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Buying a horse is not something to be taken lightly. The choices you make in purchasing a horse, and the subsequent decisions taken regarding its care and management, can pave the way for the success of your equine partnership. Buying a horse is a big commitment and it’s important to take the necessary precautions, and to be as informed as possible when making these decisions.

The most important question to ask yourself is ‘are you ready for a horse?’

It is a big step buying a horse and you need to ensure you have suitable competence, knowledge and experience to give a horse the level of care, time and attention it requires. Are you capable of catching or handling a horse alone, do you have the knowledge to groom or tack up correctly without assistance? Are you confident to mount and ride in an arena or hack out on your own? Are you confident in canter and gallop, or over fences, or even riding a horse along an open bridleway or field? Would you be able to deal with basic injuries, or recognise pain or lameness?

You also need to think seriously about the amount of time and money you are able to dedicate to a horse, how many times you may be able to ride per week, the potential costs and consider the seasonal changes involved in caring for a horse such as dark winter evenings when poor weather can mean little riding, increased yard work and muddy horses which is not quite the same appeal as riding and being on the yard in the summer sunshine. Purchasing a horse can mean major life changes and having to alter your daily routine to allow enough time for its care, as well as a large financial commitment. There can be time and cost effective alternatives to buying your own horse which can help you gain the experience without the commitment - such as loaning or sharing - but if you feel the time is right to buy your own then there are some important things to consider.

Evaluate the costs

Before you start your search for a horse, you need to think about potential costs that may be involved. Not just day to day costs like livery, feed and bedding, but additional costs such as farriery, routine veterinary visits, tack, equipment, riding lessons, transport and insurance. Not to mention costs that could be accrued in the event of an injury to your horse and that, as well as large vet bills, you may be unable to ride for some time and have increased livery charges if it needs specialist care or box rest.

Depending where you are in the UK, basic DIY livery and standard consumables such as hay, feed and bedding can cost in excess of £4000 per year. For a Part or Full livery package, where the horses is cared for by the yard for all or part of the week, the costs can increase hugely to in excess of £7000 per year. This is to cover their basic needs only and does not factor in occasional or one-off costs such as veterinary emergencies.

You will also need to consider the ‘start up’ costs of buying a horse. On top of the initial outlay for the purchase of the horse itself, you may choose to request a vetting, and are likely to need to purchase all necessary tack, equipment and rugs, which can also run into several hundreds of pounds. You will likely need to pay your livery up front each month, as well as a security deposit, plus arrange for transportation of the horse. You may also need to purchase yard equipment such as mucking out tools and, if you’re planning to travel for training or events, you will also need to consider the future costs of membership, entries or training, as well as a means of transportation.

For more guidance on the costs involved in keeping a horse, please see 'Horse prices: How Much Does A Horse Cost'.

Finding the Right Yard

Finding the right livery yard is one of the most important factors when buying a new horse. It is recommended to find a suitable yard prior to starting the search for your horse. This gives you adequate time to view and consider several yards, rather than buying a horse first and quickly needing to find somewhere to keep it. Consider what you want from a yard. For example, if you are just looking to hack out then there is no need for a yard with all the bells and whistles facility-wise but a priority would be the quality of hacking in the area. However, if you’re looking to compete, it would be advantageous to find a yard with an arena and schooling facilities. If you’d still like regular lessons and support on hand, you may be better suited to finding livery based on a riding school or equestrian centre where they would have the qualified instructors and staff on hand for support. The amount of time you can dedicate to caring for the horse may also alter your search criteria. Do you want a yard where you care for the horse 24/7, or do you want a yard to fully care for the horse? You may even want something in between and therefore would need to find a yard flexible enough to be able to provide the services as and when required.

Once you have found a handful of yards that may suit, contact the yard owners and try to find out as much as possible during your first contact. If you are happy with what they could offer, then it is important to view each yard in person. Arrange a convenient time to meet the yard owner and make sure you plan all the important information needed so that you can ask them whilst at the yard. Ask to see all of the facilities, find out what is included in their packages and the cost, ask about livery contracts and insurances, ask about any specific rules on the yard that you may need to consider in your search for your horse. The more you find out, the more you will know if this yard is likely to suit you.

When deciding on the yard, you must not base this solely on price. Whilst the costs of livery can vary yard to yard, it is important to find the right yard, rather than the cheapest. The cheapest may not necessarily be the most suitable and in the long run could mean you need to move on after a short while which can cause further cost and disruption. It is similarly important not to choose a yard above your means which may make the cost of livery unviable in the long run. When you’ve found your yard, assuming this is before the purchase of the horse, you’ll need to ask for the stable to be held, which will likely involve paying a holding deposit for the space, until such time as you find the horse and it can move onto the yard. Make sure you ask your new yard owner what they need in relation to documentation from yourself or for the horse, so you can have this in order before the move.

Finding the Right Horse

When starting the search for your horse or pony, priority should not be price, but that it is the right horse for you. You need to carefully decide what sort of horse you are seeking, not only in height, age or sex, but also in ability, temperament and experience. Select a horse that you are ready for now. Whilst it may seem a great idea to buy a horse that may suit your eventual competitive goals or to buy a ‘project’ because it is cheaper, this is not always the best way. A first horse should ideally be well mannered and suitable for novices to ride and handle. Your first horse should be something you can gain confidence from and progress with. Buying an inexperienced, young or unsuitable horse may ultimately cause confidence issues. Plus, with a higher probability of issues arising, it could eventually prove unsuitable, cost a great deal in lessons or schooling to get the horse you want, or even mean you end up having to sell it after only a short time.

