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Horse-Buying Tips

So You're Ready to Buy a Horse?

If you are looking for qualities in a horse that you can't find locally, you aren't alone.  MANY people are looking to the Internet today to find their next equine partner.  And while that is an excellent way to put together the person and the horse whose needs match, it also brings up some problems for both buyer and seller.  In general, the buyer is the one that seems to come up on the short end of the stick, however.  So, let's try to gather and share some "tips" for horse buyers to help them make their buying decision as safely as possible when they are buying a horse from a long distance away. 

These tips are good for sellers to know as well, so they can be as fair and thorough as possible in assisting buyers to connect with the right horses.

These tips have been compiled from e-mails and phone calls from many horse-interested people, as well as from our experiences.  They are not to be considered legal advice, and are only "tips" and stories to be considered as you look to protect yourself in your horse-buying venture.

Please keep to the "tips" and do not include any human names or horses' names in your stories if you send them to us

This page's intent is to help people prevent themselves from being scammed or hurt by an unscrupulous seller who does not follow rules of common decency or good business practices.  It is not intended to be a way to share the names of untrustworthy sellers with others.  Please keep information confidential, and only share thoughts that will help other people and not cause liability to the owner of this web site.  Tips on this site are not to be considered legal advice, and are only "tips" and stories to be considered as you look to protect yourself in your horse-buying venture.

 Considerations

  • Getting enough information to make a buying decision

  • A veterinary examination

  • Methods of making payment

  • When does "trust" come into the decision?

Gathering Info    Vet Exams     Paying    Trust     Miscellaneous     Scams    Top

Information Gathering

"Information from the seller can be
true, false, or anywhere in between." 

~~unknown

The majority of people selling horses are good people who love horses and want to be honest.  There are some good sellers out there...those are the ones we hope you connect with instead of the unscrupulous ones.  But there's a reason why horse trading is questionable business:  there are some pretty unscrupulous sellers out there whose main goal is to make money, and their secondary goal seems to be to get by with anything it takes to make money. 

Gathering information about the horse from the seller is your first step toward buying a horse safely.  You may gather information from the seller in ways such as the following listed ones. 

  1. First-hand Experience.  This isn't always possible with long-distance buying, but of course would be better than the following alternatives when it IS possible. However, for those buying the lower-end price range of horses, the cost of a plane ticket might be difficult to justify.

    TIP:  When money allows, visit the horse before buying.
     

  2. Video footage.  Video footage is fairly reliable (better than photos alone) because it is harder to edit.  However, all the ways to hide problems from the vet (see the Vet Exam section, below) can also be done on video footage to hide problems.  Be sure to specify what shots you want taken on the video.  And sometimes, time does not allow for waiting for video to be taken and postal-mailed.  If that's the case and the seller doesn't have video clip capabilities on his/her digital camera, you'll have to settle for photos.

    TIP: When time allows, ask for specific shots in a video.  Be prepared to pay about $10 for this service, as it takes the seller time and money to complete and mail a video to you.  Ask for conformation shots, and decide and ask for what shots of the horse in motion you need.  How about teeth, eyes, and genitals if you're looking for a breeding animal?
     

  3. Photos sent via the mail.  Less likely to have been edited than photos sent via e-mail or on web sites.
     

  4. Photos sent via e-mail.  This is the most common way sellers and buyers connect with horses bought and sold long distance.  Insist on clear photos (not fuzzy ones) and as many as you need to evaluate conformation.

TIP:  Require a copy of the horse's papers with markings, and compare that to the photos.  This won't prevent all fraud, but might alert sellers that you are a buyer who is trying to cover your bases.

TIP:  Contact the horse's registration association to see if the seller is actually the recorded owner of the horse in question.  If not, the horse may not match papers or the seller might be a trader who is just looking to make money in any manner possible.  Note:  Not all traders are bad!  There is a trader near me who is a wonderful person and who is very knowledgeable about horses.  I'd trust him in a minute.  But I don't generally feel that way about traders, because they turn horses over so fast that they don't always have time to find out what problems the horses have before they re-sell them.

TIP:  Look closely at the colors in the photos if you are buying a horse partially due to its pretty color.  For example, does the grass look green or blue?  Look for honest sellers whose images have NOT been touched up by altering the amount of blue in the pictures.  We see many photos on the 'net that have been purposefully changed to make the horses appear more blue and less brown (especially in grullo, blue roan, and gray horses' web pages).  Most likely, this is in an attempt to make the horses appear more desirable so they will sell faster and for more money. 


