We’ve all been there, because we all had to start somewhere… No matter if you’ve owned a horse for 30 years or 30 days, you have undoubtedly gone through the evolution of becoming a horseman (or horsewoman). Some of us were lucky and had a lot of help when we dipped our toes into the vast world of horse ownership, and some of us had to make every mistake in the book to get to where we are today. So, if you’re a horse owner, you can likely relate to the following pitfalls of first time horse buyers, and if you’re just a horse lover, maybe this article will help you (or someone you know) not make mistakes first time horse buyers make.
Mistake #1- Buying on a Whim
In my over 30 years of horse ownership, I have come across a lot of people with a lot of stories, and when it comes to buying that “first horse”, the most common problem that I have encountered is when people let their emotions override their sense.
Horses are beautiful and loving creatures, and just like Cinderella’s Glass Slipper, there is a horse out there for everyone…but it takes time to find that perfect partner. Many first time horse owners get bitten by the bug and adopt an “I want it now” mentality; they decide that getting a horse is as easy as looking in the local classified ads or going to the first big barn that they come across and finding the prettiest horse that’s for sale. Unfortunately, this often turns into their first, biggest mistake. Buying that first horse takes research and time. When you think that you’re ready, take just a little more time and do just a little more research before you actually jump into the deep end of the pool.
Mistake #2 – Not Asking for Help
The horse community is generally a fairly friendly place, and at any given ranch, barn or event, there are countless people who are more than willing to share their knowledge when it comes to what they know about horses. So why is it that so many first time horse owners decide that buying a horse is something better done on their own? Maybe it’s pride, or maybe it’s simply lack of understanding, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with asking as many questions as you can possibly think of before you purchase your first horse. The best advice that you are going to get is likely going to come from friends in the horse community; if you don’t have “horse friends” yet, go out and make some before you buy that first horse. These people are the ones who can help to guide you in the right direction when it comes to what type of a horse to look for, who may be a good trainer or equine professional to help you on your journey, and also (and maybe most importantly) what to avoid. Don’t be afraid to ask questions…because, as they say, the only stupid question is the one that you didn’t ask.
Mistake #3 – Going it Alone
So you’ve done the research and you’ve asked questions to all of your “horsey friends”, and now it’s time to actually get serious about going out and looking for that perfect horse. As a newcomer to the horse world, the best advice that I can give to you is to not “go it alone”. Before you actually go and look at, or interview, a horse, it’s probably best that you “interview” a trainer or an experienced horse person who would be willing to help you when you go out and see those perspective equine partners. These people will know what to look for; they will pick up on things that you may not even be considering. They will be able to ask the right questions of the current horse owner, will be able to watch how you interact with the horse, and more importantly, how the horse interacts with you. If you don’t have experience under your belt, you are more likely to be mesmerized by things like how “pretty” the horse is, or how “friendly” the horse is, rather than how well behaved, well trained and well adjusted that he is.
Mistake #4 – Believing Everything That You Hear
I said before that the horse community is generally a fairly friendly place, and it is, but when it comes to people selling horses, there is a lot of dishonesty out there.
Just like when a person selling a “tiny house” calls it a “charming cottage”, so too will horse owners find ways of discounting certain bad traits in the horses that they are selling, while blinding you with the good things that may actually be unimportant.
The best way to combat this is to know exactly what questions to ask, and to ask those questions pointedly; you’re looking for a straight answer. The truth is (and it’s a hard truth) that a lot of people lie when it comes to selling horses; they aren’t always forthcoming about health, vices, training, injuries, or what type of a rider the horse is best suited to. This is why it is so important to take head to the previous paragraph and not “go it alone”, and why it is also important to always, always (did I say always) have a vet check done on any horse before purchase.
Mistake #5 – Not Knowing What You Want
This is probably the biggest issue that I have personally come across when it comes to new horse owners or people who are just getting into the horse world. They don’t know what they want to do with the horse that they are purchasing. I have come across so many people with horses that are ill suited for what they are trying to do with them, and this is because when they purchased the horse, they weren’t sure what they wanted to do when it comes to riding.
Here’s an example. At a barn where I used to board, there was a very sweet lady with a lovely Quarter Horse mare. The mare was bred to be a cutting horse, but just didn’t quite make the cut for a big time show home. She was started western, had a sweet little jog and a nice slow lope, and she was drop dead gorgeous. Her owner, unfortunately, figured out not long after she bought the horse, that what she really wanted to do was Dressage. So, not knowing a ton about horses, she figured that any horse could excel in any discipline…so every day she set about trying to get this cute little cutting horse to lengthen her stride, lift her head, and move like the Warmbloods that her friends owned – it was more often than not a fight, and every little show that she went to was a “disappointment” for her. She bought the horse before she knew what type of riding that she wanted to do, and then when she figured out what the horse was good at doing, she was unwilling to either sell the horse to a more appropriate home or change her own dreams to suit what her horse was most comfortable doing.
So, knowing what you want to do in terms of discipline before you buy a horse is imperative; go out and take some lessons, try some different disciplines, go to some horse shows, watch friends ride, visit local barns, and figure out what you’re most comfortable with so that you know what to look for.
In the end, for me at least, horse ownership has shaped my entire life; from the time I was 5 years old I have had horses in my life, and I will likely have them until the day that I die. This is a long term commitment, which means that it is a decision that should not be gone into lightly. If you’re looking for your first horse, getting back into horses after some time away, or know someone who is ready to take the leap into what could be something that will become a huge part of their life…consider these points so you and others will not make mistakes first time horse buyers make.