Tips for Buying a Horse:

  • overview
  • the importance of getting it right
  • matching your goals
  • matching rider & horse
  • temperament
  • conformation
  • size
  • color
  • gender
  • pedigree
  • age
  • reducing risks
  • second opinion
  • Assessing Value: Market Overview
  • Assessing Horse Value: Horse Price Drivers

buying a horse:

There are many considerations when buying a horses for use either for pleasure riding or competitive riding. There are many considerations when buying a horseSelecting the right horse for you is an extremely important factor how much enjoyment you will ultimately get out of the ownership experience. This section is designed to help people make a better informed purchase decision.

express highlights:

  1. Be clear on your goals and your riding ability before setting out to look at horses
  2. Matching a horse to your skill level is critical to your success
  3. Temperament, size, conformation, and the horse's mind are critical in selecting a horse
  4. All other considerations are merely personal preference
  5. Buy from a safe source as a risk reduction strategy
  6. South Molton's primary goal is to match buyers with horses and not just make a sale

Overview of Buying a horse:

There are number of urban myths and rural lure that are misleading. Additionally, many horse professionals have very strong opinions about what makes a "good horse." However, much of it is just lure and opinions. Great and not so great horses come in all breeds, colors, forms, etc.

In this section of our web site, we will try to help you in the selection process of buying a horse as part of our philosophy that informed buyers have better experiences with their horses. We have done extensive research on this subject and we will focus on helping you distinguish facts from opinions.

Here we focus on helping the recreational rider select a horse. When selecting a horse for general recreational use, such as trail riding, we believe there are seven important aspects:

  1. Know your goals and select a horse that will safely meet those goals.
  2. Matching rider skill level to the horses skill level.
  3. Matching temperament.
  4. A horse must have conformational soundness to meet your goals.
  5. Buying the right horse.
  6. Purchasing a horse of an appropriate size for the rider's size.
  7. Buying from a safe source.

Other aspects like color, gender, etc are personal preference. But given that we have heard such strong statements from other professionals around these non-critical factors, we will address them as well.

In performance categories, what makes a great horse is specific to the targeted discipline. However, all good performance horses, start with the same foundation skills as pleasure horses.

If you a looking for a performance horses, South Molton horses are athletic, sound, well mannered, and have a sound foundation of training common to all disciplines. If you are looking for a performance caliber horse, please call us and we will be glad to assist you in selecting a horse for competitive events.

the importance of getting it right when buying a horse:

express highlights from below:

  1. Buyer beware: the number one reason people sell their horse is dissatisfaction with the horse
  2. Cost of a wrong decision will likely costs you thousands of dollars; The right decision will be very enjoyable and rewardingeven with budget priced horses
  3. You risk serious injury if you buy an unsafe horse.
  4. Buy from safe sources; few businesses/people are there for you once you take possession
  5. South Molton will share the risks with you, help you find a horse that works best for you and will be there to help you after the sale

How we can help: South Molton will share the risk with you and make every effort to ensure your experience is as good as possible through our:

  • 60 money back guarantee
  • One day "butt in saddle" transition training the day you pick up your horse that focuses on you and your horse's future success together
  • 6 free hours follow-up training for you and your horse to work your transition needs
  • 1 year of telephone follow-up support
  • Low-cost coaching based trail rides for on-going development for you and your horse.

avoid costly mistakes in horse purchases:

Making the right purchase selection is so critical to your enjoyment and experience. But buyer regrets are common due to poor judgment in selecting a horse. And worse yet the costs of an incorrect decision is often times disastrous.

Did you know that the number one reason that people sell their horse is that they are dissatisfied with horse? It's true. The Horse Industry Association of Alberta stated that in their 2003 study conducted by Weststar Inc. that nearly 1 in 5 horses were sold with the seller stating their reason for selling the horse was “Dissatisfaction with horse.”

In fact, when you remove breeders, trainers and agents from Weststar's findings that number jumps to a shocking 1 in every 3.8 horses sold are by someone selling their problem to others.

And the really sad news is when we look at data across various industry studies it appears that the average financial loss on the selling price ranges between 40% to 50% not including the investments made in training, cost of care, etc that ranges $2,000 to $4000 annually.

Obviously, we would prefer that you buy one of our horses. Even you decide to buy elsewhere, we hope that you use our information in our sections on “selecting a horse” and the “resource center” to make a more informed decision. Because the sad fact is 1 in every 3.8 horses for sale each year have already been someone else’s disappointment.

matching your goals when buying a horse:

To get the best ownership experience possible you need to be clear about your goals. The type of house suitable for someone learning to ride is vastly different from the horse suitable for a accomplished barrel racer. Be clear on your personal goals to ensure the best match for you when buying a horseIn fact, there in an inverse relationship in that riders with less riding skills will need a horse with more skill/training to compensate.

A common mistake we see people making in buying a horse is: buying a horse that is more horse than they need to archive their goals and for their skills.

