At some point in life, even if it was just in childhood, we all wondered what it would be like to own a horse. The phrase: “Daddy/Mommy, I want a pony!” can strike terror in the heart and wallet of even the hardest-hearted parent, due to the cost and upkeep of equines. But even if you give in to the big brown eyes and the long lashes (of the horse that is), what should you look for when buying a horse?
The following are three points of view: a trainer, a pleasure rider and a parent looking for horses for her children to use in competition, trail riding, and for hunting.
What they all agree on is that the wrong horse can ruin the fun for the rider and be unsafe for all involved, so the concepts of soundness and temperament are key.
Deborah Lyons-Greer, a horse trainer from Mildenhall, Suffolk, England, who currently owns and runs Suffolk Stables in Lumberton, New Jersey, is always hands-on when purchasing new horses.
“As a business owner, I have to keep the safety of my students and riders in mind, while also thinking about the economics,” she says. “Because I have so many students with different ability levels, I always need to keep an eye on safety.”
Lyons-Greer stresses that she never looks at a horse she is considering just once. “First, I will ask to see some video of the horse, or just come out to watch the horse move,” she says. “Next, I will come out with a rider or ride myself, or bring a vet with me. Generally, a vet exam with blood work and X-rays is about $500, but if you are serious, it is worth it to avoid missing something.”
Eileen Gersuk-Byrd of Silver Spring, Md., began riding as an adult purely for pleasure.
“For me, the opportunity to own a horse finally presented itself at 51, and since I have had the chance to rescue horses that would otherwise have been euthanized,” she says. “I wanted a horse for myself, and never intended to show, and I think that is the most important factor, to know the purpose for your horse.”
Gersuk-Byrd stresses that a horse can seem inexpensive on the front end if it’s “green” under the saddle, or unbroken, meaning that it has had little or no formal training with a saddle.
“You can pay little for a horse like this on the front end,” she says. “But if you are a novice, you will spend more in the long run training the horse.”
Dr. Lisa Rubin is a Baltimore physician who has ridden for many years and has purchased horses for herself and for her daughters from the time they were young.
“I bought horses for my daughters to compete in show jumping and I bought horses for myself to ride,” Rubin says. “For the girls, what we were looking for in a horse or pony depended on many different factors. The size of the pony was important because that determined what division they rode in.”
Rubin had a different list of must-haves for her girls than she did for herself.
“Usually you want an attractive-looking horse often with something that stands out (like a black horse with all white socks) so that when you are in the ring with 20-30 other horses, yours stands out. For children, you want a horse that has a good brain and isn't going to do something stupid and has a good temperament.”
Rubin also suggests looking for something in a horse that you might look for in a date: good manners.
“You also want one that has good manners on the ground (doesn’t bite, accepts being tacked up and doesn't pull away from the bridle, goes into a wash stall without freaking out) loads onto a trailer, doesn't try to pin you up against a wall in the stall, comes in and out of the paddock with ease,” she explains. “These qualities will make your life easier, and will keep your child and the pony from getting injured.”
All three women caution a buyer to be aware that less-than-honest people sell horses, too. Masking injuries, drugging and working a horse hard to make it seem calm before a meeting are not uncommon tricks, so buyer beware, and safety first.
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