Example of photo with altered colors. A light, silvery grullo might be more in demand than a medium grullo shade.

Problems with information from sellers include:

  • Seller's Reliability:  Is the information true?  Is the seller a person with a good reputation?  Is the seller a horse trader?  Does the seller have a web site that is frequently updated?  Have you been watching that web site for a while, which would give you a feel for the seller's operation and how fast they turn horses over?  Does the seller advertise in magazines with real layouts, or in the classifieds only?  Why is the seller letting this horse go (especially if they have other horses...why are they selling this particular one, and not one of their others)?

    Cases in Point:   

    Above:  A gray horse's tail and face appear to be dyed with hair dye to turn her into a blue roan, which made her more valuable.  The buyer bought the mare as a blue roan, only to find out she was gray as the hair grew out in the next couple months.  This photo shows the gray hair growing out, and the dyed hair below it.  The buyer connected with ANOTHER buyer who believes the same thing happened to their "blue roan."  Amazingly, the two buyers bought their mares from the SAME SELLER.  If they could only have met earlier, the second buyer may have avoided being stung by that seller and the suspected the Hair Dye scheme.

    Not pictured:  Many people have been sent photos of the WRONG horse when buying from long distance.  Immoral sellers who have a large volume of horses can easily send photos of other horses who have better conformation.  As long as they have the same color and similar markings, they can successfully deceive buyers in this manner.  And it can be a mistake as well as intentional.  It doesn't matter, because the end result is that the buyer can make the wrong decision based upon those incorrect pictures.
     

  • Seller's Competence:  Is the seller a well-informed horse person who can honestly judge their horse and give you correct information?  Would this person recognize a problem if they saw it?  Do they understand your questions fully?  Are they intelligent enough to make informed decisions?

    Some sellers are too uneducated about horses to be good judges of their own horse.  Others may be wearing rose-colored glasses and are therefore unable to make unbiased statements about their horse. This is a common problem area.

    Case in Point:

    Not pictured:  A seller assured a buyer that a high-quality foal being offered for sale was a grullo.  In fact, it was a smutty buckskin.  Either the seller was not educated enough to know the difference, or the seller knew that the buyer didn't know and that they would pay extra for the unique color.  The buyer paid about $10,000 for the foal, only to find out that the stud prospect was a buckskin when the buyer enlisted the help of a reliable grullo breeder (us) who helped them discover the correct color.  Had the buyer known it was a buckskin, the buyer would not have bought the colt.

    TIP:  Know that there is sometimes a difference in descriptions of horses when comparing descriptions from a professional horseperson and descriptions from an owner who loves their horse so much that they can't see its faults (the "rose colored glasses" problem). 

    TIP:  In addition to the seller providing information, seek out pedigree research via your horse's registration association or web sites offering pedigree research online.  You can also pay pedigree researchers to find facts about the horse's lineage for you. 

Gathering Info    Vet Exams     Paying    Trust     Miscellaneous     Scams    Top

Veterinary Examination

Veterinary examinations are always suggested, but HOW many times have you heard stories about horses who passed vet exams having major problems?  TOO MANY. 

Veterinary examinations are a good idea.  Most vets will catch major problems with a horse if the horse has not been tampered with.  However, the buyer is at the mercy of the seller in this case.  The seller gets to choose which vet will do the exam unless the buyer knows of a good vet that is able to do the exam in the area in which the seller lives.  In long-distance buying, this would be unusual! 

Problems with relying upon a vet exam, though they hopefully are very rare, include:

  1. The seller could have sedated the horse or given pain killers to mask problems such as lamenesses or other health problems.  Even good equine vets may not detect this without blood tests.  It is not common practice for horses in the 4-digit prices to test for painkillers during a purchase exam, but feel free to request it.  If you (the buyer) are willing to pay for it, you can ask for anything.

    Case in Point: 

    A buyer in the United States visited a prospective horse a few times and found it to be sound and sane and to meet their riding needs.  After buying the horse, they visited it when the seller didn't expect them and had not had time to give the horse painkillers.  The horse had a back problem and cannot be ridden due to its pain.  Because the seller was giving the horse painkillers upon every visit and examination, nobody knew about the debilitating problem...except for the immoral seller.
     

  2. The vet may have performed an inadequate exam.  Some vets just do the once-over glance and sign purchase exam certificates.  They may not closely examine eyes, legs and hooves, genitals, backs, movement, etc.  Most vets are not equine specialists or deal more with livestock or small animals than with horses, and so may not understand the importance of a pre-purchase exam for the buyer.

