Horse Problems DatabaseHead and Neck – Buying a Horse

I Love Horses.

You should definitely buy a horse. At least one. :)

That being said, in my career as an equine veterinarian, I have run into people with sad and even horrible experiences buying a horse.

There are many reasons for bad horse buying experiences. Such as getting a “lemon” — physically, behaviorally, or training-wise. And also buying a horse before you know exactly what you’re getting into — financially, emotionally, and otherwise.

I’ve done the best I can to list everything you should consider when buying a horse. Please let me know if you think of something else and I’ll add it to the list!

Cost of a Horse

The cheapest part of owning a horse is buying one. Seriously true. Consider all of the following horse costs below. Then add up what these will cost you where you live.

If this amount will in any way strain your budget, then consider saving money so that you can have a financial cushion in the event of unforeseen circumstances.

I’ve met people who’ve had to put their horse down (euthanize) because they couldn’t afford another vet bill; or had to give their horse away because they could no longer afford to feed it.

Horses are expensive for many people. Feel free to print out this list and hand it to your child who is begging for a horse. Not that it will dissuade them.  :)

Cost of a Horse List

  1. Price of the horse
  2. Transport for buying horse (ex: if traveling cross-country)
  3. Horse trailer (and maintenance)
  4. Truck to pull trailer
  5. Gas (and maintenance) for truck
  6. Food
    1. Hay
    2. Grain
    3. Treats
  7. Board
    1. Living at home
      1. Bedding
      2. Fencing
      3. Feed storage bins
      4. Feeding tubs
      5. Water buckets
      6. Water costs, if any
      7. Cleaning stuff (brooms, rakes, poop shovels)
    2. Stabled
      1. Board fee
      2. Any extra fees (turnout fee, blanket fee, medication fee)
  8. Supplements
    1. Vitamins & Minerals
    2. Joint supplements
    3. Hoof supplements
    4. Cookies & Carrots
  9. Grooming supplies
    1. Brushes, coat
    2. Brushes, tail
    3. Hoof picks
    4. Hoof boots
    5. Leg wraps
    6. Leg boots
    7. Travel boots
    8. Padded travel halters
    9. Bathing supplies
    10. Fly sprays
  10. Riding clothes for you (& family)
  11. Outdoor riding gear
    1. Don’t forget Bear mace
    2. Always bring a knife
  12. Horse show costs
    1. Class entry fees
    2. Parking fees
    3. Trainer fees
    4. Groomer fees
    5. Braider fees
    6. Stall fees
  13. Health costs
    1. Teeth floating
    2. Vaccines
    3. Dewormers
    4. Hoof care
    5. Veterinary emergency bills
    6. Veterinary pre-purchase exam
    7. Emergency kit (bandages, wraps, etc)
  14. Health maintenance
    1. Veterinary checkups
    2. Chiropractic care
    3. Acupuncture
    4. Massage
    5. Other alternative modalities
  15. Insurance

So if you still want to buy a horse (hopefully!), then read on.

Pre-Purchase Exams

Equine physical exam

An equine Pre Purchase exam (PPE) is an examination performed by a veterinarian before the horse is purchased. The veterinarian will start with a physical exam of the entire body including: eyes, nose, ears, teeth, tongue, skin, heart, lungs, legs, and feet.

Equine flexion tests

In addition, the vet will do flexion tests on joints in the front and back legs. This involves holding up a leg while flexing a joint (fetlock, knee, hock, for example) for 1 to 1.5 minutes, and then watching the horse trot off immediately.

If the horse becomes lame or short strided, that is termed a “positive” flexion test. This is bad. Run away. A “negative” flexion test is good. [Sorry for the confusion! I think us vets should have named it differently.]

Radiographs (x-rays) for buying a horse

X-rays are a common component of a pre purchase exam, if the buyer wants them. Typically the only reason a client would not want x-rays is because a full set can easily cost $1000.00.  Especially if you do the stifles. And to x-ray the front feet properly, you ideally need the front shoes pulled off. (Add money for farrier here.)

