Buying a Horse? Do NOT Make These 6 Mistakes

You’ve thought through the costs of ownership, the time commitment and the logistics involved in owning a horse, and you’re ready to buy. Before you pony up, prepare to make a smart transaction.

A young girl kisses a horse's nose.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For anyone considering purchasing a horse, today’s story will be especially relevant, and it began with emails from “Kent” and “Miranda.”

Kent, a business owner with a stressed-out staff, wrote: “A few months ago, someone suggested that a great way of dealing with all the tension we are facing is to spend time riding a horse. All of my employees agreed.” They all started taking lessons and enjoyed the dose of relaxation and change of pace riding provided. “It was better than hiring a coach to make us feel better,” he wrote. “We now want to buy a couple of horses but do not want to be taken for a ride! We would appreciate any advice you can offer.”

Another reader wrote me with a similar question at about the same time. Miranda explained, “My 10-year-old twin daughters have been mad about horses for years. They are taking riding lessons, and I have asked their trainer to locate horses for each of them. How can we avoid getting into trouble with this purchase?”

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I ran these interesting requests by Houston-based equine attorney Rebecca Pennington and asked her to set out some of the classic mistakes people make when looking to buy a horse.

1. Don’t fall in love with a pretty face!

For someone with no experience with horses, the absolute worst thing they can do is to look into its eyes before you look at the rest of the animal, Pennington warned. Do not look into its eyes first, because you might fall in love. Here’s why:

Humans and horses have coexisted for thousands of years, developing a profound relationship that played a critical role in shaping our world. So, we love our horses and they love us, too. A buyer should examine every other aspect of the horse before looking him in the face. Check his conformation, movement and temperament. Look inside the stall to check for evidence of destructive behavior.

When families with young children go out to buy a horse, the first “pretty face” they see will be followed by, “Mommy, Daddy, we love him! Buy him!”

2. Don’t forget to seek help and professional advice.

Unless you are an experienced horse person, do not go out and buy the horse yourself. Don’t just go it alone, without spending the time or money consulting an experienced horseman before buying. And don’t trust your neighbor who is willing to sell you one of his horses.

If you fail to get some expert input, you could buy a hose unsuitable for your needs or with health or temperament issues. You are also likely to pay way more than you have to.

3. Don’t buy a horse without a written contract.

You can verbally be told anything about the horse. Sellers can say they “guarantee” that if you are not happy with the horse they will refund the purchase price, but that is unlikely without a written contract stating that guarantee. Without a written contract, the seller or broker can easily lie to you.

No matter what kind of verbal promises they make, if they are not in writing it will be very difficult to prove in court. And if you signed the seller’s bill of sale, it will likely have words that say something to the effect that “I have made no representations of any kind ... and you have had the opportunity to do a pre-purchase exam.” That is basically an As Is sale that negates the previous promises they made in most states.

4. Don’t let an agent do the bargaining and handle the purchase.

Miranda’s situation is typical. The daughters are taking riding lessons, and Mom asks the trainer to locate a horse and says, “I will pay as much as $10,000.” The trainer finds one for $5,000. But Mom is told the price is $10,000. The trainer gives the seller $5,000 and pockets the difference. He may even collect a commission on the sale as well!

This type of rip-off happens frequently. To avoid it, deal directly with the seller and write the check yourself.

5. Never buy a horse without a veterinary exam.

Skipping this critical step means you could buy a horse that has health or lameness issues. No matter how wonderful and healthy a horse appears when you go to see it, have a veterinarian look for hidden problems. Treat it like buying a used car where you have a mechanic check it out first. This is not the time to rush or engage in false economy.

The cost for such an exam ranges from $200 to $1,000, depending upon the area of the country you are in, and it’s well worth it, according to Pennington. “An examination of the horse by a vet can reveal health conditions that could cost the buyer thousands of dollars. Looks can be deceiving — horses do not have the words “I am lame” tattooed on their forehead, and lameness is not easy for the unsophisticated buyer to recognize. Riding a lame horse is harmful to its health. It is truly a buyer beware purchase, and you need to reduce the chances of being greatly disappointed.”

6. Never buy a horse sight unseen, based on photos and videos.

It’s sad to say, but this can be a dirty business. You can’t afford to rely on what the seller has shown you – photos, ads, perhaps a video of the horse. If you do, what you wind up with may not be the same horse you saw. The photos and video may be old, or the horse may have been drugged up in the video. When you actually get the horse, you see the real condition.

Impulse buying when it comes to a horse can have potentially lasting, bad consequences. There is a reason the term “horse trader” has such a negative connotation. It can be a dirty business and requires the assistance of someone with a great deal of experience.

Concluding our interview, Pennington said, “The person who coined the expression, ‘As healthy as a horse’ must have had a sick sense of humor. Horses are far more fragile than most people realize. Buyers must use caution!”

Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or emailed to And be sure to visit


This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

H. Dennis Beaver, Esq.
Attorney at Law, Author of "You and the Law"

After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."