Buying A Horse Checklist: Guide For Buying Your First Horse

Checklist for Buying a Horse

Read this important guide first if you love riding horses, have the time and finances to keep one, and are ready to start looking for your first horse. Horses are a serious commitment and one that you do not want to enter into without keeping your emotions in check and doing careful research. 

What should you keep in mind when buying your first horse? Before you begin your search, you will need to determine what kind of horse you are looking for based on your budget and experience level. While you are searching for the right horse for you, make sure to prepare for your new animal by purchasing everything you need and lining up professionals. Lastly, be diligent when looking at any horse, spend time with the horse, and invest in vet checks and riding trials.

Searching for your first horse can be a daunting endeavor. If you arm yourself with the knowledge of how to prepare and what to watch out for, your search will be successful.

What Are You Looking For In A Horse?

Before you begin your search, you will need to ask yourself a few questions to determine what you are looking for in a horse. Be honest with yourself about your experience level and desires. By outlining your requirements, you will save yourself heartache in the future – if you’re looking at horses that don’t meet your specific needs, you will end up falling in love with a horse that may not be right for you. Before you even begin your search, ask yourself the following questions:

What is Your Experience Level?

Be honest with yourself about your current riding skills. You may have taken lessons for years, but that by itself does not mean that you have the level of experience to train a mustang. Most first horses should be older, experienced, and dead-broke. You will want a calm horse that has seen it all and is forgiving by nature. 

How Old Should the Horse Be?

Age is but a number – what you want to look at is the experience level and health of a horse. It does give you a good starting point, though. A beginner rider will probably not want a horse younger than 7 – 10 years old. If you want to grow with your horse, you may not want a horse older than 20. While 10-20 is a good rule of thumb for a first horse, there are many exceptions. 

What is Your Budget?

There is no point in looking at a horse out of your budget. Look carefully at your finances to determine an appropriate horse budget and stick to it. Don’t forget to account for the upfront expenses of horse ownership – this includes tack, safety equipment, and vet costs. Also, make sure you can handle the monthly financial commitment of owning a horse. This can consist of boarding fees, grain and hay costs, farrier visits, and unexpected vet bills.

How Big Should Your Horse Be?

You will need to be realistic about the size your horse should be. A healthy horse can carry 15-20% of its body weight on its back, including tack. A lighter-framed 14 hh pony will probably not be appropriate for most adults. Likewise, a 17.3 hh horse might be intimidating to a less confident rider.

Are You Looking For a Mare, Gelding, or Stallion?

You don’t want a stallion as your first horse to cross one of these off the list right away. Stallions can be more difficult to handle and aggressive. I recommend looking for a gelding or a well-behaved mare for a first horse. You may hear about mares being grumpy and having mood swings, but I’ve known some very pleasant mares through my years of owning horses.

What Breed of Horse Should You Buy?

For the most part, the horse breed does not matter nearly as much as the temperament. Don’t let your desire to own a particular breed deter you from looking at other horses. I’ve heard negative comments about certain breeds while personally owning or working with these horses and never seeing the issues mentioned. Keep an open mind when looking at horses.

You want to watch out for lack of training or temperament issues. For example, I’ve known many well-trained thoroughbreds that anyone could ride, but I wouldn’t recommend someone buy a thoroughbred right off the racetrack as their first horse. These horses often lack basic training and will need to be re-started. Likewise, Arabian horses are fabulous trainable horses that can excel in many disciplines. That being said, they can tend to be more sensitive and reactive than other breeds. When looking at these horses, be sure to observe their temperament to determine if you’ll be the right match.

to dive deeper into determining the type of horse you need, visit my article Choosing the Right Horse: 10 Expert Tips.

Preparing For Your First Horse

While you are searching for the right horse, you will need to begin taking steps to prepare for your horse. 

Where is Your Horse Going to Live?

Are you going to board your horse? If so, visit a few barns and find the right one for you. Do they have a covered arena? Trails? What is included in the board? Make sure that you take boarding expenses into account when determining your budget. Are you going to keep your horse on your property? If this is your plan, ensure that you have adequate fencing and shelter for your horse.

What Equipment Will You Need For Your Horse?

