Finding the Right Fit When Buying a Horse

An equine behaviorist’s guide to horse shopping

It’s not every day you go shopping for an item destined to be a decadeslong responsibility, a huge financial commitment, a critical prerequisite for your sporting endeavors, and, likely, one of the best friends you’ll ever have.

You’ve confirmed with your coach the horse’s athletic potential. You’ve had your veterinarian assess his health and soundness. But there’s another major consideration to keep in mind when in the market for a new horse—one that could make, or break, the partnership.

Behavior.

“It’s often overlooked, but buyers need to think about evaluating prospective horses from a behavioral point of view,” says Sharon Madere, certified horse behavior consultant by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owner of Equilightenment, in Ocala, Florida.

“People need to be asking themselves—knowing the person, the job, and the environment—is this horse going to be a match?” says Madere. “Is this going to work? Will there be a few challenges? Or is it going to be really, really tough?”

While that’s anything but an easy task, it’s critical, adds Lisa Ashton, MSc, an equitation science consultant based in Stafford, U.K. “When you’re aiming for your ideal horse, finding a horse that fits you is more important than anything,” she says.

To help you meet this challenge, we’ve teamed up with equine behavior specialists to learn what’s on their horse shopping lists. Remember, aside from the red flags listed in the sidebar, these are all goals, not requirements. You don’t have to rule out a horse that doesn’t meet every description on the list. “Depending on the buyer, some of these things might be workable and even solvable—but some might not be,” says Madere.

Also, never shop alone. “Love is blind!” Ashton says. “Just like your best friend can see all the flaws in your new perceived Mr. Right, an experienced outsider pair of eyes can be really helpful when looking for your ‘perfect’

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