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So you’ve found yourself horseless with a big gap that needs filling. The thought of having to traipse round the countryside looking at random equines may be filling you with dread but with a bit of homework and good preparation may save you hours of your life and potentially your sanity!

The first part of the process is to write a wish list. Try to decide what your perfect horse would be. What age, height, experience, breed and type would you like. Then set your budget. Be realistic. You are not going to get a world beater for £3,000!!! You could always seek advice too from your trainer or a professional to guide you to what is realistic. Decide what things you will live with and what is a definite no. This is often due to your past experiences, so be clear with vendors what your big no’s are. This could be things like sarcoids, odd feet, vices, sex, colour, bloodlines etc. Word of mouth is always a great way to buy horses if you have seen one that you love, make some enquiries. It may also be worth ringing people who are known horse sellers with a good reputation to see what they have for sale or what they know of. They may also put you in touch with other sellers who can be trusted. Some people seem to be anti ‘dealer’ but bear in mind a good ‘dealer’ will treasure their reputation and would be very stupid to mislead you or sell you an unsuitable horse. There are certainly some very dodgy people about in the selling world so do some digging, but take ‘forum’ members with a pinch of salt.

There is the sales option for buying. These tend to be a fairly high pressure environment and you don’t have a lot of time to try or compare horses, unless you are attending an elite sale such as Brightwells or Monart. These tend to be higher priced performance horses or young horses.  You have to be very confident in your ability to assess conformation, soundness and temperament and certainly at the one day sales, once the bidding starts it is chaos as horses may be going through the ring at the same time as others are being shown! You need to have a good team of trusted spotters and know who to buy from and who to avoid! We do buy at Gorsebridge, but generally young horses bought on type and breeding. It’s often interesting how different they are when you get them home! It’s certainly not for the faint hearted! The path that most people end up going down is trawling through adverts and making endless phone calls. There are many good websites for horses for sale. Some are more discipline specific, others are very broad. Be prepared to put the hours in searching. Event horses tend to go onto British Eventing. Dressage horses on British Dressage. Horsequest is a great selling site with all types on, as is Horse and Hound online. For family and teenagers’ horses, Pony Club is worth a look. Horse Deals and Horsemart are good for allrounders and cheaper projects. Facebook is a fantastic too. Free advertising! Try to follow good yards who have a good reputation then their adverts will come up on your feed. There are also multiple selling pages. When buying from private sellers, be aware that some people are unrealistic about their horses’ abilities and behaviours. You also have less protection from a legal point of view buying privately, so be sure to test horses well and do your research! Buyer beware. Once you have found a few that you like, get on the phone! The best way is to describe what you are looking for to see if the seller thinks that the horse will fit the bill.

Be very realistic about your ability and the routine that the horse will be in with you. It never ceases to entertain mewhen people say they want a horse to go Intermediate on but can’t ride with a contact or see a stride. If you know you are still learning say so, so the horse’s temperament and ability to cope with your mistakes can be accurately assessed. Some horse are saints and others may take advantage! Make sure you ask about the horse’s temperament, vet history, basics such as clipping, shoeing, being caught, travelling – has the horse been in a box or trailer, behaviour at shows, hacking on their own, traffic, vices and anything else that is important to you. Try to see some video if the horse is a long way away so save a wasted drive if you don’t like the type or how it moves. The other thing that is useful is to see some photos of the horse stood naked up from side, front and back. This allows for conformation assessment. If you like what you’ve seen so far you might book to go and see the horse. Be sure to let the owner know if you can’t come or are running late. You would be amazed how many no shows we get. It’s very frustrating.

