Nov 21, 2020

Top 10 Tips for Purchasing a Horse with Courtney Cooper

Courtney Cooper and Briarhill Excell Star Take 2 at The Dutta Corp. USEA Young Event Horse East Coast Championships. USEA/Jessica Duffy Photo.

The process of purchasing a new equine partner can be a daunting one. Where do you start? What are the important questions to ask? What red flags should you be on the lookout for?

Five-star eventer Courtney Cooper owns and operates C Square Farm and is a partner in Excel Star Sporthorses in Nottingham, Pennsylvania and Aiken, South Carolina where she buys, sells, and consigns horses as well as trains students, teaches horses, and runs a successful breeding operation. With extensive experience sourcing horses domestically and overseas, Cooper shares her top tips to remember when you are on the hunt for your next horse.

  1. Set up your parameters to help you clarify your search. These six parameters will help you clarify what types of horses you should be looking at. This is also a good time to ask a trusted professional to help you with everything from simply reviewing your parameters to acting as a buyer’s agent.
    1. Age
    2. Height
    3. Sex
    4. Experience
    5. Conformation
    6. Movement
  2. Be very honest with yourself regarding your riding abilities. More than ever, I value trainability and attitude over almost any other criteria. I will take a young horse with a great attitude over an older horse with a suspect attitude any day. Athletic ability is great, but if you can’t ride him, then it’s not helpful. If you cannot ride him, then he is the wrong horse for you!
  3. Do not be fearful of dealing with people that you’ve never met. Simply ask them for references in addition to asking them for examples of the horses that they’ve sold. Also, be sure to ask them what they do should the horse you purchase not work out.
  4. When you are trying a horse, be sure to watch the horse being tacked up and handled in the barn as this will give you a good idea of their personality. And ALWAYS have someone else ride the horse first. If possible, try to bring a friend or trainer with you to video and ask any questions that you might forget about.
  5. The first thing you should do when you get on a new horse is make sure you have brakes. I always do a few walk-halt transitions before moving on with the rest of my ride.
  6. If at any point during your sales appointment you decide that you don’t like the horse, don’t be afraid to speak up and wrap up the visit. No one will be mad, and if anything, they will be appreciative of you being honest.
  7. If you decide that you like riding the horse, continue to ask questions. Some important questions can include: What is the horse’s turnout routine? How does the horse deal with days off? Is the horse only ridden by professionals? And anything else that may affect how the horse transitions from his current situation to your life.
  8. When it comes time to do a pre-purchase exam, remember that the exam is just showing you a moment in time. Be sure to keep the horse’s history in mind and discuss with your vet whether the horse will be able to do the job you’d like them for.
  9. Ask for the horse’s entire health records as part of your pre-purchase exam. If the owner is unwilling to do so, that might be a red flag. Or if you receive incomplete records, that might be another red flag.
  10. For people that are having trouble deciding on “the one,” I like to remind them of the great Jim Wofford’s advice: “What horse do you wake up thinking about, and what horse do you want to see first thing in the morning? I always liken your horse relationship to a marriage – you want a horse that you will always love, even if you don’t like them in the moment.”

Want more tips from top professionals? Check out other articles in our Top 10 Tips series!

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