The first two articles in our Etiquette Of Horse Shopping series  examined communication  and fair trials . In the third installment, we explore options for additional evaluation and the pre-purchase exam.
After a successful first trial ride, many questions loom. Have you concluded that this is the horse for you, or will another ride help to solidify your decision? If so, what are the options? How do you make the most of the experience without overstepping your bounds or risking your chances?
“I’m not against people trying horses multiple times,” said Kelli Temple , Round Hill, Va. “But a lot of times what happens is that people come and try a horse that they like, and then they say, ‘OK, in two weeks my trainer will be here, and we’ll come back.’ By the time they come back, [the horse] is already sold.”
When you’ve found a potential match, it’s essential to strike a balance of informed decision-making, assertiveness and timeliness as you move forward in the shopping process.
Planning Next Rides
For many buyers, a second ride is the logical next step, providing the opportunity to reaffirm and expand upon initial impressions.
“Most people try a horse two or three times, but it takes others four or five times to put the horse in enough different situations to make a decision,” said Courtney Cooper , Nottingham, Pa. “I am not opposed, when possible, to allowing the horse to go to other locations with me so that the buyer can see them in a different atmosphere.”
Depending on your discipline, a “different atmosphere” might involve another arena, a new jumping exercise or a cross-country course. Sellers like Cooper are often willing to trailer the horse to another farm or schooling environment for a follow-up trial ride.
Additionally, most sellers will allow multiple trial rides, although it’s important to keep a time limit in mind. You may not be the only person interested in the horse, and while you’re waiting on that fourth ride, someone else could be readying an offer. On the other hand, if you’re still unsure after several rides, your indecisiveness may signal it’s time to move on.
“Tops, I would say three [rides] is enough. If you really can’t decide after riding a horse three times, then it’s not the right horse for you,” said Temple.
Making the most of trial rides is necessary, however, since most sellers are hesitant to offer longer-term off-site trials in which the horse would go into the potential buyer’s care for an extended period of time.
“I can’t afford to do that. There are too many possibilities for accidents,” said Temple. “I want to be in control of the care of my horse until someone else owns it.”
While Cooper is also hesitant to offer long-term trials, she does consider them on a limited basis when terms have been specifically outlined in advance.
“A signed contract specifying conditions for turnout, riding, who can ride, feeding, and any other matters [is required],” said Cooper, who also asks for a 10 percent deposit of the purchase price and insurance coverage.
Don Stewart, who sells horses priced from $1,500 to $600,000, also requires a deposit before he’ll let his horses go on trial.
“I like a 10 percent deposit, non-refundable, unless the vetting is an issue. The trial lasts generally less than two weeks. If they’re not willing to walk away from a 10 percent deposit, then they’re not that sincere about the purchase,” said Stewart, Ocala, Fla.
DO: Assertively organize trial rides in a quick and expedient manner, being prepared to offer a deposit, insurance and contract if a longer-term trial is desired.
DON’T: Waste time and risk the horse being sold while scheduling multiple trial rides over an extended period of time.
Navigating The Pre-Purchase Exam
Once trial rides have helped confirm that you’re ready to move forward, it’s time to schedule a pre-purchase exam. Because soundness concerns are often used in determining ultimate suitability and negotiating a purchase price, exams can be the trickiest part of the process. Our Chronicle Forums  users shared their stories to help you get the most from the experience.
Chose Your Veterinarian Wisely
A member of the Forums sent a young horse on trial with the client of a trainer she knew, only to receive a frenzied phone call after the client-organized pre-purchase exam went south. The client, who had fallen in love with the horse, was now heartbroken by an osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) diagnosis, a type of bone lesion that often requires surgery.
“I asked if I could purchase a copy of the X-rays showing the OCD and apologized and said I never expected that,” said our Forums user. “The horse had been totally sound her entire life. The poor woman says there are no X-rays, and she really doesn't understand [the OCD diagnosis], so she'll have the vet call me directly.”
After a conversation with the vet, it became clear that the diagnosis was both inaccurate and unfounded; the vet, who specialized in small animals but dabbled in horses occasionally for preferred clients, had made her diagnosis after excessive flexion testing produced mild discomfort. According to the vet, most warmbloods have OCD, and X-rays were therefore not indicated.
Later, when the confused and disappointed potential buyer returned the horse from the trial, the owner had an experienced vet take X-rays, who described them as some of the “cleanest” he’d ever seen.
DO: Research and select an experienced, reliable veterinarian to perform your pre-purchase exam.
DON’T: Rely on convenience. If you’re unsure of a veterinarian’s qualifications, you’re guaranteed to be unsure of exam results, too.
“If the contents of the [pre-purchase exam] are to be used as a bargaining tool, I think it’s important to reveal the actual vet report to the seller to back up one's claims that the [exam] revealed a problem,” said Forums user and dressage enthusiast Dr. Lori Vogt, who encountered difficulty when a potential buyer refused to share exam records.
Vogt’s 12-year-old, third level gelding had performed admirably in a trial ride, so Vogt was surprised when the buyer came back with an offer substantially below asking price, claiming pre-navicular changes were evident in the horse’s X-rays.
“She was not willing to show me the [X-rays], and then when I wouldn't lower the price, she wanted me to pay for the report,” said Vogt, who had seen no evidence to make her believe her horse was unsound.
“A few months later she called me back and offered close to my asking [price], but I had already sold the horse. Even if I hadn't, I didn't want to deal with her again,” said Vogt, noting that for his eventual buyer, the horse vetted clean.
DO: Discuss access to exam records in advance. “I always have a vetting disclosure agreement in place beforehand, and generally I have the horse’s old X-rays and reports available,” said Stewart.
DON’T: Raise a red flag and risk the seller’s trust (and your access to the horse) by refusing to share critical information.
Check back next Wednesday, Aug. 31, for the last installment in our Etiquette Of Horse Shopping series!