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Gaited Horse Buyers Guide


If you have never owned a gaited horse before, you will want to spend some time learning the various characteristics of the many breeds of gaited horses prior to starting your search. To determine which breed is right for you, ask yourself some questions as to the usage you plan of the horse, the style of horse you have a preference or need for and any faults that would be unacceptable. Will other members of your family be riding the horse, such as children or grandchildren? The answer to those questions will determine in large measure what breed is right for you.  See and ride as many horses as possible to give yourself a feel for the different breeds.  Once a breed has caught your attention, you will want to educate yourself as to the characteristics and nature of that breed. You should familiarize yourself with the terminology used to refer to that breed of horse and their gaits, in order to determine which individual  is best for your needs. Learn not only what the different gaits of the breed are, but also be able to recognize and differentiate between these gaits when you see them performed. Have an idea of what your selected breed is all about, both in appearance and movement.  Having at least a general knowledge of the breed will make conversation between you and the breeder/seller much easier and  basic background information on the breed will also make it easier for you to convey to breeders and sellers specifically what kind of horse you are looking for. Find out when it is common for the breed to start a horse to saddle, in breeds that mature later a 5 year old may only be green or just started to saddle. You should take advantage of any chance at education, looking at several horses before selecting one. If there is a special quality particularly important to you, then you should emphasize that during your search.

It is often said that buying the horse is the cheapest part. It is unfair to your new horse to buy it and then discover your financial resources will not allow you to care for it properly. Ask local horse owners about the costs of various types of horse care in your area. Maintaining a horse on an annual basis  will average AT LEAST $1,000.00. To try to find that bargain horse and then invest that kind of  moneys to care for it makes no sense. Prices of horses will vary depending on the horse's age, breeding, level of training, competitive ability, and overall quality as a representative of their breed. Prices will also vary slightly depending on geographic location.  Once you have a clear determination of your specific needs, stick to your selected criteria and, when you find the right horse, be willing to pay just a little bit more if you can. You will not regret it. Remember you often will get what you pay for! Obviously the price of the horse must be within your budget. Often the asking price can be negotiated. However, do not waste your time or the seller's time trying horses out of your price range. Sellers usually know what their horses are worth, and expecting them to drop their price significantly just because you cannot afford to pay more is unrealistic. You may find that you can work out an arrangement  that is comfortable for both you and the seller. Be prepared to travel to find that perfect horse, and bear the cost of shipping or hauling the horse home.

To select the horse that is right for you, it is important that you are realistic with yourself as to your own equine skills. What is the your experience level (as judged by an expert, such as a riding instructor or professional trainer): beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, or expert? It is best to be as truthful as possible about one's goals and abilities, in order to find a suitable horse.  If you are already an experienced rider or driver, most likely you have a clear idea about the level of training and ability your new horse already should have. If you do not have much horse experience, consider taking some lessons with a qualified trainer  to assess your skill level. The trainer should be able to make a determination of the training level required in your new horse to match your skills. It can prove to be very frustrating to own a horse you cannot enjoy because it is too advanced for your skill level. If there is any question, re-examine your choice and reconsider buying a horse more suitable to your present skill level. If you select a unfinished horse do you have the time and skill to provide further training? It is often less expensive to match yourself well with the horse, than to incur ongoing training fees. Buyers should take care to find out what types of training a horse has and what it includes.


A horse is more than just a pretty color or a cute face. Temperament, age, size, gender, training level, and suitability for your use are just a few of the other things to consider when you select the right horse for you. In addition to the below, make a list of the 5 most important attributes or characteristics the horse must have for you to purchase it. Whatever matters most to you. This list will be the basis of your search for that "perfect", horse. When you find a promising horse, refer back to it and see how he/she measures up. Hopefully, doing so will prevent you from being tempted to buy a horse simply because it is close by, or a "bargain", when in reality, it isn't what you really want, or isn't suitable for your purpose(s) and/or skill level. You may have to compromise on one item, but if the horse really does not fit the description on the list, you should either reevaluate your list or pass on the horse. There are many horses available and you need to resist the temptation to fall in love with an unsuitable horse.

Most people find that of all the characteristics possessed by horses, the right temperament is one of the most important. Temperament is often a breed characteristic, however it will vary within individuals of the breed. If at all possible spend some time with the horse you are considering in order to assess that individuals disposition.

At what age does your selected breed of horse reach it's physical and mental maturity? The advantage to purchasing a youngster is that you have more control over its basic handling and training. You must however have the knowledge to complete it's training yourself or be able to pay the fees to have it done professionally at a later date. On the other hand, the advantages to purchasing an older horse is that the bulk of its elementary training should be behind it and it may be ready to fully enjoy right away. When purchasing an older horse, you should determine what kind of handling and training history it has.  If this cannot be determined, you may have to to go back to basics, depending on  what his former experiences were, good or bad so be prepared for that possibility. Do not overlook the teenage horse! Gaited horses generally live long and useful lives and some of the best buys are the teenagers.  If you are considering an older horse, make the effort to determine what kind of “mileage” your prospective purchase has had, as it will help you evaluate how much stress was involved. Has the horse been passed from one owner to the next or has he been a one or two owner horse?

The various gaited breeds come in all different sizes. One of the most common scenarios is American riders with "John Wayne Syndrome". You know, there is no such thing as a GOOD small horse. Well these folks are missing out on MANY horses that could be the perfect match for them! Most gaited horses are strong and durable, and capable of carrying riders of larger proportions. Size should be a consideration, but it should not be of high priority on your search list.

