By Morag Higgins WESI MRPCH BHSAI BscES EL4
I have touched on this subject before and it is frustrating that I feel I have to warn potential horse owners again. When a rider decides to become a horse owner they have several choices ahead of them.
Loan a horse – this option is great for the horse’s owner but does not always work out for the person taking the horse on loan. The horse does not belong to them and can be taken back by the owner at very short notice. It is logical to have some form of a contract drawn up to ensure that you do have a notice period and before you get into loaning a horse make sure you know the owner and try to find out if they are known in the area and are trustworthy. This option however does give the person taking the horse on loan a chance to get to know the animal and to make sure they can cope with the rigours of horse ownership and the sacrifices that have to be made to pursue this hobby. It may be that there is an option to purchase the horse after a period of time and this is beneficial for both parties in the deal. For the owner of the horse it is a safe way to be sure that their horse will be looked after by the person loaning the horse and they are able to remove the horse should they become worried. However, you must be aware that there have been recent cases where horses have been taken out on loan and then re-sold without the owner’s consent.
Word of mouth – you may hear about a “great bargain” of a horse through the equine grapevine, or the “perfect horse for you”. Now, this might just be a perfect way of finding the right horse. The fact that the horse has not been openly advertised could indicate that the owner of the horse is a responsible person who is looking for the right buyer who will look after, care for and be suitable for their equine charge. For this owner the price is not the main focus but the right partnership is. Many very good horses and very happy new owners have met each other this way and it can be a very good path to follow. However, again, there are many unscrupulous people out there who will try to sell you an animal that is not suitable and they have not advertised because the horse is well known in the area at being a problem animal. It pays to ask around again, check with other horse owners if they know this horse and you would be surprised at how quickly the reputation of a horse can spread and how far.
Advertisement – This is probably the most common way for most people and there are many different publications both local and national where you can see horses advertised, much like private car sales. The fact that the owner has paid for the advert may indicate that they are genuinely wanting to sell the horse to a good person or they just want anonymity to get rid of a problem quickly. Either way it can be a bit of a gamble for both parties. The seller often gets time wasters coming out to have a “free shot” of the horse. Sometimes these are real “Walter Mitty” characters who view animals worth far more than they could ever spend. This is very frustrating for the seller and can be stressful for the horse. If you care about horses in any way please do not behave in this manner. The rules that apply to private car sales pretty much also apply to private horse sales and the onus is on you the buyer to ensure that the animal you have purchased is suitable for you. It pays also to be able to read between the lines of an advert. Where it may say “easy to box, shoe, catch etc” can be misleading. It clearly does not mention clipping, veterinary or a whole host of other situations that horses can be stressed with or difficult in. Now the seller might just be trying to save money in the advert so make sure you discuss this with them if you go to view the horse and make sure you get something in writing to say that this horse is good in all these situations the word “etc” would not stand up in a court of law because it is far too ambiguous. The phrase “can be quirky” could indicate this horse has erratic and potentially dangerous behaviour either on the ground or being handled, so beware. By making this statement the seller has covered themselves as having warned any potential buyers that this horse may have bad habits. Also, any buyer must be realistic about their own ability. They may have ridden for say two years, once or twice a week at their local riding school. This does not match a rider who has been in the saddle almost every day for a year (the maths are simple rider one = a maximum of 104 hours of riding, rider two = a maximum of 365 hours of riding). So when you see the statement “Not a Novice Ride” this means quite clearly that this horse may either have issues, be very sharp and forward thinking, be very nervous and sensitive needing support from the rider or may just be very young and needing to be brought on by an experienced person. A good seller would immediately assess the ability of the potential buyer and would not sell a horse that is clearly too much for the new owner.
