The price of your new horse is usually the least expensive cost involved with horse ownership. Finding a saddle that fits your new horse, feeding the horse, veterinary care, dentistry, and farrier services will add up to much more than the initial purchase price. Before you go horse hunting, make a list of what you want the horse to be able to do. Include the type of riding you will be doing, how many times a week you will ride your horse, and the level of your skill. By planning ahead, you can avoid an impulse buy that is not the right horse for you.

It is customary for the owner of the horse to ride him first. Watch them catch and saddle the horse. Ask questions about what type of bit they use, how often they de-worm, what they feed, what supplements the horse is on, and if the horse has had any surgery performed on him. Try to ride the horse in the same setting that you will normally ride. A horse that goes well in an arena may not be quiet and sure footed on a trail. If you will be riding mostly in an arena, find out how the horse behaves in one. Some horses that are quiet out on the trail become very nervous when ridden in an arena. If possible, try the horse around other animals as well. Some horses are quiet when they are out riding by themselves, but become very nervous in a “group” situation.

Once you have found a horse that meets most of the criteria on your list, and that you are comfortable on; arrange with the owner to have the horse “vet checked”. Many owners will allow you to take the horse home on a trial basis until the vet check is performed. Make sure that you have worked out details about who “owns” the horse if something happens to him while in the care of the buyer. If the horse is insured, both of you should be protected. If not, specify who is responsible if the horse needs medical or surgical care, or if the horse should be in an accident. Usually, the buyer assumes responsibility for any new developments in the horse, and the seller is responsible for any chronic conditions. Choose the veterinarian who does the pre-purchase exam carefully. Make sure the practitioner is competent in equine medicine, and it is better to choose a veterinarian that does not do regular work for the seller. If the horse you want to buy is out of state, you can call your local veterinarian for a referral. Your veterinarian should have a list of other vets who are members of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. You can also find veterinarians who are members of this association by looking online at

The veterinarian will go over the general conformation of the horse, check for symmetry of muscles, and help you evaluate the horse for his intended purpose. She will perform flexion tests and watch the horse move in circles and straight lines to screen for possible joint or tendon problems. A hoof tester exam will look for sensitivity of the coffin and navicular bones. If the veterinarian sees any stiffness or problem areas, radiographs may be necessary to further evaluate the legs. Sometimes, depending on the purchase price, age of the horse, and intended use; radiographs are recommended even if no stiffness is seen. The examining veterinarian will auscultate the horse’s lungs, abdomen, and heart. The eyes will be examined for signs of skin cancer, uveitis, cataracts, and scars. The horse’s back and spine will be evaluated, and if the equine practitioner performing the exam has chiropractic or osteopathic training, the motion of the spine and other joints will also be evaluated. Any horse will have a less than perfect pre-purchase evaluation. The veterinarian’s job is to find and point out the horse’s weak points. Your job is to ask questions to determine if you can live with these weak points. The horse’s intended job is critical in the exam. A horse that will teach a 10 year old child dressage may have different requirements than a horse that will be competing in 50 mile endurance races. If the horse is out of state, you may want the examiner that is evaluating the horse to speak directly to your veterinarian at home. It is your veterinarian that will have to keep the horse going once you buy him, so involving your vet before you buy the horse is always smart business.