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Choosing a Stable

You know your horse and what makes him happy, nervous, or angry, but finding a place to board him/her can be a stressful endeavor.   This guide contains some tips to help you evaluate a facility to determine whether it would be compatible with you and your horse.  

Do your Homework
Gather a list of places; do some research at feed stores, and tack shops. There may be some places you don't know about even thought you are familiar with the area. In general, the smaller facilities tend to be more accommodating, since fewer people oversee it but may not have a "show" presence. Larger facilities tend to attract more well-known trainers but are more regulating due to the number of horses requiring care.   Call each place for an appointment; this is much more professional than just showing up, and it will ensure that the owner or manager will have the time to show you around.

Choose the right discipline
What style do you ride, Hunter, Jumper, Dressage, Eventing, Western???  And at what level do you currently ride or level you want to rider…   These answers must fit into the style and level of the barn you choose…   not that you cannot board there, but will you be happy and “fit” into the existing clientele.   For instance, a dressage rider would have difficulty training and riding at a Hunter/Jumper facility…   or a rider pursuing competition points would not be happy at a “backyard” barn even though the horsecare and facility where good.

Interview the Owners/Caretakers
When interviewing a barn, spend time getting to know the owners. Ask questions about how she/he got into riding; what are their goals, what is the future of the facility, etc. They set the tone for the farm. If you don’t feel comfortable with them or feel that they are presenting a façade, don't waste your time taking a tour of the facility. You and your horse will wind up unhappy, unhealthy, or both.  
If you find that the owners/managers are inexperienced, but seem to be doing an good job, continue looking at the facility.   A good indication of temperament is whether or not they listen to your needs rather than just telling you about the facility

Interview the Owners/Caretakers
Spend time getting to know the owner. Ask questions about how she/he got into riding; what are their goals, what is the future of the facility, etc. They set the tone for the farm. If you don’t feel comfortable or they are presenting a façade, turn around.

Talk to Other Boarders
Spend time getting to know other boarders. Ask questions about how they like or dislike the facility; what are their goals, what is their future in riding, etc. They also set the tone for the farm. If you don’t feel comfortable or they are presenting a façade, turn around.

Examine the Health and care of the Horses
Look at the horse's health. Are they skinny? Do they have shiny coats? Do they appear happy? When looking through the barn, watch the stalled horses. Are they pacing? Anyone cribbing?  Are the stalls clean and tidy? Water buckets full?  If you find the horses are nervous, and pacing, I would suggest finding another facility.
Ask questions: how often are the stalls cleaned; do these horses get turn out time; how much and how often are they fed; what kind of hay do you feed; do I supply my own grain; do you mind feeding my horse a special diet every day, three times a day? Can you handle feed supplements?  If you want your horse in a stall (as opposed to field board), make sure it's cleaned at least two times a day.   NOTE:  Be cautious of a facility that uses lime to counteract bacteria and ammonia buildup that occurs when stalls are not properly matted or cleaned regularly. It may be an indication of substandard care.
When you are asking these feeding and stall questions be sure to ask what veterinary work is required when boarding. If the answer is "none", this is not the facility for you!  You want a place that requires at least deworming and coggins. Ideally, they should also require West Nile, flu, strangles and any vaccine for diseases present in your area (i.e. Potomac Fever). Your horse should not be subjected to any of these illnesses. It should be a requirement of the facility to have proof of vaccination, and have the horses vaccinated two weeks prior to boarding. This gives the vaccines time to build the immune system, and makes it safer for the facility. Many good facilities require a vet certificate/physical check be completed, but that is the discretion of each facility.

Ask about the turnout policy
First of all, if there is no, or very limited turnout, you have the wrong barn.   Horses are happier and healthier with a generous amount of time outside just being a horse so make sure that it is available at the facility.  
How are horses turned out?  Are they together in one field or separated? How large are the turnout groups?   Do mares and geldings go out together?  How long is the turnout period.
It is best to keep your horse in it's own pasture, but with horses near by but that is rarely available and if it is, it generally is more costly.   Having your horse in a large group is very intimidating at first, and can sometimes lead to injuries.   
Also ask if there a stallion on the property?  If so, what is his turnout and social schedule?

