Guide to Buying an American Quarter Horse in the UK
Understanding Your Needs
Horse ownership can be a rewarding experience, one enjoyed by persons of all ages through a wide variety of activities, including shows, training and trail rides. The experience begins with the purchase of your first horse. It is an important step, one which must be made with equal amounts of education and dedication. Your first purchase often sets the tone for your lifetime of horseback experiences and we would like to help it be a positive one.
The first step in horse ownership is asking yourself, “Why do I want a horse?” This question will help you form a goal, which in turn provides the framework for your buying decision. As a starting point, ask yourself the following:
- What is my goal?
- How much time can I devote to looking after, training and attending activities with a horse?
- How much can I afford to spend on the purchase of a horse?
- How much can I afford to spend on all the on-going costs such as livery, feed, training, farriery, veterinary, transport and that’s all before you even get to a show or other event?
- What types of activities do I want to do with this horse?
Different goals require different types of horses and different skill levels of the rider. If you plan to show competitively, the type of horse will differ greatly to that of a recreational riding horse. Just as one researches buying a car, you should do your homework before purchasing a horse.
Would you categorize yourself as:
- Beginner, with limited knowledge of horses and riding in general?
- Intermediate, with a basic understanding of riding and knowledge of a chosen discipline?
- Advanced, with considerable knowledge of horses and competitive at a chosen discipline?
For beginners a broke, older horse with some level of experience is usually is the best bet. Beginners with a competitive goal should locate a horse who has a solid level of training within the chosen discipline, or for trail riding has a calm disposition and plenty of miles riding outside of an arena environment. Find a horse with enough experience to help you advance your riding skills first and to begin to attend entry level events. It is important to note that you should be prepared that as your skills increase you may come to the point where this horse is no longer suitable for your requirements and may need to be sold on, which should be considered for the long term, for example if there is a small issue that you are prepared to live with, would someone else feel the same in the future?
Intermediate equestrians have a bit more freedom of choice than beginners in that their horse should demonstrate fundamental activity requirements, as evidenced by some level of past performance, but they may not necessarily require a horse with years of experience. The horse should at least be suitable for a desired discipline or demonstrate adequate potential, which can be ascertained from information contained in training history, show records and pedigree research.
Advanced riders don’t always have the greatest latitude in buying a horse, whilst they may be able to take a young horse who lacks experience and train him or her for a chosen activity, it is not always easy to find a horse with a sufficiently high level of ability to match the rider’s requirements. Many advanced riders are able to assess an individual horse’s ability fairly quickly though observation and handling but this is never 100% guaranteed! When looking for a ‘readymade’ show horse or extreme trail riding mount then it is important to procure its history and test ride it sufficiently.
At all levels there is always the temptation to buy a young horse, be it for financial restrictions or the rewarding experience of seeing a horse progress. Whilst this can be a wonderful journey it is always important to remember that you must be realistic about your ability level and your long term time and money commitments. Young horses take up a lot of time and unless you are a trainer you will need some level of assistance along the way in order to make the most of your horse. If you are a beginner it may be years before you can actually ride your horse, from a foal to being started under saddle as a 2 or 3 year old and then becoming broke enough for you to ride which is why this is not a suitable option for a majority of novice riders. There are however plenty of other in-hand activities that you can participate in before this time and if you are patient and consistent in your training then there is no reason why you won’t end up with a horse that is exactly what you want. Should you choose to take this path it is essential that you do so under the guidance of a readily accessible professional who can be on hand to advise you in your purchase and help you every step of the way.
Where to find a horse for purchase
One of the best sources for purchasing a horse is a breeder. Breeders normally have a large selection of horses on hand, representing an array of ages, levels of training and dispositions. The main advantage of working with a breeder is that you can often gain credible insight about a horse. You have access to view other horses that have been bred by the owner with a chance to discuss pedigrees, performance records and related horses. There is also the opportunity to see the kind of environment in which the horse was raised and/or trained whilst comparing horses of similar type. The breeder also can discuss the advantages of particular bloodlines, as well as provide additional information about his or her individual breeding and training program.
