Horses are part of an ever growing industry, with over 600,000 horses in the UK, 1.4 million riders and 5 million people with an active interest in the equine industry*. Most people acquire a horse out of choice, so if you make this decision you should think carefully before going ahead. A horse needs lots of love and care, including regular worming, vaccinations and dental care. Owning a horse is time consuming and can be costly; not only will you will need to consider where you will keep your horse, you must also consider the ongoing costs of owning a horse which include accommodation, bedding, feed and healthcare.

In the unlikely event that your horse goes missing it is going to be very difficult for anyone to know who it belongs to, unless your horse carries some form of permanent identification. It is wise to get your horse microchipped or freezemarked, this will avoid heartache in the long run, should your horse go missing or is stolen.

Horses are herd animals, and thrive on being together with other horses. Don’t forget that your horse will need somewhere to graze, a stable for warmth in the winter time, a constant supply of water, feeding daily and regular exercise. It can cost hundreds of pounds a month to care for a horse, including accommodation, food, veterinary care and insurance; there will be other costs, including buying tack and rugs and extra livery charges when you go on holiday.

Horses can live into their thirties, over this time your horse will need lots of care and attention. Being able to provide all of this will ensure you and your horse make the most of your time together.

* Research conducted in 2004 by the Henley Centre for DEFRA and the British Horse Industry Confederation.

Buying a horse

Owning a horse is a big responsibility that requires great commitment, time and money. Before buying a horse or pony you need to make sure you can provide everything your horse needs. Buying a horse is a time-consuming and lengthy process. You will need to do some research and visit different horses before you make your final decision.

What will owning a horse involve?

Owning a horse is not as simple as you might think. You will have to consider the following...

Why do you want a horse?
  • Whether you want companionship, want to compete or want a horse as means of getting out and exercising, they are your responsibility and a life-long commitment.
How time consuming is it?
  • This will all depend on your individual situation. If you decide to keep your horse on full-livery, your time commitment can be whatever you choose. Your worries might be less, but costs will be high and you will miss out on time and fun with your horse.
  • If you choose to keep your horse at home it will be a full-time commitment, 365 days a year!
  • You may choose to keep your horse on DIY livery, where you care for your horse yourself. If, however, you are ill or want to go on holiday you can usually call on the assistance of the yard owner, at a cost.
What will it cost?
  • After the initial outlay of buying your horse, you will probably have to buy some tack and clothing for your horse, including saddle, bridle, rugs, etc. These can amount up to over £2000.
You will also have on-going costs
  • Accommodation: this can cost up to as much as £1500/month, depending on the type of livery chosen.
  • Bedding: around £8 for a bag of shavings and slightly less for a bale of straw.
  • Feed: as well as hay, hard feed and supplements may need to be purchased costing around £15 for a 20 kg bag of hard feed.
  • Healthcare: this will include vaccinations, worming, shoeing/trimming and dental care amounting to around £900/year.
Do I have enough experience?
  • You will need to know:
    • How to handle a horse on your own
    • How to feed a horse
    • How to clean out a stable
    • How to correctly put on a headcollar, bridle, saddle and rugs
    • How to groom a horse
    • Basic skills of riding or driving
    • When a horse is healthy or not
    • When to call the vet
    • How to maintain healthy feet.

Everything else you need to know will come with experience.

How do I go about finding a horse that is right for me?

Before buying a horse, you will need to consider the following factors...

How much money have I got to spend?
  • This will almost definitely rule out one or more types of horses.
  • You can expect to pay as much as £2500 for a general all-rounder and tens of thousands of pounds for a competition horse.
What type of horse should I buy?
  • This all depends on your experience and aspirations. All horses are different and as you visit various horses for sale you will soon come to a conclusion as to the type that is best for you.
  • Novice rider: a nice quiet schoolmaster would be suitable.
  • Intermediate rider: a more experienced, but not necessarily registered horse would be ideal.
  • Advanced rider: a suitable competition horse with the relevant experience, possibly a hunter type.
What height should my horse be?
  • Small, light-weight adults would probably go for a fine horse, anything up to about 16hh. For taller adults and men, hunter types up to and over 17hh would be more appropriate.
What age horse is best?
  • If you are a novice rider buying your first horse, an older more experienced horse would probably suit you best. More experienced riders would probably go for a slightly younger horse of about 5 or 6 that they can work with and possibly school and train further.
What sex horse should I buy?
  • Geldings are usually more reliable; they tend not to be temperamental and are usually fairly laid-back.
  • Mares can be too, but some become rather mareish, skittish and excitable as they come into season.
  • Stallions are usually not suitable as pleasure mounts; they can be dangerous when handled by someone who is inexperienced.
  • For an experienced horse-lover, breeding your own horse may be a possibility, if so, you may consider buying a good quality mare and sending her to stud.
Do I want a registered horse?
  • If you want to do some showing, you may need to buy a horse that is registered. Some breed and open classes require a horse to be registered.
  • When you buy a registered horse, make sure you ask to see its registration papers. Don't buy a horse unless the papers come with it - make sure the owner has signed the transfer statement.