    Case In Point: 

    I actually watched a vet (this vet is not near my location, so is not my vet) give a horse's eyeball a clean bill of health despite the owner asking him "are you sure?"  That eyeball (click here to see a picture of that eye [left] and a healthy eye [right] to compare to) had bits of the iris floating in it, had a rigid pupil (that didn't react to light), and had a green and milky color to the inside of the eye and cloudy appearance all over.  He declared the eye to be without problem until someone pressed him to look at the eye with a flashlight.  He then admitted there was "something going on."  Without being pressed to look in this manner, he would not have looked at the eye with a flashlight, and did not even bring a flashlight or penlight with him to the exam.  Why he missed it without the light is still a mystery...it is glaringly obvious even without a light.  But it sure reinforced to me why a vet exam may not always be adequate in verifying a healthy and good horse to buy.
     

  3. The vet may be a biased member of the seller's team.  Sounds crazy, but it happens.  We hope only extremely rarely, but don't rule it out when you are buying, because it is your money at stake.

    Case in Point:

    A buyer experienced a purchase in which the vet's pregnancy exam the day before the sale that was found to be incorrect.  The horse was supposed to be several months pregnant, but an exam by the buyer's vet when they got home determined that the horse was not only not pregnant, but had not even been pregnant in the recent past (no recent pregnancy indicated in any way at all).  The vet that the seller used was a close relative to the seller.  Did that make a difference in the vet's pregnancy diagnosis?  Nobody knows.  When buying from a distance, you don't know if the vet is unbiased or not, and really have little way to find that out.  One would assume that all vets are honest, however. 

TIP:  Call the vet clinic.  Before the pre-purchase exam is done, call the vet clinic that your prospective horse will be going to.  As them if they have a form they fill out while doing such exams.  If not, fax them one with questions you make up or that your vet suggests.  Give them information they need to make them comfortable that you will be paying them personally.  Ask the expected cost and pay for the exam in advance if possible.  That way, the vet it working for YOU and not for the seller.

TIP:  Ask in advance to receive a copy of the exam results.  If you have a pre-purchase exam done, don't just trust the word of the owner saying that they had the horse examined, and that the horse was fine.  Make them fax the exam results to you, and tell them in advance that you need the results.  Better yet, ask the vet clinic to fax you (so the vet will write something down, instead of just announcing verbally to the seller what the exam results are).  Most vets are very happy to work with you in this way once you ask.

TIP:  Coming soon!  An example of a form for vets to fill out and fax to buyers after completing a pre-purchase exam!

TIP:  The buyer is responsible for the cost of transportation and veterinary certificates other than the coggins and health papers.  If a horse is going to cross into Mexico or Canada, the buyer must pay for extra vetting for those papers.  Also, the actual registration papers are generally required to travel WITH the horse to cross borders.  If your horse is crossing borders, remember that the horse must be paid enough in advance to give the seller confidence to release the papers to travel with the horse.

Gathering Info    Vet Exams     Paying    Trust     Miscellaneous     Scams    Top

Payment Methods

TIP:  Fully discuss your concerns about how and when to pay for the horse with the seller.  Get his/her ideas for how to exchange the money and the horse.  Buying a horse from a long distance away usually requires you to pay for the horse in advance.  You will have given a stranger money, and will not have anything in your possession to compensate until you get the horse.  That is scary, but is most likely going to be necessary in long-distance buying.

TIP:  Turn your check or money order into a simple contract.  On the back of the check or money order, in small writing or print, write:  "Endorsement acknowledges payment in full for (registration association)-registered (color) (gender) (name of horse)."  For example, if I was buying a grullo mare named Cutter Hootie Blue, I'd write or print this on the back (small, so there's room for them to sign the check)"Endorsement acknowledges payment in full for AQHA-registered grullo mare, Cutter Hootie Blue."  This isn't a guarantee of getting a fair shake, but gives you one more bit of evidence that you paid in FULL for a registered horse and that the buyer acknowledged it by signing the check.

TIP:  Ask for a sales contract prior to paying for your horse if you feel more comfortable about that.  If you feel really uncomfortable with the seller, don't buy the horse!  But a sales contract can help.  Having their signature (and yours) notarized might help you feel better as well.  A sample sales contract can be found here.

TIP:  Buy mortality insurance if you must make/take payments on a horse.  Whether you are a buyer or a seller, if the horse is not paid in full in one lump sum, you REALLY should buy mortality insurance.

