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Where to Buy and Where NOT to Buy



The most common places to buy a horse are from a dealer or from a private owner. You may assume buying from a private owner is safer, but both have upsides and pitfalls.

Where to buy...


There are many things to think about when buying from a dealer. Equine professionals, such as vets, farriers and qualified instructors will know of dealers with good reputations. Look for dealers that specialise in horses that suit the type of riding you want to do. Tell the dealer exactly what you are looking for. The law says that anything you buy from a dealer must be ‘fit for purpose’ (this means anything you buy must be fit for the use described and any specific use you made clear to the trader).

You can try out several horses during a visit to a reputable dealer’s yard. However, dealers that have a high turnover of horses may be less likely to know a particular horse’s temperament in detail, how it will react in different situations and if it has any long-term veterinary conditions.

Some private sellers and reputable dealers offer a scheme where you can loan a horse for a specified period of time with a view to buy. If you and the horse are not suited to each other, you should be able to return the horse within the specified period. Get everything in writing to avoid disputes and confusion later on.

Some dealers will have a returns policy. Make sure you are aware of every aspect of it before parting with any money, as it is unlikely to be as simple as returning the horse for the same amount of money you paid for it. For example a dealer may offer to sell the horse on for you, but may charge you livery yard costs in the mean time. 

From a legal point of view, buying from a reputable dealer could be safer than buying from a private owner. Make sure you ask lots of questions and are fully aware of the dealer’s terms and conditions before parting with any money.  Always get a written receipt that says, in the dealer’s words, what the horse is suitable for (e.g. a child’s first pony, schoolmaster etc). This will give you more standing if the horse turns out not to be ‘fit for purpose’.

Your consumer rights will be protected under Sale of Goods Act when buying from dealer. If you have any concerns you can get detailed advice from Consumer Direct.

Private owners

Buying from a private owner is the most common way of getting a horse. The owner should know the history of the horse and you have the chance to see the horse’s behaviour in its home. The owner should have a thorough knowledge of the horse’s temperament and abilities, and you will have the opportunity to ride and handle the horse. Do not be afraid to ask the owner lots of questions - a genuine seller will be happy to answer them. An owner may ask you lots of questions too, as they will want to find the best home possible for their horse.

Visit more than once to make sure that this is the right horse for you. Also consider asking if you can have the horse for a trial period, especially if there is anything you are unsure of. If the owner agrees to this, get everything in writing to protect both parties.

However, buying from a private owner has some pitfalls. You have fewer legal rights when buying from a private owner. Reasons for selling the horse may not be genuine, or the horse may not be as the owner described it in the advert. You will have little legal standing if this is the case, especially if you have not asked for a five-stage vetting. Be vigilant as some unreputable dealers may pose as private sellers for this reason. If you are unsure of a situation then walk away.

Markets and Sales

We recommend that only very experienced people buy a horse from a market or sale.

Horses at some sales and markets will have gone through the auctioneer’s ‘fit for sale’ standards, which are very low. There is no way of determining the horse’s history when buying from a sale and little opportunity to ask a vet to look for physical problems or infectious diseases. You will have no opportunity to ride the horse yourself or see what it is like in its home environment.

Buying a poorly-looking horse from a sale is not ‘rescuing’ it. It may seem a compassionate thing to do, but it will not eliminate the poor practice that goes on at sales. Money is still changing hands, so sales will continue to thrive. If you part with money, unscrupulous sellers will profit and continue breeding and selling ‘poor quality’ horses.

Redwings often receives calls from people that attend sales as a visitor with no intention of buying a horse, but then make a rash emotional decision to ‘rescue’ one if they see a horse they feel sorry for. It is an easy way of ending up with a horse with serious behavioural issues or expensive veterinary conditions.

The RSPCA or Trading Standards attends most horse sales, so if you see a horse you are concerned about then get in touch with one of their inspectors or call their helpline. Charities and government organisations are working together to have fuller coverage at markets. Never buy a horse from a sale with the intention of passing it on to a rescue centre as you are likely to be turned away.

Some markets specialise in top quality Thoroughbreds or competition stock. However we still recommend that only very experienced people buy from these markets.

Breeding your own

From 2008 onwards, the UK started to face welfare problems caused by the over-production of horses. There are now too many horses, and too few homes. This has put immense pressure on welfare charities as welfare cases and admission requests have soared. It is estimated that there are currently 1 million horses in the UK, and only 400,000 owners.

Breeding your perfect horse is a romantic sentiment. In reality you will never know what may happen to that horse in the future. There are plenty of other horses in the UK that need a safe and loving home without breeding more.

For advice and information in confidence, please call us on 01508 481008 or email

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