Great Expectations (with apologies to Dickens) When Horse Shopping

Photo © Carly Nasznic


Buying a pony or horse is hard work! You have to know what you want, but be prepared to be realistic with the budget accompanying your wish list. A seller needs to have available a good conformation photo, current videos, and show/training information. It’s not too hard for a prospective buyer to track down a few details, but the seller really needs to be prepared to get things off on the right foot.

In most cases, the first question you need an answer for is, What is your budget? A great way to get a quality horse on a budget is to go for something younger/greener. A young prospect (five or under) is a much less complicated sale and in most cases, more affordable. However, when selecting a prospect, you need to have access to a good professional that can correctly bring along a younger animal. An inexperienced child/student/adult can’t do that easily or well, and this is often problematic at best and dangerous at worst. If the pony (or horse) is green, then it’s generally not appropriate for a student that is learning. 

Buying something that is already going or ready to go show is completely different. Someone has put in the time and money to get the animal to that level, and a buyer has to pay for that. Is it kind and quiet? Is it pretty and correct? Is it a good mover and jumper with a perfect measurement? You pay for that. An easy, clean lead change automatically ups the price. 

Photo © Carly Nasznic

The schoolmaster type of ponies and horses more often than not are for lease only. That’s by design, and always a good direction to consider. With leasing, you are paying for the experience that animal has already had, and likely ensuring a happier outcome for your rider as well as giving them a solid base in which to build their skill. 

No matter which route you take, a new partner for your novice child will cost you—and it should. Your child is a novice, which means inexperienced. You don’t partner inexperience with inexperienced, or you won’t get a good (safe) outcome. Only have $10,000 to shop with for a novice rider but want the winner—right now— at horse shows? Put that in a savings account for a bit longer until you have more flexibility, and continue taking lessons in the meantime.

For best results, you need a professional to tread the buying waters on your behalf. A professional will be able to ask the questions a parent might not consider, and can make a knowledgeable assessment of the potential partnership. In this age of Internet instant gratification, anyone can post ISO ads looking for horses or ponies without really being qualified to do so. One cannot overstate the importance of allowing a trusted pro to work on your behalf. This usually means you will have to pay them a commission on the sale, but it will be well worth it when the match is successful and the process is significantly less stressful with all parties walking away happy.

Often, horses prefer a certain kind of ride. Find that out! This is something your pro will be able to help you with the most. Share videos of the prospective rider with the animal’s owner/trainer to see if that looks like an appropriate fit. Is your horse or pony one that needs more turnout? Ask that question! Lifestyle changes can be traumatic and may result in health and/or behavior issues if not followed or changed gradually.

When a seller gives suggestions regarding getting the animal to its new home, follow them! Long transports require downtime to recover and rest. All animals need time to acclimate to their new surroundings. Allow that so your first ride is less stressful for all involved.

Photo © Carly Nasznic

Sometimes it seems that the Internet and social media have seemingly erased the lost art of thinking. Try to remember how it was prior to accessing select information that has been spoon-fed to a prospective viewer. Think about a potential horse for sale, and the situation you want to use it for, from all sides. Use that critical thinking to make your shortlist of questions, and then get in the car and go see the horse in person!

If you’re looking for a seasoned veteran, it’s likely the horse may be going on in years. Some older animals require maintenance, which should not be an issue if you are leasing a schoolmaster type. For any horse, ask if there are veterinary issues you should be aware of. If you are doing radiographs, ask if the owner has baseline ones already for comparison (note to sellers – having baseline radiographs is always a good idea!).

When you’ve decided on “the one,” make sure you do a pre-purchase exam. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater if something minor was discovered. No horse is 100% perfect. Ask questions and perhaps even get a second opinion. 

With everything, horse shopping is a matter of learning over time. Learn from your experience so the next time you decide to buy (or lease), it will go even smoother!

Randee Beckman is an established pony breeder and USEF Hunter Breeding Judge. Her Otteridge Farm has had generations of successful show ponies and she enjoys selling ponies and horses for others.