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Advice on Horse Shopping

Horse shopping for your first, second, or even third horse? Maybe the horse is for you, and you're returning to riding after a long hiatus, or maybe you're shopping for your child. I'd consider all of those to be in the same camp as your "first rodeo" so to speak, which can be frustrating for all parties involved, and lead to miscommunication.

Having been on both sides of the coin of horse buyer and horse seller, here's some insight for first time horse shoppers.

Step 1: Hire a professional to help you. Preferably a trainer or a breeder that has been in the industry 10+ years. This may seem like common sense, but emotions often get ahead of logic when it comes to buying horses. A professional with a minimum of 10 years under their belt in the industry will be adept at assessing horses, the seller, and if the training level is suitable for your ability.

Step 2: Buy The Horse You NEED Not The Horse You WANT. Though young, flashy, and fancy horses are attractive, in the end most buyers have no business buying a green horse. Riders should buy a horse that will tolerate their current skill level, and help them to reach the next one. This does not mean that the rider and horse learn the next skill together! Ideally the horse should be a teacher to the rider! (Remember we are talking about "new" buyers here). We often find ourselves advocating for horses in their teens, that often have many years if not a decade of good riding ahead of them, and 10+ years of experience behind them.

Step 3: Don't Ride The X-Rays. The truth: No horse will vet perfectly. If we evaluated ourselves as harshly as we evaluated horses, few of us, would ever pass an examination. Buyers in the camp of their "first rodeo" in horse shopping are often not versed enough with equine veterinarians to make a confident judgement themselves of whether a finding is concerning or not. Does the horse perform the job it is expected to do comfortably? One of my favorite terms that should be more widely known is "Serviceably Sound". I once heard a story of an Olympic show jumping horse that presented lame on 3 different legs, no two veterinarians could agree what or where the exact problem was. The horse had a complicated maintenance and PT routine, but regularly won at a top level. I think of this story whenever evaluating a horse for myself. The important question here is: Is the horse physically comfortable and capable of doing the job I want it to do?

Step 4: Build A Relationship With Your New Horse. In dating, though a year is a substantial amount of time, it is not considered among most to have been a "long time." Why then, do we expect perfection from horses within weeks of bringing them home? When we consider a horse that is sold must rebuild social connections, adjust to a changed diet, and live in an environment completely new to them, it opens our mind to the fact that horses deserve more grace. Spend time with your new horse. Hand graze them, groom them, adjust their diet slowly, slowly introduce them to new friends, and take some riding lessons to get to know each other with the help of someone more experienced. If you have a bad day remind yourself "It's only been so long" then ask yourself from your horse's perspective if anything could be changed for the better.

If this helps even one buyer or saves even one seller a headache it was worth the writing. My years of training and consigning, and now helping our students to find first horses of their own has brought to my attention the need for more open education in a slow to evolve, handshake driven industry.

-Leilani Nichols

Vet Tech of 5 Years
Horse Trainer of 10 Years
Riding School Owner of Strides Horsemanship

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