Another means to purchase a horse is directly from the owner. The owner can provide the horse’s history in terms of training and health. Owners can give helpful information regarding all aspects of the horse’s character and individual day to day requirements. Plus, most owners will allow prospective buyers to “try” a horse several times before purchasing. This one-on-one relationship helps establish goodwill between buyer and seller. Generally most owners will have used the services of a professional at some point so you have the added resource of being able to ask them about the horse too.
Professionals, such as trainers, can serve as agents for prospective buyers, in addition to training horses and instructing clients. By discussing your needs in a horse and your skills, a trainer may help locate a horse that best fits your goals through their network of contacts within the equine industry. There is often a commission to pay to a trainer for helping you find a horse so it is important to discuss this and include in your budget accordingly. It is advisable for beginners to always utilise a trainer to help select a horse for their own benefit.
Beginners should try to find a professional who works well with them and may continue to aid them in the future with the prospective horse, it is also important that they have some expertise in your chosen discipline.
Some helpful questions to ask a professional are:
- What experience do you have in the horse industry?
- What experience do you have in my chosen discipline?
- Who else have you helped and what kind of success have they had under your guidance?
- How are your fees structured?
When you retain a professional to aid you with your riding and competition, be sure to explain your ability and goals thoroughly, discuss candidly how much you can afford for purchasing a horse and it’s on-going up keep or training.
Visiting a Breeder or Owner
Once you have found a prospective horse to buy, there are steps you can follow to aid in the purchasing process. If you are visiting the farm of a breeder, owner or professional, it’s a good idea to start by talking to the seller and establishing good rapport.
Some excellent questions to ask the seller are:
- How much has the horse been ridden during the past year?
- Who has ridden the horse the most — trainer, amateur, youth?
- How easy is the horse to handle after being turned out for a while and not ridden?
- What kind of equipment has been used?
- How much training has the horse received and in what areas?
- Where has the horse been stabled?
- What does the horse eat and what is the feeding schedule?
- What kind of health (good, bad) has the horse had during the past year?Ask to see the vet records.
- Has the horse ever had any colic episodes?
- How often is the horse dewormed or shod?
- Does the horse have any vices (i.e., cribbing, biting, doesn’t load)?
- How often has the horse been away from home, what is his behaviour in different surroundings?
- How does the horse react when being shod, clipped, vaccinated or dewormed?
- Does the horse have a passport and AQHA registration certificate all in the current owner’s name? If not, why not and can it be sorted prior to purchase?
- And the best question — why is the horse for sale?
The answers to all of these questions should be seriously considered and compared to your requirements and goals for finding a horse. It is recommended that you should always seek the opinions from others who may have had dealings with the horse in different situations to ensure that you can gather as much correct information as possible.
The Evaluation Process
After you’ve identified and targeted a goal for yourself, then located a prospective horse, the next step is an evaluation process whereby you determine if that horse will allow you to accomplish your goal — call it determining “suitability for purpose.” While it’s safe to say that any horse with acceptable past performance in your chosen endeavour is suitable for purpose, even beginners should have a basic understanding of the factors that influence a horse’s abilities within a given activity and utilize this information in the evaluation process.
What are those factors? Generally, it can be said there are three:
One of the most important criteria in selecting a horse for purchase is conformation, or physical appearance. While it could be assumed that most horses with several years’ seasoning and past performance have acceptable conformation, your goal in selection should always be to find the best conformed horse possible, regardless of past performance. The reason? Horses with less-than-perfect conformation may encounter health problems as they mature or when stressed by competition.
Conformation therefore links closely to soundness, any horse you consider purchasing should be serviceably sound. In young animals, there should be no indication of defects in conformation that may lead to unsoundness. An unsoundness is defined as any deviation in structure that interferes with the usefulness of an individual. Many horses will have blemishes — abnormalities that may detract from the appearance of the animal — but are sound. You should become familiar with all of the common unsoundnesses and learn to recognize them.
Riding and Movement
After a basic evaluation of conformation, the next step is evaluating a horse’s movement. Movement is an important criteria, particularly when selecting a horse for performance events, as most arena classes place some level of preference on the way that the horse moves and carries itself.
For even a beginner recreational rider, a horse should at least walk, trot, lope, and accept leads in both directions. The horse should stop easily when asked by the rider and yield to leg aids. Ideally, horses should also demonstrate the following:
- The walk must be alert, with a stride of reasonable length in keeping with the size of the horse.
