Horses are expensive animals to have around and knowing exactly how expensive before you rush out and buy one is just using your God-given smarts.
Usually, the relatively cheaper part of getting a horse is the actual purchase price. Horses can cost anywhere between a few hundred to thousands of pounds depending on the type and breed of the horse, the age, who is selling the horse and why, how much training he’s had and how experienced he is.
I’m going to assume that you’re not out to buy a racehorse that’s been bred at a high cost, but a best friend for life that you can have fun with.
A pleasure horse could generally sell for anything around £800 – 2000, and an animal that you want to show or compete would usually be more expensive than that, starting from around £4000 and up.
Professional career horses competing or intended for competing at high levels can cost up to millions, depending on their breeding and/or career success.
Horses can be bought from private owners, dealers, auctions or breeding and training operations
If you prefer to lease a horse this can usually be done through private owners and rescue organisations.
In this initial stage of shopping around for a horse, the big expense besides the purchase price of the horse is the vet check you should have your prospective horse go through before buying.
You can have your vet perform a basic or 2 stage vetting that typically includes a preliminary examination of the eyes, lungs and heart as well as a basic assessment for lameness and will run you about £150 + VAT and a call-out fee.
For a more thorough examination have your vet do a 5 stage vetting that includes a complete stage 2 vetting, as well as a lameness assessment under strenuous work and on different types of surfaces, and will cost around £300 + VAT and a call-out fee.
Blood samples and X-rays can also be taken, but be sure to discuss the need and additional cost with your vet before ordering them.
Buying a horse from a private seller
Buying from a private seller rather than a trainer, breeder or dealer can be a way to get a good deal and save money.
Private sellers often advertise in newspapers, on bulletin boards of tack stores or on buy-and-sell websites.
If you’re inexperienced with horses, be sure to bring along someone you trust when seeing the horse. An experienced horse person will be able to tell if the animal is good for you and whether or not it seems to have any behavioural problems.
If your expert feels the horse is sound and good for you, then a vet will determine if the animal is healthy and suitable for what you want to use it for.
Some of the better reasons private owners sell their horses are:
- a change in finances resulting in the horse being too expensive to keep
- moving and not being able to take the horse with them
- wanting to replace a beginner’s horse with a seasoned show animal
- children moving out of the house and leaving no one to ride the horse
- generally losing interest in the hobby.
Unfortunately, people also sell horses for less positive reasons. These can include:
- horses with behavioural problems
- horses that are difficult or dangerous to ride
- horses that won’t load into trailers
- horses with medical problems
- horses who might just generally have had bad experiences with people and are challenging or difficult to handle (and need extensive retraining and are not suitable for beginners).
The sad truth is that people who want to sell horses with problems don’t often tell you that they have problems if they just want to get rid of the horse.
A responsible seller would be honest about why they are selling the horse and specify what type of owner the horse would require, should it have any problems.
If you are a first-time owner you should avoid these types of horses and go for a calm, experienced horse that will teach you about horses and riding.
Private sellers can advertise horses for sale in tack stores, newspapers, online or on-site.
Some benefits of buying a horse privately:
- Possible bargain: private sellers might be very attached to their animals and want to make sure they go to a good home, even if it means selling the animal for a bit less. If a family is selling a pony because their own children have outgrown it and need bigger horses now, you might end up with a good package deal in which you’ll get all the tack that belongs to the pony, because the sellers won’t have need of it anymore.
- Background: horses that come from private sellers usually have a well-known background. The seller will be able to tell you what type of training and work he’s done, what kind of people have owned the horse before and why he’s been sold in the past, if he has any quirks or problems, what kind of medical history the horse has and if mares have had foals.
- No middle man: when buying directly from the seller you won’t have to worry about 3rd party fees in the price. This is especially good if you’re already paying your own trainer or expert to help you find the right horse for you. Trainers and stable owners might also know people who want to sell a horse that may be suitable for you.
Some challenges of buying a horse privately
- Time: Going around to different locations to see horses one at a time is very time consuming and costs vary depending on how far you have to travel.
- Price: If a seller is not in a hurry to sell a horse, they might ask for a high price and not be willing to negotiate or make a deal.
- Personalities: When you deal directly with other people you might come across people who you don’t get along with or who seem dishonest. It might just be a difference in personalities that makes you feel you don’t want to deal with that type of person or the seller could be trying to trick you into buying a less than sound horse.
Buying a horse from a horse dealer
A horse dealer will generally buy a horse from a private seller or at auction and sell it forward for a profit – a horse dealer is, in essence, the middle man of the horse world.
Areas with active horse industries have horse dealers and they also have websites that cater to a certain area or internationally.
Most dealers are experienced horse people with a good eye for horses, are honest in their business and will sell you a good horse.
