‘Buyer Beware’ Also Applies to the World of Horse Sales

When it comes to buying a horse, there’s a term in the investment world that may be worth noting. It’s called “due diligence” and it describes the process of investigation that wise investors undertake before putting their money in any venture. Interestingly however, despite the fact that many people consider their purchase of a top sport horse to be an investment, few apply the same sort due diligence to their horse purchase.

“When it comes to buying a horse, you really need to protect yourself as much as you can and be aware. You really should practice due diligence,” said Barbara P. Richardson, an attorney with Shutts & Bowen LLP in West Palm Beach, Florida, a law firm that frequently represents horse buyers and sellers. Richardson’s advice comes from seeing the down side of the purchase process – when things go wrong and one side sues another. She’s the first to admit that lawsuits cannot always be won and, win or lose, they aren’t cheap.

It’s not just buyers who need to be aware, it’s also sellers, Richardson said. A fair number of states have laws that require certain behaviors from sellers, including Florida, which adopted a disclosure law in 2008 specifically geared toward horse sales. Failure to comply with the law can get sellers in hot water, both with buyers and with the law. To avoid breaking the law, both buyers and sellers should “talk to an attorney in their state and find out the laws for that state,” Richardson said.

The Florida law is one example of how a state is attempting to add some regulation to a market that has long been unregulated – the horse sales market. Florida’s disclosure law requires sellers, or their agents, to disclose such things as the actual owner of a horse, medical conditions, defects, surgeries and other things that could impact the performance of a horse. The law also requires a written bill of sale or other documentation.

As with many laws, those related to horse sales are open to interpretation and that’s part of what keeps Richardson in business. A common complaint that frequently leads to a lawsuit is when buyers discover that a horse isn’t quite what they thought and charge the seller with misrepresenting the horse. An example is when a buyer brings the horse home and learns that it’s not as safe a ride as the seller implied or doesn’t have the level of training the seller claimed. Richardson said the best way to avoid disappointment is do a bit of investigating rather than relying on the words of the seller or sales agent.

So, just how does one practice “due diligence” when purchasing your next competitive star? Richardson and a number of recent horse buyers have some suggestions:

~ If you are told the horse has shown successfully in competition, contact the U.S. Equestrian Federation and/or the U.S. Dressage Federation and check out the show record. Both keep a database full of useful information on performance horses, including scores, who rode the horse and who owned the horse and if you do a search of those organizations’ websites using the horse name, you should turn up a good amount of information.

~ Use that information above to contact previous riders and owners and ask them questions about the horse.

~ If you are an adult amateur, find out if the previous riders who competed the horse were also amateurs – real amateurs. There are many adult amateurs with years of experience who are just as good as professionals. So, what you really want to know is whether or not adult amateurs at your level rode the horse successfully.

~ Make use of the internet and do a search of the horse’s name and see what comes up. That might also give you information on previous riders to contact for information. An internet search might also yield previous sale ads for the horse, which will tell you if the price has been going up or down.

~ When it comes time to try out the horse, ask to ride it outside of its normal environment so that you can see how it behaves. Ask to have it ridden with other horses in the ring. Also, you might want to take it off the property to another barn or take it out for a trail ride. And, don’t ride it once. Ride it several times.

** If you’re an adult amateur and for some reason you can’t ride the horse for the try-out, then ask another adult amateur to give the horse a try, preferable one who rides at your level.

~ Don’t believe that the horse trailers well until you see it load and unload quietly. And, have it taken for a test drive while you follow behind to see how the horse behaves once on the road. If the trailer is rocking and rolling, that’s not a good sign.

~ This one might be obvious, but it’s not always done – do a complete vet check and videotape it. For the purchase of an expensive, high-performance horse you might even want to consider a body scan. And for sure, don’t use the owner’s veterinarian unless this is a veterinarian you really trust to be fair to both sides.

~ Bring a veterinarian along on one of your visits and have blood drawn on the spot. It’s the best way to ensure the horse isn’t being drugged before you try it out.

~ Ride the horse without boots or wraps so that you can see how the legs look after a work-out. Swelling could be a warning sign.

~ Check to see how the horse handles basic show grooming like clippers, a bath and braiding.

~ Check out the relationship between the agent selling the horse and the owner. Don’t be afraid to ask the agent what he/she gets in the sale. If the seller has nothing to hide, then full disclosure should not be a problem.

~ If all of this seems a lot of work, then find yourself someone with experience representing buyers and who has a good reputation. Ask around, because if several people report a positive experience with a buying agent, then that might be someone you’ll want to ask to help you.

Following these guidelines above will greatly decrease your chances of buying a horse that is something other than what you thought. If you find that you don’t have the time to conduct this due diligence, then find someone who does. There are people out there in the horse sales world who have excellent reputations for being honest and ethical toward both buyer and seller. It’s worth it to hire one of these people to conduct your horse hunt for you and to do the research that will ensure that you find your perfect equine match.

“The horse in the picture is the perfect example of a great experience in buying a new horse. I purchased River through Kathy Connelly, who I use to help me buy horse, and he turned out to be super. I got my USDF Bronze Medal on his and loaned him out to four others. Three of them earned their Bronze Medal with him and the fourth earned a Silver. I have since bought another horse through Kathy and got my Silver Medal in Florida and qualified for Prix St. Georges championships in my first year ever at showing Prix St. Georges. This is one example of how the purchase of a new horse CAN be,” Isler said.


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