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What to consider when buying a horse

PUBLISHED: 11:46 04 April 2017

Susanna Ballinger checking a horse's heart (All images Rossdales Herts)

Susanna Ballinger checking a horse's heart (All images Rossdales Herts)

Rossdales LLP

Thinking of buying a horse or pony? Susanna Ballinger MRCVS, managing partner and head vet at Rossdales Hertfordshire, gives her advice

A scanner should be used to detect and verify a microchip during a pre-purchase vettingA scanner should be used to detect and verify a microchip during a pre-purchase vetting

Spring will soon be here and there’s no better way to enjoy the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside than on horseback. Owning a horse is a long-term commitment, involving hard work, but it is also incredibly rewarding. Horses are wonderfully loyal, responsive and intelligent and give so much back to their owner. Before you buy a horse, there are some important fundamentals to consider.

Where will you keep it?

If you are going to take care of your horse yourself, you will need to visit it at least twice every day. Do make sure your yard is within easy reach, whatever the weather. Is help available when you are away on holiday or ill? Do you want good hacking on site or a school in which to work the horse? Do you want individual daily turnout for a few hours or 24 hours? It’s so important to take time to choose the right yard for your horse, your riding needs and for you.

Using an opthalmoscope to inspect a horse's eye during vettingUsing an opthalmoscope to inspect a horse's eye during vetting

What sort of horse?

Deciding what type of horse you want is not as straightforward as it sounds. Seek advice from riding instructors and friends, preferably people who know your riding experience and ability – nothing is worse than over-horsing yourself as it will turn out to be demoralising and miserable for both you and the horse! After research, set your budget and do your best to stick to it.

Having decided between a weekend Hertfordshire hack, a serious competition horse or a good all-rounder, put the word out that you are looking, as many of the best horses are never advertised for sale. Look online, in magazines and on notice boards in tack shops. Read ads carefully and don’t be shy about asking searching questions of the seller. Importantly, do ask why they are selling. If everything still sounds good, take a knowledgeable horsey friend along with you to a viewing.

Viewing

First impressions of a horse or pony’s temperament are important. Is it settled and quiet or is it fractious? Is its body condition good? Are there sweat marks which could indicate it has been exercised in anticipation of your visit?

If possible, tack up the horse yourself; certainly watch closely as somebody else does. The horse’s manners and reactions to being tacked up can be a bit of a giveaway.

Have the horse walked and trotted in a straight line, watching its movement and action closely. If anything looks wrong, ask the seller about it. Unless you are a confident, experienced rider, ask the seller to ride the horse first before taking the reins yourself. Do return and view the horse on different occasions, at different times of day.

Check the animal’s legally-required passport is up-to-date. Many horses are microchipped, usually on the left side of the neck, and a scanner is needed to read these.

You’ll probably buy your horse from a dealer or from a private seller. Either way, ensure any verbal agreements are supported in writing and don’t allow the seller to pressure you into a decision. If they do, something’s not right, so walk away!

Once a fair price has been negotiated for your chosen horse, put down a deposit and be sure to obtain a receipt for it. This may seem obvious, but in the excitement of the moment these things are easily overlooked.

Before you hand over your money

Arrange for a veterinary surgeon of your choice to give the horse a thorough pre-purchase examination, or vetting. In a five-stage vetting the horse is inspected at rest in the stable, and then assessed for flexion and lameness. It is then lunged in a school and on a hard standing. In the important ridden phase, the horse will be walked, trotted and cantered, with heart rate and respiration measured. Finally, the horse is untacked and rested in the stable before being trotted up and assessed once again.

It isn’t mandatory to have a pre-purchase examination. However, the vet’s findings may allow for further negotiation on price. Importantly, listen to your vet and walk away if the horse isn’t sound or suitable.

The horse in its new home

Once you’ve got your horse home, take time to get to know your new friend. Allow them to settle in the yard, to get to know you and the other horses. Remember, owning a horse is fun and rewarding and if this is not the case, seek advice from experienced friends, instructors and your equine veterinary surgeon.

Many people insure their horses, both for public liability and veterinary fees. There are lots of different types of policy available so find the one that is right for you.

Susanna Ballinger and her team of veterinary surgeons conduct pre-purchase examinations for all types of horses and ponies throughout Hertfordshire and as far afield as continental Europe. See rossdalesherts.com

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