Purchasing the Perfect Horse
So, after weeks or months of searching, you’ve finally found the perfect horse…or have you? Let’s face the fact that the only perfect horse out there is the one that you may find attached to a revolving pole at your local county fair. Those merry-go-round models are reliable, maybe, but not much fun! The fun kind of horse is a living, breathing creature with all of the beauty and grace that we like to think is present in each of us. Despite that, each of these animals comes with its own set of flaws, just like we do. The question should not be, “Have I found the perfect horse?” but instead, ask yourself “Have I found a horse whose flaws are O.K. with me and one with which I can have a long productive relationship?” Ah, the million dollar question! This can be a real doozie, and there are things that you can do to make the process easier and to make sure that you end up with the horse of your dreams.
First and foremost, surround yourself with knowledgeable horse-people. If you are already one of those people, then you’re a step ahead of the game. If your knowledge of horses is limited, or if you are interested in purchasing a horse that has talents in a field with which you’re not familiar, retain the services of an experienced horse trainer or instructor. These people can be invaluable in weeding out those horses that are not the right “match” because of behavioral issues or talent limitations. They should be considered your first line of defense, and it is especially helpful if they have first hand knowledge of your riding abilities, time constraints, and goals. Involve them in the search! Not only can they help you weed through the sea of prospects, but often their connections allow them to make you aware of some potentially suitable horses that may not be advertised through formal channels. If a prospect makes the cut with your instructor, then move on to the next step.
Spend an adequate amount of time with a horse that you are interested in purchasing. Too often, veterinarians are called to perform pre purchase examinations on horses that have only been viewed on video. Modern technology is great, but agreeing to purchase a horse sight unseen should be avoided at all costs! Make every effort to ride the horse multiple times and become familiar with its ground manners. Will this “perfect” horse chew down your brand new barn? Does he have to be turned out by himself because he doesn’t play well with others? Does he have to be tranquilized every time the farrier or veterinarian shows up on your doorstep? These types of questions may not be foremost in your mind, but they are the types of issues that can make or break a relationship once money has changed hands. If at all possible, take a horse that you have a strong interest in home on a trial period. It is not uncommon to work out an arrangement with a seller whereby you have the horse for several weeks or even a month. During this time you can develop an excellent feel for what you might really be taking on. With any lease arrangement, be absolutely sure to have each person’s responsibilities well documented. Who is responsible for the costs associated with a month’s worth of care? Who is responsible for any veterinary bills in the event that the horse becomes ill or injured while under your care? Are you allowed to take the horse to local shows or events while under your care? The list can go on, but you get the point.
So, if you’ve gotten this far with your “perfect horse” then you’re almost over the hump, but not quite. Now you have the task of scheduling the infamous prepurchase examination! There are several phrases to keep in mind here: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and there is no such thing as a free horse. It is always worthwhile to do a prepurchase examination on any horse that you are interested in buying! Ironically, the “free” horse is the one that usually needs this evaluation the most, and wouldn’t you rather know what you’re getting into before you’re the one solely responsible for it? Over the long haul, you may spend more money to “fix” a “free” horse than you would to buy a sound one. The knowledge gained during a thorough prepurchase evaluation can be invaluable and may allow you to deal with health or soundness problems on a preventative basis rather than waiting until they become severe.
A prepurchase evaluation consists of a thorough physical examination, a lameness examination including flexion tests and observation on a longe line or under saddle, and ancillary tests such as blood work and x-rays that can be decided upon based on the horse’s intended job and age. Other diagnostic testing is often available and should be discussed with the veterinarian performing the exam. There are a couple of rules of thumb when it comes to these evaluations. You should try to be present for the appointment because you will learn things during a two hour evaluation that you may not pick up during a month of casual observation. As the buyer, you should pay for the examination and you should be able to have your veterinarian of choice perform it. Any veterinarian performing a prepurchase exam is ethically and legally obligated to work on behalf of the buyer, not the seller. As you can imagine, there is an obvious conflict of interest if the veterinarian is supposed to be looking out for your best interest but is having the bill paid by someone who has a vested interest in seeing the sale go through at all costs. There are certainly times when it may be necessary to employ a veterinarian to perform your prepurchase evaluation that has the seller (and the horse, for that matter) in his or her client / patient base. In these instances, all prior medical history should be released in full to you. Be wary of a seller that demands that this information be kept secret and be wary of a veterinarian that agrees to proceed with the exam knowing this. Thorough prepurchase examinations are lengthy. It is not unusual to have the time commitment range from two to three hours depending on what additional testing is performed. A thirty minute evaluation (and the price tag that comes with it) may seem like a lucky break at the time but you’ll likely pay the price in the end, just in a different way. When you schedule an appointment for an evaluation, ask what is typically included so that you may make an educated decision as to whether you will feel confident with the results that you obtain. Most Veterinarians have a standard approach to a pre-purchase exam, but depending on a client's interests this can be modified so that any questions or concerns should be thoroughly investigated. This is your chance to make an informed decision by gathering as much information as possible so don't be afraid to ask the person doing the exam what else should be considered. Frequently radiographs and exams are reviewed by the purchaser's Veterinarian at home, and now with digital radiographs this can happen readily.