But there are also horse dealers that are less than reputable that will deal in horses that don’t have passports and can have undisclosed behavioural and health problems.
Some dealers will sell a horse with a guarantee that states that you can return the horse to the dealer within a fixed time period should it develop any problems.
The difficulty with this type of guarantee is that most people get attached to the horses they buy and won’t want to give it back, due to fear that a dealer will sell a problem horse to the slaughterhouse instead of selling it forward.
If you aren’t sure you can always ask if a dealer sends horses to slaughter.
If you have a trainer or other knowledgeable horse person to ask and want to buy from a dealer, you should ask if they can recommend a reputable dealer.
The best thing to do is to avoid going to horse dealers that don’t come recommended by someone you know and trust. Some horse dealers are ethical and some are not. You want to take every precaution to avoid the bad ones.
Buying a horse from a breeder or trainer
The main part of the business of a breeder or trainer is selling horses to private buyers.
Breeders usually deal in purebred horses and sell young stock. If you are a first-time horse owner, a weanling or yearling is not a suitable horse for you.
They require many years of training before they can even be ridden, and then require additional time training how to be a riding horse. Sometimes a breeder can put up an older horse or a broodmare for sale, but this happens less often.
Trainers are usually a good source to find older horses that are ready to be ridden and are suitable for different level riders
Trainers generally buy horses and train them to a specific level or type of riding before selling them on. Their horses might also belong to their clients who have outgrown their horses and are selling it through the trainer.
Sometimes trainers or riding schools might be looking to sell off a horse that has been used as a riding lesson horse, it can be a good opportunity for a first-time rider to get an experienced and patient horse, so long as it is healthy and sound.
If you’re already working with a trainer and intend to keep doing so with a horse you buy, consider buying a horse through that trainer.
Buying a horse at auctions, markets and fairs
Buying from an auction, farmers market or fair can be a gamble. All horses in the EU and UK are required by law to have a passport. Horses born after August 1st 2009 are required to also be microchipped.
When buying a horse always ask to see the passport before you buy. When you buy the horse, you are responsible for transferring the passport into your name.
Horses sold at markets and fairs might be without passports and/or microchips and it is an offence to buy a horse without a passport.
It is not recommended for first-time buyers to go and buy from auctions, markets or fairs alone.
Horses are sold at a variety of auctions, from livestock auctions where all types of other animals are sold to horse-only auctions. Also, farmers markets and horse fairs where horses are sold need a trained eye and years of experience to make a good purchase.
Always talk to the owners if possible (chance is that they are proud of their horse and want it to go a good home and a good owner if they stick around for the sale at an auction), ask questions about the horse, ask if you can lead it and ride it, ask to see it walk, have it vetted before you buy etc.
You will never go wrong by asking questions, but you can get in over your head if you don’t
Also, make sure that you read the sales conditions before buying!
This can tell you if horses and ponies below a certain weight have no warranty and if a vet is present at the location or only on standby to come if called.
You can read the five-part guide to buying a horse at auction here.
Usually, cheap horses are cheap for a reason and it isn’t unusual to see people trying to unload problematic horses at such places.
At auctions horses can sometimes be sold by the pound or by the head, often this means that the sellers are hoping to offload the horses to kill buyers.
Kill buyers purchase horses for slaughter
Breeders will often sell young horses at auction that haven’t been trained yet and buying a horse like this requires the time and skill to turn it into a fit riding horse.
Horses might also have gone from auction to auction or market to market, crossing the whole country in the process.
They may have then been in many different environments, encountered clean and unclean accommodation and been subjected to disease, filth and a variety of microbes.
Even a skinny horse could drop a foal the day after you buy it and a horse that seemed calm in the ring could have been drugged and turn into more than you can handle when you get it home.
You will have no way of knowing how the horse has been eating and if you don’t know how to ease it into its new diet, it might colic.
If you are going to take a horse that you bought at an auction, fair or market to a home that already has other horses it is advisable to have a quarantine area.
Even experienced buyers exercise caution when buying horses
When everything goes right you can end up with a horse that requires a lot of work and rehabilitation but will, in the end, turn out to be a wonderful companion, hacking, leisure or competition horse.
What you want to watch out for is buying a “rescue case”, because you feel sorry for it. These horses usually come with a host of health problems and can run you some very large vet bills.
If you want to support or rehome a horse in need, consider getting a horse from a rescue agency. They continuously save horses from terrible conditions and are always looking for forever homes for these horses.
The added benefit of getting a horse from a rescue is that they will support you throughout your ownership and will take the horse back or help you rehome it when you can no longer take care of it.
Every horse that is rehomed form a rescue organisation frees up space for another horse to be rescued.