Be prepared for anything
Despite having viewed it before purchase, there is little to say how your horse will react when it arrives at a new home. A horse is a flight animal and an unknown environment will usually trigger its natural instinct to flee. The best thing you can do is be prepared for every scenario.
The horse may be stronger when you lead it; it could ‘nip’ you; it may act aggressively to the others; it may jump the fence; it might kick the stable door down; it might refuse to move, or it may not stand still. That is a good reason to have a trial period with a new horse, even after vetting.
If you have bought the horse for a younger or less experienced person, supervise them during this time. If you are the inexperienced person, have somebody more experienced with you.
This is the time when the horse will test you, and it is therefore your only opportunity to set firm boundaries. But do not underestimate the bond you can create in the process: you are its only point of consistency, its only link from the world it used to know to this strange new place.
Make a good impression with other owners
Pick where the horse is going to live wisely and have everything set up beforehand. If you are going to a livery yard, make an effort to introduce yourself to as many people as possible before your horse arrives. The last thing you want is to be introducing yourself to the yard’s veteran by apologising because your new horse has just kicked a great big mark onto hers. If there is a sudden crisis, you will need whoever is at hand to help you, and they are more likely to do so if you have made a good impression on them beforehand.
Keep your areas of the feed room and tack room spotless and always sweep up after yourself. A yard owner will be far more forgiving of your horse if your actions are of good repute. If somebody else is not doing the same, bite your tongue – for the first few months, you want as many people on your side as possible!
Establish a routine
Speak to the yard owner about a recommended routine for the horse. If the others are turned out by 7.30am, it will cause your horse undue stress to be left until 9am. Once you have done this, plan a schedule. Make deals with others on the yard – can you do turnout in the morning, if they bring in on an evening? Whatever you choose, keep it consistent. Horses are like children, they like routine, and the moment they pick up on a routine, they will begin to settle.
If you are stabling the horse, make larger-than-normal banks around the parameter of the stable. Horses shuffle and roll more when they are unsettled, and this will avoid it getting cast. Horse licks and stable toys are useful tools for the young or restless equine: they are a good distraction from chewing the stable door!
Avoid changing feed. There will always be a slight change in the horse’s diet because of the subtle difference in the nutrients of the grass and hay. However, you may need to change is if the horse is on a ‘high energy’ feed that has made it too heated at its new place. This could easily be the case if you have bought an active competition horse. Like a runner training for a marathon, these horses will be on a more specialist, high-energy diet that enables them to perform. In this instance, consult the horse’s former owner and local feed shop for advice on a suitable alternative, at least until you are ready to resume that training.
Be prepared to spend extra time with your horse in the first two weeks, even if you are just watching them in the field or in their stable. If they are displaying bad habits, spending time with them will show the yard owner that you care and are willing to work through issues. But most of all, it will help you develop a relationship with your horse.
During the first couple of weeks, contain your riding to the school and local routes. If you are nervous, ask others on the yard to escort you or a trusty friend to cycle alongside. Even the so-called ‘bombproof’ horses are on their toes when first greeted by new sights and sounds.
Do not rush into anything; enjoy getting to know your new horse. It isn’t like at a riding school where once you are tired of one you can ride another – this may be the only one you ride for the foreseeable future. You may wish to lead your new horse around the local routes if you are feeling nervous. If you do, make sure it is wearing its bridle and hold the reins with both hands, both under the neck and along the reins. If it does spook and try to bolt, you have more control.
Having said this, don't prolong riding for too long otherwise you will talk yourself out of it. There is no substitute for just ‘doing it’ to get over any fears you might have. Once you have ridden a couple of times in company, take the horse alone. You will establish a stronger relationship when the horse is not just following another in front. It is always tempting to stay with your ‘riding buddies’ – but you have to know you can exercise your horse alone, as your friends will not always be there.
Keep in touch with the previous owner
Lastly, keep in regular touch with the previous owner.
If you have the horse on a trial basis for a couple of weeks before the sale is finalised you are likely to talk to, or see, the owner regularly, but once this period is over, still try to keep up a dialogue.
Do not get on the phone and vent your anger at every little thing the horse has done poorly, but do seek advice on the issues that you struggle with or any genuine concerns you have. Unless they were a dealer, they will know your new horse very well and their advice is therefore worth more than guesswork.
Further useful information and documents
This is the fourth and last article in our guide to buying a horse. You may want to read the previous one about riding a horse you might buy at a viewing.
If you are buying (or selling) a horse, we recommend that you use a horse sale agreement. We have a choice of three depending on the value of the horse and whether you are the buyer or the seller. See our horse sale agreements.