While I understand that common wisdom in some areas is (and maybe history bears out) that there are lots of horse sellers who are less than honest when selling a horse, I contend that (a) nowdays there are more honest horse sellers than there are dishonest ones; and (b) times have changed for the bad guys because buyers are becoming more educated and have instant access to a vast amount of information about Sellers and horses through technology (Google, Facebook, online registries, etc.) than ever before. The bottom line – and good news – is that it is much more difficult to lie about a horse you are selling – and correspondingly buyers are entering equine transactions better informed than they have ever been. Of course, buyers must take advantage of the great well of information that is now available to them and research the seller and the horse and even prior owners of the horse if possible. Remember that information is power and nowhere else is that more true than when negotiating equine sales transactions.
First, Buyer decides to buy a horse. Usually potential buyers look first to people they know in the horse world, often their trainer or stable owner/manager, to find out about potential horses for sale. And usually that is a great place to start. But do not assume that is always true. Think about your trainer or stable owner/manager. Has he/she been in your area or discipline for many years with a great reputation? I would suggest before assuming anything, you “google” anyone you are considering asking about a horse. Frankly, I always “google” a person’s name and the word “mugshot” just in case. And search their name on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Sounds awfully nosey, I know, but you would be stunned at the number of times I have discovered extremely relevant and important information on a potential horse seller, prior owner, broker or trainer by doing these searches.
Second, I search USEF, AQHA, Jockey Club or other applicable registry to obtain the horse’s history and verify its registration and make sure other facts match up as told to me by the Seller (horse’s show record, lineage, age, height, markings) and to make sure that the records I am reviewing are for the same horse as the one being sold. Many clients have come to me thinking they were buying one horse whose show record was stellar only to discover later that the horse they purchased was not the same horse whose show record had been provided to them. And when that realization comes, of course the seller and/or broker are nowhere to be found. Also, be sure to speak with the horse’s current and historical veterinarian and get a release from the Seller allowing you to see all the horse’s vet records. And look at them and share them with your own veterinarian BEFORE your vet conducts the prepurchase examination on the horse – whether it is a basic, moderate or extensive examination. As I have mentioned before, if it does not make sense to pay for blood testing (usually it does, however), at least pay to have the blood drawn ($50-$75 usually) and professionally stored in case you get the horse home and in a month something goes terribly wrong and you want to run some blood tests at that point to check for prior drugging, disease, etc.
Third, study how the horse is currently worked and stabled. Does he have ten hours of turnout per day on ten acres with one other horse and never works? Is he worked every day and turned out in a paddock for an hour a day? What does he eat? Does he have allergies? Does he crib or have other bad habits? Is he accustomed to dogs running loose in the barn? And on and on. Find out everything you can about this horse from anyone whom you can find who knows something. Even though the information you receive may not all be 100% accurate, remember that information is power. That does not mean you believe everything you hear, just that you collect as much as you can and then filter through it yourself and draw your own conclusions about the horse. And, if you have access, always seek advice from professionals in the industry to see what they have to say and give their views whatever amount of weight you deem appropriate.
One last thing I will mention is that one of the best protections you can have is a trial period during which you have the horse at your stable but do not own him yet and have not yet paid for him (although some sellers will require a deposit be paid up front in order to take a horse on trial). Different disciplines are known for not permitting or for permitting or for encouraging trial periods. Regardless of what is typical in your discipline, do your best to convince the seller to give you a trial period of at least a couple of weeks (preferably a month or two) to see how the horse does with your rider and your barn and your other horses, if applicable. Even if the Seller requires a nonrefundable deposit payment, if you discover during the trial period that the horse will not adapt well to your environment or is not suited for your rider, you will be ever grateful that you negotiated a trial period and can send the horse back to his owner.
Moral of the story: Be careful! Be your own detective BEFORE YOU PAY ANY MONEY to verify the horse’s identity and habits, current environment and health history. And if you can, negotiate a trial period during which you can assess the horse’s suitability for your stable and rider so that if it is not a good match, you can return him to his owner and move on to greener pastures!
If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if you are in North Carolina and I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! Or often know good equine lawyers in other states if you need a referral. If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back. And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2014 is $350). Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250. You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also (in one way or another, I guess) an advertisement for legal services.