Places to Buy Horses
Now that you have a general description in mind of the horse you are looking for, it's time to start scouting around.
If you live in a horse-oriented part of the country, you may find a lot of horses for sale in the classified section of the daily newspaper. You can also find classified listings in any regional equine publication. Classified publications usually have a horse section. Most state agriculture departments have a similar publication. Keep your horse-to-be profile in mind as you read the listings, and circle any that come close. Don't make calls on horses that don't fit one of the major points in your profile. It just wastes your time and money, as well as the time of the person who is selling the horse.
If you're going to look in the classifieds, be aware that there are often hints in the wording that offer clues about the horse's usability. Here are some commonly used veiled phrases you may run across in the classified ads:
Broodmare only: This usually means a mare has soundness problems that prevent her from being ridden, but she can still be used for breeding.
Companion horse only: This typically means a horse cannot be ridden and is of no use other than to keep another horse company.
Good foundation; needs finishing: This usually describes a horse that has had the fundamentals but is in the advanced beginner stage of its education as a riding horse. A novice rider would not want a horse at this stage of training.
Grade: Grade describes a horse of unknown ancestry or one that displays the characteristics of a specific breed but whose breeding history doesn't allow it to be registered.
Green broke: Typically this means the horse has had a saddle on and tolerates being ridden but hasn't had many hours under saddle and doesn't know all the cues or aids a rider would give.
Husband horse: A husband horse is a nice, calm horse that tolerates inconsistent riding, tends to take care of its rider, and is a horse you would be comfortable with as a beginner or part-time rider.
Prospect: This is a horse that the owner feels has the potential to excel in a particular type of activity after he has been trained to do so.
Rides E/W: This means the horse has been ridden in both English and Western tack.
Ring sour: This typically describes a horse that has been shown competitively for a number of years and is exhibiting signs of being sick of the show ring.
UTD on shots and worming: This means the horse is up-to-date on her annual vaccinations and deworming program.
Willing over fences: This horse has been jumped successfully and doesn't tend to balk.
Needs advanced rider: One phrase that novices should definitely avoid, this more often than not means the horse is difficult to ride and handle in some way for anyone except the most skilled and experienced horseman.
If you are interested in a specific breed or type of horse, you will definitely want to visit reputable breeders and show barns within the range that you feel comfortable traveling. Breeders often have young animals because, logically, they breed and sell the offspring. To keep a wide selection, many breeders sell other people's horses on commission. Show barns do this as well.
What is a show barn?
A show barn is a facility where owners of a specific breed or discipline board their horses and keep them in training for competition. The riders also school here in their chosen area of competition. For example, you may find hunter/jumper barns or facilities that cater specifically to gaited horses.
Horse auctions work like most auctions — people bring their horses, a professional auctioneer sells them, and a percentage goes to the auction house. The horse is led and/or ridden in front of the audience, and the highest bidder wins. Usually there are contingencies for vet checks and for you to test ride the horse, but you need to know these details before you hold up your bidder's number. Auctions are not the best places for beginners to buy a horse.
Some horse facilities are set up in the business of buying and selling horses. They typically are not breeders and do not breed their own livestock, nor do they specialize in any one breed of horse or riding discipline. They are an outlet for people who want to sell a horse but don't have the time, expertise, or interest to sell it on their own. Typically, a wide range of breeds are offered at a wide range of ages and prices. This is a place where you definitely need some horse knowledge and experience to make a suitable selection.
Many horse sites on the Internet have listings of horses for sale. This can be a great way to educate yourself about what's available and the pricing ranges; plus, you can see photos of prospects. It also can give you a sense of what the horse market is like. Ultimately, you should see the horse in person and try him out. Either limit your search to your state or region, or be prepared to fly or drive some distance to see the horse.
People who train horses for a living often know about horses up for sale. Making a few calls to barns where horses are trained may bring up a few prospects. Expect these horses to be on the higher end of your price range because the seller must pay the trainer a commission in addition to board and any ongoing training while the horse is there for sale.
Getting a horse from a rescue shelter can be inexpensive up front, but less experienced people can find themselves with more problems than they bargained for. Horses often become rescue cases because inexperienced people bring home a horse and unintentionally foster bad habits that eventually develop into dangerous habits, making the owner afraid to handle the horse. Other cases are the result of abuse or neglect.
Shelters usually work with the horses to bring them back to health. Some attempt to retrain the horse to increase the chances of a successful placement. If you are experienced enough to carry through with the work the shelter has done or to re-educate the horse yourself, getting a horse from a shelter can be an extremely rewarding experience. Some horses simply need better handling from the start and will do fine after they are placed under the care of an owner who understands them.