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Horse Facts and Tips
First Posted: Dec 22, 2006
Updated: Aug 10, 2017

Considerations When Purchasing A Horse

And Tricks Cheaters Use To Scam You
by Debora Johnson

Update: 5 Things to Consider Before Buying A Horse

"...prepurchase exams are primarily about risk assessment. My job is to help clients utilize my findings to decide whether a horse is appropriate for them. To effectively do that, I need to keep the following things in mind:

  1. What level of risk is the purchaser willing to assume?
  2. What is the purchaser's level of experience?
  3. Do he or she own a farm or board?
  4. What are his or her goals?
  5. Is this horse being purchased to be sold in the near future? ..."

Update: Prepurchase Exam of the Western Performance Horse, AAEP 2009
Prepurchase Examinations: Don't Forget the Eyes

You have decided you want to buy a horse, but you have heard many stories about being cheated. You are scared that you may fall prey to one of the many unscrupulous horse dealers. Also, you are feeling overwhelmed about how to find a horse, what to look for in that horse, and what considerations should be addressed when taking this big step. This article is designed to take some of the guess work out of your experience and may be helpful in exploring the steps to take when buying horses. I, too, have been cheated. Not only were the two individuals unscrupulous dealers, but they masqueraded as friends for 7 years. I had no idea that they were cheating my husband and myself until I tracked down the seller of the horse. Here are some avenues that may be taken to rectify the situation if this happens to you. We took these steps and received $1200 back.

Organize Your Thoughts

  • How is the horse to be used? Showing, hacking, endurance, hunter jumper, dressage, cross country, steeplechase raced, fox hunted,etc.?
  • Type of Breed
  • Temperament
  • Ground Behavior
  • Soundness
  • Height, Age, Sex
  • Conformation
  • Training
  • Vices or bad habits
  • Cost of purchase
  • Easy Keeper or hard to keep
  • Loading and Shoeing
  • Allergies? (Won't necessarily show up in vetting)
  • Health Records
  • Registry (Papers)
  • Boarding Considerations: Full Stall Care/Pasture Board
  • Color

How Do you Find A Horse?

  • Friends (Usually a good place)
  • Vets (A good place)
  • Farriers (A good place)
  • A stable where you ride or take lessons (A good place)
  • Tack store (Can be a good source)
  • Pony Club and 4-H Club (Usually a good place)
  • Breeding Farms (A good place)
  • Trainers (Can be a good place however they often get a percentage.)
  • Dealers (Really careful)
  • Advertisements (Really Careful)
  • Auction (Really Careful!) I would never buy at an auction without specific return rights, in writing!)
Vetting Is A Must!

Always have a horse vetted before you purchase. There can be many hidden problems that only a vet would find from wind to wobbles and everything in between. Really good horses are hard to find. When you have one usually you keep it. Granted, people are in the business of selling horses, but always let the buyer beware!

"As 'facilitator' of the purchase transaction, a veterinarian represents the buyer's best interest. The objective is to determine as much as possible about the horse without being obstructive. Soule explained the five Ds:

  • Discovery of everything
  • Disclosure of relevant information
  • Documented findings
  • Documented findings
  • Discussion of significance of findings so buyer can make an informed decision
  • Decision

Disclosure of relevant information is the key part of the exam and should be made to both buyer and seller when possible, especially if there is a negative connotation relative to serviceability. That said, the medical records are exclusively the property of the buyer who is paying for the prepurchase exam.

It is helpful if both buyer and seller are present and, at the very least, the buyer or agent should be immediately accessible by phone at the time of exam. It is important to remember that an agent might have a financial interest and, therefore, he or she might not convey all information accurately"

