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All over equestrian social media you see people selling horses and some even free to a good home. But are these horses really as cheap as they appear?
Getting straight to the point, the answer is probably no. This is because in the majority of cases the horse is that cheap because there is something wrong with it and the owner can’t sell it for any more. So although the upfront cost of buying this horse will be considerably less than another horse, there are other hidden costs waiting for you down the line.
To get my point across, I am going to introduce you to a fiction character and the 3 horses she is looking at to buy. Sally is a teenager from a non-horsey family. She has experience sharing horses and is now looking to finally purchase her own. She wants a safe all-rounder on which she can do a bit of everything and just enjoy spending time with. She also like the idea of competing in show jumping over the summer months most weekends in unaffiliated events.
Horse 1: Fred. £2000 Fred is a 12 year old native cross. He is about 15.2h, in good health and currently ridden by a woman in her early 20s who mainly hacks, schools and does the odd local dressage and show jumping show. Fred has no history of lameness or illness and good feet.
Horse 2: Dave. £400 Dave is a 10 year old stockier warmblood type. He is 16h and in good health. His owner used to event him up to BE100, but now he is living out and been semi-retired for 2 years, only going on the odd hack. The owner is vague about why he is retired but says she can no longer afford to keep him as well as her other horse.
Horse 3: Jack. £350 Jack is a 16 year old native cross about 14.3/15h. He is still being hacked regularly and going to the odd local show. But he has a very long, shaggy coat, bad shaped feet and a large, cresty neck.
So now let’s have a look at any potential problems with these 3 horses starting with Horse 2, Dave. The fact he has retired from eventing at such a young age and the fact that the owner is reluctant to say why he is retired really rings some alarm bells. The most likely reasons for his retirement are:
- There is a physical reason why he can’t do it anymore, such as a persistent lameness
- Or he mentally isn’t suitable for the job, he could be dangerous to ride which could be caused by bad experiences, pain and any number of other factors.
So although Dave might be £400, Sally could potentially spend £100s investigating and treating a lameness issue he had when she bought him only to find out that it is never going to come right and she can’t do any of the things she wanted to with him.
Another outcome could be that he becomes dangerous for her to ride. This could lead to her spending £100s on getting people to help her manage the behaviour which might not get any better. So she then spends even more money looking into physical problems be causing the negative behaviour in the hope they find something they can fix.
So although Dave comes across as a fairly cheap horse with good potential for what she wants in a horse, there are several alarm bells about him which suggest she would run into problems.
Next we will look at horse 3, Jack. Now Jack is already doing what Sally would want to do with a horse and has no obvious lameness or negative behaviours. However, the condition of his coat, feet and neck suggest that he is prone to laminitis and possibly has Cushing’s disease. Now both these conditions can be managed, but Cushing’s can be quite expensive to treat with many ponies needing a tablet a day for the rest of their lives. If a horse has had laminitis before, they seem to be more prone to it in the future. So even with careful management, Jack could suffer from laminitis again in the future, which can cost a lot of money in vet call outs, treatments and remedial farriery.
As with Dave, Jack has several potential risks on his profile which suggest Sally might need to spend more money down the line on something the horse had to start with. So finally we come to Horse 1, Fred. Now Fred is already doing pretty much exactly what Sally wants to do and appears to be in very good condition with no history of problems. Out of the 3 horses, I would say Fred is the least likely to develop a problem in the future. Over the course of 2 years, Sally could have easily spent more on trying to fix a problem with Dave or Jack than she would have saved from not buying Fred.
Now I know that this was just a fictional example with profiles designed to show how cheaper horses are more likely to have problems, but you have to remember that the majority of people won’t sell a horse for less than it’s worth. If you see a horse what is much cheaper than similar things you are looking at, ask yourself why is it that much cheaper?
Don’t get me wrong, there are some fantastic horses for sale cheaply or free to a good home for genuine reasons. But these are rare. If the horse sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You should move on unless you have the financial and emotional back up to deal with any problems which come your way.
For these reasons I would also suggest getting any horse you want to buy vetted, even if it only a 2 stage vetting, and insured. This is because the vet will be able to tell you if there is anything wrong with the horse and if they do develop a problem what needs investigating and treating, you only pay the excess on the vet fees and your insurance should pay the rest. This not only helps you give the horse the best possible care, but removes a lot of the stress involved in having a sick/injured horse.
So to go back to how I started this post, cheap horses are more likely to cost you more in the long run than a similar, more expensive horse. So don’t be blinded by what appears to be a great deal on a horse, sadly if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.