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October 14, 2022

How to Buy a Safe Horse

The first priority when purchasing a safe horse for yourself is to be honest about your own riding abilities. Find a riding instructor who has some teaching credentials, such as a Certified Horsemanship Association instructor, who can evaluate your skills honestly and objectively, and doesn’t have the “perfect horse” for sale just for you. Don’t let your ego get in the way of your upcoming horse experience.  Horses are supposed to be fun and time with your horse should not be looked upon as a chore. 

The second priority when buying a safe horse is to look at the horse with your head and not your heart. A “heart” horse is created through the relationship you build with your horse. It’s not an automatic “love at first sight” thing.  Bring your trainer or a professional with you—someone who will look at the horse objectively, and watch how you and the owner handle the horse and judge its suitability. Don’t bring a friend who may be one to “ooh and aah” over how pretty said horse is, while overlooking the faults which could prove to be dangerous. Your horse friend may not have the experience you need to help assess a suitable horse for you.

Buying Horses

I’ve seen many pretty horses who were totally unsuitable for their owners. I’ve owned more than one horse who wasn’t much to look at but would go through anything, over anything, and around anything, without hesitation or refusal. Some came to me with scars from a serious accident of some sort, had been starved, or (as in the case of one of my steadiest horses) with a sway back. While they may not have been physically pretty to look at, they were beautiful to me. 

The third priority when buying a safe horse is knowing why the current owner is selling. Ask them to handle the horse and take your time watching. Does the horse lead quietly on a loose rope and pay attention to the owner? Does the horse stand quietly next to the owner or when tied to a wall or the horse trailer?  Does the horse stand quietly for grooming, saddling, and bridling? Does it pick up its feet with ease? Does the horse stand still while being mounting? Does the horse wait to be cued to move forward, or does he/she walk off the minute your foot is in the stirrup?  What type of bit does the owner use?  A double twisted wire, long shanked, snaffle gag bit is a pretty good indication there may be a behavior or control problem. Is the horse wearing a tie down?  That is another possible indication of a behavioral problem. Do not mistake the horse who can’t stand still, as one with spirit.  Most people do not know the difference between spirit and bad manners. 

Ask to see the horse loaded and unloaded from the horse trailer. Does he/she load well and quietly? 

When you arrive is the horse all tacked up and ready to go?  Was the horse being ridden? Is there any evidence of sweat marks from a ride earlier in the day?  A lot of undesirable behaviors can be hidden in a tired horse. 

Watch the owner ride. Are they confident in the saddle? How does the owner handle the horse? Are they calm and cool or do they use a lot of rein pressure and spurs? 

Now it’s your turn to be honest with yourself. Are you able to lead the horse quietly from the ground? Does the horse stand quietly for you? Are you able to ride and control the horse without difficulty? What is your trainer’s opinion?  Are you listening? 

Is the horse registered?  If so, are the registration papers in order and in the name of the current owner?  While some people say you can’t ride the papers, registration papers do show proof of age and breed, and can show you if the horse is the product of inbreeding, which can bring up other concerns. 

If the horse comes with a high price tag, ask to bring in an equine veterinarian of your choice for a pre-purchase exam. Do this after you’ve seen the horse and are certain this is the horse you want. Be sure to be in attendance during this exam so you can ask questions and the vet can ask questions of you. The vet needs your help to make sure they are covering any specific questions or concerns you may have. 

I highly recommend a pre-purchase exam especially if the horse is not registered. If the owner says no, or wants you to use their vet, this is a good time to back away. An equine veterinarian will listen to the heart, lungs, and gut sounds. They will also check teeth for age and condition, joints, and do a soundness exam. Listen to what the vet has to say. After all, you’re paying for their expertise. 

Don’t turn down the mature horse because you think they are too old. They are usually “been there, done that” and can be very reliable and a great confidence builder.  With proper care, many of these horses are still usable into their 30’s. 

Lastly, be willing to walk away. It’s the rare occasion when you’ll find the perfect horse in the first one you see. Understand you may have to kiss a lot of toads before you find the perfect prince or princess. Patience is key in finding the perfect, safe horse. 

For more information from the author, Kathy Richardson, visit:

Photos courtesy of ©NW Horse Source.

Kathy Richardson
Rusty Bar Ranch is located in Roy, WA and has been in that location since 2003. In addition to boarding and training, they offer lessons and clinics, and specialize in beginners, both person and horse. Kathy Richardson, the owner, is a CHA certified instructor, rated both English and Western. She was recently named as 2021/2022 Instructor of the Year. She is also a Horse Agility Accredited Trainer and Judge; an Equine Trail Sports rated judge and a Western Dressage Association of America, Train the Trainers, certificate holder. Her facility is licensed and insured. You can reach Kathy at 253-843-2455 – landline or 425-422-2225 – by text, <a href="mailto:[email protected]">[email protected]</a> ,or through her website at <a href="" target=_blank> ""</a>. Call, text or email to schedule a visit and tour of her facility.

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