Written by: Christopher Decubellis

Many of us who enjoy a rural lifestyle delight in owning, caring for and spending time with horses. I grew up on a small farm in Pasco County and I always dreamed of having my own horse. At age 10, I sold some heifers I’d raised and was able to purchase “Bill”—a palomino Quarter Horse gelding. I still like caring for and riding horses, and my favorite way to view rural Florida is from the back of a good horse.

For youth or adults who are dreaming of owning their own horse, it may be beneficial to think about HOW to buy that very first equine pal. The following are some important points to consider:

Perhaps the initial step should be confirming that you are physically and economically willing and able to own and provide daily care for a horse. Many people with small plots of land can soon turn their paradise into a “sand lot” by overgrazing or keeping horses or other animals on land that is not big enough.

Horses not kept on adequate pasture will need forage supplementation (hay)—and lots of it over the life of the animal. There are plenty of University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Extension publications on requirements for caring for horses. Be sure to do your research!

Next, ask yourself what sort of horse you need. This might seem like a silly question but the answer can be quite complex. What’s your budget? Will you ride English, Western or both, or will you drive your horse? Will you pleasure ride or compete? What breed and age, and registered or grade? Mare or gelding? (I would not recommend starting with a stallion).

Some people think it’s cute to start out a child with a foal and have them grow up together. This is likely not a good idea because novices will benefit from a fully trained, calm horse. Beginners will lack the expertise to train or discourage bad habits in the animal.

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed to enlist the help of a professional in identifying potential horses, particularly if you are inexperienced. There are people in the equine industry who are knowledgeable and impartial and can help you find candidates that meet your needs.

It could save thousands of dollars and lots of time and disappointment if you have assistance in choosing the right horse, even if it costs a little bit of money up front. Equine veterinarians, farriers and trainers are examples of folks who might help. (Speaking of vets, I strongly recommend a pre-purchase exam when you’re at that point—but we’re jumping ahead!)

Once you find a potential horse to go see, try to arrive early. Watch the seller catch the horse in the stall or field. What is the horse’s body language? Are ears pinned back and is the animal hard to catch, or does the animal happily approach the seller? Is the horse easy to halter, lead and tack?

You may want to ask the seller to ride the animal first. Can the owner pick up and clean the animal’s hooves? Evaluate the horse’s conformation and gaits, as well as demeanor in all of these steps. After you have evaluated the seller interacting with and riding the animal, you can then try your hand riding.

If this is the animal for you, and you want to make a purchase, closely look over all paperwork—including registration papers and negative Coggins test. Make sure you have a very good contract and see if the seller will include a trial period that allows a refund. Do not forget the aforementioned veterinary evaluation before buying. And always get a bill of sale.

If you have dreamed of owning a horse, are comfortable riding and have the capacity to care for your animal, I hope these tips help you when it comes to finding your first horse. In addition, I strongly encourage young people who are interested in horses to enroll in a local 4-H horse club.