10 Tips for First-Time Horse Owners

| June 4, 2011 | 6 Comments

This afternoon, I noticed a new voicemail waiting on my iPhone that I hadn’t yet listened to. Granted, this isn’t an uncommon discovery for me since I always let my calls go to voicemail when I don’t recognize the caller, but this was unexpected since I wasn’t showing any missed calls and the phone had never rang.

The message was from a woman who remembered me from years ago (though I couldn’t remember her) and knew that I was involved with horses, so she was hoping I could help her with a horse situation. 

Curiosity peaked, I called her back to find out more. It took the woman only a few moments to explain what her family was dealing with, and I quickly caught on that it was a scenario I see all too often: green owner vs. green horse. I immediately had a lot of compassion for the woman’s family even without knowing her, because I have been there myself. It was a classic case of being matched up with the wrong horse.

It’s not at all uncommon for inexperienced owners to run into some trouble with horses early on. If that’s you, don’t feel bad about it, because more of us have been there than you may realize.

So if you’re thinking about buying a horse and you consider yourself to be a beginner, here are a few tips that will help you avoid falling into a situation where you end up with an animal that’s not suitable for you or your family.


1. Be excited, but stay smart.

I remember my family’s horse shopping days when I was in my teens. Every horse we looked at was the “perfect” one for me. Parents, don’t just buy a horse because it’s pretty and your kids like it. Chances are, they’ll take just about any pretty horse because many young kids don’t yet understand the consequences of owning a horse that’s not right for them. Don’t buy impulsively just because everybody’s excited. It’ll break everybody’s heart a lot more if you buy the horse and have to sell it later, than if you walk away before making the purchase.


2. Invest in some riding lessons.

This is a step that I initially skipped when I was 13 years old, and that was why I kept getting bucked off of my family’s 6 year old Quarter Horse mare (over and over and over). I was so clueless in the beginning. Everyone who buys a horse should have some basic knowledge how to care for it and how to ride. NOTE: Knowing how to ride a horse and paying for a pony ride at the fair are not the same thing. :) Just because someone can lead a horse around while you sit in the saddle doesn’t mean you know what to do. You should also buy a riding helmet to ensure your noggin stays protected should anything happen.


3. Take an experienced horse owner with you.

This is imperative when you’re new to horses and don’t know what to look for, even after you’ve taken some riding lessons. An experienced horse owner or trainer will know how to check for signs that the prospective horse is sound, healthy and rides well. These are things that can easily be missed if you aren’t yet familiar with what to look for. Don’t know anybody like this? If you’ve been taking lessons (like suggested in #2) just ask your instructor to come along if they can.


4. Handle the horse on the ground when you arrive.

If the seller suggests having the horse all ready to ride when you arrive, ask that they wait to saddle up until you get there. You’ll want to see how the horse behaves coming out of the stall or pasture, being led around, and getting groomed and tacked up. If the horse is giving its owner trouble before it even gets the saddle on, you may want to keep looking.


5. Ask the seller to ride the horse first.

If the seller isn’t comfortable getting on the horse before you do, that could be a problem. Ask the seller to ride the horse around for a while so you can see how it moves and how it behaves. Next rider up should be your experienced horse owner friend that you brought along, then if things still look good, you can go next. Keep in mind that a horse may do really well for an experienced rider, but it might not be the same for someone who is just learning.


6. Find out about the horse’s history.

How long has the seller owned the horse? Why are they selling? Does the horse have registration papers that will be signed over to you upon the sale? You can never ask too many questions. If the seller won’t say much, or hasn’t owned the horse long enough to provide this information, find out if there was a recent previous owner you can get in contact with.


7. Don’t expect that every seller is going to be honest.

Hopefully, you will be able to get a feel for how honest somebody is being based on some of the things they say or do, though that’s not always the case. There are a lot of shifty sellers who are looking to get a quick sale, so be careful about who you deal with. If you’re new to horses, stay away from auctions or mass horse traders for the most part. They turn over horses so fast that they couldn’t possibly tell you much about the animal before you buy. If your gut tells you something isn’t quite right, avoid the purchase. Ask around at local barns and try to find a reputable seller.


8. Call the seller’s farrier and veterinarian.

Ask the seller who their regular farrier and vet are. Get phone numbers if you can, then call them. Find out if the horse has any kind of health issues that you should be aware of. You may also want to bring in your own vet to do a basic check up on the horse before buying.

9. Keep your options open.

So, what do you think, does this horse look like it might be a good match for your family? If it is, awesome! You may want to go ahead and make arrangements for the sale if everything lines up, or if you’re still hesitant, go home and think about it. Don’t be afraid to go look at several horses before buying. Talk to your knowledgable horse friend and see what they think.


10. Continue learning as often as possible.

Once you finally find the horse that’s right for you, continue to educate yourself. The best thing you can do for your horse is to be knowledgable. It’s far too common that green riders are the root of riding problems, so find the resources that will allow you to better understand how a horse thinks.


As you gain more experience, some of these suggestions won’t be needed any longer, because you’ll know what to look for when you’re horse shopping. Remember, safety always comes first. Things aren’t always going to go smoothly and even great horses act up once in a while, so you’re going to want to learn how to handle various situations in the most safe way possible.