In most instances it is safe to state, that if you do not intend to breed you do not need a stallion. A mare can always be bred later, but some are inconsistent in their behavior during estrus.  The question of breeding potential in your prospective purchase is important if the primary use of your horse will be breeding, you should be selecting only stock that meets the highest criteria, especially in terms of temperament, type, and conformation. The steady, reliable, and consistent temperament and performance of geldings often make them great choices for family recreational horses.

Training Level
Horses are never too old to learn and many individuals are very capable of learning new and different disciplines. Generally speaking, the inexperienced rider combined with the inexperienced horse is a poor match, and is best avoided unless you can afford and have professional help that can help the two of you make it work. Remember green and green make greener!  It is also important to consider the time factor, horse generally take considerable time to train, if you do not have the time to devote to this effort, get one that is ready to perform at the level you need.

Suitability for Your Use
If you are going to trail ride the horse, then it is important that he has experience on the trails and not just in the show ring. The reverse is also true, do not expect to have an instant show ring star out of the trail horse of many years. If you are purchasing an older gaited horse, do not underestimate the value of the training it may already have had in a discipline or two that is different from the one you intend for your use. The horse with various level of experiences has obviously more value than the one who has been limited to riding around the farm only. Your situation may change or you may decide to sell your horse at a later date. The better and more extensive its training, the greater enjoyment and versatility that horse has for you. And, if you need to sell your horse, your opportunities for securing a good home are far better.

If you have determined that you want a trained horse, you need to determine what that means to you. For different people a "trained horse" means different things, to most people a trained horse is one that knows all basic work which includes stop, go, turn (without "dragging" the head around!), backup, stand for mounting, stand for saddling, tie, load, clip, turn on the fore, turn on the hind, disengage hindquarters, trailer load, and other things. The trained horse will give you proper responses for proper cues 99.99% of the time. An experienced trainer or breeder as well as a good veterinarian can provide immeasurable assistance and perhaps help you avoid disappointments in the future.

Take NOTES, soon the horses will begin to run together in your memory.

Have a Pre Purchase Exam by a Vet!!!!

Once you have determined that the horse meets all your requirements, it is a good practice to have a veterinarian of your choosing perform a pre-purchase exam.  It makes a lot of sense for you to be present at the pre-purchase exam, if at all possible. This will allow you to discuss findings with your veterinarian as they are made. Such discussions may save you money and will undoubtedly influence how the examination proceeds.
Have a reproductive exam included on a horse you intend to use for breeding.

A mares Breeding Soundness Evaluation (BSE) should include an overall physical examination and a detailed examination of the reproductive tract to identify any problems that might interfere with this individual's ability to conceive, carry, give birth to, and raise a healthy foal.  A history of the mares general care such as the deworming schedule she has bee kept on, records of previous illnesses or injuries and medications are important (knowledge of steroid or other hormonal treatments is particularly useful). Some chronic conditions can cause a mare difficulty in meeting the physical demands of late gestation, these include  laminitis (founder) or chronic obstructive  pulmonary disease (heaves).  Conformational flaws that can be inherited should be identified (such as a parrot mouth or a club foot). A thorough assessment of the normalcy of the mammary gland should be part of the exam.

Out of conflict of interest concerns, most veterinarians will not perform pre-purchase exams if they already are employed by the seller. The American Association of Equine Practitioners can help you locate a veterinarian qualified to perform an equine pre-purchase exam, and their contact information is:

American Association of Equine Practitioners
4075 Iron Works Pike, Lexington, KY 40511-8434
606/233-0147, fax 606/233-1968
Consider having an appraisals performed by a professional Equine Appraiser. The equine appraisal is based on a field examination for confirmation and physical appearance as well as pedigrees and performance in the show ring  in order to place a current  market value for either legal, financial or insurance reasons. There is a strict code of ethics and rules established by the American Society of Equine Appraisers, make sure your choice of Appraiser is a member. You also want to be sure that they are very familiar with the breed of Gaited Horse you are investigating.

If you are going to look at a horse, ask the person selling it NOT to catch it before you get there (or just arrive early, before they've caught it.) That way you can see for yourself if there's a problem catching him or not. Be especially cautious if:

Prior to  pre purchase exam being done, you can only hope to pick up a "Red Flag" suggestive of some problem the horse may have. Unfortunately these flags may be subtle. You will undoubtedly miss a few things but the more exams you do, the better eye you'll develop.

Does the horse:

For safety, it is a good idea to require that the seller of the horse first demonstrate it. Then, you should try the horse in a controlled situation, such as an arena, before taking it out into an open area. Ride the horse in the type of situation in which you will be using it, for instance, out on the trail in the company of other horses. Preferably, the horse should be tried out on more than one occasion, so that you can get a clearer idea of the horse's true temperament and abilities.

Will the horse:

Try the horse in under as many circumstances as possible, for instance:
You need to know up front whether the horse is registered, and with which registry. Ask to view the original registration papers. Make sure that the seller can have the horse transferred into your name, ask for assurance that the transfer go through in a reasonable amount of time be part of a written purchase agreement.

A valid contract creates legal obligations between the parties, and allows for enforcement in court if the contract is broken. PUT IT IN WRITING, and oral contract leaves much up to memory which fades with time, the advantage of a written contract is that neither the existence of the contract nor its terms are in doubt.

Every Contract Should:

Be observant, critical and above all, take your time. Purchasing a horse is much like finding a spouse; neither should be done in haste
© Beverly J Whittington 2000