By Martha Josey and Ashley Schenck

Buying a horse is a big commitment. I’ve always said, ‘Finding the right horse is like recruiting the right quarterback for a football team.’ There may be a lot of excellent options, but you have to find the horse that works best for you.  

Taking Your Time

Buying a horse brings a mix of emotions. There is the excitement of a new project, and the stress of making the right decision. One of the most important lessons I always tell students and friends searching for a horse is to not get in a hurry and buy the first horse they see. I often see people try several horses where none of them are a well-suited match, but the lack of patience causes them to settle for a horse because they are tired of looking. Either way, the same thing happens—they end up with something that’s not quite what they wanted or needed. Take the time to make the right decision and don’t settle for less.

Determining What You Need

When you decide to buy a horse, the first thing you need to decide is exactly what you are looking for and what you can afford to buy. Ask yourself, “What kind of competitions will I be entering? AQHA? NBHA? WPRA? Local jackpots?” Considering the level of competition at which you are looking to compete will help you determine what caliber of horse you need. It is also important to consider what kind of arena you will typically be running in—mostly small indoor pens or large outdoor arenas? Determine the factors you are looking for in a horse and write them down. This way, it will be easier to make a final decision, especially if there are multiple horses to choose from. Just like a quarterback, have your playbook ready.

The next factor to consider is what kind of horse you should buy. There are several kinds of horses to consider that fit different rider needs and styles. There’s the young prospect that is not started, the horse that is patterned and ready to start competing, the proven winner that’s ready to go right now, and the older seasoned horse that still has some good years left. A lot of times a person who cannot afford to go out and buy a horse that’s right in his prime and winning right now might pay a little less for a teenage horse that has a couple years left. Do not underestimate the teenage horses; those are typically the seasoned veterans who have seen it all. At any given time, a good percentage of the top 15 in the standings of associations like the NBHA, WPRA, or barrel races like the Josey Jr. World will be teenagers. An older horse can save you money and help you win!

It is important to consider where you are as a rider as well. If you are just starting your barrel racing ambitions, the teenage horse might be a perfect fit for you. Horses can be great teachers. An older horse who knows his job can help shape a rider into a great barrel racer.  If you are just getting started, you don’t need the horse that isn’t even started on barrels. You cannot train a horse when you are just learning yourself. Likewise, if you are skilled enough and ready to win in open competition, you want a horse that is ready to win.

Looking At Your Options

Before I look at a horse, I will write down everything I am looking for to have an idea of what I want. I’ll know the general age, price, and if I want a mare or gelding. It’s also important to know who you are buying from. Watch the way they ride and how they treat their horses. Social media is such a tool in today’s horse buying market. Use it to watch videos of their runs on the horse you are going to try. If they have won on different horses over the years and have sold horses that have gone on to win, they are the riders who know how to train and will have quality horses for sale.

The Final Steps

Remember, when you finally find a horse you like, check it thoroughly. If you don’t know enough to make a decision on your own, take someone with experience, and always get a vet check. A horse can be a huge investment; don’t let it be a gamble.

You should be completely sold on a horse before you buy it. If you have any doubts, take a closer look. If there is something you dislike about a horse, chances are you will like him less later. Do not fall in love with the first horse you try. Spend some time looking to make sure that you buy the best horse for you.

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