As throughout this section, we will focus on the recreational rider. Those of you that are performance and advance riders, we assume you can evaluate horses based on the specific criteria and that you have the experience necessary to make a sound buying decision.

Considerations in Buying a Horse of Novice and beginner Riders:

Safety, learning and positive experiences are paramount for you. You will need a horse suitable for beginners. You will learn and get better by focusing on your skills not issues with the horse.

Focus on a horse slightly smaller than you, exceptionally willing and trusting of people, quiet, and unambiguous. It may sound boring, but it will maximize your learning curve and safety. You will want a horse with good skills and lots of experience. If buying a used horse, be aware of any bad habits that they may have picked up from their current owners as those habits will likely get worse under the control of beginners.

Also, realize that you will likely want a different horse as you move into the intermediate and advanced skill levels. But for most recreational beginners, this horse will be suitable for you for 3 to 5 years. Consider a lease or trade up arrangement when acquiring a horse.

Considerations in Buying a Horse for Intermediate riders :

Intermediate riders run the spectrum of needs and goals. But perhaps the biggest things that separates riders in this class are speed, endurance, and performance.

Those of you who like to keep things slow should look for horses with medium athletic abilities, a calm and quiet demeanors, pleasure quality conformation, and be well trained with a moderate level of experience.

Those of you who have a need for speed or plan on long, hard trail rides should look for horses with good athleticism, higher energy, and performance quality conformation.

For those of you looking to performance disciplines, South Molton Ranch has a range of athletic horses with great conformation that are well suited for many disciplines from halter class to speed and agility events.

matching rider & horse skill levels when buying a horse:

There are many terms in the industry to describe a horse's skill level. However, there are no industry standards around those terms (see our horse help center for more on terminology). Matching Rider and Horse Skill LevelHere we will use South Molton's certification levels to define our horse's skill level. Most importantly, we document our horse's skills and publish them openly to help you find a horse to meet your needs.

For the novice rider, avoid horses that are advertised as “started”, “well started”, “30-days (or any number in place of the 30) professional training”, “30-days riding” as this will likely create a situation where risk of injury to you is extremely high. These horses are too green for you and a green horse and green rider makes a dangerous combination.

Also, never buy a horse sold at an auction style sale as your experience level will likely mean you will purchase a horse with too little training to be safe for you. Look for horses advertised as well-broke or lots of experience. You will be better off using a horse provided by a riding instructor. We would suggest you defer purchasing a horse until your skills have advanced to the intermediate level. This will assure you that you can keep things slow, controlled and safe while learning.

For the intermediate rider, you will be likely better off if you follow the advice above for novice riders, the only exceptions being if you plan to rider a greener horse under the watchful eye of a training/coach. However, if you are quite athletic and have had good success in the past with all horses, you may be successful on a horse that is truly well started and above.

For the novice rider, please do not be discouraged. But the cold reality is: people get hurt on horses when there is a mismatch of the rider's and horse's skills. Novice riders are more prone to being injured than other riders and more prone to make inexperienced decisions. Ideally, you should consider a program that let's both you and your horse develop together.

The following tables outlines appropriate matches of a rider's skill level to the horse's skill level. The overriding factor for South Molton in matching a horse to a rider is safety and ensuring that our customer's have the best possible experience with owning a horse.

Rider Skill Level
South Molton Horse Skill Level/Skill Certification
Early stages
Pre-Rider Training Certified
Saddle 1 Certified: Elementary Saddle
Saddle 2 Certified: Experienced Saddle
Saddle 3 Certified: Advanced Saddle
Novice rider
Not suitable
Not suitable
Not suitable
May be suitable with an experienced coach.
Suitable for arena riding or supervised trail rides while developing your skills
Intermediate rider
Only through horse-rider program
Only through horse-rider program
May be suitable with an experienced coach.
Good match
Good match
Advanced rider
Horses at any developmental stage can be well suited for advanced riders depending on their goals and personal choices.

Published: October 2008 / Last Revised: July 2009

Buying a horse with the right temperament

If you are planning to purchase a trail horse one of the most important things to look for is a horse with a suitable temperament. It is important to realize horses have natural differences in temperament just like people. Some are outgoing and confident; some are nervous and unsure; some love to go new places while others would give anything to never leave home. Although training and exposure can influence these natural traits nothing ever changes a fearful horse into a brave horse. Continue reading »

relevance of Equine conformation when buying a horse:

Horse conformation is a quite complex and often misunderstood subject. Here are some key facts you should know:

  • Conformational quality is discipline specific. For example, a horse with good conformation for a jumper could be considered poor conformation for barrel racer.
  • Conformational quality is also breed specific.
  • Just like people, there is no such thing as a perfect horse. Expect to find conformational flaws with virtually every horse you see.
  • Most conformational faults, do not effect performance. Even with faults, many horses still make sound and effective riding horses.
  • Many champion horses and horses competing at the highest levels have conformational faults.
  • Other than physical defects (major conformation flaws), there is no clinical data that makes a link between conformation qualities to performance.
  • A horse's mind and temperament is much more important than conformation in making a good pleasure horse in every aspect of the industry: from competing to recreation. This is especially true for pleasure and recreational horses.