Examine the barn and stalls
If there is a barn, make sure to spend lots of time looking at it. See if the aisles are cluttered. Are there rubber mats on concrete? If yes, that is good. Concrete is a very slippery surface, especially if it is wet. Are the horses tied with cross ties? Do they have hitching posts to tie to? Be careful of cross ties. If your horse has never been in them, he might not understand that he is tied. They can not see the ropes very well, and get nervous from the tugging on either side of their cheeks. Make sure the ropes are secured but have breakaway lines. You want a horse to be able to break away from it's tie if necessary.

Examine the Tackroom and/or Barn Office
Is the tack room tidy? Is the office tidy? Can you keep your supplies in either of these places? Make sure you are going to be comfortable here. It is important that you carve your own space in the facility for your things. If you feel like you will not have a space, don't board there. It is far too stressful to have people using your things, or having it exposed and possibly stolen.

Fields and Pastures
Now, once you have gone through the barn, take a walk outside. Walk the pastures. What is the fencing? If it is barbed wire, leave. Smooth wire is tolerable, make sure it is tight, and flagged or has a top wooden rail so the horse can see it. Wood or synthetic fencing is ideal with three to five panels for each section. Watch to see if it is maintained well. Make sure there are no nails sticking out or the wood is rotten. Wiggle some posts, making sure they are secure in the ground.
Do the pastures have adequate grass? If not, are the horses fed hay? They should be. Do the pastures have an adequate water source? If it is a creek, does it run year round, and do you have to break ice often? If there are automatic water systems, look to see if they are clean. Ask if there is a heater in each one, and what temperature it warms the water to. If you find the water source is a tub, make sure they keep it clean, and fill with fresh water one to two times a week. Also, make sure they have heaters in the winter to prevent freezing.

Arenas and riding areas
Notice the arena footing. Is the horse slipping? Is it too deep? Think about what you need for your horse in an arena. Does it meet your standards? Make sure it is large enough for what you need.
Do you like to trail ride?  Ask if there are any trails available…

Observe Staff and Trainers at work.
If you find you like the facility, come back and watch a riding lesson, or people working their horses. Do a little research on the place before completely committing your horse and yourself to it. You want to see happy relaxed horses. Anger and rage are obviously not what you should be getting yourself into. Watch a lesson to see if the instructor can communicate well. Is the horse happy? Does the student seem to be learning? Even though you might not want to take lessons, this is a good indicator of who you will be communicating to.

Finally, The Paperwork
If everything about meets your standards, ask for documentation for the facility…   It should consist of at least the following

  • Boarding Agreement (should include all things included and not included in boarding fee)
  • Liability Waiver
  • Facility Rules & Procedures

Review the materials…do it yourself, use a professional equestrian or legal counsel, but make certain you understand what each clause means and how it affects you and your horse.   If you do not, don’t be afraid to ask questions until you do.    If the owners can’t or won’t answer the questions to your satisfaction, don’t sign the agreement.

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Cost & Expenses

Purchasing Expenses


Horses can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Of course, you can pay as much as you like and as expectations for the horse rise, so does the price. If you wish to compete you will need a horse that has been trained in your discipline. This adds to the purchase price. Experience, training and breeding all add to the purchase price.    Here are some very basic guidelines

  • Trail riding and pleasure - $500-$5,000.
  • Local Horse shows (C, B and unrated) - $5,000 - $25,000
  • Fox Hunting - $2500 - $40,000
  • “A” and “AA” rated shows - $25,000 - $250,000
  • National Competition - $50,000 - $1,000,000


Shipping is expensive. If you do not have your own trailer, expect to pay 25¢-$1 a mile plus a loading/unloading fee of $25 - $50.    Long distance carriers will have a fixed cost that includes truck and driver/handler expenses.


This may be as little as a few phone calls or 15%-20% of the purchase price to pay an agent. There may also be travel expenses if you are forced to shop out of town.    (One of the advantages of purchasing from FTF, we have done the research for you)

Pre Purchase Exam

This is recommended for every purchase. For a pleasure horse, this should be no more than $100. For a more thorough vetting for competition horses expect to pay $250-$500 and could reach $1000 if a full set of x-rays are done.

Horse Care Expenses


Another great variable. Depending upon the services provided ranges from $50-$2,000 a month. Full board may include feed, bedding, training and care, but may not necessarily include worming, shoeing etc.    
Please see our Boarding page for examples of boarding care levels


Vaccines $20-$100 every 6-12 months (including annual coggins test) Deworming $4-$15 every 6-8 weeks
Hoof care $10-$25 for trimming every 4-8 weeks, or $40-$160 for shoes every 4-8 weeks
Dentist $20-$100 once a year.

