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How To Check A Horse Before You Buy One: The Ultimate Guide

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I know you are excited to find a horse that’s perfect for you. You’ve probably had a few friends suggest horse breeds they’ve ridden and read reviews of horses online. But before you buy any horse, it’s essential to know how to check a horse thoroughly.

Before you buy a horse, check its conformation and feet. Watch how the horse moves for signs of lameness and look for indicators that reveal bad habits like cribbing. Move around the horse and lift its feet to see how it reacts to you.

Horses are great animals to own, and I encourage anyone interested in them to take the plunge and buy one. However, before you purchase a horse, it is critical to evaluate them thoroughly.

Picture of a man looking at a horse he may buy,

Do your homework before looking at a horse.

Buying a horse is not an easy decision. There are many things to consider: the size, breed, temperament, and even color of the horse. But what about the price? Is it worth paying more for horses that are of better quality or with more potential?

We all know that sellers will always try to paint the perfect picture when trying to get you to buy what they are selling, but not everything that glitters is gold. That said, if you’re in the market trying to purchase a new Equestrian pal, you should be very cautious and inspect the horse before you buy it to avoid getting a lemon.

Before seeing a horse you’re interested in buying, learn as much as you can about it. What breed is it? Has it competed in any sports or had a significant illness or injury?

When I’m interested in a horse, I talk to people in the equine community familiar with the owners. I like to know how the owners treat their horses and what people without a bias have to say about the horse.

How to find the right horse.

Finding the right horse is tricky, especially if you don’t have much experience in the field. Keep in mind that you want to purchase a well-trained horse with a steady temperament that anyone in your family can handle and ride.

But the first thing to consider is what you plan to do with the horse, whether you intend to use it for recreational trail riding, equine sports, or breeding. Once you answer this question, it will help to narrow down your choices and exclude some breeds.

If this is your first horse you want one with a calm temperament. Having a high-strung horse is not only dangerous, but it takes the pleasure out of owning a horse.

You can find many horses for sale on the internet, but there are also drawbacks, such as scams and animals that may not be healthy or safe. If you go the internet route, I recommend joining some Facebook groups dedicated to horses. There is plenty of information on all types and breeds available that can help in your search!

But I find the best way to locate a good horse is word of mouth. Get out there and spread the news to horse trainers, boarding facilities, and friends that you’re in the market for a horse.

Let them know your riding experience level, budget, and the equine event(s) you intend to use participate in. Please don’t make the mistake of spontaneously buying the first one you see or choosing one because you like its color. I often see young riders pick bad horses because they have their hearts set on a particular color.

Never purchase a horse before seeing it in person; pictures can be deceiving and you don’t want to purchase blind-sided. If you find a horse you like that is far from you, contact a vet in the area and ask them to evaluate the horse, it will cost you but in the long run, it may save you from a big headache.

Don’t hesitate to ask any question that you can think of to the seller to ensure the horse fits your standards.

First impressions matter.

Once you decided a horse seems to fit your needs and has a suitable history it’s time to schedule a viewing. Upon arrival, you should look the horse over starting from the front, both sides, and behind. You should be looking for any obvious abnormalities.

Pay attention and look for any lumps or scars, and rub your hand on each leg with particular attention to their knees and lower leg joints for heat. Check each of their hooves for cracks, possible deformities, thrush, or abscesses, and lastly, check their teeth for abnormal wear, which could indicate it’s a cribber.

Other things to check, the horse’s gums should be bright pink, and its manure not too runny. Healthy horses tend to roll over from time to time and usually shake off the dust after it has finished rolling, but a horse with digestive issues will show signs of looking to their sides when they finish rolling over.

An unhealthy horse may show signs of excess drinking, drooling, and dropping things from their mouths, along with loose or hard droppings. Some sick horses become stiff, which can be a sign of concern the horse has a disease such as Laminitis or Tetanus.

How to check a horse to find out if it’ll be a good fit for you.

Choosing a good horse is essential for any rider. Horses are not cheap, and you want to make sure that you get the best one for your needs. But it’s difficult to know for sure the horse you buy will be a good horse.

However, there are some things you can look out for when choosing a horse that will help increase your chances of finding a great animal that will be perfect for you.

A good horse should be alert and show an interest in you, its surrounding, and other horses nearby. Its eyes should also be bright and clear. I know of one horse trader with a reputation for drugging high-strung horses before showing them to potential buyers.

You can typically spot a drugged horse because their eyes look glassy and don’t react to movement quite right, and their ears hang to the side. You can easily overlook these signs if you’re not observant.

You should walk around the horse, rub its coat, pick up its feet, and pass your jacket or towel over its back. If the horse stands confidently, that’s a good sign the horse isn’t skittish.

