Buying a Horse Checklist: 11 Must-Know Tips
Choosing Your Homestead Horse: Tips for a Beginner
By Stan W. Caudell – When choosing a horse it is more important to choose the type of horse rather than the breed. Within almost every breed you will find horses that are difficult to deal with and horses that are easy to live with. This buying a horse checklist will help you find the right horse for your homestead.
Buying a Horse Checklist:
Horse Tip #1:
Some generalities will apply and should be taken care of at the outset. The first thing we’ll mention on our buying a horse checklist is that stallions (horses that have not been castrated) are not to be considered. I don’t care what the Black Stallion books said, a stallion is not to be kept on a small farm for pleasure riding. They are horses for the serious, expert horse person only. The stallion is generally considered to be an insurance liability as well, particularly in these litigious days.
Horse Tip #2:
Mares can be moody but often make lovely riding horses. If you wish, a mare can be bred to produce your next horse. That said, a good gelding (a castrated male horse) is probably the best all around horse for the beginner rider. The gelding is the horse of choice for most serious riders in many disciplines. They are not distracted by any of the more natural urges and can keep their minds on what the rider is asking of them. Geldings can be wonderful companions to humans and generally will be easier to ride in company with many other horses than mares.
Horse Tip #3:
The idea of getting a young horse and learning together is not a good one either.The horse usually learns more about being a horse faster than the rider learns about being a horse person, and things just don’t progress well for either of them. Outside help will often be required and the process of learning together will require years, not months, and can be daunting.
Horse Tip #4:
Some people are afraid of getting an “old” horse. These days the term “old” is relative indeed, and the horse that is 16-to-18 years old may have a very useful life span left, particularly for the beginning horse person. Horses are living well longer with the proper care and worming that is available today, and the older equine can be a lovely introduction to a beginner’s life with horses. The older horse can teach a person a great deal about riding and should definitely be considered when buying a first horse. The best insurance in a horse purchase is a good vet. If a vet says that the horse being considered is healthy and sound it is a good way to start and, if you are looking at an older horse, ask the vet about his or her feelings about the horse as a prospect for you. Vets usually have good ideas about the suitability of a horse to the tasks proposed for it.
Horse Tip #5:
If you are looking at a horse that you are not able to ride well at the horse’s own current home, you will probably not be able to ride the horse well at your own home either. Get a horse that you can ride safely, not only with other horses but by yourself as well. Try the horse in company and alone at its current place of residence. If the horse displays discipline problems that you can’t deal with, do not buy it.
Horse Tip #6:
Never let ego play a part in your choice of a horse. An owner who taunts you about your ability as a rider in general, or your ability as a rider for their horse, should be left holding the reins to said horse while you leave the property looking for a better sales arena. The person who purchases a horse with the idea of being able to remake the horse into a better horse usually buys many headaches with the horse. The horse that you purchase should be a good mount for you as it stands on the day that you buy it.
Horse Tip #7:
Size needs to be considered. People have a propensity for buying horses that are way too big for them. Remember that there may not be anything to stand on out there on the trail so that you can get back on that horse if you get off. A horse of 15 to 15.2 hands is a good useful size for all but the tallest riders. If you are a particularly small person, no one actually ever said that you could not ride a pony if the size fits you. Many people today are riding horses that are 14 hands or so and loving it. Arabs, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Paints are all allowed to be 14 hands when mature and still be considered horses. Suit the size of the horse to the rider and the task, not to what is popular with others.
Horse Tip #8:
Color plays a big part in the choosing of a horse, so naturally, it’s on our buying a horse checklist. People do have preferences about one color or another and often they have dreamed about having this or that color horse for a long time. The color is the least important part of a horse. Generally speaking, lighter colored horses can have some problems with sunburn, but proper shelter should take care of that. Gray horses can have problems with tumors, but not all gray horses will have this problem.
Horse Tip #9:
A horse must be usably sound. An unsound horse is in pain and that will affect its temperament as well as its usefulness. Usably sound covers a lot of territory. Large bumps that have “set up” (which means that they no longer have excessive heat or inflammation) and scars on legs are unsightly, but those that don’t interfere with the use of a joint are usually not a problem for a horse that is to be trail ridden for pleasure. In fact, many horses that have worked for a living will have “earned” the old bump or scar in the process of being useful.
Horse Tip #10:
Problems in wind or vision are quite different. Breathing problems in a horse are sometimes manageable, but often are a source of constant anguish for an owner and should probably not be considered. Vision problems can cause a horse to be easily startled or spooked. Some vision problems are recurring and can lead to total blindness. Check with your vet on this to be sure.
Horse Tip #11:
A horse that has once foundered is prone to foundering again if circumstances are right for it. A vet or farrier will usually be able to tell if a horse has once foundered. In fact, the old adage about horse hoof problems is “no hoof, no horse.” That advice is probably your best insurance when buying a horse. The hooves of a healthy horse are dense and somewhat elastic. Cheap, shelly hooves that are brittle and will not hold a shoe are a constant source of worry and limit the horse’s usefulness as a riding animal.
With homesteading today, it’s important to set aside ego and simply be as practical about following common horse tips for buying a horse as you are about buying a car or a truck. I hope this buying a horse checklist guides you to the best horse for your homestead.
Originally published in 2002 and regularly vetted for accuracy.