Stable tools

Stable forks $20-$30 each
Brooms $10-$20 each
Wheel barrows $50-$150

Grooming tools

Brushes $3-$20 each


These include first-aid items, grooming products, etc. Budget $10-$100


Good second-hand tack can often be found at very reasonable prices. Prices for new tack.

  • Saddle     $500-$2000 each
  • Bridle       $50-$200 each
  • Halter       $10-$100 each
  • Blankets   $75-$200 each
  • Bandages  $20-$100 a set















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Competitive Expenses


Lessons are important for everyone. Pleasure riders can improve their skills and maintain or improve their horse's level of training. Anyone wishing to compete successfully needs to continually practice and improve his or her skills. The quality of instruction varies greatly as does the cost, it is wise to shop around.
Expect to pay $10-$200 an hour with the average lesson around $60

Entry Fees

For a local show the fee per a class may be as little as $5-$20.
For recognized shows expect to pay $20-$200.


A serious competitor will need his own transportation. Truck and trailer $5,000-$75,000. Horses that travel need health certificates and additional vaccines and tests. $10-$100. Traveling with horses involves other expenses such as stabling, hotels and eating out.


An expensive horse is worth insuring. Policies vary greatly from a simple loss of use policy to coverage for surgery and other medical procedures. Insurance premiums will vary depending on the cost of the horse and coverage












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Horse Buyers FAQs

What Kind of Horse Should You Get? 
Because riding is a team sport - of the horse and rider - it is important that you buy a horse that suits the temperament and style of the rider. A nervous, fearful rider should have a calm horse that will not react in kind. A child should not have a horse or pony that will bolt. An experienced rider will want a sensitive horse that responds to the slightest commands.  Before you decide to a horse of your own, you should already have some riding experience or have taken riding lessons. Once you understand your riding abilities and limitations, you will be in a better position to choose a horse with a temperament that will suit you. You should also consider the type of riding you intend to do. "English" riders may want a purely pleasure horse for riding "on the flat." Other "English" riders may want a horse that will jump, or even one that can be taken on the hunt field. "Western" riders may want a horse to use for trail riding, working cattle, or other "Western" show events.  Whichever style of riding you prefer, it is best if the first horse you buy is already "schooled." First-time horse owners should avoid younger animals that require a lot of training. An older horse that already has the skills you need is usually a better buy for the first-time owner and younger rider.

Where Do I Look For a Horse?    
A good place to buy a horse is the stable where you ride or plan to keep the horse. The stable owner has an interest in keeping you satisfied, and knowing your abilities and temperament he or she can suggest a suitable animal.  Riding instructors are also good agents for locating a suitable horse since it is important to them that their students do well in competition.  Breeders are another good source. Generally they want to see their animals well placed and will make every effort to provide a horse you can enjoy. Most every breed has a registration association that can direct you to breeders in your area.  Other common sources are the Internet, classified section of your local newspaper, and the bulletin board of your local tack shop. Here you have little knowledge of the seller and little recourse should the horse purchase prove unsatisfactory so additional caution is advised.

Is a Horse Right for my Child?    
What will my Child gain from Owning a Horse?  Horse ownership offers many benefits. Caring for an animal teaches a child to be responsible. The routine and regiment of caring for an animal teaches children discipline. As with many interests, the rewards are the direct result of hard work. Children will learn that hard work pays off, and develop a good work ethic. When children contribute towards the cost of keeping a horse they develop an appreciation for money and finances. A nervous or shy child will gain self-confidence from being able to handle a large animal. All these qualities will carry over into the child's life. Riding and stable chores develop strength, agility, balance and coordination. A family horse encourages teamwork and sharing. A competitive child will gain a healthy sense of sportsmanship and a good competitive attitude. (Horses can be very humbling!) What are the Benefits for Parents?   Horse ownership can bring the family together when everyone takes a part in the day-to-day care and riding activities. Parents can be involved, and experience the joy of watching their children developing new skills. Skills which will provide pleasure throughout the child's life. Watching children enjoying their horse may encourage moms and dads to join in the fun and learn a new skill!

