Buying A Show Horse

People often spend a huge amount of money purchasing show horses. Some buy for investment purposes, while others merely for pleasure. Regardless of your reason for purchasing the show horse, the purchaser wants to ensure they get what they pay for. In order to protect your investment, several steps can be taken prior to the purchase of the show horse.

Story originally posted by: Michael Beethe, Esq.

Determine If You Need Assistance

Unless you have significant experience with show horses, you should seriously consider enlisting the assistance of an consultant or trainer. You should ensure that your consultant or trainer has a good reputation, and you should feel confident that he or she is working for your best interest. While this assistance does not come without a cost (i.e., a commission), a small commission may turn out to be worth a great deal down the road.

Once you have selected your consultant or trainer, you should make sure they understand exactly what you are looking for and your intended use of the horse. If the trainer or consultant is not familiar with you and/or your family, verify that the trainer or consultant is aware of you and your family members’ riding ability and level.

Evaluating the Horse

1. Ask lots of questions. This element proves critical. Ask the seller about every aspect of the horse, such as training history, show ring problems/habits, health problems, hauling problems, special requirements and lameness problems, just to name a few. You should tailor your list of questions to your intended use of the horse. Do not be afraid to verify what the seller tells you. For example, if the seller tells you that “Trainer X” started the horse under saddle with little problems, contact Trainer X to find out what he or she thought of the horse and verify the accuracy of the seller’s statements.

2. Tell Seller Your Intended Use. Once the potential buyer tells the seller his or her intended use, it places a duty on the seller to disclose to the potential buyer if the horse is not suitable for that purpose. This area is essential when purchasing horses for young and inexperienced riders.

3. Try Out The Horse. You should thoroughly “test drive” the horse you intend to purchase. This includes the potential buyer riding or handling the horse as the potential buyer intends to use the horse if purchased. Undoubtedly, this test drive will present several questions about the horse, which should be addressed with the seller. When trying out the horse, the potential buyer should ask the seller what the seller did to prepare the horse for the day (i.e., exercising, working, medications).

4. Research The Horse. As the dollar value of the horse increases, so should the research. On an expensive show or breeding horse, the potential buyer should attempt to confirm the horse’s history by contacting previous owners or trainers. If the horse comes from outside of your geographic area, contact someone you know in the horse’s area to see if the horse has any bad habits. This can prove especially helpful in buying an older show horse, who could possibly have ring habits. If the seller claims the horse has an extensive show or reproduction record, contact the applicable breed registry to verify such assertions.

Buying The Horse

Once you have decided that you have found the horse that you want to buy, it is time to negotiate the deal. You should clearly communicate your offer to purchase the horse, including the details of your offer, such as the terms of payment, the requirement of a pre-purchase exam and any other contingencies to the purchase of the horse. Further, you should identify any warranties or guarantees which you want to have incorporated into the agreement, such as a mare being in foal or selling with a breeding to a certain stallion.

Pre-Purchase Exam

Asking questions regarding the horse’s health takes you part of the way to verifying the horse’s health. There is, however, no replacement to a pre-purchase exam. While you must balance the cost of the pre-purchase vet examination with the cost of the horse, I strongly recommend the pre-purchase examination on every horse. By not having a pre-purchase exam performed, you may waive any warranties of health and soundness. In today’s world of buying a show horse, a pre-purchase examination is standard. The depth of the pre-purchase exam may vary depending upon the purchase price of the horse, as well as the buyer’s familiarity with the horse.

1. Lower-Priced Show Horses. On the lower priced show horse ($5,000 and under), I generally recommend the use of a pre-purchase exam for the general health and soundness of the horse. The use of radiographs will usually prove too costly on a horse of this price range.

2. Moderately-Priced Show Horses. On moderately priced show horses ($5,000 to $15,000), again a pre-purchase exam for the health and soundness of the horse should be used. On this price range of horses, I generally recommend the use of radiographs in two general situations:

(a) You have reason to be concerned about a certain problem the horse; and
(b) Your veterinarian performing the pre-purchase exam identifies a problem with the horse (usually on the flexion test) that warrants radiographs.

3. Higher-Priced Show Horses. On higher priced horses ($15,000 and higher), I recommend a pre-purchase exam which includes radiographs. When investing this amount of money, the cost of the pre-purchase exam is relatively low. When spending a large amount of money, you need to be aware of the horse’s health and soundness in great detail prior to the purchase.

4. Using the Pre-Purchase Exam. Ideally, you want the horse you plan to purchase to pass the pre-purchase exam with flying colors. Realistically, few show horses will indeed have no flaws. You should view the pre-purchase exam as an educational tool. You need to know what you are dealing with prior to making the purchase. Just because a horse has a problem does not mean that you should decline the purchase. Rather, you should contact your veterinarian and any people assisting you in the purchase and inform them of the problem. They will help you determine if this is a problem you can deal with.

Closing The Deal – Use A Written Contract

For anyone who consistently reads my articles knows the common theme — GET IT IN WRITING! In fact, I dedicated an entire article identifying the importance of reducing all of your transactions to a written contract. A written contract protects all parties in a horse sale transaction, as it identifies every element of the horse sale. The contract will clarify the agreement between the buyer and seller, as well as provide the necessary protections to the parties. Failure to use a contract will result in ambiguity as to the terms of the agreement and potential disagreements down the road.


Purchasing a show horse can be one of the most exciting and costly endeavors you encounter. In order ensure that this experience proves positive, a few steps should be followed in order to protect your investment. If you work hard to find a good horse, conduct thorough research the horse, require a pre-purchase exam and protect yourself with a contract, you should be rewarded with a horse that will suit your need and have success down the road.