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Buying Your First Horse - A Practical Guide
Spring is here, and the warmer weather is on the way. As the grass starts to grow, the sun appears and nothing seems so attractive as meandering down those country lanes or cantering up the bridle paths on your own horse. If you have only ever ridden at a riding school before, buying your first horse will be a real experience for you – and one you shouldn’t go without doing some careful thinking and planning first. A horse should be your trusted companion for some time – you owe it to him to make sure you pick the right one for you. There is nothing worse for a horse than to be sold on time and time again because he was bought by the wrong person. The person selling your ideal horse will be keen to make sure you are right for him and may even seem reluctant to part with him – if you ever feel you are being pressured into making a decision it is probably not the right horse to buy! This article tries to give the first time buyer some tips.
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.
Be prepared for it to take some time to find your right partner. 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? 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! 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 hay net. A horse which is difficult in the stable will make your life difficult as the owner, and if you are going to keep your horse at livery will not make you popular! 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. I have never bought a horse before – what should I do when I try it out? 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. A routine might be, walk round the ménage, 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 corrections? 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! 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 have 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! 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 very 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. 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 And finally It may take a few months to find the right horse, but be assured that the wait will be worth it.
One thing is probably certain – that palomino mare you had pictured yourself riding away on into the sunset may well turn out to be a bay gelding! But whatever size, colour or sex you end up with, if you have taken your time choosing you will have a wonderful partnership.