Horse shop­ping Top tips for any­one buy­ing, plus the ques­tions that you should ask dur­ing a view­ing

View­ing a horse isn’t all about what you see. There are ques­tions you should ask and ways you should put the horse through his paces long be­fore you agree the deal, says

Horse & Hound - - News Insider - Julie Harding

OLYMPIC even­ter Mary King once drove across the coun­try to view a horse. She liked what she saw and, fol­low­ing a suc­cess­ful vet­ting, made an­other lengthy jour­ney to col­lect it. It was only on get­ting it home that she dis­cov­ered it had a se­ri­ous weav­ing is­sue.

“Dur­ing the ini­tial view­ing, the horse was tied up,” she says. “The ven­dor men­tioned the weav­ing prob­lem very briefly only when I went to pick up the horse. It was when I got it home that I re­alised why it had been tied up. I liked it enough to keep it, and its weav­ing made no dif­fer­ence to its event­ing ca­reer, but the ex­pe­ri­ence taught me al­ways to ask early on in the view­ing if the horse has any vices.”

Even if you are an ex­pe­ri­enced and renowned eques­trian, buy­ing a horse can still be prob­lem­atic.

“Buy­ing is a mine­field. I’d be ly­ing if I said it wasn’t. You have to be care­ful,” says last year’s Hick­stead Derby win­ner Nigel Coupe.

Even if the ad­vert isn’t de­lib­er­ately in­ac­cu­rate it may be eco­nom­i­cal with the truth. This means that the buyer needs to turn de­tec­tive and, Poirot-like, ques­tion and quiz the ven­dor.

“A lady who kept her horses at my liv­ery yard bought a mare and was shocked when it

went on to have a foal six months later. It was so un­ex­pected, she had even rid­den it the day be­fore it gave birth,” says Nigel.

Seasoned com­peti­tors across the dis­ci­plines rec­om­mend some thor­ough home­work prior to the view­ing, in­clud­ing in­ves­ti­gat­ing the horse’s record on gov­ern­ing bod­ies’ web­sites.

“If I’m buy­ing a race­horse, I’ll look up its form on the Rac­ing Post,” says na­tional ladies’ point-to-point cham­pion Gina El­lis

(née An­drews).

Dres­sage rider Maria Eil­berg, who rep­re­sented Bri­tain at the 2010 World Eques­trian Games, ad­di­tion­ally ad­vises con­tact­ing con­nec­tions.

“Speak to peo­ple who have had past ex­pe­ri­ence with the horse — maybe they have groomed it, or rid­den it,” she says.

Lead­ing lights also have some stock-in­trade ques­tions they will ask the ven­dor dur­ing an ini­tial phone call.

“I’ll ask about the breed­ing, what it’s done, how long the owner has had it and what are its weak points,” says Mary King. “This is a good ques­tion that can throw up an­swers such as, ‘he’s a bit ex­citable on the flat’ or ‘he can be a ca­sual jumper’. It’s an ex­cel­lent way to get a ven­dor to open up.”

Maria Eil­berg rec­om­mends be­ing per­sis­tent: “No an­i­mal is per­fect. Treat ev­ery sit­u­a­tion with cau­tion and keep ask­ing the ques­tions.”

“I al­ways want to know why it’s for sale,” notes Gina. “If I’m look­ing for a race­horse, I’m also par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested to hear if it’s had prob­lems with its wind and legs.”

Roddy Wil­liams, for­mer Eng­land polo player turned trainer, ad­vo­cates giv­ing the ven­dor some­thing of a grilling over the phone. He will not only ask about be­havioural vices, such as crib-bit­ing, box-walk­ing and kick­ing, but also ba­sic ve­teri­nary ques­tions — has it had colic or wind surgery, joint in­jec­tions, does it have scars or blem­ishes, warts or sar­coids?

“It’s also a good idea to ask the seller to send you pho­tos and videos of the horse’s move­ment or of it work­ing in the dis­ci­pline you are look­ing to buy it for,” he ad­vises.

AS­SUM­ING the ini­tial re­search has gone well, of course the next step is to turn up at the ven­dor’s yard.

“It’s ad­vis­able to ar­rive in good time to see what the horse is like while be­ing han­dled and tacked up,” says Maria. “If the seller is open, they should be happy for you to see it in the sta­ble.”

Whether a view­ing oc­curs at a pri­vate yard or at a sale, it can be an emo­tive oc­ca­sion. See­ing a stun­ning equine vi­sion for the first time can be enough to make even the most sen­si­ble eques­trian throw cau­tion to the wind.

“Go­ing with gut in­stinct is fine, but if you’re young, be­ware of fall­ing in love with the first horse you see,” says Nigel.

“Don’t be re­luc­tant to pay an ex­pert, such as an in­struc­tor, to at­tend the view­ing with you.”

Roddy ex­pe­ri­enced love at first sight the mo­ment he set eyes on Honey Heights, one of the best ex-race­horses he ever bought for polo. His story has a happy end­ing, but not ev­ery sim­i­lar tale does.

