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Advice solicited: Purchasing first event horse!

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  • Advice solicited: Purchasing first event horse!

    I am finally in the position to purchase a horse and would appreciate some advice. I grew up with horses and have been riding my whole life taking lessons, riding my own horse as a teen, leasing, etc. Two years ago I took lessons at an eventing barn for 8 months and loved it until my job moved me 2 hours away and I had to quit. While lessoning at the eventing barn, I was also leasing a horse at a hunter barn much closer to my home and riding 4-5 days a week. At this barn I received great instruction from 2 hunter/jumper coaches there and my riding greatly improved. Eventing barns are few and far between in my area.

    Now, I am moving to a much more horsey area with access to more opportunities in the sport I want to do. I am ramping up to begin my search for an eventer, and am really unsure of pretty much everything, as I have never purchased a horse before. I had my gelding (recently passed) since I was 10, bought for me, and the incredible mare I leased for two years pretty much dropped in my lap for $200 bucks a month.

    I am 25, have solid basics, and would consider myself an intermediate rider. I can put a horse on the bit, adjust his paces, ride a solid hunter course of 2’9”, handle drops and ditches, gallops in the field both alone and with company, etc. I have been doing schooling shows at the barn I’m leasing at and am consistently winning and placing in equitation on the flat and over fences in classes of up to 30 riders. I have not had the opportunity to compete at an event up to this point. I would like to compete at the Training level in a couple years (I think? lol).

    I think the horse I’m looking for would have experience at the training level (Canada, not sure the US equivalent) so that I can gain some confidence. I need a horse that can take a joke and is sane and safe. I’d like to hunt and do a few dressage shows here and there as well. My dream would be a WB/TB or ISH, something with substance but some speed, probably 7-10 years old. I’m not sure the price range for a horse like this, but I have a feeling it’s more than I want to spend. I’d consider a greener horse as I’m going to be working with an experienced coach, but there are limits to the ‘green-ness’.

    I would like to hear from the experienced eventers out there if I’m being realistic in my wants/needs, what price range I’m looking at, what sort of basics you would look for in a ‘prospect’ for an amateur rider like myself, and any other advice I can get!


  • #2
    I don't have a wealth of experience buying event horses, but I can tell you my experience! I bought a young-ish (7 yrs old) field hunter for under 10k. He's 1/2 TB with some draft and paint thrown in. I assume it's some combination of his breeding and his experience in the hunt field that gave him his excellent disposition. After a brief stint in the hunter ring, we both discovered a love of eventing. He moved from BN (2'6") to Training (3'3") in less than a year, and has the scope for more.

    As the former owner of a very chicken OTTB with terrible feet, a brave draft-x built like a brick sh*t house was a welcome change. I am an amateur and made him up myself, with input from reputable instructors.

    So in conclusion, if you have some $ to spend, but not $$$, and you won't be crushed if don't make it to the upper levels, I recommend a nice athletic draft cross with a good work ethic and maybe a hunting background Good luck!
    The big guy: Lincoln

    Southern Maryland Equestrian


    • #3
      actually, I think that is very good advice.

      At this point in your riding career, what you want most of all is

      * good brain
      * sound

      There are a lot of different paths to that, and you are right, you may have to compromise on your "perfect" ideal to get something with a reasonable price tag, but the kind of horse Duckz describes would be a really good find.

      If at all possible, I'd have someone on tap who can get on the horse and try it xc for you. Some horses you try may be at a point where you can assess them xc, but some may not be -- if they are greener than you want, for example. It can be nervewracking (to say the least) to try an unknown horse out xc if you are not very experienced, and having that input can help you sort out your own nerves from the horse's personality.

      I am biased, though - -when I went shopping for my first event horse, with experience at Novice but still pretty new to the sport, I fell madly in love with a giant Irish foxhunter who made me feel so safe in the field I honestly could have jumped anything I saw.

      Those horses are one in a million. Sadly, although he was spectacular, he was chronically unsound and a heartbreaker all his life, so I'd have to say, please, don't compromise on the "sound" part...

