When you’re buying a horse or pony for the first time, it’s exciting!
It’s also too easy to get carried away by a set of soft brown eyes from a horse that is nowhere near suitable for a first-time owner.
Remember this: buying the wrong horse can suck all the fun out of owning a horse. Riding, driving and handling your horse will be extremely demotivating if you feel like you’re constantly fighting an uphill battle without ever making any progress.
Not only that, but it may also be unsafe to have more horse than you can handle and you may risk injury to both yourself and the horse.
Here I’ve listed some of the very common mistakes people make when buying a horse for the first time.
When you can be patient and wait for the right horse to come along, you’ll avoid all these mistakes and become the owner of a wonderful animal!
1. Buying a young or untrained horse
Untrained and young horses are often cheaper and can seem attractive to first-time buyers.
When you’re new to horses, don’t buy a horse that you plan on training yourself or sending to a trainer to get educated. Training is a slow process and takes months.
If the training isn’t done right, you can end up with a dangerous horse. Young and untrained horses aren’t reliable mounts for beginners and you’ll be much happier with a horse that you can start enjoying as soon as it gets out of the trailer.
2. Not considering an older horse
Older horses typically make great horses for beginner riders. A horse that has a good amount of training and experience with the world will be a more solid companion for you.
Beginners might be tempted to get a very young horse and totally overlook horses in their late teens and twenties.
However, horses are quite long-lived and your mature horse won’t become a senior until closer to her 30s – even then she may still be used to riding and driving, if her health permits.
You will learn much more from a more experienced horse that has seen many types of riders and is a good teacher. Horses that have been used in riding schools can make wonderful first-time or family horses.
3. Buying a horse that your children can grow up with
This can be a romantic notion, but horses aren’t like puppies or kittens. Because you’ll be riding or driving your horse, a young and untrained horse is not a safe horse for young and inexperienced riders.
You’ll get the best bang for your buck if you buy a mature horse that your kids can start grooming as soon as he gets off the truck.
You’ll want a horse that’s safe for hacking and knows how to handle the hustle and bustle of life around them. A young horse lacks the skills, knowledge and experience that an older horse has and will be more prone to flighty behaviour and panicking.
4. Buying a horse at an auction
To buy a good horse from an auction takes experience – both with horses and with being at and buying from auctions.
Buying your horse at an auction isn’t a good idea if you’re new to horses. If you still want to or can’t buy from anywhere but an auction, take someone experienced with you for support.
Horses at auctions can appear docile, but be drugged or paralysed with fear, and you may find that what you saw at the auction, isn’t what unloads from the trailer at home.
You can also end up with a horse that has problems that will cost a lot of money to fix or are so bad that the horse is unrideable.
5. Not asking for a trial period
Don’t be afraid to ask the seller for a trial period – and if they offer you one by default, accept it! Private owners usually want their horses to go to good homes and know what kind of person the horse is a good match for.
Even when you’re buying from a dealer, it’s a good idea to ask if you can have a trial period. The dealer may even help you find another horse if the first one turns out to be unsuitable for you.
The worst they can do is say ‘no’ – and if they do be sure to find out why you can’t get a trial period.
When you can’t get a trial period, spend some time with the horse before buying it and do all the things you’re going to do with it. Ask to see it be ridden and to ride it yourself.
6. Buying a horse on a whim
If you want to indulge in some impulse shopping, go to the mall. A horse isn’t something that you buy at first glance.
Talk to the vendor and find out as much as you can about the horse. Ask questions and ask the vendor to demonstrate their claims.
If a vendor says a horse is easy to saddle, ask them to do so in front of you. If they say the horse can jump, ask to see it jump and try it out yourself.
Ask if you can think about it for a few days and look at some other options to make sure you’ve chosen the right horse for you.
7. Buying a horse of a particular colour
It’s perfectly reasonable to want to own a Friesian, Paint or Palomino horse, but you shouldn’t buy your horse for the colour alone.
If you’ve got several good candidates, all with good training and equally suitable for you, go ahead and make your decision based on the colour you like the best.
Just remember that you’re going to have this horse for a long time to come and the most important factor should always be that your new horse is the best match for you.
After all, you don’t ride the colour, you ride the horse.
8. Buying a high-performance horse
If you’ve only been riding for a year, you aren’t going to be participating in the Olympics with an expensive performance horse anytime soon.
The kind of horses that are required for high-performance work are rarely suitable for safe learning. Plus, they’re incredibly expensive to buy as a beginner’s horse.
Buy a horse that matches your own skill and fitness level, not a dream that may or may not come true.
9. Buying a horse for breeding
Horses should be bred by people who have the skills, knowledge and funds to only breed horses because they have great qualities to pass on.
That you, as a novice in the equestrian world, think that a certain kind of horse would produce a cute foal, is not a valid reason on its own for breeding.
If you don’t believe me, go to an auction and look at the horses being sold to the kill buyers. Pay close attention and look at how many look like they could be someone’s backyard experiment and consider if you’re ready to live with the consequences if that’s where your foal ends up.
10. Not considering how much time and money it takes to be a horse owner
Becoming a horse owner is a big responsibility. Your horse won’t stop eating or drinking or needing care just because you’re going on holiday.
The expenses of your horse are constant and aren’t flexible – you can’t spend that money anywhere else.
Even if you lose your job, the care of your horse is still going to consume that money.
Be honest about the time and money you realistically have to commit towards a horse.
Loving horses is a great thing – but would riding lessons, weekend trail rides or even loaning or leasing be better suited to your situation?
When you don’t own the horse outright, the care and expense falls on someone else and you can just enjoy the fun stuff.