Horse Shopping Check-List

First of all, this posts featured image is Bella & I on the day picked her up!

Honestly you can probably ready my commentary here and figure out what I’m looking for but this is the condensed version from looking at ads to actually going to view the horse! Everything I would need to have the perfect buying experience (which I don’t know if anyone ever gets, but by having a checklist you can certainly have a near perfect experience right?).

Reading Ads

  • General Information
    • Age
    • Breed
    • Color
    • Height
    • Gender
    • Discipline
    • Recommended Rider Level
    • Show Experience
    • Shoes?
    • Manners for vet & Ferrier
    • Vices (buck, bite, kick, rear, bolt, cribbing?)
    • Why it’s for sale
    • Disclose any previous injuries I might notice (or even pin-firing marks for OTTBs)
    • Easy/Hard Keeper – What they’re on and why. Supplements is a bonus.
    • Price – Or trades if you’re considering a trade.

Basically, just throw it all down in all list or you can get creative and write up the ad in paragraphs and I won’t care, as long as I get this list of information somewhere in it all.

  • Pictures:
    • Conformation shots (left, right, front, and back) on level ground where I can see everything from the hooves up.
    • Riding shots. If I’m looking for a kid friendly horse & you say it’s a kid friendly horse do us both a favor and post pictures of a kid on it not an adult. Don’t make me second guess your information.
    • At liberty shots are a bonus thing but they’re nice to have to see how the horse naturally moves on its own.
  • Videos: I always love videos of horses for sale. With & without a rider. These are great for watching a horse work and picking apart little details myself. Do they prefer a light hand, do you use a heavier hand on them, how are they reacting to things around them, what do they do coming up to a jump, is their jump in pictures the same as it is on video?


This is one is a big one for me. When I contact a seller with questions I’m going to be excited about the possibilities of the horse. The longer you take the reply, the quicker my interest is going to begin to fade. Why? Because there are LOTS of horses for sale out there. What makes your horse special, I could probably find another one just as special. Also, if you’re typing with zero regards to spelling, punctuation, and you’re not professional I will likely be tempted to back-off and look else where. Regardless of being an amateur or a professional rider, if you are selling a horse this is a business transaction and I expect it to be treated as such. Not everyone in the world will feel that way, and you can happily sell your horse to one of them later on I’m sure.

Trying Out the Horse

This is the big one. If I show up and the horse is not what was promised I’m going to do you the favor of staying and trying the horse out but I’m not going to be as inclined to want to buy it. Here is the list of things I’m going to be keeping in mind as well:

  • I want to groom & tack up the horse. I don’t have a groom and I want to know what I’m getting into.
  • I want to ride the horse first and foremost.
  • I will ask to do a PPE if I’m really interested in buying. If you don’t want me to, I’m walking away without a second thought. If you won’t let me have MY vet check them over, I’m out.
  • I want to go through the walk, trot, canter, and jump (since I’m not buying anything that doesn’t jump unless it’s a baby and hasn’t started over fences).
  • If I had a trainer, I’d bring them along and also have my trainer’s input.
  • I do not want a list of excuses for any of the horses behavior. At that point, it is what it is and if I have a question I’m going to ask you. If you’re listing off excuses I’m for sure going to wonder why? All horses have their ups and downs, I’m aware of that. let me be aware of that.

If I get there and the horse is tacked up I’m going to be suspicious. If the horse is tacked up AND sweaty I will probably be walking away from the sale after a 5 minute ride because I’m going to believe that you’re hiding something.

If I am interested I’m going to tell you, I’m going to ask how many other people are interested, and I’m going to ask if you will call me if you get an offer so I can make one of my own. I may ask to come try the horse again, I might not. Sometimes one ride is all it takes and sometimes you want to find out if there’s going to be an adjustment period for you and the horse. Either way, your responses will directly equate to how interested I say in the horse. I’m not looking for a complicated sale and I doubt you are either. The more honest and open we both are about our intentions, the better!

Largely my purchase will end up resting on the PPE and my ride on the horse. Some things can be overlooked from a PPE, it’s more for my knowledge of what I’m getting into than looking for a perfect horse (is there really such a thing?).

I will not buy off of color, I won’t buy just because it’s got a cute personality, I won’t buy just because I like it. Okay, so I have done this but Bella was special. I probably should have stopped to think more but I knew her breeders and I trusted them. I read through the contract with them before I signed it and we all had an agreement about what was going to happen, when, and how. I bought an unbroken two year old filly. I knew the gist of what I was getting into. I’d met Bella previously, and while I’d never seen her really move I knew I liked her build. Buying Bella was NOT the ideal way to purchase a horse. I should have done a few things that I didn’t but at the time I was young, inexperienced in purchasing, and just too excited about owning my own horse to really second guess myself. Obviously that situation turned out pretty dang good. Not all situations will. Buying sight unseen is a huge risk and while people do it, it doesn’t always turn out well for them. Never buy sight unseen or without a PPE unless you know the person (I know a lot of people get their OTTBs like this through trusted contacts).

I’m sure details are left off this check-list, there’s a LOT that goes into looking at and buying a horse. So, what’s on your list that I don’t have?