We at South Molton Ranch rate conformation into three classes outlined below. Conformation can be tricky but healthy and sound is where to focus your assessmentTo arrive at the classification we use Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development 100 point system titled "Assessing Athletic Movement In Horses." Rating our horses using this system gives you an objective basis for reviewing the conformation of our horses. We provide a Conformational and Temperament Assessment for every horse we sell - see the "skills, training, certifications and other documentation" tab for the horse you are interested in on the horses for sale page.

  1. Performance class conformation: free of conformational faults that could affect performance in competitive events.
  2. Pleasure class conformation: free of conformational faults that could affect the horse's ability to perform recreational duties well such as trail rides.
  3. Pet class and below: horses in this class are not admitted into the our training program and are not sold under our brand name.

The best way to summarize conformation in your horse buying process is:

  • While conformation is important, the key issue for recreational riders is to be sure the horse's overall health is good, they are physically sound, free from injury, and free of major conformation flaws that effect the horse's ability to carry a rider.
  • Conformation is a more important factor when choosing a performance horse, but conformation quality is discipline specific.
  • The mind and temperament are overwhelmingly more important than conformation for pleasure horses.

A surprisingly good summary on conformation can be found on Wikipedia.

For more information on the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development 100 point system titled "Assessing Athletic Movement In Horses" click here

relevance of horse size when buying a horse:

Selecting a horse the right size for you does matter when you are a less experienced rider. Selecting a horse the right size for you does matter when you are a less experienced rider.

If you are a novice rider, you want to select a horse that is easy to mount and one that is not overpowering. You likely have many aspects of your riding skills that you are still working on, so select a horse that does not pose additional challenges related to its size.That way you can get off on the right foot every time you ride. Many people love the look of those big horses, but they are more suitable experienced/advanced riders.

If you are petite, you will likely find a small horse (14 - 15 hands) more comfortable to ride.

relevance of horse color when buying a horse:

It has been quite obvious from our dealings with horse buyers over the years that color is one of the top selection criteria used by some individuals when buying a horse.

Unfortunately, horses are not automobiles where a certain model of a car works exactly the same in every color. With horses, every horse and rider combination creates a unique situation. A friend of ours once said, “Color does not matter too much once you are on their back. All you care about then is how well they are behaving.” How true...

relevance of horse color when buying a horse

Despite some horse professionals declarations that horses of a certain color are better, smarter, easier to train, is nothing more than a baseless opinion. There is no scientific evidence that a horse's color makes them a better horse to ride. Good horses (and bad) come in every color possible.

While you may love certain colors of horses, we suggest that you put that preference in perspective with other important qualities when looking for a horse to purchase.

Your first considerations should always be temperament, matching your skills as a rider to the horse's skills, finding a horse that meets your goals, and one of appropriate size. Once you have narrowed your choices of horses based on these criteria, than use things such as color and gender when choosing between equally appropriate horses for you.

Safety and enjoyment are what you are shooting for in selecting a horse. Do not let color cloud your judgment.

Published: October 2008 / Last Revised: July 2009

relevance of horse gender when buying a horse:

When selecting a horse, gender, like color is a personal preference, especially in horses intended for recreational riding.

Generally speaking, geldings and mares are the overwhelming choice of horses for any recreational rider. While stallions are best left for professionals in the performance side of the industry.

Mare v. Gelding considerations when buying a horse:

While geldings seem to be the popular choice, there seems to be no (at least that we have found) clinically proven evidence that one is better than the other with respect to training, mood, ease of handling, etc.

Now plenty of professional horse people have their opinions. In doing research for this page, we have made the following general observations in the industry:

  • There are studies that have confirmed there is no gender effect on temperamental traits in horses.
  • There is wide agreement that training techniques should not be altered for gender.
  • There seems to be an equal number of people that say a mare is better and those that say a gelding is better and those that say there is no difference.
  • The split in opinions seems to run strong along human gender lines. More male writers seem convinced that mares are moody during their time of the month and that geldings are more even keeled. Interesting?
  • Sellers ask more for geldings, due to supply and demand issues - real or perceived.
  • Some boarding facilities (especially those with small properties or poorly designed facilities) only accept geldings or discourage taking mares.

