Horse Shopping Advice Part II: Evaluating the horse on the first visit

So you found one.

It meets most of your qualities from the list. Maybe you even have more than one horse that made it this far. Now what? Part one talked about finding a horse, and now we’ll talk about evaluating a horse.

Remember, you are shopping for a horse that meets your personal goals. Even if you can check the other boxes, you still need a horse that can do what you like. Its hard to convince a finished roping horse he wants to be a polo pony, and a green-broke three year old is not a beginner horse. ‘Made’ or ‘finished’ horses aren’t generally for sale on the cheap. Keep these things in mind as you look at horses, especially if you have love-at-first-sight tendencies. And remember, written or spoken words only tell you so much. That’s why you need to visit!

The First Visit/Evaluation Ride:
Pack up some key tack (helmet, saddle, maybe bridle) and drive out to see the horse! Depending on your experience level, you may or may not bring your trainer/experienced friend for the first visit. Your main goals here are to see if the horse is still interesting in person.

When you arrive, watch the current owner or agent handle the horse. Is the horse friendly, neutral, or aggressive? Pay attention to what the owner chooses to do with the horse. For example, if they skip picking feet out, does the horse have good looking feet, or does the person seem worried about the horse kicking? Does the horse respect space, or is it walking all over the handler? Generally you want to see the normal routine the person has for riding the horse. This is also a good time to check the horse for odd scars, bumps and scrapes, anything that might lead to future lameness. Ask questions and learn as much as you can about the history.

Watch someone ride the horse. The owner should have someone to show you how the horse rides under saddle. Watch that person ride. Do they have quiet hands and a solid seat? Does the horse seem willing? What type of equipment are they using, big bit or snaffle? If you are buying a horse with some skills (jumping, roping, barrels, etc) ask to see a demonstration.

If you brought your trainer or experienced friend, now is the time for them to ride. They should be able to give you information on how the horse rides. How sensitive is the horse? Does it respond to general cues? Does the horse test the new rider? How comfortable are the gaits? When I am evaluating a horse for a client, I like to push the horse’s buttons and try to annoy the horse, especially if the client is a beginner. I may flop around a little bit or pull and kick on the horse. For beginners, a forgiving horse is really important. Evaluating the horse’s balance is another useful thing here. Greener horses will be less balanced, and that just means a longer road before taking a horse to an event. Some clients are happy with that, and some people want to buy something show ready.

Now is your chance! Ride the horse and decide if you like it. Put it through its paces and listen to your gut. If you want to jump did the horse go over the obstacles without much trouble? Did the sane trail horse spook at something it has walked past hundreds of times? If you didn’t bring a trainer, I would try to push the horse’s buttons as much as you can safely.

During and after riding, try to determine if the horse has any bad habits. Does it grind its teeth when working? Did you see it crib or weave? These things aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but they do matter. Personally, I don’t have a lot of interest in horses that play dirty. I don’t mind fixing respect issues or putting time into a green horse. Everyone has different things they like to fix, and budget plays in here big time.

All in all, the first visit and/or evaluation rides should give you an idea if you want to pursue this horse. Listen to your gut! If you don’t like the horse, politely inform the seller as soon as possible. Don’t waste their time on someone who isn’t going to buy. If you do like the horse, its time to make some decisions.
At this point, I would suggest trying to do a trial. Some people don’t like to do trials, so don’t be surprised if the seller is not willing. But if they will allow you to trial the horse, you can agree on terms that allow you to evaluate the horse at home. You have to decide whether you are willing to take a risk. Sometimes its best to walk away, and sometimes its best to load the horse up and see how things shake out.

What is your advice on trying out a new horse?

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