You’ve taken lessons, you’ve leased or half leased one or more other horses and you know you’re ready to take the next big step and buy your own horse. It’s a step worth a certain amount of consideration. If you’re new to the horse world, you may want to read through this little checklist before you go out cash in hand.

Know the Costs

It ‘s important to have a complete understanding of what you will spend, both up front, and on a month-to-month basis. Horses are not an inexpensive hobby. If you cannot commit to the expense of caring for a horse, long term, don’t do it. Horses aren’t motorcycles or boats, you can’t throw a tarp over them and forget them, they are living breathing animals and they deserve to be cared for properly and completely.  The importance of being realistic about the costs of horse ownership cannot be overstated.

Talk to several people who have owned their own horse and get a good idea of the typical monthly expenses you can honestly expect. Do you have any equipment or will you need to buy grooming tools, a saddle, bridle, halter and leadrope? How will you transport your new friend and where will he live? It’s best to carefully itemize the costs for boarding, feeding, farrier services, and vet bills.

Don’t assume that because you have a small barn behind your house and a field where the horse can graze that you won’t have any additional expenses. Having your own acreage is always a plus but it takes a lot of grass to support a horse, you will probably have to buy extra feed and factor in paying someone to take care of the horse if and/when you need to be gone at feeding time. Also if you live in a suburban setting make sure your zoning laws allow for horsekeeping… the presence of a barn does NOT guarantee this.

Consider Your Skill Level

Beginners often shy away from older horses because they want to have a horse they can love and ride for years and years. Don’t make this mistake. Older horses are perfect for beginners. Many knowledgeable horsemen recommend horses at least ten years old as a first horse. Today’s horses are better cared for than those in earlier generations and it is not uncommon for horses to be ridden into their late twenties and even early thirties. Most older horses will be gentler, easier to handle, and perfect for increasing your confidence and skill level as a rider/owner. This is especially important if you are buying a horse for children. Young children and young horses aren’t usually the best combination.

Ask the Right Questions

When you’re ready to start visiting potential horses, take someone with extensive horse experience with you; preferably someone you have an established relationship with- such as your riding teacher or local trainer. Ask this person to evaluate the horse, its appropriateness for you,  as well as their feelings about the sellers motives. It’s a good idea to ask why the person is selling the horse. If they are hesitant to give you straight answer - consider it a red flag. In a perfect world, everyone would be honest and forthcoming regarding a horse’s health and mental attitude. But horse traders are horse traders… and they have been known to medicate a horse to mask lameness or other health problems, and some will just plain lie to make a sale.

Don’t Be Hasty

Impulse buying is never a good idea.  Go look at a horse that you are interested in, then go home and think about it.  Talk it over with your teacher, trainer or advisor – and listen to what they tell you. If you are still unsure, go back a few days later, ride the horse again, then go home and think again. A good seller wants to make sure the horse finds a good home, with the right owner. Most sellers will work with you to a point, but remember more than two try outs can look like you’re just looking for a few free rides. If the seller is willing, consider a “trial period” to make sure you and the horse are a good fit. While many sellers are open to this option, there are legitimate reasons for a seller not wanting to do this. This can be particularly true if they don’t know you or your teacher and do not want to see their horse abused, neglected or in extreme cases ruined.

Don't Be Tempted by Free

There are plenty of wonderful rescue horses out there that cost little and deserve good homes. But the same selection criteria should apply to these horses. If the horse isn’t a good fit for you - don’t take it home no matter what the sale price.  As an old trainer I knew used to say “The purchase price is the least expensive part of horses.” If you take your time and heed good advice you will be able to find a good, solid, well trained horse that can help you learn and grow and gain the experience you need and want.  Then you can happily ride off into the sunset.