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buy/sell part 9 – Viewings

Today is part 9 of our buying and selling series and today it’s viewing time! The time and date has been arranged in advance and hopefully both parties will be at the right place at the right time but on a regular basis this isn’t the case. The amount of buyers who don’t turn up without notice is unbelievable but a canny seller can weed a lot of these timewasters out at the phonecall stage by them not answering the most pertinent questions and being far more interested in having a joy ride!

If you are a buyer and for whatever reason cannot make the agreed time please please PLEASE call the seller asap so that they are not hanging around for potentially hours waiting for you. On the same vein if a buyer and someone has put a deposit or even paid in full for your horse ring any other viewers asap. I have heard far too many tales of buyers travelling 3+ hours to see a perfect horse to be told on arrival it was sold that morning leaving them with a 6+ hour wasted journey and petrol.

As a seller you should ensure you have adequate trial facilities and if a particulary vital aspect is missing (school/jumps etc) make sure the buyer is aware of this when agreeing on the viewing. If you do have very limited facilities be prepared to take the horse elsewhere at your cost.

As a buyer never go to a viewing alone. Take along a trusted friend who knows what they are talking about. Do not take along a novice or as nice as I can put this a wimp! You need someone straight talking and knowledgeable who knows what you want and need in a horse. The majority of the time this would be your instructor but it doesn’t have to be. This person can be eyes on the ground a second opinion and a photographer/videographer. It is useful to see how the horse goes for you not only how it feels as that can often be very different.

Again as a seller relax, you are not being judged by the seller, they want to sell you the horse if they are letting you view it so they want the horse to go well for you. So relax breathe and ask a few questions.

As the seller you should have the horse clean tidy and ready for the viewer. Some like to catch the horse from the field some are not bothered. Personally i would have the horse in and ready which includes being plaited with hoof polish etc so basically looking ready to show. At a viewing you want to show your horse off to best effect and looking smart will get you 10% of the way there before you’ve even started.

I will always without fail ask the horse to be trotted up as there is no point getting on a lame horse. I have before turned up seen the horse trot up see it’s unlevel and walked away. Don’t be put off a horse who doesn’t trot up well. My own horse when trotted up unless excited looks like a donkey but comes alive under saddle. If I arrive and the horse is already tacked up alarm bells will be ringing and I would actually ask it to be untacked and retacked. The owner may be genuine and tacked up as thought it would save time but others would do so to hide bad manners etc when tacked up.

Before the horse is mounted I will also be checking for anything major conformational or even injuries that may have not been mentioned previously. If you’re buying a horse to show it needs to have clean legs. Even if an eventer if a young horse I will want it to have relatively clean legs as significant number or sized splints etc can be an indicator that it may not stand up to long term harder work required as an eventer.

When it comes to riding I always want to see the owner (or rider provided by owner!) riding the horse first. I am perfectly capable of getting on a strange horse but for my safety not knowing the horse (other than what the owner has told me) I want to see someone else on board first as not all sellers are squeaky clean. If the owner refuses again alarm bells will ring unless there is a VERY good reason. i.e. broken limb (not horse associated) and so no rider etc. in which case depending on age/experience I may ask it to be lunged first.

Also the owner ‘should’ be able to get the best from a horse and it can be illustrative of how the horse reacts/works if the rider isn’t the next William Fox-Pitt. A poor showjumping record can be very quickly explained if the rider doesn’t give with their hands over a fence for example. I want to see the owner work briefly on the flat and pop a jump for perhaps 15-20 minutes before getting on board myself.

I want to be able to mount from a mounting block and for the horse to stand still. I then firstly test brakes. I ask for walk, walk a few strides and then ask for halt. You want to check you agree on halt/stop aids at walk not ten minutes later in canter when you are going round with no brakes! I then spend 10-15 mins working on identifying aids and trying to improve on the work I saw the owner produce as ultimately when I purchase a horse I am looking one to improve so I want it to be willing to learn and adapt quickly. It doesn’t need to magically turn into a world beater in those 15 minutes but I want to feel like it is wanting to co-operate and not take offence to being asked differently to what it may be used to. If you are fairly novicey don’t be ashamed to ask a more experienced friend to ride a horse first especially if you are nervous riding different horses. They can get on first ask the questions that need to be asked (i.e. does it move off the leg jump happily etc) and presuming they are happy you can have a ride to test whether you feel safe.

When having a jump start with something simple (a simple cross!) to check you and the horse are on the same page jumping wise and then move from there depending on what you are going to ask. You won’t ask much of a baby and it will be more about willing to jump fillers etc and jumping in a nice shape with a good but probably not perfect technique. If older you will to jump a course maintaining a good rhythm without questioning the fences. If an older horse is looky over the fences it sees week in week out at its’ home yard how on earth will it cope with strange jumps in a strange arena at a competition?!

If trying a horse as an eventer if unproven I would want to test it XC, this doesn’t mean over all types of fences but you want to get an idea of whether it is bold or not. If there isn’t access to a course if it has been wet a big puddle can give a good idea as to its opinion of water. If really limited facility wise a piece of plastic tarpaulin folded up to simulate a ditch/water tray will show up a bold horse willing to jump.

Lastly ridden wise I want to take the horse for a hack, not necessarily on my own but if it is marketed as hacking alone I would go out in company and make it take the lead. It doesn’t need for me to be 100% but if I need it to hack alone if it hesitates and I say go it needs to go. If it doesn’t this could indicate in a strange environment in a new home it may not immediately hack alone. If you have multiple hacking partners this may not be an issue but is something that should be kept in mind.

Other things I want to see is the horse working on its own separated from other horses. It doesn’t need to be perfect but I would expect it to keep working and not constantly nap back towards where the other horses are.

So lastly you should watch its behaviour being dismounted. what is its general demeanour, does it have a nice personality etc. for an amateur with normally only the one horse you want a horse you like personality wise in addition to performing well. You will not find motivation to ride a grumpy horse on a cold wet winter night but you may do so for a fuss loving horse!

A question I always ask at a viewing is has the horse been worked already that day and what work it has done the last few days. Sometimes in order to fit in buyers a horse may be viewed by more than one seller a day which may leave a sharp horse looking a lot more docile. In turn you may be the first viewer that day but it could have been tried by 5 people in the last 2 days, or it may have had 3 days off beforehand. All these factors should be taken into account when looking at the horse’s behaviour.

You may be required to make a fairly quick decision on the horse depending on whether other people are interested. Normally I go with my gut in that I either like it or I don’t. I try to be as objective as possible and try not to let my heart rule my head especially in the case of conformational issues. It is important to always take the advice of the friend who came to the viewing with you as what you felt may not be what could be seen.

Be prepared to hand over an immediate deposit if it’s the horse for you subject to vetting as otherwise someone else could get in there first and until money (legally termed as consideration) is handed over in deposit form there is no obligation for a seller to offer or stand by an offer of ‘first refusal’.

You don’t have to make up your mind there and then and often it is sensible to think it over to ensure you are making the correct decision but you will risk losing out on a horse. If you are a believer in fate this is not necessarily a bad thing, I am and believe if someone gets in there first it wasn’t the right horse for me!

If you are in the situation of buying a horse from the field I would want to see it handled and briefly lunged. This will show it is well handled and give you an idea of it’s paces, but buying from the field is always risky and you should expect any such horse to be priced at the cheap end of the market.

So yes be prepared when viewing, take someone knowledgeable and remember when ridden to ask appropriate questions of the horse according to its and your experience.

About the author

Katie