Some of us have had the fun of going to look at horses with clients. Sometimes we go by ourselves to see the horse, sometimes the clients come along. Either way, there are always things that some of us may not pay any attention to and other things that make us want to just keep on driving, not even slowing down to check the address.
For the people just getting into horses, what do they need to look for? What do they need to learn to look past? They navigate the same obstacles when horse shopping as the rest of us may find, but they are more often in the position of falling into the 'traps of deception' some of us have learned to avoid.
Many of these same things apply when looking into boarding facilities. The first thing you should look for and at is all of the horses on the property. Are they all up to weight? Are their feet in good shape? Do they look happy?
When going to a persons house to look at a horse, it is a little different than going to a boarding facility, professional or training barn. At the barns and boarding facility, the horses are generally owned by others. Their owners are paying for their care- quality feed and a clean stall are usually the bare minimums. If the horses are in training they are there to be worked and should be in good shape reflecting this. If the horse owner is keeping them at their home- they are ultimately responsible for the care and condition of all of the horses kept there.
One or two thin horses among a herd of 10 or more, may just mean those horses have weight issues, teeth issues, worms or may be new to the facility. If they are all thin and showing signs of needing better nutrition, take that as a warning sign. Same goes for a farm full of overweight horses. Check into how the facility addresses their feeding program. (Crazy 3 Dayer recently asked about a facility where one person is weighing the horses. This brings up another issue I will address in it's own post. There will be plenty of room for discussion there.)
If the horses all have nice looking, trimmed or shod hooves- their owner has made the appropriate calls, scheduled and paid for the farrier work and is seeing to it the horses feet are taken care of. Again, if you see one or two who don't fit in? They may either be new on the property or there for work with hoof handling issues.
A happy horse is easy to spot, just like an aggressive horse will grab your attention. If they come to the fence, gate or front of the stall to say "Hi!", ears up, inquisitive eyes and hoping you have a treat or a friendly pat- good sign. If all of them stand as far from humans as possible, back turned and a defeated "air" about them, there's a reason for that. But if they charge the fence gate or front of the stall, ears pinned, teeth bared and ready to eat you alive... I wouldn't waste anymore time there. One or two aggressive horses? At a training barn, depending on the trainer, they may be there for that reason. A barn full of horses like that? Something is causing those issues. Probably not something you wish to know about or be associated with.
If you make it to the point of handling the horse, were they easy to catch or did someone have to chase them down? Already caught and tied up when you arrived? The seller may not have wanted you to see how bad it can be. Some horses haven't been handled much or they can be a little leery of new people. If you seem to get along well enough over the pasture fence or stall door, maybe the the seller will let you go in to catch them, letting you both get to know each other.
If the horse is being purchased for riding or driving, make sure you see someone ride or drive the horse. Preferably the seller, their trainer or someone associated with the owner. There are horses out there who may be angels when you are on the ground, but climb on their back and Heaven help you because you are going to need it! Some horses can be ground driven, but not put to a cart. If you are looking at one of these horses, use your head and have some consideration when asking your trainer to handle or get on them.
If your trainer says "Forget it!", take them at their word and call it good. If they get hurt, they lose money- not only on medical bills, but income, since they won't be able to ride anything until they have healed. You most likely aren't paying the trainer until you buy a horse anyways, so don't ask them to do something dangerous for free, just to suit you. That is a quick way to get kicked out before you even get started.
If you wish to compete on the horse- watch them in action. Watch a lesson or go to see them at a competition. Just because Ole Rowdy comes from a long line of great cattle horses, doesn't mean he likes cows. Some barrel racing horses get worked up at the gate and ropers may not like being backed against the rails in the box. It won't be any fun if you buy a horse hoping to compete in the upcoming season, only to find out it is going to take at least one or two show seasons to get them straightened out enough to make them at the very least, only marginally competitive. Some horses are great at home, but take them anywhere else and they just lose it. These are things you will want to know before you decide to buy.
The bottom line about horse shopping is, when you are looking at a prospective new horse, there are honest folks on every level, just like there are those only out to separate you from your money. Once this is accomplished, they could care less about you or the horse. Lessons? Further training? Not going to see either one and if you do, it is going to cost you. But if they have already brushed you off, why would you want their help with anything else?
The horse can be in a high dollar barn, under a big name trainer and still have issues which can be hidden or disguised to even those of us who have been in the industry for a number of years. Find out as much as you can, take a day or so to think about it and don't let anyone rush or push you into making a decision you are not comfortable with.