Before you go to the great expense of buying a horse, you need to evaluate how good a rider you are, and what will you be doing with that horse. Make no mistake, you need to really be honest with yourself as this is a huge commitment. Ask yourself what size and age of horse would work best for you as well.
Okay you have just fallen in love with a flashy looking equine and now what? What do you want to achieve and is THIS the horse for you? Are you going to be using the horse for western pleasure, trail, hunter under saddle, western riding, reining, western dressage, are you going to ride at all or will you be interested in halter, lead trail and lungeline only… and the list really does go on. You may even want to do a few from the list above.
You really do have to give this some thought and do some research before you put your hand in your pocket. I say this mainly for new “Western” riders’ out there that are just coming into the western industry. I’m fairly certain people that are already in the western industry know exactly what type of horse they are after.
What about this horse’s temperament? Quiet, feisty, pushy, amenable, or grumpy? If you aren’t comfortable with horses, don’t get a pushy horse, as you will find it ruling you and not the other way around. If you are planning to just trail ride, don’t buy a competition horse.
You may have finally waved goodbye to the kids, you’re now an empty nester with money to buy you’re special horse and go showing. If you suffer from arthritic hands or sore shoulders, bad knees or shot hips that many of us are blessed with just after you become an empty nester, it comes like a sarcastic poke in the ribs as if to say “you think you’re home and hosed now eh, well take this”… one morning you wake with aches or a pain somewhere, there is the next phase of your life! lol. If you are one of these people, you ideally should be looking for a horse that is well trained, impeccable manners and very willing to please. The last thing you need is a stubborn, set in their way, grumpy horse that has no intentions of yielding to your cues. The money you spend on purchasing this well trained horse is nothing compared to the money you would put into the grump in the long run, 9 times out of 10 the grump will always find his old ways somewhere along the rail and revert back to them.
If you don’t have a lot of experience with horses then do not buy a young horse that you will need to train unless you are prepared to bring on-board a professional trainer who can help you with every stage. It is really a toxic cocktail when you pair a newbie rider with a newbie equine. Wait until you have more experience or you may find yourself paying the price for your mistakes – such as injuries to you and your horse because you did not know what you were doing.
Try to take someone you know and trust that has experience and a good eye for a type of horse. Even if you have to pay for a set of professional eyes, take them with you, if they happen to comment that the horse is not suitable for you or whatever your discipline is, listen to their professional advice, they have been around the block a few times and their radar for shonky deals will be primed up. Take an experienced friend with you to check the horse out with you. Better they help you assess the horse so you don’t wind up over horsed (buying a horse that is way too much for you to handle). Your experienced friend can also ride the horse for you to assess if it would work for you. If the current owner is riding the horse, and they insist you don’t need to try the horse – run, don’t walk as far away as you can, and keep looking.
The Western breeds industry has many new members every year that have come over from a different discipline usually from the English Riding discipline like Dressage, Adult Riders, Jumping, Pony Club. The Western industry want you to be with them for many years and be a happy camper, they don’t want to see you leaving or letting your membership run out because in the end, the horse you picked was just not suited to what you brought it for.
Look for the right conformation for the job
Today’s western performance horse is an exceptional athlete. Whatever your passion may be – western pleasure and all the various different classes that come along with that. Whether your passion is cowboy dressage, extreme trail, cutting or reining, team roping or steer wrestling. There’s a horse out there that can do the job for you. However, it is crucial that you understand the different demands of each of these sports so that the right horse is selected for the job.
For example, there are significant differences in conformation and body type depending on the performance discipline. Cutting horses that are bred for agility, tend to be smaller and not as heavily muscled as the rodeo horses that must add power and strength to the equation. Reining horses must have speed and agility to successfully perform those large circles and spins, be bred to slide with ease, while western pleasure show horses must have a less stockier body type to perform at very slow gaits that display a flat knee action and a strong, deep natural drive from behind.
Don’t think you’re getting a great deal because the horse you bought was dirt cheap.
Unlike shopping for shoes or some piece of clothing that you have snagged at an awesome bargain price, you can’t buy horses like that – unless you want hard work, tears and worse still be badly injured. Do you know, there is usually a fairly good reason why that horse you think you are going to get for a bargain basement price is so cheap.