      Best of luck!
      The big man -- my lost prince

      The little brother, now my main man


      • #4
        Sounds like me and I purchased the first pretty thing I laid eyes on. Don't do it!
        There's so much about an event horse that's between the ears and hard to tell that you need an experienced trusted person on your side to help you find a nice safe horse. Nothing worse than falling in love with a horse that can't do the job.
        Even duct tape can't fix stupid


        • #5
          Originally posted by asterix View Post
          actually, I think that is very good advice.

          At this point in your riding career, what you want most of all is

          * good brain
          * sound
          I'm going to tweak this a little bit to be "maintainably sound." The horse you want can have some issues. It doesn't have to flex perfectly (and likely won't), it can need some maintenance or ongoing injections or have other issues, so long as you can reasonably maintain it. What you want is the been there, done that, horse who is sane, sensible, and knows his job. For a rider new to eventing, I would be looking for a pony club horse whose kid is off to college, or a horse that's maxed out at training level but whose rider is ready to move up to Prelim. You don't need it to win the dressage, you'll live if it tends to have a rail or might be a little slow, but it needs to understand water, ditches, and XC already. It might be a little older; it might have something wonky on the xrays, but far better to buy something that can help teach you the ropes of the sport than do the crapshoot of buying something that's never done it before. Green + green = black and blue, after all.

          (And yes, second the thought to find a good coach first - a good trainer is very very helpful in the horse search process, as well as the starting out in the sport bit).


          • #6
            Yes, find a trainer first. You don't have to have your hand held, but a good eventing trainer can help you assess your strengths and weaknesses and guide to a little more refined search for the right horse. They might even have one you can ride in the meantime.

            I've been eventing for ages but my criteria for the Ideal Horse have never changed: brave, honest, loves the job, sound, and sane. And having been privileged to own and ride an absolute schoolmistress-type, I would wholeheartedly recommend that everyone look for one of these. The horse might be older, need a little maintenance, might catch a rail or roll their eyes in the dressage, but there's NOTHING like riding one that's an absolute XC machine who knows all the answers!
            Click here before you buy.


            • #7
              Without knowing your price range, it is hard to tell how realistic your wishes are. So, I'll just go on the assumption that you have a realistic but not over huge budget.

              I think you have very realistic desires. However, I suggest that you go with experienced and sane over anything else. Be willing to look at older horses, don't be afraid of horses that need "management" (as in GS's "maintainably sound"). Don't fixate on specific breeding, size (within reason...if you're 6 feet tall, maybe you shouldn't look at ponies ), color, or gender. Look for experience and good brains.

              Also realize that the smaller the budget, the more you will have to sacrifice. You can't (usually) get a training level ammie packer who will win the dressage, take a joke on xc, and jump clean in show jumping for 15k. But you might be able to find a generous horse that will pack you around the fences that might not get the best dressage score or isn't the cleanest in show jumping. The more you to spend, the more you can get...but I would NEVER sacrifice experience and brains for fancy.

              I HATE horse shopping (after years of being given horses or taking the baby resale projects as my own, I finally shopped for myself this winter). Good luck!

              Oh, and, yeah...find a coach!


              • Original Poster

                Step 1: Find coach is well underway! I have made contact with 2 in the area. I am hoping they can assess my ability and help me find a suitable horse, I just want to have an idea of things before I begin. First time buyer!

                I have owned and ridden draft crosses and they are great, not discluding them in my search. I would prefer a cross to a pure TB.

                I'm not necessarily looking for a packer. I have confidence in my abilitiees and am looking for a trainer I feel confident in as well. Like someone mentioned, someone to get a feel if the horse is suitable and work out issues over my experience level.

                I just came off a fantastic lease and would consider it again under the right circumstances. This is another dilemma, lease or buy? :S

                Having just put my baby down due to severe lameness, I don't think I could knowingly purchase a horse that required maintenence. I know anything could happen to any horse, but that's a fresh wound

                Thanks for the input!


                • #9
                  Sent you a message,


                  • #10
                    Soundness and a sound mind.

                    You said you're already in touch with trainers, so you're on the right track there.

                    You sound like a competent rider with realistic goals, so no lectures there. If you'd consider a lease, why not try to lease and older schoolmaster type just to have some fun at it for a while? That way, you could probably go with some manageable issues since you wouldn't be the owner, and you'd get awesome experience and the chance to have some fun on a horse who knows its job.