The reason to do x-rays is to look for things like arthritis, navicular, laminitis, OCD, and bone chips. If these types of things are found, it is bad. Run away. Can you “manage” these things, work with them and have a sound horse? Absolutely. Do you want to risk it if you have a choice? No.

I should mention that if you do want to risk it (and your vet thinks it’s a good idea), the x-rays are worth the cost because you may be able to negotiate a lower sales price for the horse.

Drug test considerations

Another consideration is adding a drug test to your pre purchase exam. Not that the horse is a drug user. [You can laugh here — or not.  :)] but sometimes unscrupulous people give horses drugs to their calm them down or to block pain.

The test for drugs involves a simple blood draw that is sent off to a lab for analysis. It typically runs $150 to $250. A suggestion is to ask your vet to pull the blood while doing the PPE, but hold-off running the test. In this way, if you are taking the horse on a 30 day trial, you can wait until the drugs will be gone from the horses system. If you have any change in behavior or other suspicions, you can have your veterinarian run the test at that time.

The blood will “wait in the fridge” and still be good for the test for approximately two weeks. This does vary by lab so be sure to ask your vet for his or her timelines.

If there is no change in the horse, no questionable behavior, and no lameness in the two weeks — great!  You just saved $150.00 or more.

Tell your vet what you need when you buy a horse

Please know that most veterinarians will be evaluating the horse for what you want to use it for. It is best to tell your veterinarian the most strenuous type of use you would EVER like to use the horse for.

For example, for a first horse for your 12 year old daughter, you are rightly looking for a calm horse in the mid-teenage years that has the correct amount of training. Let’s say you tell your vet that you want the horse for your daughter to do pleasure riding, trail riding, and camping. The horse, who is 15 years old,  has some arthritis and is showing some “wear and tear” in his tendons.

Well—for your use—the horse is fine. Which is what your vet will tell you. [Some vets will “pass” or “fail” your horse, but most won’t anymore for liability reasons.]

But then, your daughter begins to see her friends at the barn jumping with their horses and she thinks that is super-cool and wants to jump too. So she starts jumping and the horse comes up lame. Well, the arthritis and tendon wear caused that. Had your vet known that you wanted the horse for jumping, you would have heard that the horse won’t hold up for that kind of work. “Fail” for jumping.

So be sure to say what you plan to use the horse for — at the most!

Saving money on pre purchase exams

If you want to save some money, you can do Body Checkups on the horse before you decide to get the veterinarian out for a pre purchase. Please check out my “how-to” videos to see how to do body checkups on your horse.


For example, let’s say you love “Red”, a Quarter Horse gelding.  The only noticeable problem you’ve seen is that he acts cold-backed (see also back pain in horses) when he is mounted. But then he seems fine. Well, even though his owner says he has always done that, back pain could be anything from a poor fitting saddle to rib subluxations to kidney problems.

If you were able to do the Rib Checkup (available on the how-to videos page) on Red and found that all of his ribs were subluxated, then most likely you don’t need the vet to do a full blood panel to check for kidney problems. You will just need a visit from a certified equine chiropractor later.


In another example, you love “Guido”, a Welsh/Arabian pony. Guido looks healthy but he constantly leans on the right rein and shakes his head when going to the right. Before you run from the “headshaker”, you do the Atlas Checkup (available on how-to videos page) and find that his poll is out. This can definitely be a cause of leaning on a rein and also headshaking.

So you give Guido a chance and take him on a 30 day trial (plenty of time to get a chiropractor out and see if that fixes Guido’s issues) before spending money on a pre purchase exam.

There’s two more things to think of before you spend the money to buy a horse. Those are matching the horse with the rider, and also matching the intended use of the horse with the horse!

Match the Horse with the Rider and Its Intended Use

Do your best to “match” the horse with the rider. This doesn’t just mean get a tall horse for a tall person. Or getting a horse with a black mane to match the black hair of the rider.

Conscientious matching of horse and rider includes correctly matching personalities of both horse and rider; matching training levels of horse and rider; and matching experience. Matching does not mean making them the same. Usually the opposite.