From a Trainer/Stud – This option is seldom explored by potential buyers. Some owners send their horses to a trainer to be brought on for sale. In these cases the owners are responsible enough to want their horse as good as possible for the best chance of a good new home and are willing to pay good money to ensure this happens. The prices may be a little higher but it is the legal obligation of the trainer to disclose any and all issues a horse may have. A good trainer will have detailed reports on the work carried out and may also have video evidence on how the horse performs. Their reputation is at stake so they will not allow the horse to be sold to the wrong person. Likewise the owner has a legal obligation to disclose any and all information about the horse that may be relevant. A stud often sell off their young stock either as backed or unbacked and if you are an experienced first time owner it may be an option to purchase an animal then send them to a trainer to be brought on to a point where they are suitable for you. This will cost more in the long run but is a sensible approach. Again, reputation is everything so it pays to ask around about the trainer or stud, you will soon find out if they can be trusted.
From a Dealer – This is again another option for most new buyers and can be a cheaper one. The horse may have ended up at a dealer through no fault of their own but many are there because no one else will take them. Most dealers work the horses that come in to train them on in order to make more money, but, like any business they want a quick turnaround. This might mean they do not know the animal inside out and can only tell you about what they have seen. There are a lot of good reputable dealers out there, but equally there are many who are unscrupulous to the point of being downright dangerous. If you do go to a dealer always remember they are in the business of making money, again you can liken it to second hand car sales, there are some great, honest firms out there where you always get a good deal, but then there are the “fly by nights” who are putting people’s lives at risk by selling dangerous vehicles. It is the same with Dealers, there are some who should quite frankly, be put out of business as they are continually putting lives at risk by selling dangerous horses to unsuitable owners. This is very frustrating for the legitimately good dealers (yes there are many out there that are good and fair) as it tarnishes their name.
It goes without saying that a new owner should always take a very experienced person with them when viewing the horse and they must always have the animal fully vetted before purchasing. If you ask to vet a horse and it is refused by the seller then walk away as this is a potential walking vet bill in front of you. Another thing to watch out for is the passport. The passport requirements are quite frankly a joke at the moment due to lack of regulation and lack of controls. I know of many sellers who randomly hand out passports that do not even belong to the horse being sold. The first think you must do is ask to see the passport before money changes hand. If the passport has been altered in any way (written on, things scored out etc) then it is illegal and clearly this person cannot be trusted. The passport should have a full history of ownership of the horse and make sure you check the age of the horse and the date the passport was issued. It has only recently been a legal requirement that all horses are passported at birth and some older horses (over the ages of 12yrs) might have a passport that was issued several years after they were allegedly born. This can be a major problem for accurate aging so be aware. If you horse is being vetted then one of the things they will do is check the passport for a microchip strip and see if the horse has the corresponding number. They will also check the markings of the horse on the passport match the horse in front of them.
If you find yourself in a situation where the horse you have been sold is clearly not suitable you have several courses of action. When buying the horse you should have a bill of sale. It also helps if you keep a record of your bank accounts of the money being taken out or transferred. If you discover the horse is not suitable then you need to contact the seller within a reasonable time frame (usually around one month) and ask for your money back or a replacement animal of the same value. You will probably be told that you can’t get your money back or that the horse can be bought back but at a lower price, this is not necessarily true. Under the Consumer Rights Act you have the right to have your money back or goods to the value of that purchased if the goods purchased are faulty or damaged. You have to prove this though and that is why it is vital that you keep a record of everything and go by the book. You can take the seller to the small claims court to get your money back and this can be done with all costs paid by your house insurance. It is useful to check your home insurance policy as this sometimes will cover small claim court costs, if you are not sure then get a professional to check this for you. Often just the threat of taking the seller to court will prompt them to refund your money or replace the horse, but be aware, if the seller has genuinely sold you a suitable animal and you have caused the problems you now have, making that horse less valuable, then the seller is under no obligations to take the animal back or to give you the full value of the animal. That is why most reputable sellers will keep detailed records of the animals in their care and also have video evidence that the horse is suitable. If this is the case and it is proven in court then you will find yourself covering the costs.
Buying a horse, whether it is your first horse or not, is a very difficult and stressful occupation. You can get through it as painlessly as possible by following the simple guidelines above and by being sensible. Always go with your gut, if someone looks dodgy then they probably are, always say to yourself “would I buy a used car from this guy?” Remember, Buyer Beware!!!!!!