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
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
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
Getting enough information to make a buying decision
A veterinary examination
Methods of making payment
When does "trust" come into the decision?
Vet Exams Paying Trust
"Information from the seller can be
true, false, or anywhere in between."
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.
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.
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
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?
Photos sent via the mail. Less likely
to have been edited than photos sent via e-mail or on web sites.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
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.
Vet Exams Paying Trust
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:
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Coming soon! An example of a form for vets to fill out and fax to
buyers after completing a pre-purchase exam!
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
Vet Exams Paying Trust
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Vet Exams Paying 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
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.
Vet Exams Paying Trust
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.
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.
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
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.
Vet Exams Paying Trust