Trying a Horse and Pre-Purchase Exams

After searching, you’ve found a horse that you are considering buying. Before going to try a horse, make sure that you would be willing and able to cut a check right there for that horse. Most likely won’t be cutting a check right then but it’s good practice to avoid trying a horse that it outside your budget or will most likely not meet your goals/wants. With that being said, don’t let your emotions drive your purchase; when you try a horse, you’ll need to be extremely critical of the horse to make sure it’s right for you. If you have a trainer, have them go with you to see the horse and they can help give you an honest opinion about it, which is extremely valuable.

Trying a horse and the pre-purchase exam/purchase of the horse are two different appointments.

Trying the horse

Everyone purchasing a horse should be concerned about being sold a horse that is misrepresented in the advertisement. Here are some tips to make sure the horse you are trying is what is being advertised.

  • Arrive to the appointment early.
    • You might catch them working the horse before you trying the horse. This is a red flag.
  • Look at the body condition score of the horse. This will tell you much more than asking about weight.
    • Is the horse skinny, fat, or in shape. If the owner claims it’s being worked everyday but the horse is obese, there might be a chance they’re lying.
  • Witness the horse being tacked up or tack it up yourself.
    • This will give you a chance to see how relaxed the horse is while being tacked. If the horse is already tacked when you get there, that’s another red flag.
  • Look for signs that the horse has been worked that day.
    • Primarily sweat marks.
  • Look for signs that the horse is drugged (yes this happens quite a bit).
    • Signs include little to no movement of the ears, glazed over eyes, less alert than you would expect. Obviously, this would be a HUGE red flag.
  • When you get on the horse, do warm up exercises like you normally would if it were your horse.
    • Walk, long trot, flex… maybe do some exercises that the horse probably wouldn’t know how to do, just to see how they take in new things. See how much control you have over the shoulders, side, and hips.
  • After a warm up, do a few exercises that the horse is trained on.
    • Ex: if it’s a reining horse, do a few spins, stops, and flying lead changes.
  • Stop and see if the horse can stand quietly.
    • You can just stand there and talk to your trainer about their opinion, etc and see how the horse handles just standing there.

See if you can witness the horse being untacked and meanwhile, ask the owners about what they’re feeding the horse, the bit the horse is worked in, any health concerns, shoes, current coggins, etc. Thank the owners and tell them you’ll be in touch to schedule a pre-purchase exam.

Contemplate the ride for a day or two. If the horse didn’t perform exactly the way you would’ve liked, are you okay with that or could it have been a mistake on your end? All of the things you saw/felt with the horse, you’ll need to decide if it’s what you want. Was he/she a little girthy while being tacked up? Is that a deal breaker? Were you unable to get a flying lead change? Could your cue timing have been off and maybe it’s something you work on later?

Contact the seller and let them know if you’d like to move forward with the pre-purchase exam or if you didn’t think it was a good fit. Either way, don’t leave them hanging.

Pre-purchase exam

If you’re getting a horse that is expensive (to you), then I heavily suggest a pre-purchase exam. They’re usually affordable ($100-250) and it’ll save you a lot of money if the horse turns out to be lame. In this appointment, assume everything will work out and be prepared to pay and take the horse home with you (with a boarding facility ready to take the horse in if needed). If taking the horse right away is not an option, talk to the sellers about partial payment until you can get the horse home. Most will be understanding if you’re needing to get coggins results for a boarding facility or arrange transportation.

When choosing a vet:

  • Don’t use the vet the seller recommends. In fact, try and find a vet that has no ties to the barn (if possible).
  • Try to find a sports medicine vet or a vet that does work with racetracks, eventing, or high impact horse shows.
    • These vets will have a much better eye for subtle lameness and drugging. Your normal vet will/may be limited on picking up some signs simply because most of their experience is in treatment instead of finding orthopedic problems.
  • You and your vet should spend an hour or more with the horse.
    • This will include looking at stature, hoof integrity, the horse’s gaits, and the vet will most likely ask the seller some health questions.
  • If the sellers do not have a current coggins/ health certificate on the horse and the horse is in good shape for purchase, go ahead and have your vet take a coggins sample.
    • This is affordable since you already have the vet there and it’s good to have since you’ll be transporting the horse to a new facility.

A sports medicine vet will almost always find something that they don’t like about the horse. The decision on whether it’s a deal breaker is up to you. For example, during a pre-purchase I did, the vet had two main comments: 1) The horse didn’t move as freely as she (the vet) would’ve liked but that’s standard when an eventing vet looks at a cow horse and 2) The horse was on the verge of being overweight. Neither of these were deal breakers for me. Now if she had said that the horse would need injections, then that would’ve been a deal breaker for me (the horse was 4 and I do not want to do injections that young).

I hope the purchasing series was helpful. Next up will be find a boarding facility.


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