How to Tell If a Horse Is Drugged (Read Before Buying a Horse)

recognizing a drugged horse

Recognizing If a Horse Is Drugged

Whether it’s your first horse or fifth, buying a horse is a huge undertaking. With a hefty price tag, this is not a decision that should be made lightly. Unfortunately, many horse buyers, specifically first time buyers, fall prey to a common tactic of horse sellers: drugging. A drugged horse will appear calm and seem like the perfect horse, only to behave in a completely different manner once you get them to your barn. 

How do you tell if a horse is drugged? A horse that has been drugged will often exhibit several identifying symptoms. They will seem abnormally calm and unaffected by their surroundings. A lack of coordination, sleepy-looking eyes, and a drooping head are also common signs that a horse has been drugged. 

By learning how to recognize a drugged horse, you will save yourself the unfortunate experience of being tricked by an ill-meaning horse seller. In this post, I’ll discuss ways that you can identify a drugged horse as well as share some tips on avoiding this situation entirely.

Recognizing a Drugged Horse Before Buying

While we wish that we could trust every equestrian, this is simply not possible. Many horse traders will drug horses in an effort to make them seem calm and docile, tricking a potential buyer into believing the horse is different than they really are. 

Investing in a horse that was drugged without your knowledge could lead to a loss of finances, incredible stress, and even potential for injury! Because of this, you must learn to recognize the common signs of drugging in a horse.

Common Signs That a Horse is Drugged signs a horse is drugged

There are many approaches to drugging a horse as well as many drugs that can be used. Additionally, each horse will react uniquely. While some of the following signs may simply be qualities of a well-behaved horse, it is important to be thorough in your examination of any horse you are considering. I recommend having a trained veterinarian examine the horse you’re considering before signing any papers. 

Some of the most common signs that a horse has been drugged include the following: 

  • Horse seems abnormally calm
  • Lack of coordination or frequent stumbling
  • Relaxed lower lip
  • Drooping head
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Sleepy-looking eyes
  • Odd colored urine
  • Low heart rate
  • Dehydrated skin
  • Horse seems unaffected by noises or commotion


In a horse that has been drugged before your meeting, several of these signs will be evident. Luckily there are a few easy ways to test the horse to confirm that the owner has altered the horse’s natural behavior and temperament.

How to Avoid Buying a Drugged Horse

As a long-time equestrian, I have heard far too many stories of other equestrians purchasing a horse that they later realized was drugged. This is an honest mistake as, in some cases, the signs of drugging are quite mild. 

For this reason, I suggest abiding by a few simple guidelines as you research a horse you are interested in purchasing.

Invest in a Pre-Purchase Exam By Your Veterinarian

As mentioned previously, I recommend that you always, always, always invest in a pre-purchase exam by your veterinarian. You should NEVER purchase a horse without the approval of a vet that you trust. An ill-meaning horse trader may offer to have their veterinarian examine the horse. Never take them up on this offer.

If you are looking to purchase a horse in a different state, ask your veterinarian for a local vet that they trust. You can also research online reviews just as you would if you were looking for a veterinarian at home.

Along with a pre-purchase exam, your veterinarian should conduct blood testing. A blood test is the only true way to determine if drugs have been administered to the horse. In most cases, a pre-purchase examination is conducted within 1-2 days of the first time you view the horse. 

Perform Some Simple Tests To Tell If a Horse Is Drugged

When you first look at the horse you are interested in purchasing, there are a few simple tests you can perform that will provide you with insight into potential drug use. 

First, take the horse’s pulse along their girth line. A normal heart rate for an adult horse ranges between 28-40 beats per minute. If the horse’s pulse is lower than this, they have likely been drugged.

Next, pinch the horse’s skin. When drugs have been administered, the skin will appear dehydrated. Hydrated skin will quickly bounce back after it is pinched. Dehydrated skin, caused by drug use, will return to its normal state much more slowly.

