I've done, I think, a fair job of picking apart the horse you're looking at, so I think it's time to turn the spotlight on you. Let me start with the biggest of all Big Questions: Why are you buying a horse?
There's no right answer, but at least four wrong ones. To wit:
1. I always wanted to join the horsey set so I can wear breeches and boots to social functions. [If you picked this one, you need to find a hobby that doesn't involve sharp instruments.]
2. I like the sound of "I have horses". [If this sounds like you, try buying a show cat. "I have a Maine Coon" is nearly as impressive and not as dangerous.]
3. I have property, and a horse would just complete the picture of Landed Gentry. [So would a koi pond.]
4. I keep buying horses, but none of them seems to be quite right for me, so I'm giving it another shot. [Time to take some lessons or a training clinic or two before you buy yet another wrong horse.]
If any of those sounds good to you, you need to stop horse shopping now and go find a new interest. Buy a plane. That will impress your friends even more than a horse would, and you can still walk around in boots and breeches since folks will expect that kind of lunacy from you.
Better reasons would be:
1. I've been riding for years on school horses, I have plenty of money and time, I'm leasing now, but my trainer says I can't progress without my own horse, so I'm biting the bullet and buying one.
2. I've already got a horse (or several), but I need one that can take me to the next level.
3. My horse died, got sick, became permanently lame, or is simply too old to continue to cart my chubby butt around.
4. I'm changing disciplines and need a horse that is bred for my new purpose.
5. I had a horse when I was young and want to get back to riding now that I can afford to do it again.
Those are just a few I've heard. There are as many reasons as their are horse folks. I bring up the issue primarily because why you're shopping will determine what types of horses you should be looking at.
Many disciplines require horses that are bred to move in particular way. Training can make minor adjustments in a horse's movement, but it won't change his basic athletic ability, so be sure you know what type of horse works best for what you want to do. And for the sake of everyone involved, don't be a tire-kicker. Don't force some beleaguered owner to drive many miles to show you a horse you know up front isn't the right type for your needs. Sure, we all love looking at horses, but we can curb the impulse if we try.
Here are a few shopping rules:
- Call ahead, at least the first time. If you're suspicious, you may want to sneak back for a second look without warning the seller, but start on a positive note.
- If you don't intend to ride the horse on the first visit but want to see him ridden, tell the seller that up front so he/she can plan around you.
- If you do intend to ride, make that clear as well and arrive dressed for the occasion and carrying your very own helmet.
- Bring a digital camera or cell phone so you can take whatever pictures will help you mull over the decision when you get home.
- Ask in advance if you'll need to bring your own tack--this is especially important if you are an odd size.
- If you're at all leery of the horse, don't ride him. But do give him a second chance if there's a chance you might both be having an off day.
- Bring your checkbook so you can leave a deposit if you're interested in the horse.
- Be polite! The barn owner and/or seller didn't invite you in to critique his operation. You're there to look at a horse. And even if the animal does look like a cartoon character, the seller may truly love the beast and will not take your laughter kindly.
- Don't look at horses far out of your price range in the hope that the buyer will negotiate. Ask up front if negotiation is even an option and stay within about 20% of your buying limit.
Next: That crucial test-drive