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.

Examining a horse at an auction

When a pre-purchase examination cannot be performed by a qualified equine vet, following these guidelines for examining a horse at an auction.

What do I need to know?

Unlike buying a horse privately, where you can view the horse and then make a decision after careful thought over the course of a day or two, buying a horse at auction can require a fairly quick assessment before deciding to bid on it.

Horses at auction are usually "sold as seen" with no vetting or warranty, which means it is your responsibility to check the horse yourself before the auction starts. Don't rely on information you are given by a seller unless they can give you proof.

This factsheet assumes you are purchasing a horse "sold as seen" and gives you some guidance on how to assess the horse before making a bid.

If it is your first time buying a horse at auction, it is probably wise to take an experienced friend, instructor or trainer with you so you have a second opinion before making the final decision to bid on a horse.

Some auctions do offer some form of warranty that confirms the horse is as described, sound and/or fit for a particular purpose. If this is the case the buyer is usually entitled to return the horse to the seller within a certain timeframe if the horse if found not to be as initially described. However, warranties can be ambiguous and the onus is usually on the buyer to prove that the horse is not as described.

Sometimes, a vetting is offered as an option to be carried out at the auction by vets in attendance after you have committed to buying a horse. If you chose this option it is advisable to be there when it's your horses turn to be vetted. If the horse fails the vetting you have no obligation to buy the horse, however, if the horse does pass the vetting, you are then obliged to complete the sale and buy the horse.

Some higher end auctions have all horses vetted before the auction beings, including x-rays; the cost of this is usually added to the final price of the horse which is paid by the buyer. Potential bidders are able to view the vetting results and discuss these with the vets before the auction starts.

How should I assess a horse I want to bid on?

Stand back and observe the horse first; what is the horse's appearance and attitude like?

Does the horse look relaxed or uptight, happy to be handled, or nervous around people?

Look at the horse's general body condition, hair coat, foot quality and muscle development; these observations should give you an idea of the general health of the horse, indicating the type of care that the horse has received.

Is the horse's weight appropriate for his or her size and frame/build?

Is the horse's muscle development normal and equal on both sides of the body?

These qualities indicate the amount of exercise and training the horse has received recently.

How should I examine the horse?

Examine the horse from nose to tail!

Does the horse have a clean nose and bright eyes, and do the horse's teeth look normal?

Note any areas that are swollen or warm compared with other parts of the body. Run your hand down all four legs and compare the appearance and feel of the left legs with the right legs. You may detect a bowed tendon or a fluid-filled knee that may later develop into arthritis in the joint. Try to test each joint for flexibility.

Keep an eye out for other lumps and bumps such as sarcoids or melanomas, or old scars that could indicate previous injury or surgery.

What else should I do?

Watch the horse move!

Observe the horse walk, trot and canter if possible.

Is the horse comfortable when moving or are the ears pinned and is the tail switching?

Is there a head bob or hip hike, suggesting lameness?

Does the horse make a louder than normal sound when breathing?

And, if possible, observe the horse when he or she is being saddled up; this will provide information about the horse's soundness and general attitude.

What else do I need to know?

When going to an auction, even as an observer, remember that the horses come from all over the country and possibly abroad, and have been handled by lots of different people. It is sensible to change clothing, footwear and disinfect your hands, etc before handling any other horses to prevent the possible spread of infection.