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The Right Stuff: What to Look for When Buying a Horse

One of the proudest days of any horse lover's life is the day when they buy a horse. It doesn't matter if it's their first, second or tenth. Each day marks a special place in that new horse owner's heart. For many horse lovers, this event has been a dream years in the making.

Buying a horse can be both emotionally and financially draining. It can take months to find the "perfect" horse, only to have your heart broken a couple times when the "perfect" horse doesn't work out for one reason or another. Before you embark on this endeavor it's important to understand what is truly important when buying a horse.

Buying a horse is similar to buying a house or a car. All three purchases are life changing events and shouldn't be taken lightly. So, what is really important to consider when buying a horse?

Dreams vs. Reality

Before getting in your car to try your first prospective horse it's important to figure out what you are looking for. Sit down with a pad of paper and write down some qualities you would like your new horse to have. The basic features of size, height, breed and sex are excellent starting points for your search, but the most important question you can ask is, "What do I really, really want?" For example, do you want a show horse or a horse that you can take trail riding on the weekends? What goals do you have for this horse? Are there certain characteristics that are a "no go" for you (i.e. the horse is a cribber or has long term soundness issues). Create a list of what you want in a horse, along with imperfections you are willing to accept because there is no perfect horse. Once you have put some thoughts to paper, you will get a better idea what type of horse you are in the market for.

One of the most common mistakes horse buyers make is letting their horse dreams blur the reality of what is the best horse for them. Many times horse buyers don't think through their requirements and let a flashy horse that is shown to them lead them astray. Just because you have always dreamed of owning the Black Stallion doesn't mean purchasing an exact replica of your favorite character is the right choice for you. When looking into qualities you want in a horse, it's also important to look at your riding ability to make sure the two match up. There is nothing worse than getting your dream horse home; only to find out he is too much horse for you.

Remember if you don't know what you want, you will never find the right horse for you.

Temperament, Temperament, Temperament!

Just as location, location, location is key when buying real estate, temperament is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a horse. You can always educate a young horse or tune up an older equine, but it's hard to change the attitude of a horse.

Temperament is especially important when you are looking for a horse for either a child or a beginner rider. An aggressive horse can hamper a youngster’s ability to bond with their horse, which of course is half the fun. Temperament can be evaluated both by asking the seller questions about the horse (i.e. how is he about clipping, does she spook?), as well as observing it when you go out to try the horse.

If you are a more experienced rider or don’t mind dealing with a grouchy horse, a bad attitude is a factor that can be overlooked. Remember there is no such thing as a perfect horse. Sometimes it comes down to deciding would you rather have a horse that is a saint while you are on the ground or a saint while you are on him? Again it all comes down to finding qualities that are acceptable to you.

Pretty is as Pretty Does

We have all heard the saying "pretty is as pretty does." This applies to horses just as it does to people. Just because a horse is a striking bay with a blaze and four white socks, doesn't mean she behaves well or is a good horse. A good relationship with a horse is built on more than just a pretty face. A lot of horse buyers browse the ads only searching for a particular color or look. If you have a choice of several horses, and they all meet your criteria, certainly choose the color you like the best. Don’t limit your search based only on physical appearance! By doing this you could miss out on the right horse for you. The right horse will be your companion, your partner and no matter what anyone else thinks he will be beautiful to you.

Get Your Money in Order

Once you figure out what you are really looking for in a horse you need to determine a budget before you can start cruising the horse ads. Your budget must consist not only of money to purchase the horse, but money to pay for all monthly expenses associated with being a horse owner. Buying a horse is cheap compared to the costs of horse ownership. When buying a horse be sure to factor in additional costs such as a pre-purchase exam, tax, trainer's commission, transportation to your horse's new home and any new tack or clothing you might need to buy for your new horse. Once your horse gets home you will need to have money available for board, feed, vets, shoes, tack, etc.

Buying Green = Spending Green

Many prospective horse owners make the mistake of looking at green horses thinking that they will save money because they are cheaper. If you are looking for a project horse and are an experienced rider a green horse can be a great opportunity. However, each year many beginner riders end up with a green horse just because they were trying to save a buck. A green rider and green horse is a recipe for disaster. Not only can green riders and green horses be dangerous, but many young riders quit simply because they have been mounted on a green horse that scared them, thus losing their confidence to ever ride again.

When you buy a green horse you save money initially. However over the years the costs add up, between routine monthly costs like board, horse shoeing and training. The costs of training aren't cheap and they aren't just monetary. If you want to start a young horse right, it's going to take a lot of time, money, sweat and effort on both your part, your horse's and perhaps even your trainer's.

Likewise, don't buy a young horse thinking you will train it and turn around and sell it for a lot of money. It's often said the only way to make a small fortune with horses is to start out with a large fortune. This is certainly the case with training and reselling green horses. It can be done, but it’s the exception to the rule for your average horse owner.

Vetting it Out

Once you have found a horse and are ready to hit the buy button it's important to get a veterinarian's opinion about the horse. Although a horse may appear healthy it doesn't hurt to get a professional's opinion. A seemingly healthy horse can fail the vet exam in the first five minutes if the vet checks its heart rate and finds out it has a heart murmur. Vet checks can range from well horse exams to comprehensive exams that x-ray all the leg bones and joints. Again, look at your goals for your horse and decide how much you really need to spend on your vet exam. If you are going to trail ride and have your horse for your own enjoyment it might be nice just to know he is healthy. However, if you are looking to show your new horse, it would be a good idea to check the bones and joints.

Once you get the results back from the vetting it may be time to make a decision. Say your new dream horse is showing signs of joint wear and tear, are you willing to spend money to manage its health and upkeep? Remember maintenance care doesn't have to be a deal breaker when it comes to buying a horse, you just need to get all the facts before you buy.

Don't Go It Alone

During the horse buying process it’s important to have someone whose opinion you respect be part of the process. This could be a trainer, friend or someone else in your horse circle. By having someone else be part of the process you can bounce ideas off each other about what is right for you. This trusted confidante can also help you shop with your head and not your heart.

Have Fun!

Regardless of which number horse you are buying this is an exciting time in your life. Make the most of it and enjoy the process. Owning the right horse really is a dream come true and something you will enjoy for years to come.

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