When you do find a horse that looks like it might fit the bill, it’s almost certain to be located in the Outer Hebrides, or as far away from your current address as possible without actually being in France.
But you decide it’s worth a look, and make the four-hour drive – only to be told on arrival that it’s been sold/gone lame/popped out an unexpected foal. Either that, or you take one look at the beast that’s leaping up and down in the arena, steam pouring from its nostrils, and realise that by ‘not a novice ride’ in this instance, it definitely means option b) total psycho.
Luckily, Right Horse Right Home is here to take some of the pain out of the horse-buying experience – but if there’s a truth that’s universally known, it’s that no horse is perfect. And inevitably, unless you’ve got the budget of a five-star event sponsor, you’re going to have to compromise on something. But what, exactly?
We all have that list of ‘must-haves’ when buying a horse. This could include things like: a gelding, 16hh, aged between 7 and 11, good on the ground, a machine cross-country, sane and sensible, hacks alone, always in the ribbons, etc. But a safe and sensible 16hh 8-year old gelding that’s a diamond on the ground, hacks alone, is a machine cross-country and in the ribbons every time, often comes with a price tag that’s equivalent to the national debt of a small country.
So, for example, do you really need a gelding? Although mares have a reputation for being, well, mare-ish, plenty of them aren’t. And because they’re less in demand than geldings, the good ones are often slightly cheaper.
Is height really that important? True, if you’re 6 foot and still growing, then it’s probably not worth checking out that 14.2hh pony, however perfect he otherwise sounds. But if you’re a small adult, there are loads of great ponies out there, and looking at them as well as horses doubles your marketplace (and again, often offers better value for money).
The trick to weeding out your ‘must-haves’ from your ‘would-likes’ is to be honest with yourself about what you’re really, truly looking for – and your own ability. You may want to event at Novice level at some point in the future, but if all you’ve done up until now is low-level riding club activities (and there’s nothing wrong with that), you’re likely to be out of your depth with a fully-fit eventer.
Similarly, if you’re a happy hacker simply looking for a safe and sensible steed on which to potter round the countryside, then ‘hacks alone’ is probably a must-have, but you don’t need a horse that’s a machine cross-country or always in the ribbons. A slightly older horse that’s finished its competition career and is looking for a laid-back home could be just the ticket.
But if you’re a novice, do not be tempted under any circumstances to go and look at any horse that’s advertised as ‘not a novice ride.’ Just trust us on this one, OK!