Choosing a new horse is always difficult, and with the extensive choice that’s usually available it can be hard to know where to start.
The first thing to consider is exactly what is wanted: someone experienced might want a young horse to bring on, whilst a novice rider may be looking for a schoolmaster. Whatever the buyer’s requirements, it is important to have them in mind at all times in order to avoid purchasing a horse that is unsuitable, or unable to cope with the demands that will be placed on it.
Secondly: know where to look. The pages of advertising papers contain some genuine horses, and many dealers rely on a good reputation to keep their business going, but many horses that are for sale have underlying problems. To avoid the pitfalls it is important to know what to look for and which questions to ask. It is a good idea to take along an experienced, objective person to take a good look at any potential purchase, and ideally, to see it being ridden.
Whilst few horses have perfect conformation, it is important to take time to look at the shape of a horse, since those that are better ‘put together’ will be less prone to injury than those that have certain conformational abnormalities.
Having seen the horse at rest, it is also a good idea to see it trotted in hand on a firm surface. At this time one can look for signs of lameness as well as making a note of the arc that each limb takes as it travels through the air – again, asymmetries that involve plaiting, brushing or dishing of limbs can be associated with an increased susceptibility to injury. When trying the horse out, it is a good idea to have an experienced person with you, who can also watch for signs of lameness. Make sure that all his paces are tried on a variety of surfaces, and work on both reins; this should reveal any subtle lameness that only tends to show up at exercise on a particular rein (usually the rein that has the affected limb on the inside of the circle).
Finally, if the horse seems ideal, ask the vendor about its likes and dislikes. It is a good idea to find out whether it can tolerate a straw bed in its stable and hay to eat, or whether it is sensitive to dust and needs dust-free management. Enquiries should be made concerning vices such as crib-biting, windsucking and weaving, as all can predispose to medical problems.
A guarantee regarding absence of vices can always be requested, and horses showing vices within a period of, say, one week, may be returned to the vendor if the vendor agrees this in writing.
It is also worth enquiring whether the vendor will allow the horse to be loaned for a limited ‘trial’ period; this will give you the chance to see how well the horse meets your requirements. However, many vendors are understandably cautious about allowing a horse into someone else‘s care, as accidents do happen. From this point of view it is a good idea to ensure that any loaned horses are fully insured.
Having a healthy horse encompasses having a fit horse without underlying physical or psychological problems, that is suited to the job it is intended for.
Finding such a horse is no easy feat, and takes time and patience!