The Dos and Don’ts of Buying and Selling Horses

If you’re selling your horse or looking for a new one, follow this advice for a good result for everyone involved—including the horse.

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Hundreds of thousands of horses are bought, sold, adopted or rehomed each year. It can be either an exhilarating and fun process, or a frustrating and exhausting one that leads to finding your new equine partner.

Woman standing with a bay horse
Photo by marco antonio torres on flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Cultural stigma leads us to believe that horse sellers are not trustworthy, but if you ask anyone who has sold a horse, they will tell you that horse buyers come with their own individual set of quirks. And yet we can all agree that faux pas and faux news just lead to bad sales and ruined horses.

But all of this can (and should) be avoided because at the end of the day, we all want the same thing: a good home for the horse, a good future for the rider, and a quick and seamless sale for the seller. Here are some dos and don’ts that can be followed to ensure success of all.

Advice for Horse Buyers

Do: Be Honest.

Be honest with the seller, your trainer, and also yourself. Don’t tell the seller that your budget is triple your maximum amount. Don’t tell your trainer that your goal is Advanced-level eventing if you’re still learning two-point. Don’t tell yourself that you want to retrain a green horse if you know you can only get to the barn once a week.

I’ve watched many people overestimate their ability and come try a horse that I would have never matched them with if honesty was at the forefront of the conversation. And that benefits no one, especially not the horse.

Don’t: Make Assumptions.

Don’t assume that because you are searching for an off-the-track Thoroughbred that it will be high-strung. Don’t assume that because you are getting a draft cross that it will be sound. Don’t assume that because you are buying from an Olympian that the horse will be trained. We all know the cardinal rule about assumptions.

Do: Your Homework.

Google the person who is selling and read the reviews. Whether that is simply by looking over their Facebook page or going as far as the Better Business Bureau, you can find a lot on the world wide web these days. A dishonest seller will have a trail, and you can find it.

Don’t: Be Obnoxious.

While knowledge is power, plenty of information can be gathered without harassing the seller. Pay attention to the details within the ad. If it says the horse is green broke, don’t call to see if it would be a good match for your child moving up from a pony. If it says the horse was born in 2014, do not ask its age. And if it says that the horse is priced “in the mid five figures” (aka $40,000-$60,000) and your budget is $5,000, don’t ask anything at all.

Do: Be Timely.

If a horse appears too good to be true, then book that plane ticket because other buyers are thinking the same thing. Well-advertised, athletic horses usually sell quickly, and you will need to promptly contact that seller, schedule a trial ride, and get out to see him. In the meantime, if you truly believe the horse will be a good fit, start investigating nearby veterinarians and getting your funds in order. It wouldn’t even be a bad idea to start looking into shipping.

Don’t: Drag Your Feet.

Once you have tried the horse and fallen in love, let the seller know of your interest quickly. Promptly schedule the veterinary pre-purchase exam, promptly review the exam’s findings, and promptly make your decision.

Until your name is on the contract and money is exchanged, you do not own the horse. Many times, sales fall apart for no known reason, and because of that, sellers can (and will) continue showing the horse to other buyers until that paperwork is finalized. Ethically, a pre-purchase exam holds the horse for a few days. But legally, sellers like me have to look out for both our own and the horse’s best interests. And that can mean the horse gets sold to someone else if you drag your feet.

Do: A pre-purchase examination (PPE)

Preferably the pre-purchase exam should be done with a veterinarian you or your own personal veterinarian trust. Gain as much information as you can afford and use that information in your purchasing decision.

Don’t: Pass/Fail a Horse.

A PPE is an awesome tool that gives you a baseline and can detect any serious injuries. What it cannot do is predict the future. Make sure that the veterinarian who is doing the PPE is trustworthy, but also make sure that you understand the process. PPEs don’t end with an A or an F, and there are plenty of grades in between.

Advice for Horse Sellers

Do: Be Honest.

Just like the buyer, honesty is the best policy. Honesty in the horse’s sanity, ability, soundness and desires. I have found that while brutal honesty may scare away the tire-kickers, it doesn’t scare away the perfect fit. Dishonesty is almost always discovered during the trial ride, PPE, or within the first few weeks, but in a world where all you have to show for yourself are your horses and your reputation, honesty can go a long way.

Don’t: Do Anything You’re Not Comfortable With.

I like to say that my gut instinct is my best tool for horse sales. If you don’t think the rider should jump during the trial ride, say so. If you don’t feel comfortable doing a trial, don’t do one. If you don’t feel absolutely thrilled with the match, even though the buyer is offering you full price, don’t sell the horse. This is a high-liability field, and protecting yourself is key. If your gut instinct is telling you something is wrong, trust it.

Do: Advertise Well.

So often I see sellers of nice horses wondering why they’re not getting any interest, and I can immediately point to their advertisement. I have found the horse is only 75 percent of the equation, and the advertisement is the other 25 percent.

A well-groomed hunter show horse

Hire a professional photographer and get clear images of the horse’s conformation. It also helps to show the horse doing the job stated in the ad. Enlist a friend to get clean video of the horse: one with good lighting, good footing, and in landscape mode using the zoom feature.

The rule of thumb is that videos should be no longer than two minutes and include all three gaits. If you find yourself fast-forwarding at any point, the buyers have already clicked off. Showcase the horse to the best of your ability and use the photos and video to do so.

Don’t: Overprice.

An overpriced horse does nothing but limit profit. Time is money, and board is expensive. While it’s bothersome to hear that you could have gotten another thousand or two, selling quickly to a good home is the goal. Assess the horse realistically, price accordingly, and adjust when necessary.

Do: Have A Strong Contract.

The contract is all that you have beyond your word. Realize that you didn’t go to law school, and seek out legal advice. Learn your state’s equine laws and use them to your benefit. And when in doubt, ask other professional horse sellers for their assistance.

With each sale, contracts are amended, and with each amendment, the contract gets stronger. Use that strong contract. (See “Top 6 Mistakes” for more advice from a vet.)

Don’t: Accept Checks.

One of the greatest things I was taught is to trust no one. Money wire, cashier’s checks, or cash are acceptable forms of payment; personal checks are not. And don’t let the horse leave your property until the actual money is in your hand or in your account.

Buying and selling horses doesn’t have to be an exasperating process, and by following these simple rules and educating yourself for future success, it can be an exhilarating one. Listen, learn, and then get out there and have fun. Find the excitement and minimize the exhaustion. Happy horse hunting!


This article originally appeared in the May 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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