Saddle Up with Beth Eva: So you want to buy a Horse part 4

Photo contributed by Beth Eva

Hi again everyone! Beth Eva of Heartland Ranch Horse Training and Lessons here with my final installment in our series in buying a horse. At this point we’ve decided what type of horse we need and want, who will be riding it, and for what purpose. We’ve hopefully also taken into account where we’ll be keeping and riding the horse, and have planned and budgeted for all the incidentals that we’ll need for the horse and it’s care. We’ve found a horse we think will work and have gone out to meet it. In our last segment we left off after fully evaluating the horse on the ground, and watched it be tacked up in preparation to be ridden, so let’s jump back in there.

Watch as the horse is warmed up to be ridden. Does he need to be round penned for an extended time or can you just getting on and go?  One piece of very valuable advice I will give you now: do not just get on and try to ride a horse that’s unfamiliar to you. Let the seller or trainer ride it first so you can watch how the horse responds to cues and corrections, and you can see the methods used to ride and school the horse. You don’t want to hop on only to find that the horse likes to buck and puts you on the ground. Be wary of any horse that the seller refuses to ride first. Remember, safety first. Ask that the person riding the horse offer a commentary on what they are doing to control him. Is he sensitive to leg cues, or numb sided?  Does he stop off of seat and voice cues, or do you have to pull firmly on the reins? Does he neck rein well, or is there direct rein being used? Watch as the horse is backed up and ridden forward, at not just a walk, but at a trot and lope too.

All of this will help you once you’ve chosen to step into the saddle on this particular horse. Is there anything you’ve seen that requires additional information or professional examination?  Does the horse need corrective shoeing which can cause more ongoing expense? Remember that just because a horse may needs supplements, or medications, or corrective shoeing, doesn’t mean you should rule that horse out. It simply means you should be aware of the issues and prepared to deal with them. As I discussed in the last segment, there are a great number of older horses that may have some small level of physical disability that are still wonderful horses with many years of use left in them. Serviceably Sound is a term you should become familiar with. It means that the horse is sound enough to be used for its intended purpose, but possibly not for something more strenuous. It doesn’t mean that the horse is problem free or that it doesn’t need maintenance. Many beginning riders would benefit from having a horse that may not be sound for performance or high stress events, but is more than sound enough to be lightly ridden on trails or in the arena. Some of these older horses may require a little Bute before or after a ride, just as an older person might take a couple Ibuprofen after some time in the saddle, but that’s to be expected and is perfectly acceptable. Just be sure to have a qualified vet examineOk, it’s now your turn in the saddle. Before kicking him hard and riding off at a gallop into the sunset, sit there and get a feel for the horse. How does he respond when you touch the reins or give leg pressure? Can you back him up easily? Try turning some small, slow circles and figure-eights. Are you communicating well enough to walk the horse around further? Don’t get in over your head on a horse that’s unknown to you. Start with small commands and work your way up to a walk, then to a trot and a lope. If you have trouble at any gait, then don’t go any faster. Trouble never decreases with more speed added. Ride the horse the way you’ll ride him at home or in the activity you plan to use him for. If it’s a trail horse, ride him outside the arena and on any available trail paths. Put him through an improvised obstacle course if possible. If you plan on using the horse with cattle, then try him on cattle. Ride with the purpose of finding out if you can get this horse to do things you’ll be asking him to do once you’ve purchased him. Once again, make sure you and the horse are a good fit for the activity you’ll being doing with him. I have often seen people take a pre-purchase ride in the arena on a horse that’s going to be used almost exclusively on trails, then declare him perfectly suitable without ever trying him outside of the arena. I’ve also seen these people disappointed once they took the horse out on their first trail ride. Don’t fall into that trap. Try the horse several times, in different locations if need be, to be sure that the horse is going to be able to do what you plan on doing with him.  The fault will not be his if you fail to test him until it’s too late.

Ask the seller if there is a trial period for the purchase to insure a good fit, and agree on how long this will last. Ask to see the horse a few times before deciding, as a horse is like any animal and they have both good and bad days. You’ll ideally want to see both the good and bad to know exactly what you’re getting. Ask if you can get an independent health check/lameness exam from a vet. This is a major decision, so you need to be sure that you’re making the best one you can. Don’t rush, or you might find yourself having to start the buying process all over again very quickly, something I’m sure you don’t want to do.

Let me leave you with a few insights I’ve acquired over my years of training horses and teaching people to ride. The biggest issue for new horse owners is that they can’t read the horse’s body language. They mistake disrespectful and pushy behavior as sweet and puppy-like. Believe me when I say, you don’t want a 1,200-pound puppy to play with. People often assign human emotions to a horse’s actions, and that is never a good idea. While the horse shoving his muzzle into your pocket for a hidden treat may seem cute, it’s actually a huge sign of disrespect that will affect the entire relationship, besides being potentially dangerous. It’s my belief that 90% or more of all horse behavior problems are man-made. Uneducated handlers cause these problems by either doing the wrong things, or just as often, simply not doing the right things. A spoiled, disrespectful horse, either on the ground or under saddle, is a sign of a horse with poor or no training.  You have to teach the horse to be respectful, and then spend time and effort to maintain that respect. Training is not etched in stone, it’s written in sand and can wash away easily. You have to work to keep the horse in shape both physically and mentally.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on purchasing a horse, and I hope that you find that perfect equine companion that you’re looking for. If, at any phase of the buying process, you feel that you need help with this important decision, I ask that you seek out the advice and assistance of a qualified professional such as myself or other reputable person. If I can be of any assistance, please contact me by phone at 559-281-0782 or email me at, or like us on Facebook, @HeartlandRanchTraining.

Thank you for reading, and have a Blessed day!

Beth Eva


Heartland Ranch Horse Training and Lessons

James Light contributed to this story.