As surely as a horse owner wants to find a (clean, straight) leg at each corner on a horse, when it comes to looking at dressage horses for sale they will talk about four key attributes: good movement, temperament, breeding and conformation.
But in which order should these things be considered? Where should you — and should you not — consider compromising; and are those attributes ranked in a different order of importance when it’s an amateur buying a horse rather than a professional?
Experts are unanimous that temperament — a sense of eagerness and wanting to please — are especially important in an amateur’s ride. So here are eight questions every rider should ask themselves before handing over the cash.
1. Do you need a horse that big?
“Some people think a 17hh horse is the thing to have,” says Buckinghamshire-based trainer and rider Douglas Hibbert. “But horses can keep growing until they are seven.”
“If the rider can’t balance it, buying too big a horse is a mistake,” says former British team rider and Yorkshire Riding Centre resident instructor Jane Bartle-Wilson.
“A lot of people are happier kicking [than being on top of a surplus of power],” adds leading rider, producer and trainer Rebecca Hughes.
2. Do you really want a horse that young?
“I think four-year-olds are not for amateur riders,” says Douglas. “People think they will buy less trouble at this age, but they are at a delicate part of their education and it can so easily go wrong.”
3. Do you need to go abroad?
Grand prix rider Hayley Watson-Greaves agrees that trying 10 in a day on the continent can be a fantastic experience, but thinks we miss treasure under our noses.
“My mum is constantly trawling private adverts, and has a good eye,” she says. “She finds lovely horses for sale in Britain.”
Additionally, if it’s British, “there’s a good chance someone we know knows something about it; there’s that extra traceability,” adds Douglas.
4. Have you been thorough on the phone?
“People are often nervous about asking direct questions, like: has it ever been lame; does it have any insurance exclusions? Ditto, they are embarrassed to call ‘POA’ ads,” says Douglas. “Don’t be. It could save you a journey — or throw up your perfect horse.”
5. Did you want to get off?
“You have to feel comfortable on the horse,” says Hayley. “Make sure you have tried it thoroughly in all paces. Some try it at walk and trot and want to buy it.”
“I want to hear a client’s virtually been dragged off the horse,” says Douglas. “You’ve really got to want to ride it every day.”
High on Jane’s list of undesirables is an ugly head: “It just affects your motivation to ride each day.”
6. Do you need such an advanced horse?
“I’ve seen so many disasters of people buying horses too far above them — buying an ex-grand prix horse when they haven’t ridden above medium themselves,” says Jane.
7. Have you set aside a training budget?
“You can spend a fortune on the best horse in the world, but you’ve got to be able to ride it,” says Rebecca. “Higher quality horses can often be more sensitive and responsive, and may need some professional training. Training is the best investment. Don’t get the new lorry — get more help.”
“Young horses do go through a teenage stage and you may need help to get through that,” agrees Hayley.
8. Do I have suitable facilities?
“Do consider your home set-up when choosing a horse,” urges Douglas. “If you have limited turnout, or an exposed arena, or are on busy roads, or have very limited time in which to ride around a day job, you may not be well placed to take on a young horse or one used to being worked hard every day by a professional.”