There are no guarantees when buying a horse but following some practical advice can limit the risks of purchasing the wrong animal.
Christina Foley, of MPF Horse Talent, counsels honesty as the best policy for both seller and purchaser. She says: “Be honest with the vendor about your ability, the free time you have to ride the horse and the facilities which are available locally to you. Similarly, the person selling the horse should always be frank about the stage of the horse’s training and its potential.”
Since establishing her own yard in 2012, Mrs Foley has sold a range of horses from quiet cobs suitable for novice riders to performance horses which go onto compete in a range of disciplines. Matching the right horse to the rider is vital and she urges would-be buyers to consider a number of points before going to see a horse.
“Very often what a rider wants and what they need are two different things. So I always suggest people write down what they want to do with the horse, be realistic about the time they will be able to dedicate to it, the type of establishment they will be keeping it at and the amount of help and support they will have on hand.”
Acknowledging the real cost of buying and keeping a horse is also vital and Mrs Foley suggests the first stage for a prospective buyer is to think through the finances of buying and owning a horse.
“A sensible riding club horse which will pass the vet, compete at a local level in dressage and jumping and will hack out safely on busy main roads will cost anything between £3,000 and £5,000 depending on its age, breeding and height.”
Buying from a reputable sale is one option and Andrew Elliot of Brightwells Auctioneers suggests this route can offer valuable protection to the purchaser.
He says: “All horses and ponies sold at our auctions are fully warranted and so if the buyer believes the horse does not fit the description provided in the catalogue, most auctioneers have a procedure for redress.”
Mr Elliot adds there is a panel of independent vets at most auctions so the horses are subject to a five stage vetting before or after the sale.
Mr Elliot admits an auction can be daunting for those attending for the first time, so suggests buyers should do their homework beforehand if they are serious about buying on the day.
“Always obtain a copy of the catalogue in good time before the sale and read the lot descriptions carefully. Turn up early so you have time to observe the animals you are interested in while they are stabled or handled prior to the sale. Take the opportunity of trial riding the horse if you can.”
Once a buyer has found a horse which appears suitable, Becky Wall of Three Counties Equine Hospital strongly recommends a five stage pre-purchase veterinary examination.
She says: “A vetting is a thorough assessment of any existing health problems such as lameness and heart or eye conditions but it can also identify previous surgery or issues which may be relevant to the future performance of the horse.”
“Although a pre-purchase examination can give no guarantees for future health or soundness, a vet will point out long-term implications of poor conformation or will highlight any abnormalities. They will be able to provide the purchaser with an opinion as to the suitability of the horse for its intended use.”
Ms Wall also points out many insurance companies will no longer insure a horse without a vetting certificate.
Once the big decision has been made, it is essential for the new partnership to get off to a good start. A consistent approach in the early days will pay dividends according to Mrs Foley.
“I always provide the new owner with a written after-sale horse care plan explaining how and what it has been fed, its daily routine, how and if it is rugged, when it was last wormed and what with and its level of fitness.”
Making the arrival at the new home as stress-free as possible is also important.
“If the purchaser does not have their own transport, I recommend they find a reputable carrier. All first experiences in the horse’s new environment should be positive ones,” advises Mrs Foley.
“I always urge clients not to be in a rush to ride their new horse but rather to let it settle into its new home. And always lunge a horse before getting on it for the first time; this applies to older and more experienced horses too.”
Not everyone is lucky even when they follow all the best advice. If it all goes wrong and the chosen horse is entirely unsuitable, Claire Williams of the British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) offers some advice.
“Do not forget buying a horse is a sale and so you are covered by the Sale of Goods Act 1979 which gives you consumer rights. You can contact your local trading standards officer if you are unable to resolve the problem directly with the seller.”
Mrs Williams points out there is no universal code of practice covering the sale of horses but says this is something BETA would like to introduce.
“We are talking to a number of dealers about the possibility of introducing a system whereby they sign up to a set of guidelines when selling horses to give the purchaser a degree of protection and security. We would like to have something in place as early as 2015.”
Mrs Foley is confident many professional dealers would welcome this initiative because she believes most want their clients to find a suitable equine companion.
“I am passionate about people enjoying the horses they buy from me and I think there is a horse out there for everyone. Buying the right horse will change someone’s life for the better and it will give them a huge amount of pleasure.”
Identification of the horse including the presence of a microchip.
A clinical examination of the horse including assessment of the eyes, heart, lungs, teeth, feet, limb and body palpation.
Walk and trot in hand in a straight line and flexion tests, possible lunging. Turning and backing.
Unbroken horses may be lunged.
This may elicit any stiffness when the horse is re-examined at the fifth stage.
This may include repeat flexion tests and possible lunging on a firm and soft surface where appropriate. With the vendor’s permission a blood sample will be collected.
BWB: British Warmblood
ID: Irish Draught
ISH: Irish Sports Horse
KWPN: Dutch Warmblood
SH(P): Show Hunter (Pony)
WH(P): Working Hunter (Pony)
Backed and ridden away: The horse has been backed but has not yet been schooled
Not a novice ride: Requires an experienced rider perhaps because the horse is inexperienced, lacking confidence, sensitive or difficult to ride
Schoolmaster/schoolmistress: A well behaved and experienced horse but may be older in years