Our direct observations in the hundreds of horses we have bred and trained over the last twenty years:

  • We cannot generalize that one is better than the other.
  • We have had a equal number of geldings and mares become good riding horses.
  • We have had an equal number of gelding and mares that were dropped out of our training programs due to learning, behavioral and other issues.
  • We have treated more geldings for herd bound issues than mares.
  • Dominant geldings will keep other geldings away from a mare in heat if in same corral and they will herd up the mares much like a stud will do.
  • It is always troublesome to have mares in heat in corrals adjacent to stallions. Always provide a space buffer.
  • There is no size generalization as well as we seem to always have about equal numbers of small, medium, and large horses in both genders.
  • We have found mares and geldings to be equal to care for in boarding and facilities management. They key is in facilities design not gender.
  • You will likely pay a premium for a gelding over a mare with equal abilities and skills.

Bottom line: choose personality/temperament over gender.

relevance of horse pedigree when buying a horse:

According to the Wayne Loch, Department of Animal Sciences - University of Missouri in his 1999 article "Selecting Your Riding Horse" states that pedigree has little influence outside of racing and other highly competitive fields and that "a distant ancestor has a low probability of contributing much to an individual horse."

We will have to admit that it took us many years to come to our conclusion about the importance of pedigree in pleasure horses. We find Mr Loch's statement above to be quite true. We have owned some horses with impressive pedigrees only to determine that their offspring did not necessarily possess the qualities that we wanted in our program.

It would be non-productive to argue a case either way about the importance of pedigree in the horse industry as there are endless examples to support any point you wish to make. But we can tell you about the horses in our program.

Through years of monitoring the behavioral traits of our breeding stallions and mares we have determined it is particularly important to select suitable mares as they influence their foals both genetically and via maternal behavior. With careful breeding and screening we are able to ensure that the horses that enter our training program have the behavioral tendencies to be trusting to humans, confident, patient, willing to perform and less apprehensive.

Relevance of age when buying a horse:

If you are a beginner looking for a safe, trained horse to learn with, a common misperception is: an older horse is safer than a younger horse. It would be unwise to make this generalization. Reactive or fearful behavior will not go away with age. A safe horse is the product of inherent temperament, training, and handling not age. A horse will become steadier as they age and gain experience but only if they are trained, handled properly and used consistently.

Continue reading relevance of the horse's age when buying a horse »

Managing Buying Risks When Buying a Horse:

Unfortunately, for every two happy horse owners there seems to be one person unhappy horse owner.  There are ways to help manage your risk when buying a horse.  This section is designed to give prospective horse buyers some inside tips to help improve your odds.

Consideration for the Source of the Horse:

If you follow the steps in the other tabs, you will have already greatly reduced your risk. 

Another key aspect is where and who you buy your horse from.  We will review below the common sources for horse purchases.  While we may have an inherent bias, we will attempt to combine our experiences with external view points to make this section as balanced as possible. Keep in mind we choose a model with the most direct accountability to the buyer.

We will cover the sources from safest to most risky places to buy a horse:

The safest places to buy a horse:

Breeders: Breeders tend to be the safest place to buy a horse. According to Wayne Loch, Department of Animal Sciences, University of Missouri Extension, “Buying privately from a breeder is usually one of the best and safest ways to get a horse.” There are 100s of reputable breeder all over North America. 

When selecting a breeder, be sure to select a breeder that specializes in the discipline that matches your goals or intended use.   Be sure to make sure the breeder actually owns trained personal horses or practices their discipline.  This way you can actually see a direct example of the results of their breeding program in action.  Beware of breeders who are promoting the accomplishments of dead relatives of their sires or dams as a grandfather that they have never owned states nothing to the actual quality of their breeding program.  

Be cautious when buying a horse being sold off discipline. A common approach when a horse does not cut it in their discipline is to sell it as a recreational horse.  The problem is that likely the very things that make the horse a bad reining horse, for example, are likely things that will make him a problem recreational horse.  Fear and temperament issues are common reason a horse is dropped from a discipline program. 

Trainers: Trainers are also a safe place to buy a horse. Trainers survive on their reputation and they want their customers happy so they will pass along recommendations to their friends and acquaintances. When selecting a trainer to purchase your horse, be sure to match a trainer who trains horses that match your goals or desired discipline.

When screening trainers, look for trainers that have a plan and have an organized training methodology. Be sure to ask how they select and acquire the horses they train. Also inquire about what they do with their "hard cases". You want to find a trainer that has a policy about dangerous horses or horses that may be difficult for a new owner to enjoy.

Medium Risk places to buy a horse:

Private Sellers: Buying from a private seller carries medium risks.  Keep in mind that 26% of horses for sale are being sold by a owner that is dissatisfied with the horse.  When buying from a private seller, be sure you ask a lot of questions about their experience on the horse to make sure they have been happy with the horse.  Most people will be honest so make sure you ask direct questions about the horse’s history with riders.  The biggest risk in buying from a private individual is the owner's handling of the horse as even well trained horses suffer a decline in skill level when ridden or handled poorly. These problems tend to only surface post-sale.

