Ask Us: Should I Buy a Horse Sight Unseen?

Ask Us: Should I Buy a Horse Sight Unseen?

Q: I’m actively searching for my next 3-foot adult hunter. When I was looking online, I found an experienced, quiet gelding for sale who seems like he’d be perfect. The only problem is he is located rather far from me and I don’t think I’d be able to travel to the owner’s farm to try him.

Should I buy this horse sight unseen?

I’ve heard so many horror stories about these types of situations going wrong, but he seems perfect for me. What should I consider before going forward with this purchase? 

A: The old saying “buyer beware” is a fair warning whenever someone is considering purchasing a horse sight unseen. With online shopping becoming the new norm these days, prospective buyers can easily purchase a horse at the touch of a screen or the click of a mouse. That being said, it’s always advisable to arrange a visit to a farm to try out a potential new horse, preferably with your trainer or another experienced professional. If that’s not possible, there are some things you can do to help make sure you’re making a smart decision. 

At the outset, here are the two most important things when contemplating buying a horse online sight unseen: 

  1. Make sure you’re willing to take the risk. Even though this gelding may seem ideal, be aware that you are taking a calculated risk by purchasing a horse without riding him first. Even if you follow the recommendations below, it’s still a situation with an uncertain outcome. You should not spend money you cannot afford to lose. Though he might be a sound horse that is appropriate for the level of activity you want, even the most experienced riders may not be a match for some horses. You will not know whether you and the horse are compatible until you ride him. Unknown or hidden problems may not arise until after you have taken possession.  

  2. Seek a trial period. This is important for these types of purchasing situations, and advisable whenever possible. Depending on the seller’s familiarity with the prospective buyer, they may offer a trial for a set amount of time at the buyer’s barn. In your case, since you and the seller do not know each other, they will likely request references from your trainer, veterinarian, and farrier. Additionally, before a trial period is agreed upon, you and the seller will need to address issues such as non-refundable deposits, the duration of the trial period, who can ride the horse during the trial period, the height the horse can jump during the trial period, transportation issues, the requisite insurance coverage to cover the trial period, and the terms of payment for the horse in the event of a purchase.  

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If you are willing and able to take the risk, here are some things that may help you avoid making a regrettable purchase:

  • Request plenty of pictures and video footage. If you’re buying a horse that must be amateur-friendly, then ask for a video showing an amateur riding him. How does he handle typical rider mistakes? Does he easily change leads in both directions? Since you’re planning to do the 3-foot hunter classes with him, see if he can be recorded performing rounds at that height. Also, ask for videos showing the horse on the crossties, loading in a trailer, being clipped, and other activities that would give you a sense of his ground manners and overall personality.

  • Ask for references and follow up on them. This is an easy step to overlook and, if nothing else, can provide peace of mind. Do some background research into the seller and try and see if they have an honest reputation. If you do a quick Google search and you find poor reviews of their training or sales program, it might be a red flag. 

  • Consider hiring an independent professional to evaluate the horse. Buyers who cannot inspect or try out a horse in person can hire a local professional, such as a respected horse trainer, to do the evaluation for them. Talk with your trainer and see if they might be able to recommend a professional who’s local to that area and might be willing to evaluate the horse for you. If possible, see if someone can video the ride and evaluation as they occur, allowing you to see remotely how the horse behaves and ask questions while they are in progress.

  • Review the competition records for the horse and look for gaps in the show history. If there are lengthy periods when the horse was not competing, this may be indicative of an injury that required time off and should be inquired about. Or perhaps it was because of a personal situation with the owner (maybe they took time off from showing because of a busy career), so it’s worth finding out more information to give you an accurate account of the horse’s past. 

  • Arrange a pre-purchase exam. A pre-purchase exam is not a guarantee of future health or performance, but it can alert you to undisclosed and unknown medical conditions that would be problematic. This is an important step in trying to get a clear picture of the horse. When possible, try and use a veterinarian who has never seen the horse in order to get an objective opinion. Also, request a drug screen, which can detect any recently administered medications that could alter the horse’s performance or soundness. 

  • Request veterinary records. As the buyer, you should also request the veterinary records from the seller. This disclosure allows you to review the horse’s written medical history and treatment. If the seller rejects your request to review the records without explanation, it might be possible they are hiding something about the horse’s medical history.

  • Create a detailed contract. Perhaps the most important recommendation is to have a well-written contract signed by both parties. Depending on what details are included in a trial period (if you decide to go forward with that option), be sure to include all relevant details in this document. Because this could be a complicated contract, you might consider enlisting the help of an equine lawyer to help you draft it. 

  • If you have weighed all the options, done the research, and are still willing to go forward with the purchase, the gamble may pay off, and you will have a wonderful new partner. The chance remains, however, that you could be left with buyer’s remorse and your options after the purchase may be limited. Remember, it is always helpful to have the guidance of trusted professionals to help you through this process. Best of luck! 

    Photo by SEH Photography. 

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    Written by Armand Leone and Jessica Choper

    Armand Leone, Jr., MD, JD, MBA, and attorney Jessica Choper, Esq. of Leone Equestrian Law provide services and consultation for equestrians, ranging from riders and trainers to owners and managers in the FEI disciplines on a wide variety of issues. Learn more about Leone Equestrian Law LLC at