Thursday, July 15, 2010

Buying Your First Horse

The first step to horse ownership is learning to ride

Are you ready for a horse? In my opinion, if you are not yet a competent rider, the answer is "no." It is fairer and safer for both you and the horse to begin your horse career on a sensible lesson horse under good instruction. This is true for both adults and children. When you have ridden enough to feel comfortable and under control at walk, trot and canter, and to know this really is how you want to spend a good chunk of your leisure time, then is time enough to think about a horse of your own. Ask your instructor whether they think you are ready. If it’s your child who wants the horse, let them help clean tack, muck out stalls and otherwise experience the work involved with horses.

Horses are expensive and time-consuming

So you’re taking lessons. Can you afford a horse? The first thing to realize is that the purchase price is only the beginning and no, your first horse is not an investment. He has to eat 365 days a year. He’ll need a farrier to trim his feet every six to eight weeks, and depending on his feet and what kind of work he’s doing, possibly shoes which really add to the cost. He’ll need deworming every couple of months, yearly innoculations, and probably annual dental care. If he gets sick or injured, you’ll have extra vet bills as well. Then you’ll need to buy tack and equipment for your horse and proper riding clothes for yourself. And those lessons are more important than ever.

A horse is expensive and time-consuming, but so are other sports. If you know up front what you’re getting into, and you have sufficient disposable income on an ongoing basis, the return in terms of enjoyment and satisfaction far outweighs the cost. You’re not buying sports equipment, you’re buying guardianship of a companion for many years to come.

Always remember, though, that you don’t have to own your own horse to enjoy horseback riding. You can take lessons on school horses while you get to know your horsey neighbours and enjoy their horses. But if you are ready, there’s nothing like a horse of your own.

Finding a first horse

Allow plenty of time for your search. You will learn a lot about horses and yourself in the process and find a more suitable horse in the end. In the beginning, temperament and soundness are the most important considerations. Your ideal horse might be a gelding or a mare of any breed or colour.

Six Steps to Horse Ownership

1. Learn and practice horse skills.
2. Decide what you are looking for.
3. Line up prospects.
4. Interview potential candidates.
5. Get a second opinion.
6. Arrange a trial period if possible.

We've already talked about the first step and I can't stress its importance enough.

Decide what you're looking for

Next make a list of the characteristics of your ideal horse, including price. Bear in mind who will be riding and what kind of horse activities they'll be pursuing. Ask your instructor for advice. As you advance in your riding career, you'll become more specialized in your interests, but at this stage, you're probably looking for a horse you can enjoy on the trail, take some lessons on, and perhaps enter local open horse shows. No stallions. No babies.

The most important criteria are that he or she is well broke and sensible. That means you're looking for a horse who's been ridden regularly by a good rider for several years. This horse is at least six or seven years old and preferably much older. Many horses today lead active lives well into their twenties. Forget the two-year-old, no matter how quiet he or she is. If you or your child is going to jump, look for a horse with jumping experience. Look for a horse you can ride now, not one you hope to be able to ride a year from now. Be realistic about your current riding level. Nothing spoils the joy of riding faster than being over-mounted. You're looking for a horse who knows more than you do but is accepting enough to let you catch up and then go on learning together.

Line up prospects

Once you have your horse's job description and qualifications, you can start looking. Ask around about horses for sale, starting with your instructor. Check the classifieds. Read bulletin boards at tack stores and stables. Don't go to auctions. If a horse sounds promising, interview the owner on the phone. Make sure they know what kind of horse you're looking for. If the horse passes the phone test, round up a horse friend and go and have a look in person.

Interview prospective candidates

First, does the horse look healthy and well cared for? Then remember that you're looking at temperament, training and soundness. Watch the owner catch him, groom him, tack him up and ride him. Then ride him yourself if you feel confident. If you're nervous about riding this horse, walk away. Don't expect the horse to behave any better when you own him than he does right now. For your first few months together, he'll probably be worse.

Get a second opinion

If you like what you see, and at first you may fall in love with every horse, arrange a second visit. Take your instructor or another knowledgeable, objective horseperson with you and listen to their advice. If you decide to buy the horse, negotiate a trial period if at all possible. In any case, have a veterinarian check the horse for soundness before you hand over the check.

When you're ready for horse ownership, finding the right horse will make the difference between a long, happy relationship and frustration and possible injury. Enjoy the search, take your time and get professional advice.

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