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Should I be looking for a Schoolmaster?
What is the ideal age for a first horse?
What should I do on my Test Drive
When I go to see a horse, should I see him ridden first?
When I go to see a horse, what should I look for?
What is the main thing to remember when buying a horse?
What comes first, choosing the horse or the livery yard?
What is the best time of year to buy a horse?
Where should I look to find my perfect horse?

What about loaning or sharing a horse?

Getting the horse checked by a vet
Once you have been riding for a while you may well find you want to have a horse or pony of your own!  We are often asked to give advice to first time buyers.  This is a huge subject, and only a few tips can be given here, but we do hope this advice will be helpful!

Buying a horse or pony is a bit financial investment so it is important that you take some time to consider exactly what you need. 

Remember once you have found the horse or pony of your dreams make sure to have a vet check before you commit to a purchase.  A horse may look perfect to you, but may have a hidden injury that might make him impossible to ride. 

Buying a Horse of Your Own

I am not a very experienced rider - should I be looking for a Schoolmaster?

A Schoolmaster is a horse, normally over the age of 10, who is a good all rounder, well behaved and perfect for the novice rider.  Good Schoolmasters do not come cheap, but will prove a safe and reliable mount for most riders.

That said, horses do need to be given the correct aids in order to perform to their best.  A good horse will allow you to practice what you already know, but will not teach you how to go further.  A schoolmaster and regular lessons will be the best combination.


Horses are said to reach maturity at the age of 8.  A horse under this age may not be truly settled, and as any teenager may like to show their independence from time to time.  If you want a dependable mount, something over this age would be best for you.

You should be wary of a young horse which has already got a good jumping record - too much jumping too young can lead to problems later on and leg injuries. 

A horse is considered a veteran at the age of 20.  Although a few horses are ridden into their 30s, if you buy an older horse you should have realistic expectations of what you hope to achieve with him.  He may be more prone to injury, and though your riding skills may improve he may not be able to keep up.  If he needs to be retired from work you will need to sort out how to look after him in his old age.  Older horses are a lot cheaper, and can be lots of fun.  As in anything, consider carefully what you want to do, and make sure you know what you are letting yourself in for.

If you are considering a pony for a young novice rider you can do no worse that look out for a pony which has taught a number of children of the same family to ride.  Although this type of pony may well be aged 12 or over, if you want your child to be safe, giving them a pony who has been there and done it all before will give you peace of mind!
2 year old filly
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When I go to see a horse, should I see him ridden first?

DEFINITELY YES!  If the owner says there is no one available to ride him be wary.  It may be that he is too difficult for anyone there to ride.  Only attempt this is you are a very experienced rider - otherwise be prepared to walk away, or at the very least try and arrange to come back when you can see him ridden.

The current owner should ride a routine similar to the one described above to enable you to assess the horse's way of going, and how he responds.  If he makes upwards transitions easily for someone else, but not for you, this could be something that can be addressed with some lessons. 
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Holly as a two year old
However, be aware - there is a saying that a horse's ability sinks to match those of its rider.  Just because the horse you have fallen in love with makes flying changes on demand for its current owner, it may not make them for you if you cannot ride at that level!  Your new perfectly schooled dressage horse cannot be depended on to teach you if you don't have the skills. 

I have never bought a horse before - I'm not quite sure what to do on my 'test drive'?

If you have only had lessons before you may find yourself at a loss without an instructor standing in the middle telling you what to do.  It is therefore best to decide before you go a short routine you will use that will test the horse you are trying, and allow you to assess whether it is the one for you or not.  (Your instructor should help you practise this during lessons so you become familiar with it).

A routine might be, walk round the menage, halting at least once to make the horse is listening to you.  Walk a 20 metre circle, watching out for the horse leaning in or out.  Does he listen to your aids?  Change rein and repeat the walk exercises.  Try to assess whether he bends easier on one rein or the other - not necessarily a fault as horses do tend to have a stronger rein, but it is more important that he is attentive to you! 

Now put the horse into trot - watching for whether he goes forward eagerly or is reluctant.  Use little leg at first - if you have been used to riding school horses they may have become 'dead to the leg'.  You can always increase the leg aid, but it is preferable to do this than having the horse shoot off with you!  As in walk work a circle on both reins.  Does he drop out of trot as he bends?  Does he try to go forward into canter?  Would you be happy with this behaviour?  If he is very strong, be prepared for him to be even stronger when you get him home - an energetic horse may well have been lunged before you came to see him and may be even fresher on other days!  (see the tip below about checking for any sweat marks which may indicate that he has indeed been lunged before your visit).

If you are happy with the trot try a canter on each rein.  He should make the upward transition smoothly when you ask him to do so. 

If you want a jumping horse make sure you try him over a fence.  Is he eager or does he need a lot of encouragement?