- The trot should be square, balanced and with straight, forward movement of the feet.
- The lope should be a natural, three-beat stride and appear relaxed and smooth. Horses should accept both leads with little difficulty.
In selecting a horse for competing, consider the following criteria:
Western — The horse should have a free-flowing stride of reasonable length in keeping with conformation. The horse should cover a reasonable amount of ground with little effort and carry his head and neck in a relaxed, natural position, with the poll level with or slightly above the level of the withers. Ideally, the horse should have a balanced, flowing motion and be responsive to the rider’s commands, yet smooth in transition of gaits and leads.
English — The horse should move with long, low strides reaching forward with ease and smoothness, being able to lengthen stride and cover ground with relaxed, free-flowing movement. Horses should be obedient, have a bright expression with alert ears and respond willingly to the rider with light leg and hand contact. When asked to extend the trot or canter, the horse should move out with the same flowing motion. The poll should be level with, or slightly above the withers. The head should be slightly in front of, or on the vertical.
Reining or similar advanced disciplines — The horse should be wilfully guided or controlled with little or no apparent resistance and be responsive to the rider’s commands. Any movement on his own must be considered a lack of, or temporary loss of, control. The horse should be smooth, demonstrating finesse, good attitude, quickness and authority in performing various manoeuvres while using controlled speed.
Probably the most important and most abstract aspect of the evaluation process is determining a horse’s disposition. While American Quarter Horses have been selectively bred for generations for good disposition and most often possess an inherently gentle nature, you still must place importance on this in the selection process. The reason? While a horse may be impeccably conformed and move like a champ, he still may not possess the correct frame of mind that will allow both you and the horse to realize your true potential.
Evaluating disposition is particularly important for beginners. It can be frustrating to ride a horse who simply isn’t cooperative. The rider may lose confidence and become afraid — the horse simply becomes confused. Often, both problems multiply if not corrected via professional help.
While evaluating some conformational traits may help determine disposition, the best method is seeing how a horse behaves when being groomed, saddled, ridden and trailered. While the seller’s opinions may be helpful, use your own eyes. Observe the horse doing as much as possible both at home and if possible away from home, both with the owner, trainer and strangers.
Does the horse:
- Stand quietly when approached by different people, or does he act afraid or aggressive?
- Have the halter or bridle on without difficulty?
- Paw, pull or move excessively when tied?
- Accept the saddle?
- Stand patiently as a rider mounts?
- Load easily into a trailer?
Any signs of nervousness, pawing, bucking in place, biting or refusal to comply during grooming, saddling or trailering should be considered faults on the part of the horse. Since the horse may respond correctly with the owner, ask the owner if you may perform these tasks yourself, if you feel comfortable doing so or if not ask if your professional can.
Next, evaluate the horse’s disposition during riding.
Does the horse:
- Walk, trot and lope, and accept these gaits willingly?
- Take both right and left leads easily?
- Respond and stop when asked?
- Backup without straining against the bit?
- Follow your commands, or act on its own?
The horse’s disposition during riding is largely dependent upon the rider’s skill. While beginner riders may experience varying levels of resistance or loss of control when performing the aforementioned tasks, at no time should the horse buck or act as if he is running off. Ideally, the horse should perform all requirements willingly, with little or no resistance on the bit. Any bracing or straining against the bit should be considered faults.
If you are a beginner, or even an intermediate horse person, it is always a good idea to have a professional with you if you choose to groom, saddle or ride a horse. Ask the owner if your professional can ride the horse. As with any diagnostic process, you are always better off with a second opinion.
A good thing to keep in mind through the entire evaluation process is this: Remember that you are buying not only a horse, but a relationship with a horse. All horses have different personalities, and it’s your goal to find a horse that best complements your personality. While conformation, behaviour and movement all play a role in the horse’s suitability for purpose and personality, the final analysis often relies on one simple question: How am I getting along with this horse? The answer often is derived strictly from intuition.