Case in Point:

Once you start making payments, it is good to take out an insurance policy on the horse in case something happens to the horse before it makes it to the new home.  A colt was sold on payments in this example. Before this colt was done being paid for, he got very sick, and despite aggressive veterinary care, had to be put down.  The buyer was then compensated by the insurance company so she had the money to finish paying for the dead colt (in most sales contracts, the buyer must pay for the animal according to contract), and the seller was protected from and ugly situation since she still had to collect monies on a dead horse.  The insurance paid the seller for the horse in full, and reimbursed the buyer for the amount they had already paid on payments.  Nobody was out any money at all, other than the insurance premium (a small amount).  It is not recommended to set up a payment plan without insurance to protect the buyer AND seller in the case of a partially-owned horse's death.

TIP:  Never allow a horse to leave your property without full payment in guaranteed funds.  Nothing is instantly guaranteed other than cash, or a wire transfer once your bank has verified receipt of it.  Keep in mind that giving your bank info to a stranger is dangerous.  Setting up a nearly-empty account to accept wire transfers might be a good idea.  Better yet, call your bank and ask them how to go about receiving a wire transfer in the safest manner possible.

TIP:  If you DO allow a horse to leave your property without guaranteed funds (cash or a wire transfer of money that your bank has verified, or cashing a cashier's check or money order at least 10 days in advance), do not release the registration papers until funds have cleared.  Checks, cashier's checks, and money orders are NOT guaranteed funds upon receipt.  Buyers can stop payment on those the entire time until they have been returned to the original bank at which the account resides, which can take up to 10 days. 

TIP:  Never allow a buyer to give you a check/money order/cashiers check for more than the cost.  If they ask you to give them the difference, refuse.  Accept only the correct amount of money for your horse.

TIP:  Do not enter into a contract with a minor or sell directly to a minor with no adult involved.

Case in Point:

A minor bought a load of horses from various sellers in the Midwest.  The minor took those horses to a horse sale in a nearby state and sold them at auction.  The checks the minor wrote to pay for those horses all bounced.  The sellers could not regain their money from the minor, because he was not able to be held legally accountable for his actions due to his age.  The sellers lost their horses AND the money they should have received for them.

Gathering Info    Vet Exams     Paying    Trust     Miscellaneous     Scams    Top

Trust

There's a point at which you have to just lay some trust in the seller of the horse.  Most sellers are good people.  Granted, even good people make mistakes such as not being able to see a horse's faults due to their love and appreciation for the animal.  But still...you have to trust the seller when it comes to things you can't see via personal observation for short times, video, pictures, and health history. 

TIP:  Who can you trust?  There isn't a hard-and-fast answer to this.  In general, you must do your homework to find out if the seller is a knowledgeable and responsible horse owner to the best of your ability.  At some point, you just have to trust them if the horse is the one you want to buy.  Most of the time, you'll probably be fine.  But every now and then, you will be on the short end of the stick, unfortunately.  We hope this web page helps to prevent a negative experience for as many as possible who find and read it.

Gathering Info    Vet Exams     Paying    Trust     Miscellaneous     Scams    Top

Miscellaneous

TIP:  If you are buying a pregnant mare, require that you have the breeder's certificate as well as the mare's registration and transfer papers, so you have what you need to register the upcoming foal after its birth.

TIP:   Make sure your seller can work flexibly with schedules for picking up your new horse by a commercial hauler, if you can't get the horse yourself.  Discuss this before buying a horse from a specific seller.  Shippers should not be expected to wait for hours and hours for a seller to get home and help them load a horse that has been sold. 

Scams

TIP:   Our link for scams is no longer active. If you know of a good link with tips for horse buyers to avoid scams, please let us know.

Can You Help?

If you have tips to help people protect themselves, please share those with us at tonip@frontiernet.net.

Notes

  • The information on this page should not to be considered legal advice, and is only offered as "tips" and stories to be considered as you look to protect yourself in your horse-buying venture.

  • If you sold a horse that is pictured or mentioned on this page as having been a disappointment to the buyer, we're sorry.  We're sorry that the buyer was disappointed and we're sorry if you feel you represented the horse correctly but the buyer disagrees.  However, we will provide this as an example of ways buyers can feel they have been misinformed about a horse, as our goal is to help buyers prevent being unhappy about future buying decisions.  Your name, the buyer's name, and the horse's name are not indicated.  If you feel you are named on this page, please contact us and we'll double check to make sure that your personal information is not indicated.
     

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This page last updated 03/29/10
If you notice this date being 2 years or older, please let us know that we need to check out this page!

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