Try to decide before you visit the horse exactly what you are looking for, and what you are prepared to work with.  And try to keep sensible.  There is no point falling in love at first sight with a beautiful animal you cannot control - or one which is reluctant to jump when that is your reason for buying!

This is a partnership which you will hopefully share for some time - your partner should be chosen very carefully to make sure he is compatible with your level of riding, and what you want to do.  Common sense should rule here - not your heart!
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Riding first horse

When I go to see a horse, what should I look for?

Make sure you see the horse in the stable - don't rely on any statement that he has 'perfect stable manners', ask to see for yourself.  Ideally watch him being tacked up - does he stand quietly?  Horses which behave well when being ridden sometimes try to kick or bite in the stable, when being tacked up, having rugs put on or off or just when you go to fill a haynet.  A horse which is difficult in the stable will make your life difficult as the owner. 

Look carefully at the horse for any signs of sweat marks.  Some sellers lunge or vigorously exercise their horses just before a prospective owner turns up at the yard making them seem a much quieter ride than they really are.  You can also ask about the level of exercise he has been used to - if he is used to being exercised more than you will have time for you may find you have a more excitable horse on your hands than you really want.
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What is the main thing to remember when buying a horse?

Before you start looking at the adverts and especially before you go to see that first horse, be absolutely clear in your own mind:

What is an honest assessment of your riding ability?
What do you want to do with your horse?
What is your budget?

A partnership for life
Young boy and first horse
"This is a partnership which you will hopefully share for some time!"
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What is the best time of year to buy a horse?

Late spring and early summer is undoubtably the best times to buy a new horse.  It will be the start of good weather, and horses will be able to be kept out most of the time.  Horses at grass tend to be quieter and you will have the whole summer to get used to your new partner before the cold weather sets in.  However, there is more competition for horses at this time of year, and the price could be higher.  You may also find that horses are sold almost as soon as the advert appears, so you need to be quick of the mark, and available to go and see the best prospects at short notice.
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I will be keeping my horse at Livery - what comes first, choosing the horse of the yard?

A horse is a costly proposition, and should not be an impulse buy.  You should prepare thoroughly for looking after your horse.  If you know you will need to keep your horse at livery you should find a yard you like first, and make sure they have a vacancy for you. 

You will need to visit various yards and make sure you find one that suits your purse and your time.  DIY livery can be cheap, but you will need to understand the commitment you are making timewise, and be happy that you will be available to look after your horse properly. 

Once you have found a yard you like you will need to talk through your plans with them.  If they have a vacancy tell them you are looking for a horse, and keep in contact with them to let them know your plans.  If they don't hear from you the vacant place may be given to someone else!
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Where should I look for my perfect horse?

Horses are advertised in magazines, both local and national, and in many local outlets such as notice boards in livery yards and tack shops. 

Horse and Hound is a very popular source, and has a large number of horses for sale.  However you do need to be quick off the mark - if you wait a couple of days you will find the best ones have been sold.  Horse and Hound do carry their adverts on their internet site, and there are also many other sites offering horses for sale.

For a first horse or pony word of mouth is always a good option - your local riding school or livery yard may know of ponies or horses in the locality which may suit you and which are going to be sold, however this may not be the quickest option. 

Tattygare Watch Me

What about loaning or sharing a horse?

The most vital thing to remember when considering loaning or sharing a horse is that the horse will not be your own.  Most people consider loaning or sharing as it cuts down the cost.  In some circumstances it can work very well, but there are pitfalls.  The points below are not meant to put you off, but just there so you can enter into an arrangement with your eyes open so you will not be disappointed.  If you chose to loan or share a horse you should try to make sure you have a proper written agreement setting out the terms of the agreement.
Loaning a horse will save you the initial cost of buying him.  However, you will be responsible for paying for his keep (livery/stabling costs, food etc.).  You may need to buy tack for him.  You will probably be responsible for paying vet bills and for insuring your horse.  You may need to keep him at a certain livery yard.

Horses are put on loan when their owners can no longer (temporarily or permanently) afford to look after them, if the owner can no longer ride (possibly due to injury or work commitments), or when a child's pony is outgrown.  In these cases the owner cannot bear the thought of parting with their horse, and loaning is a good second option. 

In some cases the horse or pony is too forward for the owner at present, and they may use a period of loan to a more experienced rider to help train the horse better.  To ensure that you and the horse are well matched ask to have the horse on loan for a trial period of say a month.  A good owner will probably encourage this as they should want to ensure you are the right person to care for their horse for them.

If you are entering into a loan agreement make sure that you try out the horse in exactly the same way as you would if you were buying it.  Even though you are not paying out the purchase price, the horse will still make a large hole in your pocket just with everyday keep!  You need to make sure you will enjoy riding him, and acting as proxy owner.

Of paramount importance is to make sure that you and the owner understand precisely what you will be responsible for.  If the owner wishes to retain a say in anything you should ask them to make this clear from the very start!

You should ensure that you have a written and signed loan agreement - a template is available on the BHS website. 

