Money wise, there hasn’t been a better time to buy a horse for years.
The same could be said about buying investment stocks. Both are true. In the case of horses there are two market forces going on. One, of course, is the economy. Lynda McCann, owner and editor of the Horse’s Maine had an interesting editorial about this in the July 2008 issue that you should read if you haven’t. The second force at work is that slaughter houses are closed down. The slaughter or “killer price” has always set the bottom line for horse prices. Both the economy and the no basement price mean that if you have the cash and the burn to own a horse, you may get a bargain.
Just because horse prices are down is no reason not to shop wisely. As a veterinarian I have witnessed many purchases that never, ever should have happened. Here are a few pointers on protecting yourself.
First contact: Ask questions, ask questions, and then ask some more. The more time you spend on the phone, the more the owner will talk. If this is an Internet contact, ask for the phone number and call the seller. Communication seems to be more honest on the phone than on the Net. Time spent on the phone is an investment that may save you hours of driving or hundreds in shipping. Have a written list of questions ready. Here are some starters assuming that the horse is a gelding: When was he last vaccinated; with what and by whom? What has been the worming schedule? Do you have the horse’s health records? Are there allergies, reactions to drugs? When was his last dental appointment? What is the date of his last Coggins test? How tall is he? Did you measure his height or is that what you think he might be? Does he weave, crib, bite, or kick? How is he with men, the farrier, kids? Have there been any colic episodes? How much training does he have, and by whom? All these questions will give you hints as to the level of his care. Finally, “is the price firm?”
First visit: If you aren’t too far away, keep the checkbook at home. Arrive early so that the horse is still in the stall. Check out that stall for signs of vices. See if he will come over to you. (A curious horse is a horse that loves training). Have his owner take him out. Pick up each foot. Tap on them. Check his eyes for haziness and for similar pupil diameter in each. Count the number of respirations/ minute. (Should be under 12/ minute at rest). Have him walked in hand, lunged, ridden or driven.. Ask if you can “get behind the wheel.” Now its time for some early dickering: “This horse is probably worth every penny you are asking, but it’s more than I had budgeted,” is not an insult and is understood.
Second visit: Bring a friend for another pair of eyes. Not a yes man, but someone who is more knowledgeable than you. A trainer that you trust would be ideal. Don’t waste their time taking them on the first visit, as you will may well turn down a few before finding the right one. It’s sort of like shopping for houses where it’s best to do a drive by before wasting the realtor’s time.
Third visit: You and your vet for a thorough prepurchase exam. Note: that the word is your vet, not the owners. If you can’t be present, make sure the vet can call you if he finds something very wrong early in the exam. Very often a professional exam will turn up something that makes the purchase riskier. It might be a risk you are willing to take, but it should drop the price. Assuming all is well, ask for a trial period at your place. If no other buyers are standing in line, the owner may let you take the horse. Ask for a month and settle for a couple of weeks. Expect to be asked to leave a deposit. Reach and write an agreement that clearly states who is responsible if the horse has an accident or gets sick while he is with you.
Here are a couple of tips from the used car business:
-A good coat of paint can hide a multitude of sins. (Flashy horse doesn’t necessarily mean good horse.)
-Stay away from a vehicle that’s been in a wreck. (Walk away from a lame horse, a horse with breathing or eye issues).
I know that all these suggestions will be ignored if you find the horse that makes you go all misty eyed when you first meet. Try to remember that love at first sight doesn’t always work out.
Good hunting. Make it fun!
-David A. Jefferson, DVM