Finally, have the horse walk backward. A horse that has been drugged will exhibit a lack of coordination and stumble as they walk backward.

Take An Experienced Friend With You When Examining a Horse

It is always wise to take an experienced friend with you when you look at a new horse. Whether they are a veterinarian or just a fellow equestrian, they will be able to help you lookout for signs of drugging. It is always best to have an outside opinion regarding the horse as well as the individual selling the horse.

Additionally, as some horse farms are located in the middle of nowhere, having a friend with you helps to ensure your safety. 

Buy a Horse With a Trial Period To Avoid Getting a Drugged Horse

A reputable seller should offer you a trial period after you purchase one of their horses. If the individual you are looking to purchase a horse from does not offer you a trial period or seems opposed to the idea, this may be a red flag that they are anticipating problems with the horse

Always Have Sellers Sign a Contract or Documentation of Sale

Never purchase a horse without a signed contract and proper documentation of the sale. This is one of the biggest red flags signaling dishonesty in the seller. It is imperative that you read any contract in its entirety. If you have discussed a trial period or return policy, make sure that those details are included in the contract as well.

Observe the Horse in Various Situations To Tell If They’re Drugged tired drugged horse

An ideal situation is one where you can observe the horse you are interested in, in various environments. If it is possible, observe the horse as it is ridden by several riders on different days. Watch the horse interact with other horses, performing tasks, and as they relax in the pasture. This is the most effective way to get an accurate gauge on the horse’s true temperament.

Arrive Early if Possible To Avoid Purchasing a Drugged Horse

One tactic that a horse buyer can use to avoid the possibility of drugging is to arrive early to the location. If you are uncomfortable simply showing up to the barn, provide the buyer with a range of times when you will arrive, between 2pm and 4pm, for example. This will eliminate some of the possibility of them using drugs to alter the horse’s behavior before you look at the horse.

Trust Your Gut Instinct

At the end of the day, the best defense against purchasing a drugged horse is to trust your gut instinct. As an equestrian, you know when a horse seems too good to be true. If at any time, you feel uneasy about the horse, the barn, or the individual you are interacting with, it is probably best to choose another route. 

There is nothing worse than purchasing a horse that has been drugged only to feel embarrassed and let down by the situation you got yourself into. Remaining vigilant as you look at horses to invest in is the best way to avoid this unfortunate situation.

Other Things to Know Before You Buy a Horse

In addition to the many signs of drugging that you must look out for as you purchase a horse, there are a few other things to keep in mind. 

Take Your Time to Find a Perfect Fit

No matter how desperate you may feel, purchasing a horse is a massive commitment. You should never rush into this decision or take it lightly. Take your time to find a perfect fit. Conduct research on horse breeds, gain experience with various types of horses, and don’t be afraid to pass on a horse you look at if you don’t feel at peace with your decision. 

Consult an Experienced Equestrian

One of the best things you can do as you look to buy a horse is to consult an experienced equestrian. Whether that is someone that you ride with, your trainer, or simply a friend on the internet, a rider with more experience will be able to provide you with valuable insight.

Ask them for advice on potential breeds and things to look out for as you begin your search. If possible, ask them to tag along as you begin to look at horses so that they can provide you with an in-person opinion.

Do Your Research When Purchasing Any Horse

Becoming an equestrian requires great amounts of research. The best thing you can do for your own benefit, as well as that of your horse, is to do your research. Unfortunately, drugging is just one of many tricks that a horse trader may use to sell you their horse. Educating yourself on other potential red flags is the best way to ensure that you invest wisely and purchase a horse that you can truly enjoy.

To learn more about purchasing a horse, here’s another article I wrote on the subject.

P.S. Thank you for reading! If you got any value from this article, there are a couple of ways you can support me. 1: Share this article using one of the buttons below! 2: Subscribe to my YouTube Channel here where I’m sharing new videos every week. Happy trails!

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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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