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Buying to Ride: The Basics
Owning a horse can be a rewarding way to learn more about these amazing animals and take your riding to the next level. But before you plunk down your money, here are a few things to consider.

Be realistic about your needs.
The horse of your dreams might not be the horse you need. It’s also easy to fall in love with that rescue or that green youngster brimming with promise. But take a good, hard look at your ability in the saddle, your riding goals, your schedule, your barn setup, and your budget.

A top show animal, a novice, or a stallion might be too much for you to handle. Another prospect might need daily work, whereas you can only saddle up on weekends. Still another might shine in the ring but be too spooky on the trail, or require lots of turnout when your paddock space is limited.

Also, heed the old saying: "A good horse is never a bad color." Unless you plan to compete in conformation classes, robust health, sound limbs, and a willing disposition are more important than show-stopping beauty.

Get help from a pro.
Enlist the help of a riding instructor, respected trainer, or experienced friend when horse shopping. Ask for professional recommendations and have this person accompany you to try each prospect.

Research your local market, including online classifieds. If you see an ad for a horse that looks promising and is within your budget, ask about age, size, breed, level of training/show record, and daily routine. Inquire, too, about health and stable vices, whether the horse ships well, and how he behaves around other horses.

It’s also wise to request a video to ascertain how well the horse moves and jumps. Then follow up in person, paying close attention to the horse’s ground manners and attitude when being tacked up and asked to work. Watch while the owner rides him, then have your pro ride him before testing him yourself.

Run the horse through all the desired paces, trying him in company, alone in the ring and away from the barn. Listen to your gut; then compare notes with your pro. If everything seems favorable, you might ask about taking the horse on trial, getting all terms in writing.

Pre-purchase exam.
When you’ve found a solid candidate, hire a veterinarian you trust to determine whether the horse is healthy and sound enough for your purposes. Attend the exam and ask questions. Few horses are perfect, but some problems are obvious deal-breakers; consider what you can live with, given your goals.

Get it in writing.
Rarely is the first horse you try the one that you buy, and it’s good to look around. But once you’ve found one you like and he passes the vet, discuss payment terms, pickup, delivery, and any contingencies with the owner. Then seal the deal with an official bill of sale that spells everything out in writing.

Welcome to horse ownership!