If you're new to horses, you might be thinking "I want a horse, but how on earth do I go about getting one?" There are a lot of tips we can share with you to help you avoid scams, traders, lemons, and other "oopsies". If anyone has any more ideas to add to this list, please share!
1. If you've never owned a horse, don't go into it unprepared. You need to have a secure paddock with shelter, adequate feed, and room to run; or else board at a stable. You need to read up on the aspects of horse care, talk to friends you know who own horses, and visit with your local vet in order to plan for the best possible home for your new horse. Begin riding lessons and help out around a stable, so you'll be able to have a basic knowledge of horses before you tack on the responsibility of caring for your own.
2. You can ask your lesson instructor to help you find a good horse for you to buy. Often they know of horse breeders in the area that are reputable for raising and training good horses. If you can find a horse to buy from a local stable or someone you know, that's the best route to take. Ask if you can begin lessons on the horse with your instructor, for a trial period, before you actually buy the horse. If this isn't possible, at least ask your trainer to go along with you to watch the horse being ridden by the owner first, and then with you riding. Schedule a prepurchase exam with a veterinarian, before you buy.
3. Other methods you can use to find horses is through the internet, with websites like Liverystable.net. When you find a horse you are interested in, here are some questions to ask when you contact the owner: How long have you owned this horse? (If less than a year, beware.) Why are you selling? Does this horse have any known bad habits? Has this horse ever bucked, reared, run away, or kicked someone? How old was this horse when it started training? Do you personally know the trainer and recommend the horse as being trained well? Was this horse ridden regularly this past year? Do you have any knowledge of the sire and dam of this horse, whether or not they were good riding horses or have any outstanding accomplishments? Do you have the registration papers for this horse, and does the horse sell as registered? Do you consider this horse to be a good match for a rider of my level? Is this horse hard to catch? Does it have any known vices such as cribbing, wind-sucking, stall-weaving, pacing, etc? Is this horse easy to trim, shoe, bathe, trailer-load, etc? Does this horse have good ground manners, or are there areas he still needs work on? What potential disciplines would you recommend for this horse, and is there any reason why he would not make a good (fill in your intended discipline) horse? Are there any soundness issues or illnesses in this horse? Past injuries or problems?
4. When you have narrowed down your search and the above questions have been answered to your satisfaction, you will want to go take a look at the horse. Don't go horse-shopping by yourself. Take a trusted horse-owner who has years of experience or else ask (or "hire") your riding instructor to accompany you. You should schedule enough time with the horse's owner and your trainer/friend so that the owner can demonstrate all of the horse's capabilities to you. For instance, let the owner know you would like to see him catch the horse, tack up, ride the horse through all of its paces, and so forth. Then your trainer/friend should ride it, and after that, yourself. During all of these stages, you and your trainer should be watching the horse for any sign of a limp, short-stride, unruly attitude, balkiness, buddy-sourness, etc. If you can find any fault, congratulate yourself on money not wasted, thank the owner, and go home.
5. If you instinctively know that you have found the perfect horse for you, and your trainer/friend agrees wholeheartedly, then you're ready to shedule the vet to perform the prepurchase exam on the horse. This is something you will pay for, before you agree to purchase the horse. If the owner does not agree to the prepurchase exam, walk away. Be sure to inform the vet what you intend to do with the horse. For instance, an exam for a broodmare will be different than an exam for a barrel racing horse.
6. Once all of these things have taken place, you should draw up a bill of sale for the owner to sign. It can be a simple statement of the transaction, or you can download a bill of sale form from the internet. If you are buying a registered horse, the seller should give you the registration papers when you hand him the money for the horse (if he's waiting for any reason, understand you may be buying a "grade" horse that isn't worth half what you're paying for it!). With these papers, you need a Transfer of Registration form with the seller's signature and information written in. This enables you to send the registration in to have the ownership changed over into your name. It is like the title to a vehicle. You need a signed Transfer form in order for the Registry to make the changes, though.
7. You are now the proud owner! A few things to remember when you take a horse home to new surroundings -- don't just turn him in with his pasture-mates and let them run. Keep him in a stall or small secure pen for a day or two to let him get used to the area and horses around him. If he is going to be pastured with other horses, let them meet over a secure fence (no wire or sharp edges) and "talk it over" before putting them in the same pen. If your new horse is going to have a large pasture, it is wise to lead him around the perimeter of the field so he is acquainted with his boundaries, especially with wire fencing that is difficult to see clearly. The worst thing would be for him to spook and run through a fence the first day you bring him home.
Good luck, and enjoy your horse!