For example, it rarely works out to have a green (both untrained and inexperienced) horse with a green rider. It also rarely works out to have a young, excitable horse matched up with a jumpy, “high-strung” person.

You can find information on horse and people personality types on various sites. In Chinese medicine, for example, people are known to have five different personality types: fire, earth, wood, water, and metal. This personality differentiation also occurs in horses. In order to match personality of horse and rider, I suggest you ask an educated, unbiased person horseperson who will tell you the truth. They can be hard to find, but a correct personality match is invaluable.

Lastly, be sure to match the horse’s breed with the job that you want it to do. For example, I know someone who fell in love with a Tennessee Walker.  Which is great.  Except she wanted to do barrel racing. That’s just not going to work long term.

If you don’t know what breeds do what jobs, do some research and ask around. Don’t fall in love with a horse first, and later find out that it won’t do what you want, and then you have to sell the poor horse and start over.

RUN FROM These Conditions When You Go to Buy a Horse

The following medical and behavioral conditions are difficult and costly to treat. Even if they are “maintainable”, you still run the risk of things getting worse.

Do the “RUN FROM” conditions mean absolutely never buy the horse? That it will get really sick and die? That it will cost thousands to maintain soundness?  Absolutely NOT.

These horses can do just fine. They can have no problems whatsoever. The reason I created this list is for people to know what to look for that may possibly be trouble. Listen to your veterinarian. Listen to your instincts. Here is the list:

  • Founder (laminitis)
  • Allergies, fly allergies, sweet itch, hives
  • Heaves (COPD)
  • Navicular
  • Nerved horses
  • Uveitis (eye inflammation, constant eye drainage)
  • Gray horses with large melanomas
  • Joint arthritis
  • Most headshaking horses (except 25% that are due to atlas subluxation)
  • Horses with extreme saddle fitting challenges
  • EPM (equine protozoal myopathy)
  • EPSM (equine polysaccharide storage myopathy), also called PSSM
  • DSLD (degenerative suspensory ligament desmitis)
  • Horses needing continuous medication (ex: Bute, Isoxuprine)
  • Mares continuously needing heat calming drugs or herbs (ex: Regumate)
  • Horses with poor feet (ex: shelly, can’t hold a shoe, flat footed, front feet at significantly different angles than each other (some, but not all club footed horses)
  • Vices: cribbing
  • Positive flexion tests on pre purchase exam

What Could be a “Diamond in the Rough”

This next list of conditions are problems that could have very simple fixes. Sometimes simple things like chiropractic and good nutrition can “fix” horses with problems.

For example, sometimes horse owners want to get rid of a horse with a bucking problem. They’re done with the horse. They’ve given up and have priced it cheap. You can check the horse using Body Checkups and find out quickly if the bucking problem is likely due to chiropractic issues. Then you can get a great horse and solve his pain issues, and he’ll stop bucking!

Please note that, of course, not all horses with these conditions will be easily fixable “diamonds in the rough”. Again, listen to your veterinarian. Listen to your instincts.

  • Horse that rides stiff or “like he swallowed a 2′ x 6′!”
  • Horses on occasional calming supplements (ex: B-calm, Mare Magic)
  • Vices: weaving, biting, eating dirt (or other strange items), headshy
  • Bucking horses
  • Ulcers
  • Minimal topline muscling
  • Leans on farrier during shoeing
  • Performance issues such as:
    • Only likes one direction
    • Used to be good at jumping, but fell and now she stops a lot
    • Doesn’t like to canter/lope much
    • Used to be good at any job, but now “older” and not doing so well (especially if they’ve had poor nutrition, poor hoof care, poor saddle fit, no chiropractic or other bodywork, and no vitamins & minerals)

Finally, try to speak with the trainer, horse owner, farrier, veterinarian, and anyone else SEPARATELY, if possible. See if you get different stories. You’d be surprised.

I think that’s it for now. Please send any comments or additions you have to

Best regards,

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