Adventures in Horse Shopping: Red Flags

I’ve been a part of the process of buying horses for most of my life. Whether that’s test riding, bidding at an auction, making initial phone calls, or whatever- I feel fairly confident that I know what to look out for and how to read between the lines when it comes to equine marketing.

Because of this, I have developed some personal opinions about what constitutes a red flag.

The first and foremost red flag to me tends to happen at the start of the test ride/visiting process. That is, having the horse already waiting and tacked up. Now, I get it if you’re a busy professional and you told me you would do that (though I still very much wish you wouldn’t). But if you already made it clear that we had all the time in the world, and yet you went ahead with this… No. Red flag. Why? Because catching a horse and tacking it up is something that I’m going to do with my future horse almost every time I see him, and I want to know if he has any bad habits. How easy is he to get from the paddock? Does he turn around to bite you when you tighten the girth? Will he throw all of his weight into each leg as you attempt to pick out his hooves, or turn into a giraffe when you go to bridle him? What’s hiding underneath those polos? It’s easy to hide all these and more in the name of convenience and helpfulness.

She'll never know they had to tranq me this morning to bring me in...

She’ll never know they had to tranq me this morning to bring me in…

Another red flag that pertains to jumping horses is the owner/trainer/whatever representing the horse (who I normally ask to ride the horse first) who won’t jump the horse themselves. Why? Are you afraid to jump it? Do you know it will land bucking? Take off with you? Turn the poles into matchsticks with the elephant you’re hiding under there?

A more subtle red flag to me happens before I even get to inquire about the horse. The dreaded Private Treaty price tag. Now this one is a much more personal one, as it relates to budget. But to me, I can’t fathom why someone would not list any hint of what they are asking for their horse. This is beyond the ranges I typically see in hunter/jumper ads (you know, those “priced in the lower-mid 10 figure” descriptions). Private treaty to me reads one of a few things.

  • “I have put such an unrealistic price tag on my horse that I’m embarrassed to say.”
  • “I don’t really want to sell this horse unless you prove to me that you are actually sent from Heaven and have the Good Lord as a your barn reference, with Peter and John as your farrier and vet.”
  • “You can’t afford this.”

I understand that there are exceptions, and lots of well-meaning sellers out there (post on that coming)… but in horse selling, clarity is everything. We all [hopefully] want the horse to end up with the right person, and to do that each party needs to have a full understanding of the horse, the expectations of the sale, and a little bit of common sense. When one of these fails… ware the red flag!

16 thoughts on “Adventures in Horse Shopping: Red Flags

  1. Ugh. Private Treaty makes me crazy. Put some kind of ballpark on an animal. I have a budget. I’m not going to waste your time asking about a horse I don’t know I can afford.

  2. From someone who helps in the selling process, we try to have the horse in when the client arrives (all the horses in work have night time turnout) and generally clean. You certainly don’t want to waste the time of a client by having them get all the way there and you go to grab the horse from the pasture he’s pulled a shoe, maimed himself, or some other dumb thing. We pull the horse out of their stall and let the client choose what they’d like to do… most run their hands over the legs, look at the conformation and ask questions. Some want to see the horse at liberty/free jumping (which we gladly do) and then the trainer always rides first and asks the buyer if they’d like to sit on the horse.

    Perhaps it’s the way that we handle all our horses, but they all have great ground manners and none have issues being caught! I never thought about that being an issue!

    • If the horse is already in the stall during the day, that makes perfect sense. I wouldn’t expect someone to turn a horse out just so I could see it caught 🙂

      Since a lot of the horses I’ve been checking out (and ones I have shopped for in the past) tend to be on the green side, they might not have wonderful ground manners installed yet, which is also why the tacking up process is ultra-important to me. For instance just the other week I saw a horse who reared in the crossties when I was there- it’s things like that that I keep an eagle eye out for and try to be smart about!

  3. I understand all of these points, and they all do at least raise a pink flag for me. Having worked at a busy sale barn, we often tried to have all of the horse groomed and tack up when the buyer arrived, but this was mostly because there were often 3 or 4 horses to try (at least!) and there were usually only 1 or 2 working students showing all of the horses.

    As for the second point, I am definitely wary if the trainer doesn’t want to do much with the horse. That being said, my trainer won’t actually jump much of anything these days, and prefers to only do flat work. So knowing that I wouldn’t run away, but I’d definitely be ready for anything.

  4. I really hate the whole private treaty thing. Just list a price. Or at least a price range. I don’t mind if the horse is tacked up when I get there. If I decided to be interested in the horse I will do a second visit and will specifically ask to see the horse caught, tacked up, etc.

    • Because I’ve bought so many horses at auction I often forget that there’s an option (depending on the situation) to visit a horse more than once. Sometimes it’s an option, but I can’t convince myself to drive the distance again to see a horse again. But definitely seeing more of that kind of stuff the second visit would make perfect sense.

  5. Yeah since I was super busy all the time, I would generally have the horse in when people came to look at him. Sometimes I was grooming and a lot of times they were late anyways. If they wanted to take his boots off the check his legs absolutely fine. I always waited to show them how tricky he was to bridle and I definitely let them run their hands all over him when he was done being shown.

    • I think a post on how to be a polite buyer might also be in the works… Because obviously a few people need lessons in that from your experience (and mine). And there’s nothing wrong with a clean horse when buyers get there!

  6. Totally agree!

    Another red flag is when you get there and the horse is already warmed up. This has happened, and whilst I expect the owner to warm the horse up and show him to me, I would like to actually see it!

    The catching/tacking up already isn’t ideal but not a biggie for me personally. I feel like you can quickly enough train out all the bad quirks you mentioned, and ask to have a look underneath the tack once you’re done. I completely get where you’re coming from though in that is something you’ll be doing every day, so would be nice to get the full picture from the first time you see the horse.

    In New Zealand, where only like 30% of us board at somewhere with facilities, it’s super annoying to go look at a horse and realise you only have a 30m square paddock on an incline to try him out on. Trailer the horse out to somewhere if you’re serious about selling!

    ^ Just about the potential polite buyer post; when my sister was looking for her first pony – she would pat and rub the horses before getting on (normal procedure I hope, ha) and when they did what she asked whilst she was riding. Something I didn’t think about until an owner told me how much it meant to her. I personally get so caught up with ‘testing’ the horse and trying to be critical so I get the ‘right’ horse, I forget that it is someone’s fur-child. As an owner, I’d LOVE to see someone be so kind towards my horse – even if they were more focussed on asking me about the bad stuff – like the awful pigeon toes my horse has ;).

    • Regarding buyer etiquette- totally agree and even if the horse is a bad tempered mule I always try and be sweet to them.. Check out today’s post 🙂

  7. Love this! I did end up doing two visits to be able to do all these things- on our first visit we were trying several horses so they were all tacked up and waiting for us to save time. Once we decided we liked Frankie, we went back for a second visit so that I could handle him, tack him up, interact more on the ground.

    • That makes total sense.. the whole “going back for a second look” is so novel to me! Everything is just so gosh darn far away though!

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