So you are ready to go horse shopping, but feel lost as to what to look for? Before you go to any sales or make any appointments to look at horses, first ask yourself a few questions. These are the top areas to evaluate in your potential new horse: type, temperament, soundness and health. Start with asking what do you want to do with your new horse? Are you going to trail ride, show in the hunters, run barrels? You want to look at horses that will be suitable for your discipline, so start by noticing what breeds and types are already being used in that area. For example, you do not want to purchase a Belgian hoping that he will be your next jumper star.
Next, think about temperament. What are you comfortable with and what do you enjoy riding? If you are a novice rider, don’t go out and find a beautiful black stallion, fall in love, and convince yourself that you can handle him. Also, if you are a new rider, you generally want a mature horse. Young horses need constant training and reinforcement, and their personalities are still evolving, where an older horse will likely be more predictable.
And don’t forget to be honest with yourself about how much you can spend. It is very frustrating for sellers when people are window shopping above their price range, or try the horse then say they only have $3000 to spend when the horse was priced at $6000.
So when you have answered these questions, how do you actually determine if the horse you look at fits your criteria? Type is pretty simple, is his breed used for what you are doing and does he look capable of your discipline? To evaluate temperament, watch closely as he is handled and ridden, is he pushy, aggressive, fearful, or spooky? Look at his eye, is it soft and gentle, or does he just look a little crazy? Do you feel comfortable around him or is there something that just feels off? To evaluate soundness, watch him move – any bad steps, excessive tail swishing or pinned ears (these can be pain or bad behavior)? Run your hand down his legs to feel for heat or swelling, and look at his teeth and gums to verify age and check for dental issues. If you are spending a lot, or plan to do a discipline that is very physical, it is a good idea to do a pre-purchase exam to check for soundness issues that may be brewing or even hidden by drugs. Check out his hooves, do they look strong, is he shod with special shoes?
The answers to these questions may not be a definite yes or no on the horse, but will ensure that you are considering all aspects and making decisions that make sense for you and your plans for your new horse.