of you have seen and ridden your
prospects, and discussed them at length, you should know which of these horses is the one
you would most like to own.
What to Look For in a
When you are ready to buy a horse,
keep in mind the following considerations:
- Disposition and
Attitude: A good disposition is your first requirement. Without
it, even the most beautiful and talented horse in the world is useless. whatever
your riding ambitions, you want a horse that has certain qualities: honesty, generosity,
and stability. Handsome is as handsome does.
- Conformation and
Soundness: Next, look for a sound horse with conformation
that will help him stay sound and that is suitable for your riding style and ambitions.
- Movement / Ability: Finally, consider talent. If you want to compete, movement
will matter. But if you find a sound horse with a good disposition and good
conformation, the quality of his movement can probably be improved through correct
On any given day, a horse is worth what someone will pay for him. The price for the
same horse may vary from month to month, or from season to season, depending on how badly
the owner wishes or needs to sell.
If the owner has no indoor arena or doesn't ride in winter, the horse may cost less in
November than he did in May. No sensible person will keep a horse through the winter
just to sell him in the spring, if there is any chance of selling him immediately.
The appearance of a horse -- height, color, and markings -- can also
affect the price. There is a saying that "a good horse is never a bad
color," but tall horses, trendy colors, and symmetrical markings generally cost
more. If you fall madly in love with a horse of particularly splendid color -- a
gleaming palomino or an obsidian black -- stand back, squint, and try to imaging him
covered in mud from nose to tail. If his silhouette and way of going still leave you
breathless, he may be the horse for you. But if he seems much less interesting
without the color and shine, keep looking. Nowhere is the old adage "You get
what you pay for" less true than with horses. Anyone shopping for a horse
should remember that price and value are not the same.
- Breeds and Suitability: You want a horse that can do what you want to do.
The ex-jumper may never become a docile trail horse; neither may the old fourth-level
dressage horse, that interprets each shift and nudge as a signal. Unless you have
experience, time, and patience, it is a bad idea to buy something that has been bred and
trained for one particular purpose and try to turn it to another. The most likely
result is that both you and your horse will end up confused and upset.
Bloodlines matter if you intend to show in breed classes, or if you are
purchasing a mare and plan to breed from her. Otherwise, your gelding's bloodlines
are much less important than his conformation, movement, and general demeanor. If
you have a passion for a particular breed, do some research. Read books about the
breed, watch videos,and talk to your instructor. Set yourself up for success, not
for failure: reconcile your breed preferences with the sort of riding you want to do.
If you love Quarter Horses and are interested in pleasure or trail
riding, or if you adore Arabians and want to do endurance riding, you will have many
horses to choose from and will probably find exactly what you want. But if you want
the exceptional Quarter Horse or Arabian that can go to the top in dressage competition,
the odds are against you.
Don't begin with a dream of what you want to do and then buy something
that isn't physically or temperamentally suited to the task. You'll make yourself
miserable, and you'll make the horse miserable, too. If you acquire the horse first,
take his physical and mental traits into consideration when you are deciding what to do
with him. Most training success (a happy, competent horse knowing what his job is
and doing it well) are the result of someone looking at a specific horse, determining what
he will probably do well, and training him accordingly. Match the task to the horse; don't
arbitrarily decide that your horse must and will do something specific. If you want
a magnificent 17.3-hand, 1,800-pound Hanoverian, you and your horse will be better off if
you want to do dressage, which he will probably do well, rather than endurance riding,
which he might not survive.
What qualities do you most want in your horse? Are you
looking for a spirited ride, a spectacular mover, or does your list begin with words like
"sensible" and "good brakes"? If you are not competition-driven,
you will have more options. There are any number of affordable horses whose
fundamental soundness and pleasant attitude would suit you well. Any sane and sound
horse should, with correct training, be able to do dressage up to Third Level (perform,
that is, not necessarily win in competition) and jump fences up to 3' comfortably and
safely. This is basic training for a good riding horse, just as the ability to ride
a horse at Third Level dressage and jump fences to 3' means basic competence on the part
of an educated rider. This is the starting point for professional specialization,
but it is also a level to which we can all aspire. A single, independently wealthy
rider might reach that level in just a couple of years. Someone with two children, a
9-to-5 job, and three riding days each week can expect to take a good bit longer to get to
that point, but she can get there too if she is motivated and determined -- and she won't
need a "fancy" horse.
How to Look at a Horse
Look at the horse from all angles. See him
walked and trotted towards you and away from you and from the side. If you still
like him, then ask to see him ridden by his regular rider. Watch as he is tacked
up. He should be quiet and cooperative, and his tack should be a simple bridle and
Watch as the rider mounts. Is the horse
quiet? Does he stand until the rider signals him to move off? How does he
move, and how does he react to being ridden? You want a cheerful, willing
horse. If he goes badly for his regular rider, it's not a good sign. The horse
should be alert and active; he shouldn't have been tranquilized or "worked down"
for your visit. He should be willing and cooperative because he is trained, not
because he is drugged or exhausted.
If you like the way the horse looks under his
regular rider, have your instructor ride him indoors and outdoors at walk, trot, and
canter; over water, over fences; through a dressage test -- ask the horse to everything he
is supposed to know how to do. If she likes him, it's your turn. Ride quietly
and carefully,and think about whether you like the feel of the horse.
Consider whether his build suits your
conformation. If you have short, heavy legs, don't buy a horse with a wide round
barrel. You will feel as though you are sitting on a beer keg, and you will have
little or no hope of learning to apply your aids correctly. A narrower horse will
suit you better. If your legs are very long, the round-barreled horse may be just
right. You will be able to sit comfortable and correctly without strain. You
may also save money -- a shorter horse with a wide barrel takes up as much leg as a tall
narrow horse but may cost much less.
The horse you buy should be the horse you think
you will enjoy the most. If you're pleased with the horse, his personality, and his
way of going, and if your instructor thinks he is suitable for you, make an offer to
purchase him if he passes his
The pre-purchase exam, depending on how detailed
it is, is an up-front expense -- but a worthwhile one. You can skip it, but
please don't. And use your own vet or your instructor's
vet. It is considered a conflict of interest for the seller's vet to do this
exam. [The pre-purchase exam (or vetting) is covered in the next step.]
Next (click here to proceed to next step)
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