How Cheaters Trick Buyers

  • Swap Registry Papers
  • Dealer or agent makes a cell phone call pretending to talk to owner. Then the dealer quotes a price much higher than seller's price. Dealer can pad profit a lot by doing this.
  • Prices are often inflated. Always haggle on price.
  • Dealer may say seller only takes cash. Dealer may offer to take your personal check and pay seller himself. This is a red flag. It usually means that the dealer does not want you to meet the seller because the selling price is being misrepresented to you.
  • Drugs may be given to mask unsoundness.
  • Tranquilizers may be given to calm a high strung horse.
  • Dealers may cash a deposit for a horse before vetting is done. Always mark on your check "Purchase contingent upon vetting"and post date your check. Put a hold on the check with your bank. Once your check is cashed it is hard to get the money back unless you bring suit. Each state has different laws for civil court or small claims court.
  • Some dealers will give a return period on a horse; however, many will not once the horse has passed vetting and leaves the property. That is why it is important to ride and work with the horse beforehand.
  • Always ask the dealer or agent for recent coggins papers. The seller's name should be on those papers. Call the seller and talk to them. Unsavory dealers do not want you to have this information. If the dealer is trying to scam you he won't want you speaking with the owner. You must have a current coggins to transport any horse across state lines in any event. Many states also require a Certificate of Health as well.
  • Ask the dealer for all recent shot papers. An unsavory dealer is usually not forthcoming with any prior vetting information if there are problems with the horse.
  • Do everything in writing. Do NOT take anyone's word when buying a horse. Spell it all out in a written document and get signatures from all involved. If they refuse--RUN!
  • Load the horse on your trailer or have the horse loaded on a trailer. A difficult loader can be quite dangerous. This is important to know.
  • Catch the horse in the field with a lead rope and halter. Often a seller will put a hard to catch horse in a stall before you come to look. A hard to catch horse is one of the most difficult vices to break.
  • Have someone pick up the horse's feet while the horse is in cross ties. That somewhat approximates the farrier messing with the horse's feet. Many horses have to be given drugs before being shoed. This is not a good thing.
  • >
  • If you gave advance notice that you were coming, try not to buy the horse that same day. It's alright to express interest, but try to wait, if possible. Come back the next day or two, unannounced. That way if the horse was sedated you will know. If you don't have that much time have the vet drug test before you buy.
  • Ride the horse outside a ring before you buy. Often horses have only done ring work and will be very skittish on a trail. Some horses have a much higher fight and flight response than others. At least you will know this. You may also find out if the horse rears, bucks, spins, bites, kicks, bolts, etc. It is also important to ride the horse in a ring. Does the horse stay on the rail. Is he going straight? Will the horse respond to commands in a ring.
  • If you must have your horse trailered after purchase, make sure that the professional doing the trailering has insurance in case your horse is hurt in transport. A horse vetted sound should arrive sound.

Probably the most important piece of advice when buying a horse is if you have fallen in love with one do NOT buy until a full vetting is done. Do NOT use the vet that the seller uses. Get an impartial vet. Do a full vetting. Do NOT be ruled by your heart, but by your brain. If the horse you must have does not work out there will be another. The sport is a dangerous one and your horse is your life line.

What Can You Do If You Are Cheated?

There are a number of avenues to explore if you find out that you were cheated by a seller. However, you must be able to prove that you were cheated. Be careful NOT to libel or slander.

  • Try to talk with the seller and work out the problem.
  • Stop payment on your check.
  • If the scam was significant, fraud or theft by deception, could be prosecuted. That can be a felony depending on the dollar amount.
  • Civil Court or Small Claims court is an option. My husband and I had to do this on a horse purchased in PA. The seller ended up paying court costs as well as had to refund our money. Our deposit was cashed before the horse was vetted. The horse did not pass vetting. The check was post dated and had written on it "Contingent upon passing vetting." The seller was not supposed to cash the check. The seller refused to refund our deposit.
  • Make a police report so that the offense becomes a matter of public record.
  • Contact the television stations who have arbitration departments for the defrauded consumer.
  • Contact the specific breed association if your horse is registered. Advise them who the seller or dealer was who scammed you.
  • Contact any associations that the cheater may represent, or be a part of, and let them know what happened.
  • Tell your farrier and your vet.
  • Hire a lawyer and sue, or go to small claims court where a lawyer is not needed.
  • If the dealer or seller uses the internet to sell their horses, you can use the internet to warn people of what happened to you. Follow their listings and post your experience for all to see. The law is on the side of the truth. Make sure that you can prove it.

Hopefully, a solution can be worked out without having to expend so much time, energy, emotion, and money. If it cannot, then the above list should be helpful.

Horse Facts and Tips