I started riding horses when I was only five and was the only rider in our family. My parents were convinced I would outgrow wanting a horse and therefore promised I could get one when I turned ten. You see, they figured they’d wait a few years and hopefully I would move on and they wouldn’t end up buying a horse and then having me decide I wanted to play soccer or some other sport. Instead, I spent every Christmas and every birthday in eager anticipation for my very first horse.
My tenth birthday came and went and before I knew it I was twelve– and still without a horse to call my own.
That’s when we started shopping horses and we quickly learned why people joke that it is the second oldest profession. Buying and selling horses can be real dirty business.
My first horse ended up being a “lesson horse” we named Chance. He was a stunning leopard Appaloosa with blue roan up his head an neck. He was 12 and didn’t have amazing confirmation, but he sure had color! He was sold to us as a “kid-friendly lesson horse” and we were told his only faults were that his ears were sensitive as if someone abused him in the past and that he did not like his hind feet trimmed. I was smitten and we bought him without having our trainer take a look.
Oh, what a lesson horse he was….
Three days after purchase it was pretty apparent that the horse we brought home was NOT the horse I rode at the previous owner’s home. He was anxious, spooky, and way too much horse for even an experienced youth rider. His ears were sensitive because he had a middle ear infection developing that would later leave him nearly unable to stand and requiring a greater expense on antibiotics than his purchased price. He was impossible for the farriers without sedation because you couldn’t lift his hind legs without him becoming scared and kicking. He had a kind eye and there wasn’t a mean bone in his body, but he was scared of everything! We realized we had fallen victim to buying a horse that had been drugged. Thankfully a broken arm was the only injury I suffered from him, but we sure learned a lot before buying our next horse!
Fast forward to yesterday, June 29th 2019.
I was scheduled to go test ride a horse for myself now that my two retired geldings are getting up there in age. I was so excited to find a local horse listed for only $3500 with some exposure to jumping and an overall calm, easy-going personality. He was listed as a seven year old grade (unregistered) Appendix gelding with a cute barn name. I called the trainer and suddenly ALL the red flags came out.
10 Red Flags To Look For When Shopping For Your Next Horse:
1.The seller says they have someone else coming to look at the horse and they will need you to give them an answer right away if you want the horse.
Over the years I have ran into this with a few sellers. One scheduled two families to come test ride a horse at the same time. The hope was that we would get into a bidding war and they would make a better profit on the horse, but don’t be fooled. My parents have always said “if someone needs an answer now the answer will always be no.” I was always encouraged to sleep on big decisions and committing to a horse is a very big decision in my opinion. Know that someone who genuinely cares about the welfare of their horse will want to know it goes to the right home and will be willing to at least give you some time to think about it. Granted you can’t take forever—I mean, they are selling a horse—but most sellers are okay waiting for the call back to confirm your commitment. Take your time and make the decision that is right for you, not what is right for the seller.
2. They spend forever on the phone telling you what an amazing trainer they are and go on and on about their reputation, honesty, etc.
When I called on the horse yesterday, I quickly learned that I was speaking with a horse trainer/trader and not a private seller like the ad described. That alone was a red flag, but when he went on for about fifteen minutes about his skills, reputation, and how honest he is I felt my intuition saying something was up. I appreciate it when sellers ask about my experience, what I am looking for, and help me decide if the horse and I will make a good pair. After all, working with and riding horses is all about partnership. So when they spend the entire time talking about themselves and seem to care less about my level of experience or how I care for my other horses, I am concerned.
3. They balk when you ask about a pre-purchase exam and/or blood-work.
I learned my lesson with Chance. Always ALWAYS get a pre-purchase exam and blood-work. I learned in later years that sellers often medicate horses with sedatives and/or pain killers to cover up behavioral issues or lameness. Sadly, several horses we shopped over the years seemed perfect until they failed their exams. So, when I asked this trainer yesterday about using my personal vet for the exam, he balked and bad-mouthed the vet. In that moment I knew the deal was off for me.
