Caveat Emptor – How to Buy

Caveat EmptorBuying horses is an art.  Yes, there is surely some science behind it, but it is mainly an art.  At a time when I see newbies making some bad deals, I thought it is appropriate to write this article.  When buying a horse, everyone wants a good deal.  What is a good deal though? Here are some thoughts on the art of buying a horse for yourself.

First and foremost, you have to love the ride.  I always say your bum tells you if you like the horse or not.  If you like what you are sitting on, that’s the first factor. If you don’t immediately like it, or if you are not sure if you like it, by all means try it again another day. But usually I will know straight off if I have a connection with a horse or not. If you don’t have that connection with the horse, walk away – it is not for you.

Presuming you like the horse, what then?

I take a closer look at its age and history.  You don’t want to buy anything that is too young or too old.  Generally, for sport horses, their competitive years are between the ages of 6 and 16 years old.  Depreciation counts only if the horse is aged (12 years and over). That is to say, if you buy a horse that is say 12 years old, you would expect four competitive years with the horse.

A horse that is 12 years old but was a late starter and didn’t do much in the last few years may have done less miles than a 10 year old that has never been spelled. Age is relative to what it had done.

Price is always relative to what the horse’s ability really is, the ride, age, and if it is young, its potential too.

I always ask to see the horse’s passport, knowing that, if unbranded, horses tend to get passed off as being a lot younger than they really are.   You will also be able to see its vaccination record, where it came from, and if a warmblood or ex-racehorse, its breeding. If you are buying a horse that has taken part in FEI internationals, you will be able to look at the horse show chops at the back of the passport.

While they say you shouldn’t look a gift horse’s teeth, there is nothing to stop you taking a good look if you buying one.  Learn a little about telling age from teeth or find someone who does.  Some vets are good with telling age from teeth.   Not all.

Some things you really have to do yourself, like engage a vet to test it for purchase.  Don’t rely on the vet that the owner suggests unless you are totally confident the vet will give you an independent report.  Vets should do a full veterinary and soundness examination with x-rays.  This is the scientific part in the art of purchasing horses.

If a vet fails the horse and tells you not to buy it, take his advice.  That’s why you get them to do these tests.  It defeats the purpose of the test if the owner finds you another vet who is prepared to pass the horse.  Walk away immediately.

Very few horses pass a vet check perfectly.  You must be prepared to interpret what it means for the use you intend for the horse.  A horse that has a history tendon injuries would not be a good prospect for polo, racing or high performance FEI sports, but it could possibly make a perfectly good riding school or leisure riding horse.

Because I have some experience with legs, I’ll go over them myself. I might even run my own flexion test. My tests are only if I see something that I am concerned about that might rule them out immediately. Otherwise the X rays will surely tell you much more.

Talking to people will get you a lot of information.  Don’t just rely on the sellers. Get professional advice.  Get good advice if you want to enjoy your sport.  One of the best horsemen I have ever met once said to me, ‘Life is too short to smoke bad cigars.’  Let the buyer beware!

If you are going to ask someone to help you find or buy you a horse, be prepared to pay a fee for such a service. A flat fee rather than a commission, if the person is doing a job for you. Commissions are relative to purchase price, so a flat fee makes more sense if they are on your side.  Unlike a horse dealer, whose job it is to get the highest price for the owner, a purchaser should work the other way – to find the best deal for the buyer.

There have been cases of double dealing, when a professional took both a selection fee from the buyer and a commission from the seller.  This is totally unprofessional and some instructors have been taken to court over this.

Doping is something that isn’t prevalent in Malaysia, but it certainly something you should be aware of, especially if you are buying a horse in another country. Unscrupulous owners and dealers have been known to give their horses painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs so that they will pass a vet test.

Even more concerning is if the horse is doped to make it easier to ride.  In both cases you end up with something other than what you expected.

It takes experience to avoid such pitfalls.  The buyer should be prepared take the advice of the professional he has engaged, be they rider or vet. It is pointless to engage them if you are not going to take their advice.

If you are able to, taking the horse on trial is a very good idea. You get to try the horse in the conditions that it would be expected to operate in. And you know it would be drug-free in your care.

Those that buy horses off the internet from dealers they don’t know are just asking for trouble.  How would you know if you even like the horse?   At least give your bum that chance to tell you first.

If you can’t be there to try the horse yourself, then make sure the person you have chosen has an idea of what you like.   There are the buyers who can’t differentiate between good advice and poor advice.  Find out what qualifications and experience your chosen expert has in buying horses. If they don’t have any, why take them at all?  Once you have chosen the person who will choose for you, take his or her advice.

Of course, some newbies are beyond advice.   The people who already know everything usually end up with the horse they deserve.  This is the universal karma of horse dealing.

About Peter Abisheganaden

Polo Player, Tournament Director and Executive Secretary of the Royal Malaysian Polo Association. FIP Ambassador and FIP Tournament Director of FIP Snow Polo World Cup and Super Nations Cup. World Cup and Asian Games Showjumper. Champion SEA Games Showjumper and Eventer. FEI L3 Show Jumping Course Designer and L1 Course Presenter. Champion amateur jockey. Retailer and wholesaler of saddlery and polo equipment and Managing Director of Zack's Tack.
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