You’ll need maintenance equipment such as a manure fork, water buckets, feed troughs, an emergency kit, and a grooming kit. Of course, if you plan to ride your horse, you will also need tack – a bridle, a saddle, a halter, a saddle pad, and girth. Lastly, don’t forget rider safety – make sure you have a helmet and proper footwear at the very least. Many of these items can be purchased second-hand (but not your helmet), and this should be considered in your upfront budget cost, as the price of tack can add up to as much as the horse itself. 

The last preparation you should make is with your professional network. Before bringing a horse home, you should have a vet, farrier, and hay/feed supplier lined up. It would be best to connect with a vet before you even begin your search, as you will want a complete vet check on the horse you are looking at before making the purchase. Depending on the condition of your new horse’s feet, you may need a farrier right away as well. 

What To Watch Out For When Visiting A Horse

You will probably visit many horses before settling on the right one for you. You must be prepared to walk away from all of them. Don’t fall in love with a horse before you ensure it is the right one for you. Here are a few general tips to follow when visiting a potential horse:

  • Ground manners – the first thing you will want to assess is the horse’s ground manners. Is the horse standing patiently while tied? Does the horse use you as a scratching post? Ensure the horse is patient, respects your personal space, and appears relaxed.
  • “Groom” the horse – you don’t have to break out the brushes, but go through the motions. Walk around the horse with your hands along its body. Take note of any areas that seem to cause the horse discomfort. Lift all four feet. The horse should willingly lift his feet for you and standstill. 
  • Test the horse – there are several things you can do to test the horse’s tolerance and confidence. You can move around from a squat level to see how the horse reacts to a shorter person (i.e., child). You can gently tug on the horse’s mane and tail. You can bring a jacket with you and drop it onto the ground to assess the horse’s reaction. Don’t be hesitant to test the horse in this manner – you don’t want a horse that will startle easily.
  • Ask the owner to ride the horse before you ride – watch how the owner rides the horse and how the horse moves. If you aren’t comfortable with what you see, walk away at this point. There is no point in getting in the saddle if you don’t like what you see.


Unfortunately, sellers may drug their horses beforehand so they seem quiet and sound to the buyers. Being able to recognize a drugged horse can save you from purchasing a horse not suited for you. To learn more, visit my article How to Tell if a Horse is Drugged (Read Before Buying a Horse.)

Always Have A Vet Assess The Horse

You will always, always want to have a thorough vet check before agreeing to purchase a horse – this is the reason you need to connect with a vet before you get serious in your search. A vet will perform a thorough exam, assessing the horse’s overall health, the horse’s body condition, and any potential issues concerning the horse’s movement. 

If you have gotten to the point of a vet check, you are likely hoping to move forward with the horse. However, continue to proceed with caution and patience. Though it will take a couple of days to get the results back, getting a blood sample from the horse is a good idea. Unfortunately, the horse trade can be suspect – it is not uncommon for a horse to be drugged and sedated to mask pain or calm a nervous animal. You want to ensure that the behavior and movement you see are of the horse’s true nature and abilities. 

Just because something comes up in a pre-purchase exam doesn’t mean you should immediately throw the horse away. Very few horses come back with a perfect pre-purchase exam. At this point, talk to the vet and discuss the options on care maintenance for the horse and whether the issue the horse has will affect the riding you want to do. There may be a horse with an old injury that keeps them from jumping, but they would be perfect for someone looking to trail ride. 

Keep Your Feelings Out Of Your Horse Search

Buying your first horse is exciting, and you will be full of anticipation. In reality, it can take months to find the right horse. Be patient and set emotional boundaries for yourself. Leave the cash and the horse trailer at home to make it easier to use sound judgment. If you arrive ready to buy a horse, you are more likely to skip necessary steps and overlook potential problems. Owning a horse is a huge commitment and one that you want to enter into responsibly and confidently. 


Before you purchase a horse, you’ll want to look at your finances to see if you can adequately afford the monthly, annual, and unexpected expenses that come with owning a horse. To get a complete rundown of the expenses involved in owning a horse, visit my article What Does it Cost to Own a Horse? Complete Expense Guide.

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Carmella Abel, Pro Horse Trainer

Hi! I’m Carmella

My husband and I started Equine Helper to share what we’ve learned about owning and caring for horses. I’ve spent my whole life around horses, and I currently own a POA named Tucker. You can learn more here.

Thank you for reading, and happy trails!

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