The ultimate guide to buying a horse
Horses are some of the kindest and most intelligent creatures out there, making them a great addition to the family. But if you’re interested in buying a horse, you’ll no doubt have a number of questions running through your mind. Choosing the perfect horse for you and your family isn’t a decision to make lightly, so it’s important to do plenty of research before you start your search.
However, when there are so many aspects to consider, the whole process can feel pretty overwhelming. To make the journey easier for you, we’ve put together this ultimate horse buying guide. We’ll take you all the way through the process, from researching which type of horse is right for you to visiting your ideal horse for the first time. We answer all the important questions on how to buy a horse, from breed to budget, so you can feel more confident with the process.
We will cover the following topics:
- Choosing the right breed of horse
- Considering a horse’s health and injuries
- Other factors to consider when buying a horse
- How to buy a horse
- How much does it cost to buy a horse?
The first thing to think about when it comes to buying a horse is which breeds you’re interested in. This is a very important factor to consider, and you may even have an idea of your ideal breed in mind already. A horse’s breed can determine a lot of things about them, such as their temperament, health, and even skill level, so it’s one of the most important factors to look into.
Finding the right breed for you may seem like a difficult task, especially considering that there are over 350 to choose from! It may be easier to start by researching a list of popular British horse breeds, as these will likely be the ones that are most readily available to you. Some of the most common horse breeds in the UK include:
- Connemara: Known for their athleticism and versatility, Connemara ponies are considered the ultimate all-rounder. With their even temperament and can-do attitude, they’re ideal for many riders, from beginner to advanced.
- Welsh pony: Aside from their stunning dished aces and flashy paces, Welsh ponies come in four types: Sections A, B, C and D. This related to their conformation and size, so you’re sure to find a type to suit you.
- Cob: One of the most common breeds in the UK, cobs are hardy and adaptable. They may not have the speed and hot-head of the Thoroughbred, but they make excellent riding horses and come in many different sizes.
- New Forest: The ideal children’s pony, New Forests are tough, strong and athletic. They can turn their hoof to almost any activity and are hardy and easy to manage.
- Thoroughbred: This powerful breed is the most popular one for horse racing, as they’re built for speed with their long and muscular legs.
When choosing the right breed for you, it’s important to consider why you’re getting a horse in the first place. If you’re buying a horse for Riding Club, then a strong and reliable Cob is a great option for you. Or if your little one is looking to take up horse riding, then a Shetland is a great option, as it’s friendly and a little smaller than the average horse. To help you narrow down your search, here are some of the most popular breeds that are best suited to different activities:
- Endurance riding: Dales pony, Cob, Connemara, Arab, Thoroughbred.
- Children’s pony: Shetland pony, Exmoor pony, Welsh Mountain Pony, Connemara.
- High-level sport: Cleveland Bay, Hannovarian, Holsteiner, Wamblood, Thoroughbred
- Therapy horses: Shetland, Eriskay pony, Welsh pony.
- Racing: Thoroughbred is by far the most popular breed in the UK for racing, but there are some breeds from other countries which perform well too, such as Appaloosa and Arabian horses.
The above is just a selection of the most common horse breeds out there. For a longer and more detailed list, make sure to check out our guide to different horse breeds.
Not all horses on the market will be in their best health, so this is something you should consider before starting your search. A few of the most common health issues in horses include:
- Arthritis: This degenerative joint and muscle disease is very common among horses and can unfortunately be very painful, too. While it can’t be prevented, the pain can be managed by veterinary intervention, as well as controlling the horse’s weight and allowing them more time to warm up.
- Allergies: It’s also common for horses to experience allergies, although some have more severe ones than others. Some horses may need antihistamine treatment to ease their discomfort.
- Laminitis: This recurring condition is the inflammation of the soft tissue in the hoof, and it can cause serious bone damage in severe or untreated cases, however this disease can usually be prevented through careful management
- Shivers: Although rarer than other diseases, shivers is a very serious neuromuscular disorder that causes muscle tremors and makes it difficult for horses to hold themselves up over time. Sadly, there is no cure or treatment currently, so horses with this disorder are eventually euthanised once it becomes too painful or difficult for them to live with.
