#8 Try out the horse yourself
When one particular family with limited horse knowledge asked for my help to try out a horse for their daughter, I was happy to oblige. On riding the animal in the arena I achieved 3 good paces before taking it for a hack through a wood. Even when jumping a fallen tree, the horse behaved impeccably. He was alert and forward going, and I saw no evidence he had been given a special treat to make him subservient. The teenage daughter of the family rode the horse in the arena after I had finished, but only at walk. After the horse was vetted and bought the family complained it would buck with the daughter. Again I rode the horse, and again he behaved impeccably. Later that day I received a phone call to say the horse had bucked yet again, and the daughter had fallen.
It would have been better for the teenager to have ridden the horse in the arena, attempted trot and canter, gone for a hack and jumped that tree herself. We would have found out in just ten minutes that she was over-horsed. Even if she had been bucked off, at least they would have never bought the animal. The hands, leg aids, and the position of a novice is not quite as exact, kind or even as subtle as an experienced rider. While there are horses out there that have become desensitised to awkward hands and legs, and the rider being unbalanced, this horse wasn’t one of them. An experienced rider should only give an opinion when asked, but not try out a horse for a novice with a view to buy. The novice needs to find a suitable horse in terms of their skill set and experience. The only way to achieve this is for them to ride the horse themselves.
#9 Consider the true cost
Larger breeds need more hard feed and hay, larger stables and bigger shoes. Certain personality types and finer breeds also expend energy through work, or even lose weight from stress, so consume more food. Then there are the horses that consistently over-reach, throw shoes and always seem to injure themselves. Additionally some horses frequently destroy rugs, paddock fences and stable equipment. Horses are very large animals that do not just stand in a field calmly grazing! So even when you are done with paying out for livery, shoes/trims, wormers, jabs, feed, bedding, tack, riding/stable equipment, repairs and everything else in the general upkeep of the horse, there are still unplanned vet bills to find money for. Additionally there are lessons, clinics, shows, transport, club/hunt subscriptions, permits and arena/cross country hire to pay for. Holidays, weekends away or even a day out to a museum with the family cannot be done without considering your much loved 4 legged money drain. In your absence someone else is going to have to tend to your horse, perhaps a stable friend may help. But at times you may need to pay the yard staff extra money to do the work for you.
Owners will have more freedom if paying for full livery, but this freedom comes at a high cost. Most people generally opt to do all the work themselves or even having a reciprocal agreement with a yard friend to split the chores. But this should not be relied upon, because ultimately the horse is your responsibility. Furthermore the needy horse owner that consistently asks for favours is quickly identified, and avoided! Of course fee’s for lessons, course hire and transport can be reduced by splitting the cost between several people. Lessons do not always have to be private, and group lessons can still be very beneficial. While there are ways to reduce costs, this comes from knowledge and experience, so the new horse owner should be very aware of how expensive this lifestyle truly is. Ultimately, the real expense isn’t in buying a horse, it’s actually in the upkeep of a horse.
#10 Go to a reputable dealer
To be candid, there are good dealers that will strive to match a horse to your skill set and the horse’s intended purpose, and then dealers that just want to make a sale regardless of what is appropriate. The biggest mistake potential owners make is exaggerating their experience and riding ability. While all parents (rightfully so) think that little Jane is the most awesome rider on the planet just because she has won several rosettes, she probably isn’t. Being a good rider does not come from just 5 years of lessons, it comes from experiences that involve riding a horse in a million different situations and environments. Riding, if anything, is the easy part, understanding how horses think, and how they may react in any given situation involves years of gaining knowledge and skills. Be honest with the dealer and tell them your level of experience. If you have been riding a laid back cob for the last 15 years, tell them! Do not just say you have been riding for 15 years because there’s a big difference between a laid back cob and a 4 year old thoroughbred. The dealer must also know what you intend to do with the horse, and be as honest as you can. Tell them what you will be doing the majority of the time, not just what your aspirations are.
When looking for a reputable dealer, do the research, do not just approach the nearest yard after a quick Google search. Visit a livery yard, or even several if you have to and ask the owner who they may recommend, they may even tell you who to avoid! Most yard owners are friendly folk and will be happy to advice you, and anyway, you could be a potential livery. They may even have horses for sale, or have liveries that have bought horses from a dealer, so talk to them also. A good dealer should ask you a tonne of questions, a bad dealer wont. If a dealer drags a horse out of a stable 5 minutes after shaking your hand, get in your car and don’t look back.
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