High Risk places to buy a horse:

Dealers: Buying from a dealer carries above-average risk.  Dealers tend to flip horses where they buy and sell a horse very quickly.  They tend to know little of the horse’s history and make little or no investment in the horse before reselling the horse.  They also tend to provide only bare essential nutrition to horses while in their care to keep costs down.   A common way to do business is to purchase low price horses in one market and immediately transport and sell the horse in a higher priced market. 

Auctions: The most risky way to buy a horse.  Stay away from auction marts (open auctions) as they are dumping grounds for horses and sorting through the inventory can be difficult even for the most seasoned professional.  If you use auctions to buy horses, production sales are the safest form of auction sales.  Look for production sales from breeders who train their own horses and appear to be selling excess stock.

Common things you need to know about auctions:

  • It is virtually impossible to judge the temperament of a horse in an auction setting. Horses with bad temperament traits, such as mistrust for humans and overly fearful, will exhibit the opposite in such a setting. It always amazes us that horses we have direct experience with, will suddenly buddy-up to the owner for protection as the owner is their only familiar source of security. This human, buddy up thing suddenly ends when the buyer gets the horse home.
  • The auctioneer likely never saw the horse before it entered the ring and they are making the stuff up as they go.  Their job is to get the price up as their commission is based on the selling price.  We have been amazed to hear some of the things being said about horses we have sold at auctions.   (By the way: we have always set the record straight with the buyer after the sale and we always have had a full disclosure policy when a prospective buyer took the time to asked us questions before the sale.) 
  • Do not discount consignee horses.  Consignee horses tend to be pushed to late in the sale, but often times are as good as quality or better horses than the horses of the main seller.  When we were younger, we sold very good horses at production sales.  However, never buy a consigner horse from an absentee consigner. 
  • You can tell a lot about a production auction by the write ups in the catalog.  If they highlight the accomplishments of horses they never owned, then you got a more risky situation.  It is common to make the write-up sounds is if it is the sire’s accomplishments, when in fact it is those of a distance relative.  Be sure to match the write-up to the pedigree. The direct sire and dam have virtually all the attributes associated with their off-springs. Grandparents accomplishments and attributes are likely inconsequential to any prospect. 

a second opinion:

If you wish a second opinion on factors in buying a horse, here is an excellent write up provided by the University of Missouri Extension. Click here to read it

Assessing Horse Value: Part 1 – Understanding the Market: an Overview

Assessing horse value is exceptionally difficult even for a seasoned professional. Within the horse industry there are many different markets which drive the value of a particular horse. In this section we will cover the entire market but the overall focus is on the recreational horse market.

Assessing Horse Value, part 1 is the 15th installment is our tips for buying a horse. You can find the previous 14 chapters by going to Selecting a Horse on our web site. Due to the length and complexity of this subject, we will cover “Assessing Horse Value” in three parts:

  • Part 1: Understanding the Market: an Overview
  • Part 2: What Drives a Horse’s Price and Understanding the Various Horse Price-Ranges (September 2009)
  • Part 3: Using Your Understanding of the Horse Market to Make a Better Purchase Decision (fall/winter 2009)

You might think this is very convenient for people whose business is selling horses to be writing about the value of horses. However, the reason we write this is all about why we developed “Horses for the rest of us™.” It comes down to our commitment to the industry to improve the rider’s experiences with horses; helping to reduce the fears and tears. Our guiding principles and ethics code are available for review on our web site – as far as there are aware no other seller that publishes theirs.

The Big Picture of Horse Value

The most expensive horse you can buy is one you do not use.

What you should pay for a horse is no simple matter. We understand that affordability is the ultimate issue for most people. By helping you understand the market we hope to help you avoid costly mistakes.

We hear so many sad stories from people we interact throughout each year. So many people seem to end up with a horse(s) that was so inappropriate for them that they got hurt or became so afraid of getting hurt that they hardly ever ride. In listening to their stories, there frequently seemed to be a common element in them finding their "well broke" horse in the “bargain” bin.

Understanding what you can realistically except from horses in various price-ranges is critical to making a good purchase decision.

In general, the value of a horse, what drives the horse’s price, is the combination of pedigree, conformation and training (Oklahoma State University, “First Time Horse Ownership: Selecting Horses and Budgeting Horse Interests”). For performance and show horse, success in competition adds a fourth dimension of the value of a particular horse.

Facts and Figures on Horse Value

We found two government funded studies that provided clinical data on horse prices:

  1. The Canadian Horse Industry Research Study by Equine Canada (2003)
  2. A 1998 report on The Texas Horse Industry

The Canadian study found that the average price (2003) for horses in Alberta was $5,005 (CAD) and the Texas study found that the average selling price (1998) in Texas was $5,661 (USD). Neither study attempted to classify horse value in terms of skills, discipline, breed, etc.