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Photo credit: http://sxc.hu

Category: Featured

About the Author ()

Mandee created Horse Family™ in January of 2010. She resides in upstate New York with her APHA mare, Lark, and enjoys business leadership and entrepreneurship. She additionally owns ChargedUp Media, a social media marketing company with special interest in marketing for the horse industry. Join Mandee every Monday night for #HorseChat on Twitter!
  • Becky Lisle

    Although it’s the last thing in the world you want to think about when you are shopping for your first horse, it is very important that you have at least a vague plan in place for the eventuality that you can no longer keep the horse, and/or an end of life plan for the animal for which you are taking responsibility.

    Horses are not like dogs or cats and are much harder to rehome, simply because virtually anyone can take in a dog or cat, but relatively very few people have the necessary combination of knowledge, money, and facilities to take on physical custody of a horse.

    To be a responsible buyer, you should consider the “what ifs,” such as losing a job, having to move to a location at which you can’t take your horse, etc. Far too many horses have been neglected and abandoned to face terrible deaths because buyers/owners didn’t think things through or understand their options.

    Even assuming that the horse will live a long, happy life, it’s important to be familiar with end of life options and their cost. For example, what do euthanasia and carcass disposal cost in your area?

    These things are unpleasant, but they are realities.

  • http://www.theequinepractice.com Geoff Tucker, DVM

    Great article with valid points. When you first posted about this call to you, Kathy and I both said that it was the fault of the seller and not the buyer. There are too many unscrupulous sellers. Your point about having and advocate with you is so important.

    As a vet, I have plenty of stories. Here are 3.

    1) I did a pre-purchase exam and advised the buyer not to buy the horse based on its’ incompatibility with her daughter. She would be over faced. The buyer disregarded my advice and bought the pig eyed mare. 3 days later she called me wanting me to get involved with the horses return because the horse was dangerous. Moral: Don’t ask for (or pay for) advice if you won’t take it.

    2) I did a pre-purchase exam on a gaming horse. This horse was very good at pole bending and the women buying her were basically going through the formality of the exam. Their goal was to advance him and then sell him for a profit. I always start with the eyes. This horse was as blind as a bat and must use radar to guide itself around the poles. I wanted to end the exam at this point but they insisted I complete the full exam. That night they called saying they had run their own tests as I had suggested and concluded that he was actually blind. Moral: Some horses appear OK even to the experienced horseman.

    3) I was asked by my wife to do her pre-purchase exam. I told her that my exams had evolved to 3 things. First, I had to like the horse and he had to like me. Second, he had to willingly load into a trailer. Third, I would check his vision. Moral: I’d rather own a blind horse I like and loads into a trailer than one I didn’t like or couldn’t load even if it performed well.

    Doc T

  • http://believinginhorses.com Valerie Ormond

    Excellent post and comments. I feel so strongly about this subject that when I wrote Believing In Horses, my main character’s first horse is NOT perfect with a fairy tale riding and training beginning. The girl is over-mounted, which is far more realistic. Fortunately, as Mandee suggests, she works with an instructor and trainer to resolve issues and work towards a happy ending.
    It’s hard not to let emotions cloud the senses when it comes to buying a pony or horse. And since the above folks have pointed out some things, I’ll add a point or two that have not been mentioned:
    1. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Trust your instincts. There are always other horses out there.
    2. Beware of drugs. Many people mildly drug their horses so they will be on best behavior for when you arrive to look. I learned this one the hard way. When I was going to look at a horse a 8 years ago, the owners were getting frantic when I was caught in traffic and held up for a few hours. They also became frantic when they got lost en route to delivering him and it took them twice as long as they expected. I later realized it was because he was drugged and they were afraid the sedative would wear off before the deal had closed. I kept the horse because I could not bear to send him back, but it took years of work and training to get this off-the-track Quarter Horse to be a pleasure horse. Guess this really goes back to point 1.
    Finally, here is a link to a useful publication the Maryland Horse Council provides on horse ownership. I wish everyoe well in their horse shopping and owning. http://www.mdhorsecouncil.org/So%20You're%20Interested.pdf – Valerie

  • http://thedxranch.com Jenn Z

    I think it’s important NOT to show up at the specified time. Some traders/sellers will drug their horses to have them be more docile when you arrive. It’s good to say you’ll be there Saturday, for instance after you run errands in the morning, and show up shortly thereafter; so you can see the horse unexpectedly.

  • http://www.Horseshowmoms.com Jenny

    I like your article, many good points.
    I think a final note should be, that doing a business transaction with anyone, have respect enough to call and tell them you do not want the horse. Many times people will leave giving the idea that they want the horse, only to decide they don’t and never tell the seller. You do not even have to give a reason, just be polite and let them know you will not be buying their horse. Waiting in anticipation to sell a horse and then hearing nothing is just stressful. You never know when you may do business with those people again. Happy horse hunting!

  • http://www.t-h-e-ranch.com Bonnie Ebsen Jackson

    So often, the “curbside appeal” is an intense draw to a horse that would otherwise be a mediocre prospect. When I’m asked to accompany a student/friend/prospective horse buyer, I’ll often turn to the person and ask, “If you were a blind rider, what would attract you to this horse?”