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Buy A Horse Perfect For You - Part One

By Jeffrey Rolo

Decided you want to buy a horse? Great! Horses are majestic animals that are a pleasure to own, but the decision to purchase one is not one to be entered lightly. There are many important things to consider.

The importance of a proper horse appraisal cannot be stressed enough as it is through your diligence and careful consideration that you will help minimize your risks of being mismatched with an improper horse. When I stress the importance of a proper horse appraisal I do not mean solely a value appraisal, because the simple fact of the matter is a horse could very well be worth every dollar of its asking price, but not be the best horse for your needs. For example, a spirited horse may do wonderfully in the show ring and thus be worth its price, but the same spirit that makes it a hit in the show ring may be a strong liability to an inexperienced horse owner or someone looking for a safe, calm pleasure horse.

First time horse buyers as well as those seeking a pleasure horse should generally stick with purchasing a gelding (a castrated male) since they are generally the calmest and least prone to mood swings. Mares are often the second choice due to their potential to become ornery when they are in heat. Stallions are not a good idea for a first-time horse buyer – they can be extremely spirited and depending on the stallion's manners (or lack thereof) they can be outright dangerous when near any mares in heat.

Side Note: One of the secondary reasons I loved Mountain Horses is their disposition across all spectrums. Although past Arabian mares I have owned would indeed get moody during heats, not one of my many Mountain Horse mares have ever exhibited such behavior. My stallion is also a perfect gentlemen – he's perfectly safe for children even when there are mares in heat right next to him. Of course he's a rarity. Our point is that the above rule of thumb about preferred horse sex is generally true and should be respected, but depending on the breed or horse itself exceptions can exist.

While it is not a necessity to have an expert with you during an initial horse appraisal, it can be of great help to you. Don't feel guilty if you prefer to handle the initial appraisals on your own, though, since if you are wise you will have an expert enter the picture shortly before the sale is actually closed.

Before continuing, I do want to caution you that it is nearly impossible to conduct a proper horse appraisal during an auction. You will be lucky if you have the chance to handle the horse for a minute's time, much less get a feel for his experience, soundness, overall health, disposition, etc. Auctions are not recommended for inexperienced horsemen. The chance to walk home with a "steal" is high… but chances are it's not you who will be doing the stealing. Few people let their horses go to an anonymous source in a horse auction for a pittance of what it should get unless there was an underlying reason for it.

Unless you are visiting an actual horse dealership to browse their stock, you should begin your horse appraisal on the telephone. During this stage you will want to inquire about the horse's disposition, overall health and level of riding/handling experience. Do not always expect perfectly candid answers; some sellers will have a serious case of "owner's pride" that makes it difficult for them to see faults in their horse whereas others will tell you exactly what you want to hear in hopes of making the sale.

If you get the feeling the seller is a little too "accommodating" in his depiction of his horse, consider trying to trap him by taking one position on a certain topic or area, then a bit later in the discussion taking a contrary position. You want to see if the seller takes a stand with one of the positions you set forth. If they go with the flow during the conversation and end up agreeing with the original and contrary opinion, chances are they're being a little too slick for their own good.

Don't go into a telephone horse appraisal with the belief that the seller will always lie, because when dealing with private owners that is often not the case. Sure, they do want to sell their horse, but if they truly care about their horse then it is also in their best interests to properly match the horse with a suitable owner. Plus you can hype up a horse all you want over the phone, but when it comes time to visually inspect the horse there is only so much they can hide if they exaggerated its attributes.

So the seller has passed your phone interview and you're ready for a hands-on horse appraisal – what's the first step? The most obvious step that comes to mind is to observe the horse's demeanor. Does he appear naturally friendly, calm and respectful? Does he accept a halter, leading and/or grooming without flinching or hesitation? When leading the horse does the seller possess an iron-tight grip on the lead line and leave little room for the horse to maneuver, or is the seller relaxed instead, unconcerned about the length on the lead line since he knows the horse is respectful and trained enough not to take advantage of it?

Watch the horse's movement too – you're looking for even weight being placed on each foot as the horse walks or trots. If the horse appears to favor a foot chances are it is time to move on, regardless of the seller's explanation. (They may sometimes blame it on a blacksmith's recent work, which is an excuse that holds no merit.)

It is essential during the horse appraisal that you interact with and/or handle the horse yourself. Does the horse resist your efforts as you attempt to groom him, lead him and pick up his feet? Although a small level of skepticism would be normal due to your unfamiliarity, if he stiffens up or resists too much that is a potential red flag.

During your appraisal run your hands along the body slowly and softly as the seller holds the horse – you're checking to see if the horse becomes spooky or flighty. If so, he either distrusts you or simply hasn't been handled enough (or even worse – has been mishandled or abused in the past). When you run your hands down the horse's legs, if he is particularly well trained he will often raise his hoof for you when you reach the knee area. If this happens, you're looking at a well-trained horse!

Your horse appraisal is off to a great start, but it's not even half over. Read more important considerations to keep in mind when you buy a horse, including a vital check that most prospective horse owners miss!

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