The Stables at South Molton’s market snapshot of horses for sale in Alberta conducted the beginning of August 2009 found 279 horses for sale listed on and yielded the following information:

  • The data is relatively consistent with previous market snapshots
  • Prices for broke, non-competitive horses average in the range two to three times higher than for started horses
  • Prices for competition level horses average two to three times higher than for broke non-competitive horses
  • Slightly less than 1 in 5 horses for sale were classified as broke
  • Prospects and “started” horses make up nearly 60% of the market
  • Asking prices for prospects and untrained horses are wide ranging, inconsistent, and follow no clear reasoning or logic
  • Write-ups for every horse continue to suggest all horse for sale are nearly perfect

The following table is a summary of our Alberta horses for sale market snap shot:

August Horse Price Market Snapshot

What does the horse’s price tell you?

What price you should expect to pay for a horse is an old question. For most people it simply comes down to affordability. However, we find most inexperienced and moderately experienced riders have too high expectations of what their dollars can actually buy. Additionally, many sellers are more than willing to let the buyer believe what they want to hear.

Understanding the horse skills available in a price range will help you find a horse that more closely matches your needs and just as importantly might help you avoid making a costly mistake.

The price of a horse can tell you many things. On the positive side, horses with particular qualities and skills tend to live in a particular price range. For example, virtually all well broke; reliable horses are found in the mid and high-end price ranges. On the down side, price cannot be used to assure you that the horse is indeed what it is advertised to be because, unfortunately, the horse market is still very much “buyer beware.”

The Horse Price Ranges Overview

The horse market can be broken down into four broad price ranges:

  1. The budget/bargain price range
  2. Mid-price range
  3. High-end price range
  4. Performance price range

Horses for Sale Market Price Range BreakdownThe horse market is a combined commodity and specialty market. At the budget/bargain end of the price range, it is very much a commodity market as the horses sold in this range have very little or no investment training and either no skills or rudimentary skills. A horse’s price moves up as the horse acquires skills through training, use and how well they apply those skills. As you move up in price-range the market becomes increasingly specialized.

The graphic to the right gives an overview of the general horse price market. Given the complexity and broadness of the market you will find exceptions in all price-ranges. The lines between the price ranges are more blurry than rigid, but you can use this chart as a guideline that is better than 80% accurate. In each price range in the graphic you can see a summary of what you can except to find in the range as well as the downsides.

There appears to be a transition zone between the budget/bargain and mid price-ranges. This transition zone seems to be an extension of the budget/bargain price-range as nearly 90% of the horses in the transition zone are prospects and started horses, but priced higher.

The main challenge you will face is the lack of standards in the industry for commonly used terms such as “started”, “broke”, and “prospects”. These terms are used by sellers very loosely and the horses’ skills vary considerably within each category. For definition of terms such as started, broke, prospect visit our horse help center.

The data and introduction to the various horse price ranges provides the foundation information for assessing horse value and help you determine if the price for a given horse is reasonable. In part 2 of Assessing Horse Value we will explain what drives the prices of horses and what you will find in each of these price ranges in more detail.

Assessing Horse Value, Part 2 – Horse Price Drivers

Assessing Horse Value, Part 2 – Horse Price Drivers is the 16th installment is our tips for buying a horse. You can find the previous 15 chapters by going to Selecting a Horse on our website. Due to the length and complexity of this subject, we will cover “Assessing Horse Value” in three parts:

In Assessing Horse Value: Part 1 – Understanding the Market: an Overview, we examined the various horse markets and the types of horse skills you find in various price ranges.

In this section we will examine what drives the price of a horse in various horse markets. In summary, training and skills the horse possesses are the principal elements that drive the value of the horse in most markets. In high-end performance markets, pedigree will be more of a factor.

Price Drivers for Pleasure/Recreation Horses (non-competitive use)

For the pleasure/recreational riding market, the amount of training and skills a horse has contributes 80% of the value of the horse. It is simply all about the training and how well the horse puts that training to use that determines the value of a horse for pleasure/recreational riding. Pedigree and conformation contribute the remaining 20% for the price with the bulk of that being conformation.

Expertly trained horse sell for higher prices than broke horses; broke horse generally sell for higher prices that started horses; started horses generally sell for high prices than Main Components of the Price of a Horseprospects.

We factor in temperament within training as temperament often determines how well a horse learns and applies their skills with a human on its back.

In regards to training, be sure to be aware it is not the number of days of training that is important but how well the horse learned in those hours of training. Horses are just like people, the number of years of schooling generally does not tell you how capable a person is.

A key thing to understand is how much training is needed to make a horse a reliable, safe horse. For a smart, willing horse it typically takes between one and two years of training and practice to take a horse from “un-started” to a horse suitable for an intermediate rider. Despite what you may observe from watching the odd “trainer’s challenge” or some movie, there is just no short cut or magic formula; it takes a willing horse and a lot of time to train a horse to be suitable for the average to beginner rider.

That means you cannot create a “broke” horse by sending your horse off to a trainer for 30 or 60 days of training this only creates a started horse.