Purchasing a Horse
Pre-Purchase Veterinary Examination
If a horse seems like a good prospect and meets your approval through the evaluation process, you may want to arrange to have a pre-purchase examination performed by an experienced equine veterinarian. In the UK, veterinary examinations can be done at different levels, it is recommended that you have at least a 2 Stage vetting done which comprises a clinical examination and a lameness examination at walk and trot. For many insurance policies over the value of £5,000 a full 5 Stage veterinary examination is required, which aims to identify subtle lameness along with respiratory and cardiac conditions that may only be obvious during strenuous exercise. If the horse is of a high value or perhaps has many blemishes or an historical injury, you can request X-rays to be taken as part of the examination and/or a blood sample which is stored and can be tested for drugs at a later date if a query occurs. During these examinations the horse’s microchip will be scanned and its identity confirmed against its passport.
The cost of any pre-purchase examinations is the responsibility of the purchaser and must be booked and paid for by them. The vetting is generally carried out by a veterinarian other than that usually used by the seller so that a conflict of interest does not occur.
All things considered, your goal is to purchase the most broke, seasoned horse you can afford with suitable conformation, disposition and movement. Keep in mind, however, that a broke and unsound horse is likely less valuable than an unbroke and sound horse. Look for the horse that is the closest to ideal. Especially in the case of young or unbroken horses take into consideration pedigrees and performance records of parents or siblings. Pedigrees and performance records may add value, but also look at how they relate to your intended use? For example: a halter horse that has won many Grand Champion awards may not be suitable as a show jumping prospect! Always keep your ultimate goal close at hand when discussing purchase price with the owner. If the horse doesn’t fit your objectives, don’t invest your money.
As a rule, pricing is based upon the following factors, so a good understanding of their relationship to price is in order:
- Level of training — More training normally means a higher price.
- Pedigree — The closer and more often a horse has accomplished performers in his or her pedigree, the higher the price.
- Past performance — Greater levels of past performance normally mean higher prices.
- Age — Young horses are often lower priced due to their lack of proven ability and performance, however if their pedigrees are of a high quality the opposite can be true due to their ‘potential’. Older horses are generally more valuable due to seasoning or suitability for purpose, but with price then often decreasing again once a horse is in its mid-teens due to increased susceptibility to injury or illness due to age related ‘wear and tear’.
In the end, the amount of money you will likely pay for a horse is directly related to the goals established at the beginning of the buying process. Although there is no concrete formula for pricing, the following are acceptable ranges which you can expect to pay:
- Foal or unbroken young horse: £2,000 to £5,000
- Green broke horse with limited experience: £4,000 to £7,000
- Experienced broke horse with limited ability but suitable for entry level competition or recreational riding: £5,000 to £10,000
- Advanced show horse, quality pedigree and skilled for national competition as evidenced by past performance: £10,000 and upward
After the Sale — AQHA Transfer Procedures
If a horse is registered with AQHA, any transaction regarding the sale or transfer of ownership should be recorded with the Association. It is the seller’s responsibility to complete the written report to be sent to AQHA immediately following the transaction, whether the horse was sold through private treaty or an auction. It is recommended that you purchase directly from the last recorded owner listed on the registration papers. If you do not purchase the horse from the last recorded owner, then you must have a transfer signed by the recorded owner as well as transfers signed by each owner between yourself and the recorded owner. Also make sure the horse you are buying matches the registration papers. Note age, sex, colour and all markings.
The horse’s registration papers and proper fees must be included when filing the transfer report. Payment of transfer fees can be negotiated between you and the seller. If the horse being bought is not yet registered (however, always try to buy registered horses), then the name, registration numbers of the sire and dam, and other data should be included on a registration application, to be completed by the breeder. Understand that registration fees double after a horse is 7 months old and double again after 12 months. The registration fees are at least doubled each year after that until the horse is 4 years old. We point this out so you will understand the high cost of registering older horses and avoid purchasing unregistered older horses.
You must also ensure that you have the horse’s passport and a signed transfer form from the seller too. Once you have received the AQHA registration back from the USA in your name then you can complete the passport transfer into your name by ensuring you enclose a copy of the new certificate and returning to AQHA-UK or the relevant issuing authority. It is a legal requirement that a horse’s passport is transferred into the new owner’s name within 30 days of taking ownership so it is important to ensure that this is completed as soon as possible.
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