EDIT: Going into any selling or buying experience (as this list can really help buyers or sellers) it’s incredibly important to be honest with yourself about the money aspect of things. If you’re asking for 5k over what the horse is worth, I’m going to skip over the ad. But this doesn’t mean you should price a horse well under it’s worth either. For buyers, being honest with yourself about what you can spend is incredibly important. Don’t get attached to a 25k horse when you know you can’t possibly spend over 10k at the most (or you know a 5k horse when you can only spend 2k). Being brutally honest with yourself, and this doesn’t meant that your top dollar or bottom dollar amounts need to be public, is so important. It will allow you to spend more time looking at your options rather than with your head, and heart in the clouds. Thanks to one of my bffs to reminding me of this important fact. Just because I fly by the seat of my pants doesn’t mean the rest of the world should.

Edited 2/2/18 to include a few things that are worth including!

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About Renz Unruhe

26 year old equestrian keeping busy and moving forwards.
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6 thoughts on “Horse Shopping Check-List

  1. Another great post. I like how you humbly admitted that you purchased Bella without following this very thorough checklist of things, and as you said – while it worked out for you in most cases this doesn’t always wind up with happy endings for horse and rider.

    I personally like to know what a horse is eating as this helps tell me what kind of keeper the horse is. Is he on sweet feed, is he getting a senior feed, what type of hay does he consume, does he get 24/7 turn out or am/pm? What supplements, if any is he on and why? Knowing what a horses diet consists of can help answer a lot of questions about their keep level.

    Another thing I like to consider is what was the horse purchased for originally and why it’s for sale now. Did you buy this horse to be a barrel horse and you realized that he doesn’t have the speed? Were you looking for a simple trail horse but she won’t cross water? These things can help answer some underlining questions and help establish a better expectation for the purchaser.

    One thing sellers should include in their listing is if the horse is registered and it’s bloodline information if available. I also like to know if it’s a mare, has she had a foul in the past. I purchased a 13 year old mare and found out 3 years after owning her that she had a foul when she 6. I don’t think this has any real bearing on the type of horse she was, but it was still interesting information to find out after years of owning her.

    As a buyer I always wanted the opportunity to come visit the horse without providing a specific day/time. I know as a seller this isn’t always convenient or practical. However, it would be nice to be able to give a day and general time window for a visit so it’s obvious that the seller has not drugged the horse or exercised it to calm prior to my arrival. The PPE will help put those worries at ease some, which is why I agree it’s important but often times an expensive investment on a horse you aren’t 100% sure you are going to purchase.

    My biggest advice, and you echoed the same in your post, is to always take someone with you who is more knowledgeable about horses than you are (and yes there is always someone out there who is). Someone you trust and someone who can help aid in your decision and provide facts and logic in to what often times turns in to an emotionally weighted decision for a buyer.

    1. Definitely good points! Editing to include a couple of these (like the why the horse is for sale). I didn’t think about diet much since I tend to evaluate that on my own now that I’ve gone through this some, but for people without management experience it’s definitely a good thing to find out! Bella was a baby still when I got her so the goal was to keep her fed enough she didn’t get too skinny (didn’t always work out like that, darn growth spurts) but some horses need different things and either I determine that or I ask my vet. Supplements are a good thing to consider, but the ones I’d consider the most important would be the ones for a medical condition (which should be disclosed or at least found by a vet during a PPE) and the rest I’d probably evaluate as well and decide what I wanted to continue, or just start over with a clean slate. 100% helps to know what they’re on and why of course!

      A lot of times a specific time isn’t easy to judge and there’s longer lasting drugs around that would help keep them calmer so it would have to be a pretty substantial window. It helps but banking on something like that is hard!

      Medical records are good to have and finding out if a mare has foaled or not is pretty neat (a lot of times people say it helps calm a mare down to have had a foal before, which I think is interesting). Sometimes the owner might not even know the entire history of the horse themselves (if anyone ever leases Bella they’ll get a full binder to read over, lucky them).

      Doing a PPE is expensive but it’s definitely worth it and while I wouldn’t do one on every horse I tried I would do it on the top 2 or 3 that I was seriously considering, and sometimes they actually have a PPE that a previous person did that they can show you (although I would want my own just to be sure). Definitely taking someone with you who knows more. I didn’t have that option and even with my trainer I’d probably be going on my own. I also really like babies so when I’m looking at horses next I won’t be looking at anything finished, I’ll be making sure it’s sound and ready to start working.

  2. Omg that picture though. You were such a baaaaaaby hahaha!

    Speaking with both buyer and seller in mind, it definitely shows in any transaction when there is emotion involved. This is why I think it is prudent for sellers to name a price outright as well as for buyers to have that hard limit in mind. If a buyer falls in love with the horse but they really can’t afford it, nothing else will ever be as good as THAT horse. In the same line of thinking, a dishonest horse owner or dealer might then drive the price up if they see that the potential buyer has fallen in love with THAT horse. Of course you had mentioned price, but that’s a huge factor that requires a full blown strategy hahaha.

    1. For sure! But thinking with various types of people in mind I didn’t feel I could nail everything down to iron clad. Plus I’m the type of person who would make a little bit extra appear if I thought it was my next dream horse. I’m also horrible about that and need to stop that. Lol

      1. Oh completely. A negotiation window helps with that, like “I have a limit of $10k and can absolutely pay up to $12k and no more for the right horse” or “I have a limit of $10k but I would be willing to go to $8k for the right home for this horse”

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