Understanding that the demand for well-trained, reliable horses is far great than the real supply makes it simple to understand the price drivers for good, sound, reliable, safe horses.

When assessing the value of a horse being sold by a private individual, it is fair to allow the owner credit for their handling/training of the horse if they are competent and truly improved the horse’s skill level. The horse’s value in the pleasure market being sold by an individual still comes down to how skilled and reliable the horse is. It is fair to ask the seller the basis for their asking price. The basis should include clearly stating the horse’s skills, reliability/safety record and training history.

More About Pedigree

You may be surprised from the earlier statement that pedigree has such a low impact on the value of a pleasure/recreation horse. sire and dam have most influence on value of a pedigreeAfter all, you have been hearing from horse sellers for decades about the fabulous blood lines in their horses. The basic reason for this is that for the vast majority of horses on the market, the only tangible thing a seller can reference is the horse’s pedigree.

However, university studies (Loch, University of Missouri) have shown the ancestors in a pedigree have little influence on how well a given prospect will perform under the saddle. But perhaps the biggest reason is that over breeding in the industry has substantially diluted the value of well bred horses. Put simply there are many more well bred prospects available for sale then the total number of available riders to train them.

Of course there are exceptions. Once you enter the competition show and sporting markets, breeding plays much more of a role in setting value. However, please be aware that the riders in competitive events have different goals than recreational riders. These competitors are often experienced riders and many horses that perform well in this competitive arena are completely unsuitable for the average or beginner rider.

Price Drives for the Prospect Market

First, you must understand what you get when you buy a prospect. A prospect, simply put, is a term used for a horse that has not had anything done with it. Sellers often explain the virtues of the prospect by talking about his ancestors' achievements risky prospectsgoing back multiple generations sighting it as grounds to predict the prospects potential. It is unlikely that this is a good indicator of what the prospect will become as there are many other more compelling influences that will govern the behavior and potential of the young horse in question. When considering pedigree in regards to value the sire and dam should be the focus as beyond this first generation influence generally decreases dramatically.

There is a fine line between prospect and suspect. In the pleasure/recreation prospect market we estimate that less than 1 in 4 prospects have the temperament, intelligence, and ability to become a truly reliable, safe horse for riders with average riding skills if they receive proper handling and training. The sad truth is the vast majority of horse purchased as prospects never make a safe, reliable horse for the majority of riders.

For amateurs, prospects are generally a waste of money. If you do decide to purchase a prospect, you will need to be prepared to make a significant expenditure in training and care before the horse can be safely ridden as well as be prepared for the financial risk that after a significant investment the horse ends up not fulfilling their potential.

Assessing value for prospects is exceptionally difficult. Pedigree and conformation are the main components driving the price of a prospect.

In the end, we believe the risk adjusted price for a prospect makes them the most expensive horses on the market. However, the low up-front cost tempts people into such purchases not realizing the costs and risks ahead.

Prospects are best left for professionals, experienced horse-people in specific disciplines, or people with deep pockets. If you are considering a prospect, unless you are an advanced rider be sure to remember that there is significant probability all that horse will ever do is eat.

Price Drivers for Performance/Competition and Show Horses

Placing a market value in the performance and show market is extremely variable and requires in-depth knowledge of the intended sport. Prices spreads in these markets are tremendous and the differences between the low and high ends of value run in the tens of thousands of dollars.

As mentioned above, pedigree is much more of a factor in this market than in the pleasure/recreation market as premiums are sought for successful horses and their offspring. But the horse’s skills and how well the horse applies their skills in competition are still often the largest component of the price.

Bargain and Budget Price Range Horses

We defined this market as horses priced under $3,000. 

According to Horse Industry Association of Alberta, Industry Profile and Economic Impact Survey of 2003, 65% horses sold for under $3,000.  Affordability is the main reason most horse buyers shop in this price range.

While affordability makes this the largest and most popular price range for horses, it is also the most difficult to find a truly good horse.   Unfortunately, most buyers fail to recognize that virtually all horses found in this price range are work-in-progress and will require many more hours of training.  This likely means, unless you train the horse yourself, you will likely have a few thousand dollars of hidden training costs awaiting you to finish the horse’s training so you can safely and reliably ride it; assuming the horse is trainable.

If you are a bargain hunter, there are bargains to be found here, no doubt.  But few people realize is how few and far between those bargains are actually found.  Fewer buyers have the knowledge or experience to tell a good horse from a not so good horse on subtle but important points.  Additionally, buyers do not realize how easy it is to hide critical information about a horse during a showing.