I have and still am approached by riders looking for a new horse, when asked how much they are thinking of spending on a new horse, 80% of them tell me they don’t want to go over $5,000.00. I really struggle to get my head around that. It is a fallacy if you are an improver you shouldn’t spend money on a well trained horse, improvers should just try it out on a cheaper ride first to see if they like it – most times they wont like! I am a firm believer in the saying “You get what you pay for”. There are the exceptions to the rule however, very few and far between. A good quality horse in mind, body and spirit for that price is a hen with teeth! (as rare as).
Take your time, don’t rush into buying the first horse you see.
It’s like anything in life – don’t buy the first horse you see. Shop around, ask trainers and breeders if they know of anything about that would suit your needs. If they don’t, let them know that you are interested and if they could keep you in mind.
Would you buy a horse because of its colour?
I really hope not!
Just because you have a love for a Black horse for example, don’t simply buy the first Black horse you come across, colour doesn’t mean he is the one for you. Too many people buy horses because of colour, coat pattern such as paints and appaloosas. Horse’s do not go well because they have a beautiful coat pattern or they are your favourite colour.
What about a full sibling or half brother/sister?
– don’t buy a horse just on the basis that it is a full brother or sister to the best horse you have ever owned but lost due to death from illness, injury or any other misfortune. Horse’s, just like humans or anything else are individuals and it’s not always going to work out that the brother or sister is going to be just as good. Do your research on the lineage. You could be lucky though and find a “Blue Hen” bloodline, then you would be pretty safe purchasing a full sibling.
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Ask questions, get a vet check
Never be afraid to ask questions and always request a vet check. Nowadays you can request a “suitability” vet check which basically means the check done by the vet should take into account what the horse will be used for.
Back in the day your vet check would be stock standard, usually centred around the TB Racehorse. Vet checking a TB for racing would need to focus on the staying power of a mile or two flat strap gallop, they would most likely like to put the TB on a treadmill to check their heart rate at full gallop more-so than if you were vetting a cutting bred horse or a pleasure horse which are required to perform a specific job each, they are each different in their movement and required stamina. More emphasis may be required on checking a cutting horses hocks and back end as they are required to get down low and deep with their hocks many times when working a cow whereas a pleasure horse probably won’t be getting down and dirty like a cutter – or he shouldn’t be! The pleasure horse may require a more stringent test on how well he tracks whilst being lunged to ensure gaits are true and they are free from any type of lameness. Not to say that all horses don’t need to be checked for lameness, they all should be checked for lameness.
All horses even a young horse can have some form of degeneration forming, it can be ever so subtle, just like humans, we all have degeneration in our bodies, some worse than others.
An example would be a mild degeneration in a pleasure horses hock shouldn’t be measured in the same way as the cutting horse with the same mild degeneration found in the hock or stifle. A cutting horse is going to need to rely a lot more on the soundness of his hocks than a pleasure horse will. A mild degeneration showing up on an x-ray of a pleasure horses hock can be very manageable, it may never eventuate into a chronic arthritis in his lifetime and should not be the ball breaker that stops you from purchasing this horse if he has everything else going for him. In my opinion it would not worry me at all if the horse in question had an impeccable conformation and displayed no signs of irritation or soreness in the area. It may be a different story for me though if I wanted the cutting horse and he showed up with a mild degeneration as the work that he has to do with those hocks of his is way more stressful than the pleasure horse that is basically travelling along on the rail calmly. A well managed diet and good quality supplements throughout a horses life goes a long, long way to keeping your horse sound. I know it can be hard keeping your horse on supplements when they look so healthy and awesome, however, supplementing to ensure lifetime health is key, just like us, if we want to live a pain free, long, healthy life, we need supplementing.
So finishing up, don’t be too hard on the horse if an x-ray shows up a shadow or something mild going on in there especially if it is showing up in a 6 or 8 year old. You would be hard pressed to find one that age without some little shadow on their x-ray. It all depends on what their future work load will be and how well they are maintained throughout life.
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