Guide to Buying Your Child’s First Horse

When most parents set out to buy their child’s first horse, their attitude is that any horse will do. Fat, skinny, tall, short, experienced or inexperienced; it doesn’t matter. After all, the child simply wants a horse!

This is a dangerous mindset, however, because all horses are certainly not created equal, and the wrong choice can lead to injuries and disappointment. I recommend that all parents, regardless of their experience with horses, ask a trainer or instructor to accompany them when they look at possibilities.

The logical first place to start is at the stable where your child takes lessons. If there are horses available for lease or sale, you’ll at least be familiar with their temperaments and dispositions, which will make your decision much more educated. However, this isn’t always an option, and most people must look outside the home turf to find their child’s first horse.

Where to Look

The newspaper is an obvious starting point, though you’ll have to be careful where you go and who you are dealing with. If your instructor or trainer isn’t familiar with the facility where you are going to look for your child’s first horse, be sure to take them along. Unfortunately, many people who deal in horse trading are unscrupulous and will try to sell you an animal that is not safe for children.

The Internet warrants similar caution when buying your child’s first horse, though you can usually find a more advanced selection. Websites like DreamHorse and Horsetopia are filled with thousands of possibilities from all over the world. Most of the Internet classifieds will list the horse’s breed, color, temperament, experience and many will have a picture, as well.

I would not limit your search to classifieds, however, in the search for your child’s first horse. Your home town can generate a wealth of possibilities. Call local barns where horses are sold and inquire about their latest acquisitions.

Trainers who operate stables and farms will have more information and can better help you in your search. Remember, also, is that the horse industry is like a web. Each person you talk with will have a link to someone else, and you might find that you have more possible horses than time to see them!

What to Look For

Unfortunately, even if horse you see looks great, you might still end up with a horse that has secrets buried in its closet. Since non-purebred horses don’t always have papers, and horses aren’t required to be registered, you can’t simply go to HorseBlueBook.com and look up the driving records as you would for a car. Past injuries, illnesses, behavioral problems and tendencies can be glossed over by an experienced horse trader, and it’s impossible to know exactly what you’re getting.

However, you can put your best foot forward as you look for your child’s first horse and check off some of the most common reasons not to buy a horse:

1. Injuries. A few cuts and bruises or an old scar on the hindquarters don’t mean that you cannot purchase a horse, but broken bones, torn ligaments, pulled tendons and the like signal a poor investment.

2. Illnesses. A horse that is predisposed to colic or another disease will likely cost you more in veterinary bills than its asking price. Be sure to request all veterinary history and look over it carefully to search for problems.

3. Biting & Kicking. Horses that bite, kick, buck, rear and generally act up are not good bets for your child. A child’s first horse should be gentle, sound, and easy-going to prevent possible injuries to the rider.

4. Control. This is one of the main reasons why you will want to have an experienced horseman with you when you look at horses. The trainer or instructor should ride the horse first to see if your child will be able to control the animal.

5. Ground manners. As with the previous point, ground manners will determine whether your child will be able to handle the horse on the ground. Leading, tacking, grooming, and bathing are all important factors in your child’s care of the horse.

A Few Tips

Over the years, I’ve had enough experience to learn from my mistakes–and from those of my students and their parents. Here are a few tips that will help you to have a positive and non-stressful buying experience as you search for your child’s first horse:

1. Try the horse out. If the owner agrees–and he or she should if there’s nothing to hide–put a 50 percent deposit on a horse you are considering for your child and take the horse back to your barn for a week. Let your child ride it on a daily basis to make sure there will be no problems. This ensures that the owner did not drug the horse (as is increasingly common).

2. Vet the horse. Before you break out the checkbook for your child’s first horse, have your veterinarian give the animal a check-up. Your vet will X-ray the horse’s bones for abnormalities and will give you his or her opinion as to whether or not you should purchase it.

3. Let the owner ride first. It is common courtesy for the owner of a horse to ride it for you before you take him for a spin, and this is especially true when you’re shopping for your child’s first horse. This decreases that chances you’ll be hurt by a misrepresented animal.

Be prepared for the search for your child’s first horse to take a while. A beginner mount is not an easy animal to find, and it might be months before the perfect one crosses your path. Since children get attached to animals much more quickly than the average adult, however, you won’t want to buy an unsuitable horse only to have to sell him soon after.

Laura Thompson is a horse business consultant and the owner of [http://www.equimanagement.com]EquiManagement. She has worked with horses all her life and is a certified riding instructor. Most of her time is spent writing about horses and the horse business and working with horse business owners.

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