Check the conformation before buying a horse
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Check the conformation before buying a horse

Be sure that they have good trial facilities. If they don’t have an all-weather arena, you may need to try to hire an arena. In this current weather, you can’t try a competition horse effectively on a slippy field with no jumps! When you get to see the horse, try to see it loose in its normal stable to see what the normal behaviour is. Check that the horse is interested in life and can be caught. It also is an opportunity to see if any vices (that should be legally declared) are evident. See the horse caught and then go and inspect it. Run your hands down its legs and look all over it for bumps and lumps. Be sure to ask if its ok to handle! Then see the horse walked and trotted up in a straight line on a hard surface. This is looking for soundness, but also how the horse moves. It is normal then to see the horse ridden. I would be very sceptical if the owners don’t want to get on! I have heard some horror stories of people getting on first and then being ejected! If you really don’t like the horses type or how it moves, politely say that it’s not for you without being critical! It’s better to do that and not time waste if you know it’s not for you.
If you like the horse then ask for it to be ridden on the flat and over jumps. On a side note, if you are very tall or have very large feet it is worth taking your own leathers and irons so you can try them safely. If you are happy with how the horse goes, then get on and have a play! Don’t feel pushed to do more than you are comfortable with. An advantage of trying on a professional yard is that you may also get a bit of a lesson to help you adjust to a new horse. They will hopefully also judge the potential partnership. Try the horse on the flat and over fences. Take time to get a feel for the horse and experiment a bit. Do some direct transitions, lateral work etc. If you like the horse also ask to go out for a hack, or ride it in an open field to get out of the arena. Horses often change when they leave the school. When you have finished riding it’s a good idea to untack the horse and handle it to get to know it. Don’t feel pressured into making a decision there and then. Most people don’t. They either bring trainers / coaches / partners back for a second view, or they want to try the horse away from home, XC or hunting. If you know the horse is perfect for you and you are very experienced, then you may go for it. If you decide that you want the horse, the best way to secure it is to put a deposit down subject to vetting. We ask for 10%. The purchase price should be negotiated at this stage, and if there are any tack or rugs included in the sale. Make sure that all this is put down in writing to protect both sides. It is normal for the purchaser to organise the vetting. You may want to find out who the normal yard vet is and use an impartial vet. Professional yards should have no problem with who you choose to use. If the horse is a long way from you, your vet may recommend someone. I would always advise someone to have a vetting – even if it is only a 2 stage and to take bloods to be stored. If the horse then changes dramatically either in temperament or soundness after purchase you can have the bloods tested. Try to get the vetting organised quickly and the seller will be putting off potential purchasers in the meantime. Be sure to talk to the vet about any misgivings you have about the horse and anything that you will not tolerate. Remember a vetting is only a snapshot on a given day, not a guarantee of soundness! If you are going to insure the horse over a certain amount, vettings are required by the insurance company. It would be daft to find something after purchase. It is up to you if you require X rays, sensible on young high value horses, but older horses may open a can of worms!

When you go back for a second view, it is a good idea to get straight on the horse, not to have the normal rider ‘set the horse up’ first. This will give you a true feel of what the horse is like when you first get on. If you have requested to try the horse away from home it’s a great chance to see what it’s like on the lorry and loading. You should also offer to pay for any course hire and towards fuel if they have made a special trip. Hopefully you will have done enough to make a decision on the second view. If not then maybe it’s not the horse for you. People who want to try more than 2 or 3 times tend to fall into the time waster category for me! At this point you can also ask for full vet history prior to booking a vetting. So hopefully you will have found your new equine partner and they will have got a clean bill of health. When you get your new horse home, get them into a good routine straight away. Get them into work straight away and don’t feed them too much while you are getting to know them! When you have your first hack out it is a good idea to have company to let you get to know them safely, especially if you have bought a young horse, or one that hasn’t done much hacking. We get people coming to us with problems with new horses when they haven’t worked them and fed them lots! Try to start training on them fairly quickly so bad habits don’t develop and your coach can keep you on the straight and narrow. Be sure to get to know them well before you put yourself into a competition environment. This is where clinics and training shows are a great way of getting out and about. Don’t feel pressured that you should be competing the horse at the same level that it was with its former rider. It’s more important that you have fun and build a good relationship for the future. Good luck, have fun and see you all out on your shiny new horses.

Get the full 'Buying blues' article here