4. They won’t ride the horse themselves.
I had a gelding we drove six hours to go see when I was a teenager that was described as a “Sheriff’s Posse trail horse deluxe” with experience jumping over three feet. So, when we arrived it was interesting that the seller said I was not allowed to jump him. They rattled off that their insurance wouldn’t cover me to jump him on the premises, but somehow their insurance would let me ride him… hmmmm. So, being the horse savvy teen I was, I asked them to jump him for me to see. Again, they balked and rattled off a few more excuses. Mind you this is the same horse they wanted to start a bidding war over AND they refused a pre-purchase exam. Needless to say, we went home with an empty trailer. Within a month the horse was listed online under a new seller. The family that was viewing him the same day as us bought him for their kids. He turned out to be quite dangerous and a bad deal. It’s a sad reality that people will do and say anything to make a quick sale.
5. They only have short video clips and/or wont send any videos.
When a seller only has short clips and/or highly edited videos I start to wonder what they are cutting out. It’s 2019 and most cell phones can capture at least decent video. So really there’s no excuse for only showing snippets when the horse is being perfect. I remember getting a VHS in the mail before viewing a horse, so if someone was able to get out their forty pound video camera and record a video, slap it in a package, and snail mail it to potential buyers, you can bet I expect a seller to at least have some footage of the horse to share!
6. They don’t know the history of the horse.
This red flag comes with some wiggle room. Some sellers are being honest when they say they have not had the horse long and/or they do not know much. I am referring to the horses who seem to have a lost history and/or as the seller tells you about the horse they seem to slip in parts of their history and leave out other details. For example, the horse I was going to look at yesterday was supposedly a horse he got around six months ago and he didn’t know too much about. But as the story went on and as I started hearing several hints about his past and it didn’t take me long to realize I actually KNEW THIS HORSE from a previous boarder! I recognized there were parts of this horse’s history that I knew, but also MAJOR parts he left out. Particularly, he did not mention that this “Appendix gelding” was in fact a registered Off-The-Track Thoroughbred who had been sold previously after becoming dangerous and injuring several riders. Thankfully I put two and two together and got in touch with the previous seller to confirm. Sadly, this means this horse had been passed around several times in the last year.
7. The horse seems unusually relaxed, tired, or spacey.
A friend of mine was looking for a horse for her teenage daughter. They showed me the video of this “super mellow gelding” and thought it was a bit strange that he um, “let it all hang out” the entire ride. Well, um, that is not normal. If a horse is unusually calm, droopy, or overly relaxed, odds are something is influencing that and odds are that it likely will show up on a blood test.
8. You arrive and find the horse is already completely tacked up and “warmed up” ready to go.
I’m one of those people who you can almost count on always being late. When shopping for a horse, however, I show up early. I want to know if they are trying to lunge or warm them up before I arrive. I find value in seeing the horse go from their paddock to the cross ties and then to the arena. Everything counts, not just how well they ride under saddle. Make sure you get to experience catching, leading, grooming, tacking, riding, and returning them back out. It all matters.
9. They start trying to make a deal when you already said you are not interested.
Something is definitely up if you say you aren’t interested and suddenly they start trying to make you a better deal. Remember that someone who wants their horse to find the right match does not want to sell to someone that does not want their horse. I had a horse that reared and flipped over right after I mounted on a test ride. While I managed to dismount and land safely as the “big mellow trail horse for $500” crashed to the ground, we all knew we were leaving right then and there. So, when the seller offered to just give him to us for free, I could see how someone could be tempted. Just remember to follow your gut and if it isn’t a “HELL YES!” then it’s a “No.”
10. The horse has no faults and seems too good to be true.
Last, but not least, if a horse seems too good to be true, it probably is. Every horse has their quirks and faults. Some are truly amazing, but unless you’re shopping in a pretty impressive price range, listen for the seller to be honest about their flaws. I value hearing about some of the struggles the rider has faced with the horse before, about the good days and the bad. I know that just like us, horses have their off days and I want to know what to expect. An honest seller will be up front and let you know the horse’s weaknesses along with their strengths. You can take into consideration if those faults are something you are willing to live with.
All in all, there are some really great sellers out there and some really great horses. Just be careful and listen to your instincts. If something feels off, it probably is. There are plenty of great horses out there and the perfect one is waiting for you.
And always ALWAYS get a vet check! Happy hunting!