A horse can provide much enjoyment; however, if a horse is purchased without careful thought and the essential resources to care for it, the experience can be a nightmare for both the horse and its owner.
Owning a horse is a major responsibility requiring a substantial investment of time and expense. Horses can live well into their 20’s and 30’s; therefore, potential owners must consider whether they are willing to make such a long term commitment to their horses or to ensure they are cared for responsibly if they become unable to financially provide for them.
“The slow down in the economy, long-term drought, and rising costs of feed and hay have led to an increase in the number of neglected and abandoned horses in our state,” said Georgia Commissioner of Agriculture Tommy Irvin. “This has put a tremendous strain on our department’s impound program, which strives to rehabilitate rescued horses and find them good homes. The program does not receive appropriated funds, but is supported only through donations, public auctions of horses not returned to owners, impound costs paid by owners to whom horses are returned, and the help of volunteers.”
Horses traditionally have been bought through private owners or sale barns, but in today’s world, horses may also be purchased through Internet web sites. It’s not a good idea to buy a horse without checking its temperament, so whichever source you use, you need to see and inspect the animal prior to purchase, and have an equine veterinarian perform a pre-purchase exam.
If you’re buying a horse for the first time, learn as much as you can from other horse owners. Since they have been through the process, they can tell you what to look for. Your equine veterinarian is also a good resource for information and advice on horse ownership and management.
Although there are no set rules for buying a horse, the following guidelines should be considered:
* Look for a horse whose age and training is appropriate for the skill of the rider. Inexperienced, first-time horse owners likely will not do well with young horses that have not been ridden or trained. In order to handle the horse safely, these individuals should select an older, experienced horse that is well-trained. A good rule of thumb is that at least one member of the horse-rider pair must be experienced. Also, the additional expense of professional training for young, green horses must be anticipated in the buyer’s budget.
* Have a pre-purchase exam performed by your equine veterinarian. The veterinarian is working for the buyer in these transactions, thus the purchaser is responsible for any fees, regardless of whether the final transaction takes place. A pre-purchase exam with radiographs (“x-rays”) may ultimately save a potential buyer considerable cost and headache by weeding out animals with medical problems that are not immediately apparent. If the horse is young or fractious, be sure to have an experienced handler on site when the veterinarian performs the exam.
* Obtain all the horse’s medical records from the owner and have the veterinarian check them. Ask for a current Coggins test result. The Coggins test is a simple blood test for Equine Infectious Anemia that is required at all licensed boarding facilities, at shows, and for all horses undergoing intra- or interstate travel. If the owner cannot produce this document showing the horse has tested negative for EIA within the past 12 months, do not complete the sale until: 1) the owner has had the horse tested and provided you with this documentation, or 2) the owner agrees to allow you to have the horse tested. Horses traveling to another state for their new home must also have a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection, commonly called a “health certificate,” issued by a veterinarian.
* Observe the behavior of the horse around people and other horses. If the horse “acts up” around other people or horses when you see it for the first time, it will more than likely exhibit the same behavior when you own it. If you like the horse but you just can’t be sure of its behavior based on your first visit, ask the owner if you can keep the horse for a few days before making a decision. Some sellers will allow a trial period of several weeks or even offer to lease the horse to a potential buyer for a set period before a final sale.
* Consider how the horse has been used in the past compared to your expectations for future use. A trained show-jumper may be brilliant in the show ring but unreliable on the trail. A Quarter Horse who has been pleasure-ridden all his life may actually be afraid of cows and fail as a roper or reining cow-horse. Also, if the horse is registered with a breed or color registry, ask to see the registration documents. You also may want to check the horse’s bloodline (pedigree) if you will be breeding the horse.
* Decide if the horse will live outdoors, in your barn, or at a boarding facility. If the horse will be kept outdoors, you will need to have pasture fences ready before bringing it home. Also, make sure to have a sturdy shed or some type of shelter to protect the horse from the elements. Some horses, especially light colored ones, can be sensitive to the sun and can get sunburned if they have no shelter.
* Obtain the necessary horse supplies, such as a lead rope, halter, grooming tools, fly spray, feed buckets, and water troughs, before you bring your horse home. Make sure there is a local feed/seed store or a farmer in your area where you can purchase feed, hay and basic equine supplies. Consult your veterinarian for nutritional advice specific to your horse.
* Read the publication, “Horse Ownership: Obligations, Costs, and Benefits” produced by the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension, for extensive information on the management and care of your horse and the realistic costs of that care. This is an excellent resource for new and experienced horse owners. It is available through your county Cooperative Extension office or on the web at http://pubs.caes.uga.edu/caespubs/pubcd/B1345/B1345.htm