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What are the Disadvantages of Owning a Horse?
Keeping a horse can be expensive. The animal must be cared for every day, twice a day, 365 days a year. If you pay someone to take care of the horse this is not such a problem. A horse that is cared for by the family must be provided for during holidays, vacations, and family crisis. Your child may lose interest or find another pastime. Horses are time consuming. Make sure that your child's other activities will fit in with a horse. Do you or someone in your family have the experience to care for a horse. If not, are you willing to learn? If you have any doubts about your chills level of interest, try some of the other options mentioned before committing to a horse full time!

Should I Lease or Buy a Horse?
There are advantages to both leasing and buying a horse.

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Important Points When Buying a Horse

1.   Temperament!!  
Does the horse have a kind expression?  You can almost always get a good idea of the horse's general demeanor by looking at the eye.  Also, rub the forehead and bring your hand down over the eye (not touching the eye) and notice the horses reaction...  Did they jerk their head back or become nervous indicating that they may be a bit "spooky" or slow to trust you?  Or did they remain calm indicating stability and easy to earn their trust...  Use your intuition with horses the same way you would with people.  A horse with a good, quiet temperament is always a pleasure to ride, to show, and have around, even if they are not the best looking thing in the world.  The saying "pretty is as pretty does" is very true!  You want something that is "even keeled" and stabile and reliable to ride.

2.   Temperament!!  
No, We're not just being redundant, it is THAT important!  Please don't skimp on temperament because the horse looks, moves or jumps great.  If you can't ride it, it is of no use to you and can even be dangerous to work with.

3.   Soundness. 
No matter how quiet or how pretty, if a horse cannot stay sound for the job you want him to perform you will end up with large veterinarian bills and heartache to match. DO NOT purchase horses that have soundness issues, unless you are prepared for the maintenance and upkeep.   Exceptions to this could be... 

  • an older schoolmaster with valuable knowledge that might need a little maintenance, but still has many years of comfortable service left to give
  • "champion" that is to be used as a broodmare.      

Specific soundness concerns are conditions like navicular bone problems, severe arthritic changes, or tendon and ligament injuries.

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4.   Experience Level.  
Are you a beginner or experienced rider?  Be honest with yourself and with the owners of horses you are trying.  If you are a less experienced rider, stay away from green horses (green = black and blue).  Not because you can't "stay on", but because even though a horse is quiet and has a good temperament, it is much more beneficial to a beginning rider to have a horse that knows his job rather than a rider and a horse learn at the same time. Once you have a few years experience, then it is appropriate to try and find a younger, greener horse to train.

5.   Cost vs. Ability vs. Potential.  
As in most professions, especially when competitive, cost is always factor.   And so it is for horse buyers as, generally, the amount of talent and/or potential a horse has is usually reflected in it's price.   The more capable, or "made", a horse is, the higher the price, especially with a proven record.  However, the good news is a horse can have talent and a high potential but not be mature or completely trained yet.  This too, is reflected in the price and allows you to purchase a "champion" for less money but a bigger time and training requirement.  Also, when trying to balance factors to find your "perfect horse", make sure you look for a horse that has the necessary physical and mental ability to do the job you're asking it to do otherwise, it can disappointing, or even dangerous, to the rider and horse.

6. Responsibility.  
One final point that all horse owners, beginners and experienced, should remember...  a horse is a living animal whose life and welfare is in your hands. 
Horses don't get to pick their owners, please choose and care for your horse responsibly...

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"Trying" a Horse

When going to look at an animal, the first-time buyer should be accompanied by a knowledgeable horseperson. There is so much to observe and so much to ask that the inexperienced buyer may have trouble remembering it all. Observe the horse in the stall and pasture, and how it behaves when someone is loading, hauling, and catching the horse.

Temperament should be most important to you - leave health to the experts. Look at the horse's eyes and ears and general manner when it is brought out. Does it look alert? Be sure that you look at the animal in a well-lit place, preferably outdoors in the sunlight. Watch the owner saddle up the horse. Does it stand quietly? Does it kick or bite? Do not buy a horse with bad stable manners unless you are prepared to spend time in basic training.

Do not get on the animal right away.
Ask the owner to ride the horse first. Watch how the animal acts when mounted - does it stand still or does it dance around? Ask the owner to take the horse through its gaits, the walk, trot, and canter. Does it look smooth? Does it toss its head or fight the bit? If you are buying a hunter or jumper or other specially trained horse, ask the owner to demonstrate.