As stated above, ensure the horse is in good health. While it may look healthy at first glance, the seller should allow you to inspect the horse before purchasing without any hesitation. If they are reluctant to let your vet check the horse or allow you to saddle and ride it, walk away.

The key to choosing a good horse is to not miss the obvious signs of a troubled horse. A good horse is one that is alert, has good feet, is in good health, and doesn’t easily spook or have bad habits such as cribbing.

Questions you should ask when buying a horse.

You being the buyer, have all the right to share with the seller any concerns that you have, along with any question that might pop up when buying your first horse. You can ask specific questions to clear any doubts, such as:

  • How long have you owned this horse?
  • Does the horse have any history of abuse or neglect?
  • Does the horse have any conditions that need treatment?
  • Does the horse have any documents of registration?
  • Why are you selling the horse?
  • Is the horse trained?

These are just some important questions you can ask the seller when purchasing your first horse.
It is essential to know beforehand if the horse has any medical ailments that can affect its quality
of life before deciding whether or not that horse is right for you.

Sometimes sellers will hide specific details of the horse when selling them, so you must do your research before deciding.

Trying a horse before you buy.

If you feel like the horse may fit your needs, ask for a test run to see how comfortable you feel on the horse. It’s also a good idea for you to tack up the horse; this is another opportunity to find out more about it.

When you ride sit on its back for a minute or two without asking it to move. Then cue the horse forward, turn it both ways and stop. Ask the horse to back up and then move forward in a walk, trot, and canter. Try to get a good feel for the horse.

In some cases, you can take a horse home and try it as a lease without committing to purchase. We’ve sold horses like this plenty of times. We felt confident that the more time they spent with our horse the better the chance was of them buying it.

Picture of a vet checking a horse.

You should you get a vet check before buying a horse.

Getting your horse vet-checked is a crucial step to do before making your final purchase so you can feel more reassured that the horse is healthy. It’s a great way to get more information on the horse from a professional perspective and give you an insight into the horse’s health before buying.

This exam allows you to receive an unbiased and clinical opinion of the horse from a professional who will not sugarcoat any illnesses or history found, providing you with the confidence needed to make the right choice.

I recommend you choose your Veterinarian and not one selected by the seller to avoid biased opinions. It would be best if you also spoke with the professional performing the exam before he begins so he is aware of what your level of horse-riding is and what your intentions are to know what to pinpoint during the exam.

What is a vet check?

For those who aren’t aware of what a vet check is, it is an exam performed by a Veterinarian which does a complete physical examination on the horse to determine whether or not the horse meets your requirements for your intentions with the animal.

How it works is that the vet will speak to the seller of the horse to figure out whether it’s taking any current medications, its history, any injuries, and any preventative care.

You decide how extensive his examination is, but a thorough exam starts by watching the horse while they rest and checking their vital organs, followed by accessing it while it works.

The vet then examines all four of its limbs by performing a flexion test. The joints are put under stress to determine whether the horse is suffering from lameness and other joint diseases that are not visible.

The horse gets put through various exercises, varying from a walk, trot, and a canter, checking each gait. Additionally, the Veterinarian also performs several tests under a saddle, which they do to check for any abnormal striding, decreased flexion, and reluctance to work.

Additionally, if you have any doubts about the horse’s age and you would like to confirm it with the vet, make sure to let them know, and they can confirm its age to see if it coincides with what the seller has told you.

Once they finish the exams, they consult with the seller to go over the results and provide their professional recommendations. If they feel that further examinations are needed, they will advise the seller and suggest more tests such as ultrasounds, x-rays, and blood tests.

How much does a vet check cost?

If you’re wondering how much a vet check will cost you, you can expect the pre-purchase exams to be anywhere between $200 to $300. However, pricing may vary depending on the type of horse intended to buy. Suppose you’re looking to purchase high-performance and competition horses.

In that case, these can entail more detailed exams such as Endoscopic testing, bone scans, drug tests, and thermography scans, resulting in a pricier vet check. These exams may take longer than the regular vet checks as certain horses require more testing.

Conclusively, you may be investing some of your money into a horse before even purchasing one, but this will ensure that you will end up with a horse that will suit everything you are looking for versus choosing one by its appearance.

These exams are imperative for individuals purchasing their first horse to decide on a horse without the risk of getting deceived by any seller. It provides you a sense of relief and gives you peace of mind when selecting your soon-to-be horse.


If you follow all of these steps, you can confidently make your decision. So whether you’re a first-time buyer or you’re simply looking for ways to confirm a good purchase for your next horse, you are now ready and confident to start searching for your perfect horse!