“She and a group of oth­ers gal­loped to greet me at the gate. I knew within 20 sec­onds that I must buy her. Ev­ery­thing about her move­ment and con­for­ma­tion said ‘po­ten­tial cham­pion’. She was a just bro­ken two-yearold and so there were many years of care­ful nur­tur­ing ahead to turn her into a top high­goal polo pony. How­ever, that doesn’t hap­pen all the time.”

HAV­ING scru­ti­nised the horse with­out tack on and then seen it walked and trot­ted in-hand, the time has come for the cru­cial part — the rid­ing.

“If the horse is bro­ken in, al­ways ask to see it rid­den by the seller or one of their rid­ers be­fore you or your ad­viser get on,” says Roddy. “There have been many oc­ca­sions when I’ve

‘No an­i­mal is per­fect. Treat ev­ery sit­u­a­tion with cau­tion and keep ask­ing the ques­tions’

dres­sage rider Maria eil­berg

seen a horse rid­den by some­one else, haven’t liked it and have walked away.”

Ex­pe­ri­enced pur­chasers rec­om­mend rid­ing the horse beyond the con­fines of a school.

“I al­ways ask if I can take the horse out on grass,” says Mary. “I want to see how it be­haves in the open and on his own. Can you can­ter it and still feel safe? I also like to take it on a short hack on my own. By do­ing so, you will find out if you feel a con­nec­tion, test it in traf­fic and see if it’s nappy.

“I once bought a horse that I had only worked in a deep school, where he moved well. When I got him home and trot­ted him up the road, he didn’t move half as well and I ended up sell­ing him on.”

THE next stage is the vet­ting. Gina doesn’t at­tend vet­tings, but she is in the mi­nor­ity.

“I trust my vet and if a prob­lem arises I would lis­ten to his ad­vice,” she says.

On the con­trary, Roddy says: “It’s im­por­tant to watch the vet­ting, so that if the vet finds some­thing of con­cern, they can dis­cuss it with you and the ven­dor.

“The next best thing is for the vet to send you pho­tos or a video of the is­sue.”

Vet­tings are rarely black and white.

Maria cau­tions: “Be re­al­is­tic — it’s un­usual for a horse to be squeaky clean. If the vet­ting high­lights some­thing se­ri­ous, then you will have to weigh up the pros and cons, but if it’s an older horse with a his­tory of stay­ing sound de­spite a long-term is­sue, then it may not cause you prob­lems.”

Gina has some­times used mi­nor is­sues high­lighted by the vet as a bar­gain­ing tool. Mary, too, likes to ne­go­ti­ate.

“Start low with­out of­fend­ing and work your way up,” she says. “I’ve saved a lot of money like this over the years.”

As a mother, Mary has pur­chased ponies and horses for her daugh­ter, Emily, but view­ings with chil­dren in tow can add an ex­tra di­men­sion to what may al­ready be a com­plex set of cir­cum­stances.

Young peo­ple tend to be even less able to keep their im­pulses in check than an adult. Plus, while any self-re­spect­ing par­ent might be pre­pared to gloss over mi­nor be­havioural is­sues in a horse in­tended for them­selves, they will be less likely to pur­chase some­thing for their off­spring that may come with con­cerns.

As a re­sult, Mary King feels a trial is im­por­tant and should be re­quested dur­ing or af­ter the view­ing. “There are gen­uine peo­ple who want to get the right rider for their pony and who will be will­ing for it to go out for a few days,” she says.

Lisa Hughes, the or­gan­iser of Ham­ble­don Horse Tri­als, has pur­chased sev­eral ponies for her three, now teenage, chil­dren over the years.

Dur­ing a view­ing, Lisa ex­pects to see the pony worked in all paces, as well as jumped over a fence she prefers to set up her­self.

“I may even hang a coat over a pole to see how the pony re­acts,” says Lisa, who will also want to see the an­i­mal rid­den in a va­ri­ety of sit­u­a­tions, in­clud­ing on the road. “I want to be able to tack it up with­out the ven­dor get­ting in­volved, too.”

For Zoe Wil­liams (née Gul­let), wife of polo player Roddy and a mem­ber of the 2000 Bri­tish ju­nior event­ing team, tem­per­a­ment is vi­tal on the hunt for the per­fect equine part­ner.

Now with two chil­dren, aged seven and five, Zoe has viewed a few ponies re­cently, but one she had on trial proved un­suit­able, and she is about to in­herit a 37-year-old pony that she came across via word of mouth.

“Be­cause I’ve taught at Pony Club camp, I’ve seen kids de­canted by un­gen­uine ponies and I’m aware of the dan­gers. At the view­ing, ask ex­plicit ques­tions. I once bought a 14.2hh with­out quizzing the seller enough and it bucked me off four times in front of four Ar­gen­tine gau­chos,” she says.

Scru­ti­nise the horse with­out tack on and watch it be­ing walked and trot­ted in-hand

be­fore the rid­den stage

It’s im­por­tant to watch the vet­ting, so you can dis­cuss any prob­lems that arise with the vet and ven­dor

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