Gayle Smith
for Tri-State Livestock News

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July 27, 2012
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Avoid common mistakes when purchasing a new horse

It appeared the 10-year-old boy showing his horse during a consignment sale could make it do anything. He stood on top of the saddle, jumping up and down. He slid off the horse’s rump, grabbed its tail and pulled on it. He slid under the horse’s belly. He even picked up its feet. But when he walked between the horse’s legs, the horse had enough. An audible gasp went through the crowd as the horse kicked the boy in the chest, knocking the child to the ground and sending him to the emergency room.

“It is possible to get a horse docile enough that they can do everything (in the above scenario), but it doesn’t mean the horse is broke. Don’t fall for the tricks horse traders use to make you think a horse is well broke,” states Brenda Unrein, a veterinarian with Laramie Peak Veterinary Associates.

Buyers should buy from a reputable person, Unrein says. Mike Anderson, who starts and trains colts with his family in Wheatland, WY, agrees.

“It is important to know the people you are dealing with, or take someone with you who does,” Anderson says.

When looking for a horse, especially for a youth rider, Unrein encourages buyers to find someone in their community they trust, and explain to them what type of horse they are looking for.

“Explain the financial area you are looking at, and ask if they can watch for a horse that fits the criteria you mentioned,” she says.

“What I like about honest horse people is that if they believe their horse is sound enough, and you take it home for a week and don’t like it, you can bring it back,” Unrein says. “If it doesn’t stay sound in that week or it doesn’t work for you, a reputable horse owner will believe in that horse enough to say that if it doesn’t fit you, it will fit someone else. A reputable owner will represent the horse as what it is.”


Unrein suggests buyers avoid consignment sales unless they are experienced with horses and horse traders.

“People misrepresent horses all the time,” she says. “Horse traders will tell you everything you want to know about a horse if you ask them the right questions. If you don’t ask the right questions, or know the right questions to ask, and later tell them they lied to you, they will say they didn’t lie to you because you didn’t ask them that question.”

Anderson suggests potential buyers randomly ask four or five people at a sale if they know the person selling the horse. If they don’t, it may indicate the horse has problems.

“I would want to know why [the horse] is here,” Anderson says. “I would also wonder why one of the seller’s friends didn’t buy the horse if it is that good. Horses are usually pretty easy to sell if people know them.

“If you drive by a horse that just sits in the pasture day after day, and you wonder why no one buys him, it may be because its unsalable,” he adds.


Buyers who want to purchase a horse privately should always show up unannounced, especially if it is from someone they don’t know, Unrein says.

“Showing up unannounced doesn’t give them time to drug the horse, or do anything else to alter it so they can sell it to you,” she says.

Anderson adds, “Buying a horse is like buying a used car. Once it’s been rode, you can’t guarantee it 100 percent. Horses develop little quirks. If you come to look at a horse unannounced, and they tell you its sold, you probably didn’t want that one anyway.”

When looking at a horse, it is important not to fall in love with it right away.

“Watch them go, watch them with someone else on them, and watch them with no one on them,” Unrein says. “If they say the horse is kid broke, put someone on the horse that is not a novice, and have them ride it the same way a kid would. Hang off the sides of the horse, hang off the saddle, balance their weight, throw their weight around, and watch how the horse reacts. If you are not capable of doing these things, it is important to take someone with you who is,” she explains.

Spend more than 10 minutes with the horse, and make sure the horse is what they said it is, the veterinarian continues. “Not every horse, just because it is dead broke, will fit that person or that job. Some horses just don’t like jobs.


“If you like the horse, ask the owner if you can have a veterinarian check it over,” Unrein continues. Veterinarian costs can vary, depending upon where the horse is at, but a lameness exam or pre-purchase exam can offer the owner piece of mind that the horse is what they say it is.

A pre-purchase exam involves examining the horse from the nose to the bottom of the back feet. The veterinarian will look at the eyes, mouth, conformation and movement of the horse, and listen to its heart and lungs. Blood tests and X-rays may also be taken, if they are needed.

When asking for a pre-purchase exam, Unrein says buyers should be specific about what they want. An exam can range from $300-$500, which may be worthwhile if the horse is worth $12,000 horse, but it may be harder to swallow if the horse is only worth $2,500.

A lameness exam is usually cheaper and involves examining the horse for soundness. During the exam, Unrein looks at the legs, feet, movement and conformation of the horse.

“I like to tell buyers after my evaluation what areas I’m concerned about, and ask what they will be using the horse for,” she says. “I don’t pass or fail horses based on a pre-purchase or lameness/soundness exam, because I don’t want my perceptions used as a bargaining tool to get the horse cheaper.”

Unrein recalls an incident where she conducted a lameness exam on a purchased horse. After examining it, she found it was crippled in its front end. The buyers tried to stop payment on the check, but the original owner refused to take the horse back, saying it must have hurt been injured in the trailer because it wasn’t lame a day in its life.

“When you purchase a horse, you buy it as-is,” she reminded buyers. “Make sure the horse is what you want it to be before you write that check.”

If a buyer is looking at a horse out of the area, call a veterinarian they trust and see if they know a veterinarian in the area that could look at the horse.

She left buyers with one final thought: “If you buy a more expensive horse for your kids that is supposed to last the next 10 years, spend a little extra money on some type of veterinarian examination.”

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Tri-State Livestock News Updated Jul 26, 2012 11:40AM Published Jul 27, 2012 11:27AM Copyright 2012 Tri-State Livestock News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.