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Horse Sale Ads: How to Read Between the Lines

When purchasing a horse, it can be hard to know what the horse’s real history or medical condition is, and sale ads are rarely helpful! This is because unfortunately, not everybody is honest or has the horse’s (or your own) best interests at heart. As someone who has purchased a dozen horses and assisted many clients as they purchased horses for themselves, I’ve learned to read between the lines and pick up red flags in horse for sale ads. In today’s post, I’m sharing a list of red flags that will help you navigate the many horse listings both online and in magazines with a little more savvy.

Phrases to look for include:

“He’s a little green”

If you are a beginner and you hear/read this in an advertisement, this is not the right horse for you. When you go to see a horse and they are misbehaving, the owner may say ‘oh this is so weird! He’s usually so lovely. But he can be a bit green sometimes’. This actually means that the horse is uneducated and has not been broken in fully.

In the horse world, “green” does not refer to an emotion or a color, it refers to their experience and training level. A green horse is one that has had some training. This can mean anything from they have had a saddle on a few times to fully broken but have not settled into their training yet. Regardless of which is the case, this is not an appropriate hose for a beginner.

Woman watches a horse move.

“He’s Bombproof”

This is a buzzword used to make people new to horses feel more comfortable with a horse. I say “new to horses” because every experienced horse person knows bombproof horses just don’t exist. Not only that, but telling a first-time owner or beginner rider their mount is bombproof is dangerous and likely to leave them in an unsafe situation.

Every horse has a quirk, every horse has something that makes them angry, and EVERY horse can get scared and react. If you come across a listing that says bombproof, you can take that as ‘well trained’, but keep in mind every horse can be dangerous and people are using the word bombproof to target new riders. These horses can be lovely and may be the perfect horse for you, but they aren’t literally bombproof. They may be quiet and willing to follow your every command. Never assume any horse is bombproof and always stay vigilant with every horse you interact with.

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If someone says a 4-year old horse is bombproof, you should probably ignore that listing. A 4-year old horse is often green and needs an experienced rider. If someone describes their young horse as bombproof, they are likely referring to how they respond to external stimuli (i.e. they stay calm when a car passes them or a child pulls on their tail). It is not uncommon to meet very nice young horses that are very safe to keep people company, but they are rarely as calm or well-behaved under the saddle.

“Give her a lunge before riding and she’ll be perfect.”

This is not a quiet horse or one that is suitable for a first-time owner. If you have to make your horse expend energy before you ride, then it is a high energy horse and not safe for a first time horse owner.

Lunging is very hard work for a horse, so if they need to be lunged before being ridden, that means that the horse needs to have lots of energy used up before you can even get in the saddle. To make matters worse, regularly lunging and then riding actually builds a horse’s stamina and can cause them to have even more energy.

These types of horses are okay for people with a decade of experience- top show riders love “hot” horses for their responsiveness and speed- but they should be avoided at all costs if you are new to horse ownership (even if you have been taking riding lessons for several years. I explain why decades of riding lessons don’t count in the next section).

“Experienced Riders Only”

You may have 3 or 4 years of riding lessons under your belt and consider yourself to be an advanced rider, and that is possibly true. Your skill may be highly advanced when it comes to dressage or jumping, but have you had experience with a horse that is not well behaved? Perhaps you’ve ridden through a few good shies and kept your seat, but can you react calmly and assertively when a hose bucks or sits back on their haunches to rear? Have you been on a horse that tried to bolt every 2-3 minutes, fully bucked you off, rears frequently, or refuses to listen to any of your commands. That’s what may be the case for these horses.

If the answer is no, this is not the horse for you. When someone in the industry says a horse needs an advanced rider only, it may be a euphemism for a dangerous horse. The horse may have the potential to be an amazing mount, but it is going to take time, experience, and no small amount of metaphorical super glue to keep the rider in the saddle long enough to polish the horse into a good riding companion. When looking for a horse, avoid any with an sale ad stating they need advanced riders.

Red Flag Horse Selling Terms and Their Meanings

High Strung” – This horse is nuts and will spend as much time as possible trying to make you gallop. High strung horses are some of the most difficult to ride. They are constantly trying to make you go faster and will not let you slow down. This can be extremely dangerous, especially if you are not an experienced rider. It is important to be very careful when riding a high strung horse and to always be aware of their mood.

Ready for Training” – Not broken in yet, possibly a little feral and not new owner friendly

Mature” – This horse is probably very old. This horse is likely to need extra medical attention and will need to retire fairly soon. But, they do usually have beautiful temperaments. If you’re looking for someone to sit in the pasture with you for a daily chat, these horses are worth considering

In general, older horses are more likely to be arthritic, have vision and hearing impairments, and be more susceptible to disease. They may also have a lower tolerance for work and be more easily fatigued.

Has heaps of potential” – This horse can’t actually DO anything yet. They think he could with the right training but even though he is already 8, he has no saleable skills (perfectly ok if they are easy to handle and you just want a horse to ride)

Bold” – Very pushy and you probably won’t be able to make him stop

Can be Pushy on the Ground” – Will bite you every chance he gets, will possibly aim his giant stomping feet at your toes. Will force you to learn the right way to use a stud chain.

Needs Some Maintenance” – Likely a wonderful horse to ride, but may need a lot of medication. This horse may cost you a fortune in care requirements

Does well with a tom thumb / pelham bit” – If you don’t use a painful bit, this horse is completely uncontrollable. Instead of training, the horse has been controlled using a very strong bit- which may have distracted it from absorbing any of its other training.

Schoolmaster” – Very old, potentially starting to develop lameness, and perhaps should be retired instead of sold. Still, a true schoolmaster horse can be a valuable partner for any beginner rider as long as the horse is sound.

Bonus term!

Easy to C/S/F” – This one isn’t a red flag but it did confuse me for weeks. This means the horse is easy to catch (c), shoe (s), and float (f).

Final Thoughts on Reading Between the Lines of Horse Sale Ads

When you’re looking at a horse for sale ad, the first thing you should do is read it carefully. Many people try to pass off a horse that is not suitable for their intended purpose by using vague or misleading language. Be wary of any claims a seller makes until you see evidence of it in the horse, and make sure to ask the seller questions to get more information (for a shortcut, check out our list of 10 questions to ask before buying a horse)

Finally, be wary of any horse that is advertised as “free.” Free horses are often sick, injured, or otherwise unsuitable

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