Horse buying advice and tips

Setting out to buy a horse

Setting out to buy a horse, especially for the first time, can be an exciting prospect; however, it can also become a very frustrating business indeed.

You have your dream horse in your mind’s eye, and the search begins. If you are fortunate, you find what you are looking for, and if you are very fortunate, it might not even take very long. But, far more likely, you will travel the length and breadth of the countryside looking at horses that don’t remotely resemble the equine paragon in the advert you answered. Then finally – bingo! – You find a suitable horse, and decide to take the plunge. The seller looks you straight in the eye and says that the horse has never had a days illness or lameness in its life and may even offer to take the horse back if you are not happy with it. So far, so good, but…

Barely a month goes by without us hearing the above history from a worried new owner who is now having problems. Unfortunately, some of them are about to have a very painful, and possibly expensive lesson in the many pitfalls of buying a horse. Whether you are buying a horse for £500 or £25,000, doing so without some form of pre-purchase examination is a very risky business. At the time, it may seem that you are saving money, but it can cost you dearly in the long run.

Things to remember

No matter how experienced you are, it is worth taking someone knowledgeable along with you when you go to see and ride the horse – Another pair of eyes on the ground is invaluable, and your advisor may well stop you getting carried away and going for something unsuitable.

You are about to part with your hard earned cash so what are your various options?

Would you buy a house without a survey?

Buying any horse is a risk – and a vet can help you objectively assess some of that risk factor and give an unbiased opinion as to the horse’s physical suitability for the intended purpose. The perfect horse has never been foaled. All horses collect lumps, bumps and battle scars – some quicker than others! The art of horse vetting is assessing what will affect that suitability or a possible future sale by you.

Temperament is not included in a vetting – that’s someone else’s pigeon! One word of caution on the subject of temperament – beware of the thin horse with the docile, quiet nature – feeding and increased health can have a dramatic effect and you might suddenly find yourself bouncing around the countryside on a raving lunatic with your adrenalin levels through the roof!

Your Options…


Purchase Without Examination

It always amazes us how many people undertake the expense of buying a horse with no examination at all. Fair enough if they are very experienced and are satisfied that they can assess a prospective purchase, with the exception of heart, wind and eyes, they are probably right. However, there have been several cases where a horse has been purchased for a considerable sum and because of problems which have arisen, the horse has then undergone a PPE and failed.

Where does the purchaser go from there?

Most people who buy without any examination are relatively inexperienced or first time buyers. This is often because they accept that what they are told about the horse is true. One of the things that develops with horse-buying experience is a healthy scepticism! The world is full of people who become somewhat economical with the truth when selling a horse! The problem is often not what they say but what they don’t say about the horse. Learning to ask the right questions is an art form. We can recall many instances where an innocent client has been lulled into buying a temperamentally unsuitable or unsound horse.


5 stage prior to purchase examination (PPE)

This examination is often described as a “full vetting”, takes between 1 and 1.5 hours and includes the following stages:

  1. Preliminary examination 
  2. The trot up 
  3. Strenuous exercise 
  4. A period of rest 
  5. The second trot up and foot examination

The purpose is to identify those factors of a veterinary nature that might affect the horse’s suitability for its intended use so that the prospective purchaser can make an informed decision as to whether or not to go ahead and buy the horse. This is by far the preferred examination from the veterinary surgeon’s point of view as it allows him to examine the whole horse both at rest and having undertaken ridden exercise. If the horse passes you will be issued with a certificate which identifies the horse, details the veterinary findings and gives an opinion as to the suitability for the intended use. This certificate may be required for insurance purposes.

To get the very best out of this examination various prior arrangements need to be made. If the horse is some distance away ask your own vet if he can recommend someone in the locale – do not use the vendor’s own vet as this could put everyone (especially the vet!) in a difficult position. Contact the vet prior to the examination to let him know what you want to use the horse for, any of your own observations and to give any special instructions (blood tests and x-rays are not included).

Make sure there are suitable facilities to carry out all phases of the examination – a rough, stony, mud bath on the side of a hill will not suffice. This will be a waste of the vet’s time and, more importantly, a waste of your money! Ensure that there is a competent person to assist the vet during the examination and also an experienced rider who must be able to remain in balance trotting and cantering in tight circles and not be afraid to gallop the horse. The horse should be well shod and have suitable well fitting tack. All of the foregoing will give the horse the best chance of passing the examination – which, after all, is what everyone wants.


limited prior to purchase examination (LPPE)

There may be a number of reasons why vets may be asked to perform a shorter version of the full PPE

  • Cost of the full PPE
  • The horse may be well known to the purchaser
  • The horse is unbroken

In the LPPE only the first two stages of the PPE are done. Parkside Equine always recommends the full PPE, but we would far rather undertake an LPPE rather than no examination at all. It is all about limiting risk for the buyer. Call Parkside if in doubt!

Through necessity this article has dealt with some of the problems associated with buying horses but it certainly is not all doom and gloom! Fortunately there are lots more successful outcomes than disasters. 

Good luck!

If you require further horse buying advice or would like to book a pre-purchase examination with one of our Equine Vets, please contact us on 01382 811111