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Buy A Horse Perfect For You - Part Two

By Jeffrey Rolo

We have already looked at some vital advice to keep in mind when buying a first horse. You have researched the various horse breeds in order to narrow down one or two as being the best for your needs. In addition you have questioned a horse seller about their horse over the phone and have completed some preliminary checks during your visit. Now you're ready to finish separating the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.

Most horse buyers are looking for a trained horse that is fit to ride, so in going with the assumption that this is also the case with you then your next step will be to see it under saddle. Some buyers prefer to actually saddle and bridle the horse themselves (or at least help during the process) in order to assess the horse's ground manners. Does the horse try to avoid the bit by swinging his head or clenching his teeth? Does he wiggle or strike out when trying to cinch the saddle?

Although it's not mandatory for you to equip the horse, it can give you a deeper insight into your compatibility so it's worth considering. This is especially true if you are buying your first horse since you want one that will be extra patient and forgiving as you become more skilled in equipping a horse and working with it.

It is common for the seller to ride the horse first so that you can scrutinize his gaits and pick up hints about how to best work with the horse. If the horse appears at all spooky or ill mannered under saddle you should strongly reconsider purchasing him, particularly if you are buying your first horse. Experienced riders may be able to handle an unpolished horse, but first-timers should be paired with as gentle and experienced a horse as possible.

Assuming the horse appeared to behave it is your turn to ride him. The first test is mounting the horse you're looking for a horse that will stand patiently as you swing onto the saddle. If the horse sidesteps to avoid you, or requires someone holding his head and the opposite stirrup to minimize the horse's movement, you may want to reconsider that horse.

Once atop the horse you will want to judge his various gaits. Start at a slow walk and see if the horse is agreeable or constantly fights the bit and attempts to move faster. Then proceed to tell your horse to trot and judge whether the horse is agreeable or is sluggish and resists your efforts to move faster. Assuming you are skilled enough to handle it you should also try a canter, applying the same test as you did the trot. If the horse you are testing has a special gait then try that out also.

You're not only looking for willingness to accept your cues and requests, you're judging the evenness of the gaits and your overall compatibility. Make sure you also test a horse's ability to stop on command as well as reverse. If you have to use "heavy" hands before your horse takes its cues he may not have the willingness you require if you are buying your first horse.

Most people will stop their horse appraisal if the horse passed the previous tests, but there's one other important test left to perform (though it can be done anytime during your visit it need not be done towards the end). Study the stall and/or paddock the horse lives in. You are looking for signs of bad horse habits that you wouldn't see until the horse was alone and bored. Such signs would be:

bulletIs the wood along fences and/or door/stall borders chewed or marked excessively? If so, the horse might be a wood chewer or windsucker.
bulletDo the walls or the stall door have excessive kick marks? If so, the horse might be a kicker when anticipating grain or hay.
bulletDoes the floor show uneven wear in a given area, particularly near the door region? If so, the horse may paw the ground when anticipating food or be a weaver.

Such things are more important than they may sound, because although it is easy to fall in love with a horse that has a vice, those vices will eventually take its toll on the horse's health as well as your barn. This test also works best with a horse owned by a private owner rather than one owned by a dealership, because with busy stables or dealerships horses routinely move in and out of stalls. As such, another horse rather than the one you are apprising may have created the warning signs you see.

Remember that it is easy to become excited and fall in love with a horse, and once we do it becomes even easier to ignore a small vice. But if you are buying your first horse, or even your twentieth, you simply must compare the horse's ease of use and cooperativeness with your skill level and willingness. Experienced horsemen can often break a horse of a bad habit, but first time owners are unlikely to have the experience or skill required for such a task.

You're not out of the clear yet, though! There are some other final steps to take before you are ready to buy a horse.

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