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You are looking to buy a new dressage horse. You want a horse who is sound.  A horse trained to an appropriate level for your experience and skill not to mention your pocket book.  Perhaps you are looking for a warmblood?  A specific breed such as a Hanoverian or Oldenburg?  An increasingly popular baroque horse?  Most of all, you are looking for that special something that makes your heart sing and tells you this is the horse for you.

Many people find the search to buy the right dressage horse a confusing and frustrating process.  Let us share some of our experience with you and perhaps we can help you navigate some of the twists and turns along the way.  This page is meant as a general guide only.  Please feel free to contact us for consultation on your specific needs.

Analyze Your Goals

When our clients are ready to buy a new dressage horse, we encourage them to think long and hard about what they really want in their new horse and to talk about it.  This is a personal search that requires real honesty about your goals, your skill level, your finances and your desire.  Over the years, we have seen a lot of heartbreak that could have been avoided by really good planning at this stage.

Take your own size and fitness into account.  Unless you are Debbie MacDonald, if you are 5’2”, you probably don’t belong on a 17.2 hand horse.  If you have a long upper body, a longer necked horse may well look better.  In terms of riding pleasure, it is probably better to ride a horse a little small for you rather than a little big but not so small that it feels unbalanced.

If you have a trainer, that person should be consulted.  He or she can be most helpful in this process.  Once you find a horse that has the gaits, temperament and training to satisfy your goals consider . . .

Compatibility

Compatibility is perhaps the most import aspect of your search.  It is the element that makes the magical harmony between you and your new horse.  It is difficult to discuss compatibility in a scientific and analytic manner.  Keep in mind however that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and bad behaviors are extremely difficult to change.  Also keep in mind that it is impossible to tell whether or not a horse is or will be compatible through a video tape, less so on Youtube.

Mare, Gelding, or Stallion?

Generally, only experienced horse people  will want to deal with a stallion.  There is always the option of gelding an otherwise suitable stallion and this might be an acceptable choice under some circumstances although more likely to happen if you are shopping for a horse in Europe or South America.  Many people have an opinion about mares versus geldings but really there is no reason to choose a horse based on this factor alone.  Mares have a reputation for being more moody but this is an individual trait and should be evaluated on an individual basis.  Back to your honest assessment of yourself and what you want in your horse . . . if you are an inexperienced horse person looking for an easy time with your new horse, do NOT look at a horse advertized as an alpha mare.

Meeting the Horse

Of course it is important to try out any horse that you think you might be interested in.  Let the seller show you the horse first.  That will give you and your trainer or anyone you have brought with you the chance to see the horse under saddle.  Gaits, manners, level of training and way of going can be observed at this time.  Try not to spend the time behind a video camera.  This is your chance to  observe the horse’s presence and that is hard to judge from behind a box of metal.

If you like the horse, ask to try it and be honest with the seller about your skill, experience and confidence level.  The seller can be really helpful in talking with you about the suitability of this horse for your goals, skills and ambitions.  No barn owner wants someone to get hurt trying their horses and reputable sellers will guard your safety and the safety of the horse carefully.

If you have brought someone with you, perhaps that person can videotape you riding the horse and give you the chance later to see how the two of you look together.  At Orion Dressage, we will videotape you on your prospective new horse and give you the tape to take home with you.  You can spend your time getting to know the horse!

If you find that this is not the horse for you at any point, say so right away.  You do not need to say why, in fact, it’s probably better if you do not.  If you do like a horse, try to ride it twice (on subsequent days).  You will get a broader spectrum of experience with it in that manner.

Observe the horse in its stable to give you the chance to assess its ground manners and see the horse without any tack.  At this point check out the horse’s body for anything you might want to have a vet pay particular attention to.  Note any lumps or bumps or other abnormalities and let the examining vet know what you have observed.

Consider the Environment

Consider the environment the horse is in. Sometimes stables oriented towards selling horses will push them beyond their readiness in order to put some extra tricks on to please prospective buyers. If the horse is in a training environment suited to him that will save you headaches later on. Consider what the horse has done. Has the horse been shown?  How has he done? How did he behave? If a prospective horse has already been to shows and done well, that speaks volumes  to his abilities to behave and perform under the show environment.

Soundness

Always have your prospect checked out by a qualified veterinarian.  All of our horses at Orion Dressage have been through extensive veterinary checks and have been x-rayed.  We advise all our clients to have
prospective new horses just as thoroughly examined regardless of where they buy them.  We like to
have a thorough clinical exam performed and x-ray all four feet, stifles and the hocks.  Further x-rays or
other procedures might be required should any result prove to be outside normal or comfortable limits.  X-rays, however, should be taken in the context of the horse’s reaction to flexion tests, way of going,
observable soundness and level of training.  X-rays are useful in determining the presence of OCD
lesions, bone chips and the like.

An otherwise sound horse with a slightly unusual x-ray probably should not be rejected on that ground alone.  We prefer to use a vet who is going to discuss and explain his or her findings with us, rather
than tell us “yes” or “no.”  We like to use a vet without a quota of horses to reject.  We have heard
plenty of stories from people who eventually discovered that the vet they were using prided himself
on “failing” the majority of horses he examined.  Keep in mind, however, that most vets in the United States will be cautious in their evaluation of any horse.  Most vets are rightly anxious about the potential for litigation should their words be misconstrued and are unlikely to give certainty on any issues a horse might have.  Still, all this is information only and no one piece of information is going to give you the answer that this horse will be a lifelong, healthy and sound partner or not.
Is this a reason to reject that horse?

The answer is “it depends.”

Nobody’s perfect . . . and of course that applies to horses as well.  Most horses are likely to have something that is not perfect.  The question for you and your vet is how will that imperfection affect what you want to do with this horse?  The answer to that question should determine how you will proceed.  Furthermore, many breeds have slightly different shapes to their navicular bones.  Ask your vet if he or she is familiar with the breed you are considering.  Ask the seller if she has old x-rays to compare with the new x-rays which you are taking.  Changes in the bone structure are generally more significant than the current structure alone.

A Personal Note

I have been involved with horses since I was seven years old.   My parents bought me my first horse for my twelfth birthday.  My personal experience has been that I always made a mistake when I bought the horse that was more convenient for whatever reason.  Sometimes the reason was location, sometimes it was gender.  It could be anything.

Buying the wrong horse is the most costly mistake you can make.  It pays to be careful.  It pays to look.  It pays to travel some.  It pays to get what you want because you will be happier, go further and be more successful as a partnership if you do.

Happy Hunting,

Katherine Heller, Owner
Orion Dressage Sporthorses

View Our Horses for Sale
Categories: Advice

126 Responses so far.

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