- Injuries: Horses can easily become injured, especially if they’re current or former competition horses. Some of the most common types of injuries include suspensory ligament injuries, corneal ulcers, and back and neck stress fractures.
If you’re buying a horse for the first time, then it’s best to get one that’s in the best health possible. Animals with health issues come with a range of different needs that are best dealt with by an owner who has plenty of experience and the right resources available. Therefore, it’s always advisable to have a potential horse vet checked, to help detect any future issues.
It’s important to think of expenses, too. Even a horse in the best condition can still be expensive, so you should always make sure you’re in a decent financial situation before committing. But horses with health conditions will likely need pricey medication and more vet visits, so make sure to take this into account beforehand. No matter how much you’ve fallen in love with a horse, it will hurt even more in the long run if you don’t have the money and resources to help them in the future.
You should also consider how any health issues may impact how you use your horse. For example, if you’re buying a horse for riding, you’ll want to make sure they have a clean bill of health. But if you and your household are just planning on using him as a field companion for another horse, they don’t necessarily need to be in top condition. Whether you’re planning on buying a horse in top health or open to one with some pre-existing conditions, make sure to check out our horse health and wellbeing articles for advice and inspiration.
When considering whether to buy a horse with a suspensory ligament injury, it’s important to think about why you’re getting a horse in the first place. If you’re looking for a horse for riding, this may not be the best option as, although the injury can heal through veterinary intervention, it can take a long time. As it often doesn’t heal well, there’s also a high chance of the injury recurring. For both your safety and the comfort of the animal, anyone looking for a riding horse should get one with as clean a bill of health as possible.
If you’re getting a horse that will be un-ridden on the other hand, a suspensory ligament injury shouldn’t put you off your chosen horse. While these injuries can come back, it’s less likely to be a problem for a horse who isn’t going to be worked as hard. If you do opt for a horse that has had this injury in the past or is more at risk of experiencing it, simply take preventative measures by not pushing them too hard and keeping a look out for any signs of leg or back pain.
At the moment, there is sadly no treatment for horses with shivers which means they succumb to the disease over time. If you’re buying or rehoming a horse to be a companion, then adopting a horse with shivers is a very commendable and fulfilling thing to do. But if you’re looking for a horse to ride, whether it’s professionally or leisurely, for years to come, a horse with shivers isn’t the right match for you.
There are several other important factors to consider when buying a horse, so it’s crucial that you take plenty of time to look into each one. To make the process easier for you, we’ve narrowed down a list of the most important things to research when searching for your ideal horse.
It’s important to choose the right size horse to keep both yourself and the horse comfortable. If you choose a horse that’s not big enough to carry the largest rider in the family, they can easily become injured. And if you’re looking to buy a horse for a young rider, you must also take this into account and opt for a horse that they won’t outgrow too quickly.
Most horses can carry up to 15–20% of their body weight, so if you know both your own weight and the size and weight of the horse you’re interested in, this should be easy enough to calculate. To do more research and make a more accurate estimation, be sure to check out our horse riders size guide, as well as our horse height and weight guide. It’s important to note that while it’s easy to calculate how much a horse can carry based on its size for many breeds, this isn’t the case for all, so make sure to look into this before you make your decision.
If you’re interested in buying a horse on the larger side, you’ll need to make sure you have ample space for it to roam, as well as the space to put up a large stable. The minimum amount of turnout space any horse needs is one acre, although it’s a good idea to give your horse more space than this if you can, especially in the case of larger horses.
As for the stable, there needs to be at least enough space for the horse to comfortably lie down, although more space is always better, so make sure to take this into account too. It’s recommended that large horses (17hh) should be kept in a stable no smaller than 12ft x 14ft.
And don’t forget to think about what size horse is right for your skill level and experience. If you’ve only worked with small horses in the past, you should avoid buying a large horse straight away without some experience as you may need to get used to the movement of a bigger horse. With any horse, big or small, you should always be confident with riding, handling, and grooming them before committing to the horse for the safety of both of you.
You should take time to consider the age of the horse you buy. The age that’s best for you depends on a number of factors, with the most important one being your level of experience. If you’re buying a horse for the first time, it’s always better to opt for an older horse as they require less training, and the horse will have more handling experience, too.