                    If you're like me, and really don't want a packer, then maybe consider a nice younger prospect with a good mind who can take a joke. There are a lot of GREAT TB rehoming sources who have horses that have been restarted and eval'd for future careers as all sorts of things.

                    I'd also consider a nicer drafty X. Several people I know have gone this route and LOVE them. The ones I know are quiet, take a joke, are sturdy and athletic, and very willing to do what they're asked.
                    Trying a life outside of FEI tents and hotel rooms.


                    • #11
                      It sounds like you are on the right track. I'd say also to try to lease first or find an older schoolmaster type. Leasing a horse and competing for a year will help you figure out what you really want in a horse while giving you the time to find it.

                      Keep in mind even if you tell people you want a packer you are not necessarily going to find "easy to ride." Since some sellers like to exaggerate, saying "packer" might just keep you closer to the sane side of the scale vs. the nut job side.

                      On my latest horse search I told sellers I was looking for a been there, done that packer, safe and sound. I was shown everything from horses that had NEVER competed (um, okaayyyyyy,) to a horse that bucked every time he cantered to a horse that had at least one refusal on xc at every event for the past year. And I'm sure the sellers couldn't understand why I didn't want their horses!

                      My other advice is to keep your eyes open and trust your gut. If you have any doubt about a horse or seller, walk away. Sometimes I've listened to my gut and other times I didn't and have been very sorry.

                      I've had enough bad experiences that I take whatever a seller says with a grain of salt. Sounds bitter, but after a few years, a few horses, way more than a few thousand dollars and probably a few million tears it comes with the territory.

                      Get a trusted vet to do a pre purchase exam and be there if you can. Try to learn as much about a horse as you can before buying it. If the horse is at a boarding barn ask other boarders about the horse. Google the horse's name with the rider or owner's name. You'd be surprised at how many people post about their horse's lameness problems or training issues on Facebook and other places. Post on here if it's a well-known trainer. People will usually PM you with details if the person is a snake.

                      Good luck! It can be hard but if you find the right horse it's worth it!


                      • #12
                        Nah, you want a packer, more than likely. While you consider yourself an intermediate rider - and probably rightly so, eventing is a whole other ball of wax. I've seen it time and again where someone like you gets a big smack in the face and is overhorsed even though you're a good rider. Eventing is all about fun with the right kind of horse and you can't make a horse into an eventer - especially if you don't know what an eventer really is.
                        You're definitely on the right track though that you like the draft crosses. They are more fun!
                        Even duct tape can't fix stupid


                        • #13
                          Besides some of the normal sites like Dreamhorse. check the Irish sales at www.irishdraught.com Many Irish are good for amatuers and can take a joke well (mine have to, to put up with me ) With a good trainer and good minded horse, you should hav fun. Good luck
                          Epona Farm
                          Irish Draughts and Irish Draught Sport horses

                          Join us on Facebook


                          • #14
                            Have to throw in my experience, just to give you an idea of what can happen when you have green and green!

                            My horse is experienced in that he is older, understands his job in the dressage ring, and doesn't bolt when presented with an open field and the barn behind (or in front) of him. However, he hadn't ever really jumped more than 2'9" with me or anyone, and he had NEVER done XC. And this was right on par with my own level of experience.

                            I bought him for very cheap before I became a WS, with NO real clue what I should be looking for in an event horse. He is VERY spooky, and our saving grace is that he is also extremely athletic and scopey. However, our first year of eventing was a series of really good moments and really not fun moments. He is a stopper, spooks at jump judges, doesn't like to leave other horses...

                            In short, he can be a heartbreaker when we're set to win after SJ and Dressage, and he pulls out a stop on XC. Or spooks at a jump in SJ and stops. We are moving up to Training in two weeks, and I hope to do a P/T with him, but it is difficult when you have the talent and ability to go to the upper levels, but the brain and desire are lacking in the horse.

                            My life lesson? FIND A GOOD BRAIN. I love my boy for what he's taught me, but I can't wait until I can buy a better mind. And I would definitely make sure your horse is sound with GOOD FEET. A good brain and great feet are on the top of my list for my next horse.

                            I might get compliments on how elegant and beautiful my boy is, but I would take a jug-headed XC machine over a refined chicken any day. Just my two cents.