Judy Bradwell’s Tips for Buying a Horse
In choosing a horse there is no substitute for experience either acquired or ‘borrowed’.
If a vet is involved, so much the better, but always find one who is objective and
independent of the seller. The key is to find a horse that is suitable for both the rider
and its purpose.
Without a sound horse you have no horse, so in the selection process Soundness is
vital – don’t buy a horse which already has soundness problems as you can be sure to
encounter enough along the way!
When it comes to Conformation there are really 10 sections of the horse to consider,
in addition to Colour, (which should never be bad, but while chestnut mares have
dubious reputations some can be brilliant) and Type (meaning the horse should be
uphill and balanced and not be on their forehand, where they hit the ground too hard
to survive the rigours of training and competition).
• Head should be well-formed and intelligent with a big open eye, which is the
first thing one looks for.
• The horse should have a Good Front with the head and neck in proportion
and the head must sit correctly on a long rather than short neck.
• In Body the back should be short but not too short, and the chest and rib cavity
should be deep.
• Tail should be set well up the hind quarters and swing freely from side-to-side.
• Quarters should have plenty of width and strength.
• Hocks must be strong and well set, as competition horses put great weight on
the hind legs and hocks (look out for Thoroughpins – soft swelling on the
inside or outside of the hock; Spavins – bone enlargement on the side of the
hock; Curbs – a bony enlargement at the back of the hock. These all spell
weaknesses, though a false curb may be acceptable.).
• Front legs should not be light boned nor back at the knee. The knee itself
must be strong and flat and the pastern neither too short nor too long.
• Feet must be well-formed, matching and not too small, flat or upright.
• Wind must be clear and sound. A vet will confirm whether a horse has been
‘hobdayed’ or worse still ‘tied-back’, which are both operations to the larynx
aiding air flow.
• Teeth must meet correctly and be in reasonable condition. The teeth serve as
an accurate way to check the age of the horse.
Beyond Conformation the prospective buyer should look for a horse with good natural
Movement, while the horse’s Temperament is almost as important as its soundness.
Finding a horse with real natural Talent is something of an immeasurable, but look for
a horse with potential. Don’t be afraid to choose a horse in the rough, often
preferable to buying a dealer’s horse, turned out beautifully, which could be masking
a problem or flaw. Identify any Stable Vices upfront, be that Weaving – where the
horse moves from side-to-side, shifting weight from one foot to the other; Box
Walking – where the horse walks endlessly round the stable; Wind Sucking – where
the horse takes in air while sucking or biting the stable door; or Crib Biting – where
the horse bites on the door or other items in the stable. These can all adversely affect
the condition of the horse. Finally, there is Price which will be related to age,
experience, breeding, health and success. This must be related to affordability, both
the initial cost and the cost of training, maintaining, producing and competing.