The average lifespan of most breeds tends to be between 25–30 years, with ponies often living a little longer into their mid 30s. If you’re a first-time buyer looking for a horse that you can enjoy riding for a good while, then opt for a horse between eight and ten years old. This ensures that they will have some experience with training and will give you at least a good ten years before the horse needs to be retired from riding, which is generally between the ages of 20–25.
If you’re very experienced with horses and you’re up for the challenge, then you may want to get a young horse and train them up. Horses reach maturity at around the age of eight, so if you want to train them up, opt for one younger than this. However, bear in mind that training a young horse takes a lot of time and effort, so you should only commit to this if you’re 100% prepared to do so. If you’re looking for some tips and advice on training a horse, make sure to check out our training and learning articles.
Temperament is by far one of the most important factors to consider when buying a horse, as it can have a significant impact on your relationship. Horse temperament is often measured on a scale of 1–10, with one being the calmest and ten being the most restless and unpredictable. There are positive and negatives to horses on either side of the spectrum. For example, while horses at the lower end of the scale are gentle and calm, they can be lazy and somewhat stubborn. On the other hand, it can be easier to get horses on the other end of the spectrum in a faster gait, but they can also be more aggressive.
Choosing the right temperament for you depends a lot on your experience with horses. For people buying a horse for the first time, it’s a good idea to opt for one with a calm temperament, somewhere from 1 – 4 on the temperament scale, as this is safest for both you and the horse. But if you have plenty of experience with horses and are comfortable with asserting your dominance, a higher temperament horse may be better for you.
There are a number of factors than can dictate a horse’s temperament. For example, younger horses tend to be more excitable, so often have a higher temperament than older ones. The breed can also play a role in determining a horse’s temperament. To find out more about the temperaments of some of the most popular breeds, make sure to check out our guide to different horse breeds.
It’s important to see how the horse behaves in person too, in order to get a good idea of their temperament. Observe the horse thoroughly when you first meet them, and see how they behave with their owner. Make sure to check out how patient they are when waiting to be ridden, how they react to seeing you, and their response to any potential spooks.
Just like humans, horses are impacted by their environment. So before buying a horse, it’s important to consider what sort of environment you can offer them and whether your set up is suitable for them. It’s a good idea to look into what environment the horse you’re interested in is used to, and whether you can provide something similar. For example, if the horse is used to having acres to roam but your space is a lot smaller, this may be challenging for the horse to adapt to.
Another aspect to consider is whether they’re used to having other horses around them. A horse who is used to being on their own may struggle to fit into a group if you own more than one. And vice versa, a horse used to being surrounded by other horses may struggle if they’re the only one. Make sure to look into the history of the horse you’re interested in, to see what kinds of environments they have experience with. And make sure to ask the seller their opinion on how adaptable the animal is. It may be the case that the horse would be fine with, or even prefer, a change in environment!
Now you know more about the research process and what to consider when choosing your horse, it’s time to find out how exactly to buy one.
Horses are most commonly purchased from individual sellers. These are often found through online advertisements on horse sale websites, such as Horse Quest and Horsemart, as well as through word of mouth. It’s important to get as much information as you can from a private seller, and always make sure to visit the horse in person before making your purchase. If you have a riding instructor, it’s also worth asking them if they know any horses for sale from reputable owners.
Horse dealers are another potential option. Dealers tend to buy horses from auctions or breeders, train them up and sell them on. Again, it’s vital that you do your research if you choose to go down this route. Ask a riding instructor or your yard manager if they know of any reputable dealers in the area, and avoid going with a dealer that you have little information on.
You may be interested in buying a horse from an auction yourself, although this generally isn’t recommended for people buying a horse for the first time. This is because these horses tend to have some sort of serious health condition or behavioural problem that can be difficult for an inexperienced owner to manage. If you do choose to go down this route, have someone experienced with you, such as your instructor or a trusted friend to help you make your decision.