If you and your adviser are satisfied that the horse is safe for you to ride, it is your turn to ride. Once again, observe how it reacts when you mount, and how it reacts to your commands. Try out any special skills that the horse has. This is a major investment and you should be allowed to test the animal thoroughly. You could make observations on a second visit that you did not see the first time.

Fox Trot Farm STRONGLY recommends a brief trial period (7-10 days) to be arranged for the prospective buyer. This allows the buyer to have the horse and see if the two are really compatible in an environment other than the horse's home.  

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Formalities & Paperwork
It is common to leave a deposit on the horse and to carry mortality and major medical insurance while the horse is in your possession.   A trial contract stating the terms and conditions during the trial period and outlining contingencies in the event that something happens to the horse while in your custody.

Many owners will not allow trial periods for various reasons (too many to list here).  Many are valid however always...

Be cautious of an individual seller who will not let you take a horse on trial, they may be hiding undesirable characteristics of the horse.

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Vetting a Horse

First of all, understand that very few horses are 100 percent sound. Obtaining a pre-purchase examination alerts the buyer to a horse's defects and allows them to make an informed decision on whether or not to buy the horse

So... if/when you fall in love with the horse, don't buy it before the animal has been thoroughly examined by a veterinarian with experience in performing purchase examinations. Long-time horse owners almost always have a veterinarian examine any animal before purchase and first-time owners should certainly do so.   

The veterinarian will check the horse for:

  • Age
  • General condition - alertness, health of the eyes, ears, heart, lungs, digestive system
  • Health of skin and coat
  • soundness of musculoskeletal system - limbs evaluated, conformation abnormalities noted, and the condition of the feet and type of shoeing observed
  • Internal and external parasites (worms, ticks)

Discuss with the vet what you intend to use the horse for and exactly what the pre-purchase examination will include so that the necessity of additional tests can be considered.  

Fox Trot Farm, LLC recommends that all horses that are purchased for competition include:

  • Flexions test
  • x-rays (depending on flexion results)
  • endoscopy

After you have purchased your horse, your veterinarian is your best source for information about vaccinations, parasite control, and other routine health matters as well as emergency medical care.

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Tips on Vetting a Horse


Interested Parties  

Both buyers and sellers should be interested in getting a pre-purchase exam. The buyer should want one to verify that the horse is sound, or at least to be aware of any defects, and the seller should want one to verify that the horse was sound at the time of being sold should there be any complications with the horse later on.


Level of Examination:  

Know that there are different levels of pre-purchase exams. A simple exam may include a thorough physical, with flexion tests or palpation of a pregnant mare. An extensive exam may include blood tests, ultrasound and X-rays.


Purpose of Examination:  

Let the Veterinarian know why you are vetting the horse…  Is it for your own personal pleasure use?  Is it a broodmare?  Is it for competition?  Is it an investment horse for resale?    Your objective will dramatically change the examination criteria (i.e. soundness vs. reproductive capabilities)


Conflict of  Interest  

Don't use the same veterinarian to perform the pre-purchase exam that the seller uses. This is a conflict of interest and can only create problems if the veterinarian knows about, finds, discloses or fails to disclose a problem. Even if you have to haul the horse to a different vet, do it.


Use an equine specialist  

Look up veterinarians in the phone book or check with local horse owners or trainers for veterinarian recommendations.


Masking Drugs  

Make sure you know whether or not the horse has been given any type of drug within the past 24 to 48 hours. This is important because if a drug was used, it may mask the appearance of lameness.


Draw blood  

If the seller says no drugs had been used and drugs are found in the horse's system, it could be an indication of intentional attempt to hide soundness problems with the horse.  Buyer Beware!!  In most states, the seller is bound by law to provide accurate representation of the animal at the time of sale and is liable if the horse turns up lame soon after the purchase.  Note: FTF strongly recommends that all horses have a drug screen to check for substances that temporarily change the horses characteristics such as steroids, muscle relaxers, and pain relievers.


Explanation of Results  

Request that you be informed of any suspected health problems. As a buyer, it's important to be aware of any defects the horse has. Depending on what they are and what you'll be using the horse for, this information will help you make your decision.


Don’t Fall in Love  

Don't get attached to a horse until after you get a pre-purchase exam and decide you're going to buy the horse. Obviously, easier said that done but, making an emotional decision on a horse that overlooks examination issues can cause you lots of headache, money and heartache down the road

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