A riding school can be a great place to source a first horse or pony. They will have a good idea what is necessary for a first-time owner, so you should approach any riding schools or equestrian centres in your area. Riding schools often have horses and ponies for sale or may know if any of their clients or contacts are selling something suitable. You can also ask your instructor, new yard owner or local riding clubs, as you are much more likely to find something suitable through recommendation. Many online advertising platforms have specific sections for first horses. Such horses will often be described as suitable as a first horse or pony, or as a ‘schoolmaster’. When looking at adverts, you should narrow down your search criteria and budget to enable you to find something suitable, rather than being tempted by something too high, too young or too expensive.

When enquiring, be realistic and honest with the owner about your abilities, both with the care and your riding level. Explain that it is your first horse and tell them your aims for the future. Try to find out as much information as possible before even travelling to view a horse - this can save a huge amount of time and money. Ask lots of questions, speak to the owner on the phone, and ask for photos and videos to be sent to you. If you find something you want to view then you should ask to see this ‘from the field’ so you can see the owner handling it in its usual routine. It is advisable to take an experienced person with you - such as an instructor or your new yard owner - who can give you an experienced opinion on the horse. You should also ensure you see the horse caught, groomed, trotted up, tacked up and ridden in all paces first before you give it a try yourself. You need to see that, as a novice, it is well behaved and calm with its usual rider, otherwise it is unlikely the horse for you. If you are planning to use it for hacking then you should ask to see it ridden up the road, or even hack it out yourself on a subsequent visit. If you want to jump, then ask to see it ridden over poles or popped over some fences.

If you are still keen after the initial viewing, you should ask to make a second and even third visit. Many owners are reluctant to allow horses to go on a trial these days, but they should be willing and open to allow you to trial the horses as much as possible, within reason, and to show you any associated paperwork, such as the horse’s passport, before making a decision. It is also advisable to get the horse ‘vetted’. The level of vet inspection is likely to depend upon what you want from a horse, with the outcome being that the vet will advise if the animal is deemed suitable for your needs. It is also a good opportunity to discover any potential issues or conformational faults with the horse, as well as it having a full check up by the vet.

For further information on what to consider in your search for the right horse, please see 'The Ultimate Guide To Buying A Horse - Everything You Need To Know!

Settling in

The behaviour of a horse can often change whilst it settles in to a new yard with a new owner, but this is all normal. It can take a month, maybe longer, for a horse to settle into a new yard. You need to remember that you are a new person to the horse, so it will take time for you to get used to one another on the ground and in the saddle. Your yard owner will be able to best advise you on any settling issues, as they will likely have seen hundreds of horses arrive on the yard in their time and will be well aware of how to deal with any problems.

The first month is an excellent time to bond with your new horse, spend as much time as possible at the yard grooming, handling and riding, to get to know the horse as best as possible. Problems will inevitably arise down the line, so a calm approach, along with having taken the time to get to know your horse’s normal routine and behaviour, will mean these things can often be dealt with quickly.

There are also some important things that you should have checked within the first few weeks of owning the horse. If you did not opt for a vetting, it is advisable to get a vet out to give the horse a general health check for your own peace of mind. It would also be recommended to get the farrier to check their feet, an equine dental technician (or the vet) to check their teeth, and even an osteopath or physio to give them the once over, just to ensure everything is as it should be. It is also a great time to get kitted out with the right tack and equipment. Even if the horse came with tack, you should still have a saddler out to check the fit of the saddle, and also check that the bitting and any other equipment is suitable and well fitted to the horse. This will get you off on the right foot and reduce the likelihood of any issues in coming months.

Continuing Your Education

Buying your own horse certainly does not indicate the need to stop riding lessons. Continuing training and lessons will only improve your knowledge, improve the joint education of yourself and your horse, and ensure you are heading in the right direction for your goals. If you don’t know something or need help, then don’t be afraid to ask. It’s recommended to find a reputable trainer and to have regular lessons, certainly initially whist the partnership is developing. Joining the Pony Club or a local Riding Club is also a great way to gain confidence and experience, often having the opportunity to attend regular schooling or low level competitive events across a range of disciplines, as well as gaining experience in other aspects of horse care and management. It’s also a great way of meeting other horse owners in your area.

Your yard owner can be a great source of support and advice. They will have dealt with many horses and owners of all abilities over the years and it’s more likely than not that they will have already seen such issues as may arise with your new horse. They will be able to point you in the direction of a good farrier, vet or instructor and should be willing to help you out, within reason. There are lots of people in the equestrian world who are willing to offer their advice, especially to novices and first-time owners. However, too much advice from too many sources can often prove confusing and detrimental. Whilst it is tempting these days to seek advice on social media, this can often provide more harm than good. It is important to seek advice from respected equestrian professionals, such as your riding instructor, yard owner or vet. After all, no one is likely to know you or your horse quite as well as them.

There are many potential pitfalls involved in buying a horse at any time, let alone for a first-time owner, so with a little guidance from the right places these risks can be reduced and give you a higher chance of finding you your ideal, long term horse.

If you think loaning a horse might be a better option for you, please see 'Loaning A Horse Successfully - Loanee 'Do's And Don'ts' For Making It Work'.

Cheryl Johns - Livery List
Horsemart Brand Ambassador
Published on 02-07-2020
Cheryl Johns is the founder of LiveryList. Launched in 2011, it has been the UK’s #1 Livery Yard Directory since 2014. “I run LiveryList, but I also create and publish lots of content in relation to yard management and equine welfare. Obviously, a vast majority of equines in the UK are kept at livery, and the content I produce is both original and relevant to horse owners and yard owners alike. I am a qualified yard manager and instructor, and have more than 20 years experience in the equine industry, from novice horse owner to experienced competitor, to yard owner. I also have qualifications in all aspects of equine welfare and management.”