Now you can start searching for your perfect match! Spread the word, news travels fast, you never know, something may come up. Keep an eye out in the popular horsey magazines and on the numerous equestrian websites on the Internet.

What should I look out for when I go and see a horse for sale?

Go and see a variety of horses and get a feel of what is going to suit you best. You will need to check out the following before making any decisions...

See the horse in a stable
  • Make sure the horse is relaxed, confident and friendly and doesn't do any of the following:
    • Put his ears back
    • Turn and face away from you
    • Try to barge out of the stable
    • Windsuck or show any other stable vices
  • It should be easy to catch and place a headcollar
  • Note what sort of bedding is used:
    • Ask whether the horse has any reactions to straw or hay
    • If straw is used, does the horse attempt to eat it? A horse that eats straw can become full up without obtaining the necessary nutrients
Note the horse's general health
  • Does the horse:
    • Have any obvious injuries?
    • A runny nose?
    • Have bright eyes - wide-set and large?
    • Have good teeth? Check for parrot or undershot jaw which cause eating problems
Check the horse's feet and legs
  • Make sure the horse:
    • Does not rest one leg excessively
    • Is sound and free of stiffness?
    • Has good, strong hooves that are well-shaped
    • Has no swelling or recent scars
Examine the horse's body
  • As you look at the horse check for:
    • Straightness of the back - is the back too long or too short?
    • Even amount of muscle on either side of the rump.
Examine the horse at work (someone else should ride at this stage)
  • Check for the following:
    • The reaction of the horse to being saddled - does he bite or seem unusually aggressive?
    • Heavy breathing
    • Ease of movement and even gaits
    • Head carriage
    • Does the horse fight the bit or resist moving forward?
Ride the horse yourself
  • Notice how the horse reacts:
    • When you mount
    • To leg aids - is the horse forward going and sensitive to your aids?
    • To the bit - does the horse fight it or is the horse very strong?

If you are still interested, go back and ride a few more times. Get a feel for the horse and be objective, no horse is perfect, you may have to compromise with a few minor faults. As long as the horse is sound and willing to perform, patience and practice will resolve any minor problems resulting in a happy combination.

What should I do next?

Once you have made the decision that you would like to buy a horse, it is advisable to find a vet that will carry out a pre-purchase examination on the horse. Not only will it give you peace of mind, but if you intend to insure your horse, the insurance company you choose will probably request to see a copy of the pre-purchase examination certificate. The examination is not cheap, but it may prevent spending large amounts of money on a horse with existing or possible health problems. It also maximises the chance of the horse successfully going through re-sale vettings.

The vet will examine the horse in 5 different stages:

  • Preliminary examination
  • Trotting-up
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Period of rest
  • Second trot and foot examination

This examination follows strict guidelines laid down by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association and British Equine Veterinary Association.

All 5 stages will examine different aspects of the horse, including respiratory and musculoskeletal systems at work and at rest. The tests will determine soundness and suitability. Questions to the vendor will be posted, eg vaccination record, general behaviour and behaviour while being shod, clipped, travelling, etc. Blood samples, radiographs, endoscopy and other diagnostic tests can be carried out if you feel necessary.

You should discuss the results of the prepurchase examination with the veterinary surgeon who carried out the examination. No horse or pony is perfect, and you should listen carefully to the information that is given to you. You should question the veterinary surgeon regarding any worries you or he/she might have. Remember it is a clinical examination carried out at one particular time and not a guarantee for the rest of the horse's life.