Horse Shopping Red Flags

horse buying red flags

10 horse shopping red flags pinterest photo


Buying a horse can be an overwhelming experience for first time horse buyers. As a continuation of Tuesday’s article A Beginner’s Guide to Horse Shopping, here are a few red flags to look for when purchasing your new horse.

1. Excessive sweating, trembling, or lethargy

These are all red flags that point towards the horse being drugged. Sellers drug horses for multiple reasons. They may be covering up a training problem, undesirable temperament, a health problem, or lameness. If you encounter a horse for sale exhibiting these signs, just walk away. Don’t bother wasting the money on a vet check to confirm your suspicions. There are plenty of nice horses out there for sale. There is no reason to take the risk.

2. Refusal to allow the buyer to try the horse

Potential buyers must be allowed to try the horse. How else are you going to know if the horse is right fit? If you are looking at a horse for sale but the seller won’t let you try anything with the horse, there is something wrong. Even if the horse is a prospect with little to no training, you should be able to handle the horse. Basic things like grooming and leading will still give you an idea of what type of horse a prospect is. Certainly a horse with training should be tried by the potential buyer. If you want the horse for riding, you should be able to ride it (as long as it is saddle broke and old enough).

3. Limiting what the buyer can do when trying the horse

Anything the horse is advertised as being able to do should be fair game for potential buyers to try with the horse. If it is a trail horse, you need to ride the horse outside of the arena. If the horse is a trained reining horse, you need to try some of the reining maneuvers with the horse. As a rule of thumb, arrangements must be made for you to try at least 90% of the things that the horse is advertised as being able to do.

4. Refusing a vet check

A vet check is an important part of the buying process. It is vital to ensure that the horse is healthy and fit for your purposes. If the seller balks at the mere mention of a vet check that is your cue to walk away. No matter how nice the horse is or how perfect he seems, balking at a vet check is a huge red flag. It brings up the question of exactly what they don’t want you to know about the horse. You need to be granted access to the horse’s full medical history to make an informed decision. If you start asking questions about the horse’ medical history and the buyer gets evasive, walk away. There are plenty of nice horses out on the market.

5. Pressuring the buyer

This is a huge red flag. Even if the seller doesn’t deny a vet check or further investigation into the horse’s history and training, they may try to pressure you into feeling guilty for asking so many questions. If a buyer is pressuring you for an answer on the spot, run. That is a sign they are getting nervous. As soon as the buyer seems nervous, walk away.

6. Having multiple buyers out to see the horse at once

This seems like such a small thing to new horse buyers but it is a huge red flag. Industry standard is that a seller comes to see the horse and talk to the seller one-on-one. Sellers who insist on having multiple buyers out at once are trying to use the buyers against each other and turn it into an auction. If they want to auction their horse, they need to take the horse to a reputable auction. This behavior is unacceptable when selling privately. These sellers will end up pressuring the buyers, playing them against each other, and generally deny things like vet checks. If you find one of these sellers, run.

7. A horse that is “registrable” but comes with no papers

This is very common. Registration papers affect the price of the horse. If the horse doesn’t have papers, some sellers will try to fudge it by marketing them as “registrable” so they can charge the same price as a papered horse. If it were really that easy to go register the horse, the buyer would have done it. Often, in this situation, the horse is registrable, but registration would either be with an obscure color registry that doesn’t require proof of parentage or you would have to spends hundreds of dollars tracking down the necessary paperwork and signatures back through a string of owners to the original breeder.

8. A “show horse” with no show record

For the sake of selling, only show records that are documented by a reputable organization–like the AQHA or APHA–count for the sake of a sale. Local fun shows who do not maintain or post results don’t count for much. That is not to say the every horse must have a documented show record. Trail horses and weekend warriors don’t necessarily need to have documented show records. A horse that is trained for the show but lacks a show record is marketed as a “show prospect.”

9. A “prospect” that is over 4 years old

“Show prospects” should never be much more than 4-years-old. If an older horse is being marketed as a show prospect, it means one of two things. Either the horse was shown and won nothing or the horse has never been shown and the buyer is looking for an excuse to jack up the price. That is not to say that an older horse cannot become a show prospect, but there is very little market for an older show prospect. Marketing an older horse as a “show prospect” is not grounds to charge more. A “show prospect” over 4-years-old holds the same market value as a well-trained trail horse.

10. A horse that is being marketed for color

One of the biggest rules of horse shopping is not to shop for color. However, a lot of people are still willing to pay extra for a dilute (buckskin, palomino, etc) or pinto. Therefore, color can drive up the price of a nice show horse. But, a colored horse should not be marketed with color as a selling point. The horse should still be marketed according to its training rather than its color.

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