The main issues you need to be aware of if you shop in this bargain/budget market are:

  • The vast majority of the skill level the horses in this market are much closer to started than broke
  • Few people with a truly good, reliable, well-trained horse sells it cheaply unless they are in financial difficulties or just looking to make a fast exit from horse ownership
  • This market is also a clearing house for horses with problems,  one with poor  safety records, poorly trained, projects and suspects
  • Many would-be horse dealers play in this market with low ethical standards as they know how easy it is to fool most people

In doing research for this article, we viewed 16 horses for sale randomly Bargain Market Survey Result of Horses Advertised as “Broke”and evaluated them as a purchase candidate.  All the horses were advertised as “broke”.  However, when we viewed the horses we determined that none of the horses were indeed “broke” horses.  These results are displayed in the chart to the right.  If you are interested in the detailed results, please email us.

We did find 4 nicely started horses including one that would likely be suitable for an intermediate rider.

Sadly, 12 of the 16 (75%) were just plain bad horses.  We found lame horses including one with laminitis.  We found many that were fearful or handled so poorly during the demonstration that we would not entertain any thoughts about riding them.

Our survey by no means is a statement that the budget/bargain market does not contain good horses.    It also does not mean these types of issues are limited to budget priced horses as these same issues are presence in every price range to some extent.

Our study does demonstrate the challenges involved in making a good decision:

  • While there are good horses to be found here, but it will take some time and solid due diligence to find them. 
  • Inexperienced and moderately experienced horse-people are exposed to high risk of making an inappropriate purchase decision.
  • Do not under estimate the amount of effort and work it will take to find a bargain.
  • Recognize this market’s for its strong points: with solid due diligence you can find nicely started horses here and maybe even that dream bargain you want. 
  • Recognize this market’s weak points.  You most likely will not find that well-broke, reliable horse that you want. 

Mid-Range Priced Horses

We defined this market as horses priced over $5,000 and less than $10,000.

According to Horse Industry Association of Alberta, Industry Profile and Economic Impact Survey of 2003, 28% horses sold for between $3,000 and $10,000.  This price range you will find the vast majority of broke, sweet spot price range for finding a broke horsenon-competitive horses.

In this price range you can find:

  • Better to very well started horses
  • Broke pleasure horses
  • Horses to learn on
  • Horses  for the less experienced rider
  • Sound, reliable, experienced  horses
  • Exceptionally well bred prospects from reputable breeders
  • Inexperienced competition horses

However, price alone is not an assurance that the horse is safe, sound, and reliable.  According to the same study the number one reason people sell their horses is “dissatisfaction with the horse”.  This price range is not immune to people reselling failed horses.   You must perform extensive due diligence on any horse you are considering for purchase.

Please note: that there appears to be a transition price range between $3,000 and $5,000.  We will not cover this transition range in any detail.  However, this transition range seems to be closer to what you find in the bargain/budget price range than what you find in the mid-price range.    It also appears to be the price range where better started horses can be found.

High-end Price-Range Priced Horses

We defined this market as horses priced between $10,000 and $20,000 (and beyond).
Approximately, 7% of horses sold sell over $10,000.

In this price range you will find exceptional horses such as:

  • Premium pleasure horses
  • Highly skilled horses
  • Disciplined trained horses
  • Exceptionally well trained horses
  • Well broke, reliable, experienced horses

Most horses selling in the high-end market are very special horses.

Above this price range is where you will find competitively trained horses and horses for the professional rider.

How Breed Drives the Value of a Horse

Before closing, it is beneficial to take a look at breed and its impact on the value of horses.

When it comes to breed, we have read various government studies regarding value by breed.  Our take on the numbers suggest breed is not a major differentiator that drives prices in horses.  In general, the values of most breeds are tightly clustered breed has little impact on priceswithin few hundred dollars of the median horse price.

There are three exceptions to this: thoroughbreds, standardbreds, and warmbloods.  The values for these three breeds tend to be well above the values of other breeds.  All three of these breeds are used more in professional sporting events than other breeds which suggest the higher value is directly related to the training and other direct investments that are put into these horses.

For non-registered horses, the general value of non-purebred horses is substantially less than registered purebreds.  Depending on how you statistically dissect the data the average value of a non-purebred horse is 60-70% less than the average value of registered purebreds.

Lastly, every several years a breed or type within a breed becomes very popular and the prices soar.  This is generally due to a temporary supply-demand imbalance.  But be careful not to jump aboard as by the time average horse buyer gets in that game, the supply-demand imbalance is shifting in the other direction as the breeding machine begins to produce many more horses than the market will support and the bubble bursts.   It is the same market forces that affect all markets from dotcom’s to real estate to commercial elk.  The last one we were personally close enough to speak with experience was the homozygous paint horses.  The prices went sky high, many people jumped in and started breeding them and supply got so high that in some areas those homozygous prospects bottomed out for slaughter prices.


Finding the right horse for you is a challenging and time consuming endeavor.  There are good horse and not so good horses throughout the price spectrum in the horse industry.  Your best tool is knowledge.  Understanding the various horse markets and the various price ranges is half the battle. 

In our next installment we will cover the due diligence process for sorting through candidates for purchase.