And if you’d like to make a meaningful change to a horse’s life, consider rehoming from a rescue centre instead of buying. There are a number of places you can look to adopt, such as RSPCA, Blue Cross, or World Horse Welfare. Just like with auctions, a lot of these horses are likely to have some sort of health condition, which means they may not be suitable for first time owners. But if you’d really like to go down the rehoming route for your first, you may be able to find an older horse with little to no health conditions looking for a loving home.
It’s a good idea to note down important questions beforehand to ask the seller before committing to anything. Some of the most crucial information to find out includes:
- The basic information, such as age, sex, and breed. You will likely already know this from the advertisement, but it’s a good idea to confirm this anyway.
- Where they got the horse from, and why they’re now choosing to sell.
- The family history of the horse, including any illnesses of family members and the parents’ breeds.
- Pre-existing health conditions, past injuries, and whether they’ve had laminitis in the past.
- The horse’s temperament and their behaviour in certain situations, such as when they’re groomed or ridden.
- The horse’s usual routine and environment, including whether they’re used to being around other horses.
As well as getting plenty of information out of the seller, you should observe the horse yourself too in order to verify some of the information you’ve been told. Make sure that the owner or someone else rides the horse first, and observe how the horse reacts as this is a good way to test their temperament. Horses often communicate through their ears, so make sure to pay close attention to them. If their ears are flicking back and forth, this could be a sign that they’re feeling anxious. Yawning, tooth-grinding, and trembling are also signs of distress, so make sure to keep an eye out for these too as it could be a sign they’re being treated poorly by their current owner.
When it is your turn to ride the horse, approach slowly and cautiously to avoid spooking them. Don’t worry if the horse seems a little tense, as this is normal for their first interaction with you. But while it is normal for a horse to feel cautious about being ridden by a stranger, they tend to loosen up after a while, so be wary if you struggle to control them or calm them after the entirety of your ride.
And remember, no matter how well the first viewing goes, always try to arrange at least one more viewing before you come to your final decision. You may have caught the horse on a particularly good day which means that you don’t yet have an accurate understanding of their everyday behaviour. Aim for two or three viewings before making your final decision.
A horse is a big expense, not just for the initial purchase but for the upkeep too. It’s important to make sure that you’re in the right financial situation to be able to look after a horse before committing to them.
For the initial payment, the price of the horse depends on a variety of factors, such as breed, skill level, and age. Some horses can be sold for as little as £500, while others can be on the market for a whopping £40,000! The average cost for horses ranges somewhere between £3000–£8000, so this is around what you can expect to pay.
Some of the maintenance costs to take into account when budgeting for your horse include:
- Healthcare: The cost of vet visits and medications can add up.
- Livery: This isn’t just the cost of the field, but an appropriate stable too.
- Insurance: A good insurance policy is vital for every horse owner as it can save you a lot of money in the long run.
- General care: There are a number of other costs to consider too, such as feed, saddles, shoes, and transport.
You should only commit to a horse if you are able to pay for them for the rest of their life. That being said, there is a way to do this if you’re on a tight budget by splitting the cost with another horse-lover. Loaning is a great option for people who would love to have a horse to treat as their own but don’t have the time or the budget. As well as being beneficial for the owners, it can be great for the horse too as they get more love and attention.
However, it is something that you should take plenty of time considering beforehand. Firstly, you need to make sure that you can share with someone that you trust, and who you know is in the financial position to take on a part-ownership too. It’s also helpful if you get on well with the person you’re sharing the horse with, as this’ll make it easier to come to an agreement on important decisions. You need to be sure you’re on the same page in terms of what you’re looking for when it comes to age, skill level, breed, and temperament.
If you do go down this route, always make sure to have a comprehensive contract for you both to sign, no matter how well you know the other person. There are plenty of templates available online, but if you’d like some advice consider contacting a solicitor.
After reading this comprehensive guide, you should know all the information you need in order to buy your next horse. Whether you’re buying a horse for the first time or the fifth, make sure to do thorough research before committing to your ideal horse.
Once you find the perfect horse, you’ll want to be prepared for taking them home, so make sure to check out our wide range of training and learning videos. Here at Horse and Country, we also have a great selection of sports coverage, entertainment, and documentaries for you to check out. To stay in the loop, make sure to subscribe to our service today.