Loan Agreements

Sharing Arrangements

Horse owning is expensive - you can't really be warned enough!  So buying a horse with a friend, or even two, can help a lot. 

Horse sharing can work - but you do need to go into it with your eyes open aware of all the potential problems.  The positives are that it is not just you who has to bear the finanical and physical burden of looking after a horse and keeping it exercised.  But you have to be very careful who you are sharing this new love of your life with.  You and your sharer (or sharers) need to be at the same level of riding ability, and have the same aspirations.  If one of you is a more advanced rider than the other the result will be that one person has to compromise - although this will seem alright to begin with, over time it could be the root cause of many arguments. 

You will need to establish clear rules up front, and consider such situations as:

Which days are you each going to ride and care for the horse?

How are you going to split payment for new tack (especially if they want to buy a new bridle, but you can't afford it)

There's a dressage test you want to go to - but it's on your sharer's day.

What happens if one of you is unable to continue with the arrangement?

However well you think you have it sorted out at the start, you may find issues start to blow up over things which are harder to formalise:

You're very supportive to them - but are they as supportive to you?

Can you use the new numnah they paid for?

You don't agree with their training methods!

They shout at your horse - you like to be quiet around him.

Your horse is very forward in winter - they don't like riding in the cold and wet so he goes unexercised.

It is obviously critical to choose the right person to share with, and that you can live with them, and their ways.

Of course sometimes the decision to share is forced upon a horse owner, for example if they get into financial difficulties, or have to work away from home or for longer hours.  The only advice is to pick the person who is to share your horse very carefully - if you have had him for a while you will have very clear ideas on how you wish your baby to be looked after and ridden.  Be very sure that your sharer shares these ideas, otherwise the arrangement is doomed to failure.

Make sure you have considered all the questions above and have talked them through with your potential sharer.  Best of all, try and share with someone you already know, and respect.

Getting Your Prospective Horse Vetted

Once you have found the perfect horse for you don't rush in to any financial agreements before you have had your horse properly checked over by a vet.  The vet check is a very important part of buying a horse - even if you are not paying very much for the animal itself, if it is not completely healthy or sound you may find yourself with a horse you cannot ride, and thousands of pounds worth of vet's bills which you cannot afford to pay.  Don't forget insurance companies do not pay out for conditions which existed before the cover was taken out, so it's important that the vet identifies anything which could be wrong with him so you can rest assured that any subsequent injury or illness will be covered by your insurance.  Indeed, many insurance companies will not give you cover unless a basic vetting has been carried out.

The minimum vetting you should have is a basic 2 stage vetting - the best vetting is the 5 stage.

Stage 1:  This takes place in the stable where the vet examines the horse's general appearance and condition, the horse's eyes, teeth and heart.  He will run his hand over the horse's body and limbs to look for any lesions or injuries.

Stage 2:  This involves the horse being trotted and walked on a hard, level surface.  A flexion test, i.e. Bending the hoof upwards, is then carried out to spot any lameness not immediately apparent.  The horse is then turned on a tight circle on both reins to asked to back up to try to discover any neurological defects.

All vets recommend the 5 stage vetting.  Although it is more expensive it can save you from making a very expensive purchase.

Stage 3:  The horse is then ridden and observations are made of the horse in the different gaits.  The horse should have enough exercise to make it breath rapidly and deeply so that any unusual breathing sounds may be heart.  The heart is again checked after exercise.  Head shaking or back pain may well become apparent during the ridden exercise.

Stage 4:  The horse is now allowed to rest.  Whilst resting the vet checks for a microchip and takes a blood sample.  The blood sample is stored for six months (if you find you have bought a horse which turns from a placid to a wild beast after purchase the blood sample can be checked for tranquillisers or painkillers and help you get your money back if necessary).  The vet will also check the passport to ensure the age, colour, breed and identification are correct.

Stage 5:  There is a final trot up that might show any lameness that has become more obvious after the period of exercise. 
What is the ideal age for a first horse?

This depends on your riding skill and what you want to do with your horse. 

Horses are backed around the age of 3 or 4, and until the age of 7 are still growing.  Apart from being classed as youngsters until that age, you may want to consider that until the horse is fully grown it may need to have at least 2 changes of saddles to cope with the changing shape.  Although synthetic or secondhand saddles can be purchased from around 300, it is still considerable expense to have to replace them as the horse grows.
When you start going out to see horses bear in mind that you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince!  Finding your ideal partner for the next few years will take time and cannot be rushed.  Make sure you are totally honest and keep the answers to the questions in your mind - many a person has been led astray by falling in love with a totally unsuitable mount.  Remember, it is not fair on either you or the horse if you end up with an animal you cannot control or if you want to jump and the horse has a total aversion to it!

And remember, keeping a horse is an expensive business - there is no point overstretching yourself to buy him if you are going to need to buy tack as well. 

Keep a clear head - and let it rule your heart!