Horse Shopping - Homebred and Trials - Red flags?

I’m in the market for a horse to show locally and on the A circuit. I found a gelding that appears to fit the bill. He’s quiet and kind both on the ground and under saddle. He’s only an hour from our barn and seems to be the right amount of horse for me. However, there are a couple of items that I think may be red flags and just want some opinions.

  1. The horse is 10 years old and homebred. He’s been at the same home (hunter/jumper barn on local show circuit) his entire life. Would you consider this a red flag? Is it strange that in 10 years a client hasn’t fallen in love and scooped him up? Is this a sign they may be hiding some issues?

  2. They don’t allow trials. I’m a little uneasy with the concept that he’s always been in the same place and we’re not able to see how he does at our barn before purchasing. I know trials are becoming a thing of the past, but could this be a red flag?

  3. He has done some local shows, not a ton, and nothing in the past year. He’s registered with USEF, but hasn’t competed at rated shows so his horse report is empty; thus, I have to trust the owner that he’s shown locally and done okay in that setting. I’m not looking to see that he wins everything, I just want reassurance that he safe, or at least manageable, in the show setting.

My concern is that he’s not going to be the same horse away from home. I’ve been in this situation before and it didn’t work out. I’m hesitant to buy something without a trial but understand that trials are rare now due to liability, etc.

Am I overthinking the correlation between 1-3 or are these valid concerns? Has anyone had a similar situation? Looking for some insight/advice. Thanks!

  1. Has he been for sale for 10 years? If not, then I’d say you don’t have (or haven’t given us) enough information to say that it’s a red flag. Did you already try him?

  2. Many sellers won’t entertain a trial no matter the situation. Just too much risk, and if they aren’t in a hurry to sell, then they have even less reason to compromise on it. So no, not a red flag in and of itself.

  3. A show record would be nice but without it, I’d hope that the sellers could at least provide video of multiple local shows/classes. Video of horse schooling at home would be nice too. Several local shows around here actually use horseshowsonline so there are results if the owner can direct you to the shows.

A lot of horses are different at shows - though I think you are just hoping to rule out complete nut cases, not ensure it’s a robot? If this horse does not have enough (verifiable) experience for your comfort, that is totally valid. And if it’s a nice horse, the sellers are leaving a lot of money on the table by not having any sort of record (which could actually work in your favor if you get a good deal on a nice horse that they never bothered to put a record on). You are well within your rights to pass on this one because you’re not comfortable.

Do you know anything about or have any good references for the seller and their program?

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#1 doesn’t concen me. Perhaps they didn’t need or want to sell him until recently. Or for one reason or another he didn’t suit the needs of clients who were looking at the time.

#2 you have to decide if you can handle. Some sellers will allow a trial. Some won’t. Only you know your tolerances. After buying one that did not work for me, now I know I need a trial. Other people don’t. I understand this makes me not a buyer for some sellers. They’re not the sellers for me. It’s ok. Everyone needs to do what they feel comfortable doing.

#3 Well, last year was a wash for a lot people. Remember the pandemic? Yeah, that. So I wouldn’t count against the horse that he didn’t show last year. Lots of horses didn’t.

As for his general mostly-local show record… has he been to lots of venues? The sorts of venues (if not the exact venues) you go to? How did he perform in his classes? Who were the riders? If he’s been showing at shows with riders like you (i.e. if you’re an ammy doing 3’ and he was showing under ammies doing 3’) and ribboning-- then he’s probably ok with the horse show life. Can you ask how he’s performed? There’s no uniform database but often if you google the show series name and the horse’s name you’ll find results listed here and there. Does the seller have photos/videos of him at these shows? Do you know people who show at these shows? Do they recognize the horse? Can you ask to watch him go at an upcoming show? Can you arrange to try him at a show? Can you trainer talk to the owner’s trainer about his program?

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I don’t see any red flags. Does the barn have a good reputation?
It is harder to find a horse that you can take on trial - if you feel you need that to be comfortable then the best course of action is to have your trainer work within their network. Another trainer/seller who knows your trainer might be more likely to allow a trial.

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Why would this be a red flag? Why would this mean they’re hiding issues? I’m confused on this random assumption. Has he been for sale for 10 years? Five years?
Or has he not actually been for sale and random people (that aren’t his owner) ride him often enough that you think one would have made an offer his owner couldn’t refuse? That’s not common. Maybe his owner was never interested in selling him until now.

I never consider it a red flag when someone doesn’t allow a trial. Off-farm trials carry huge risk for the horse and the seller, and I am in the camp that would not allow them myself. Besides, a one or two week, even a month trial, may not tell you anything. Some horses take a week or two to settle in to a new farm; moving to a new farm permanently is different than going to a show. They have to get used to a new regular routine, new turnout group, etc.
If he’s only an hour from you, can you ask if they’ll do a one month lease or “trial” where he stays at the seller’s barn, and perhaps during that time you can go to a schooling show or haul out with a group to see how he acts off-farm?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and assume you’re looking at this horse because you have a budget that doesn’t fit the bill for a horse actively showing at A-rated shows, yes? So no, not having a USEF record would not be a red flag for me. He’s in your price range for a reason.
Do they not have any videos of him at the local shows he’s been to?

In general, buyers and sellers all have their different requirements, allowances, etc. If you’re uncomfortable with the situation, it doesn’t matter that I or anyone else would be fine with it. It’s your money, not ours. Pass on the horse and keep looking.

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You want to show locally and on the A circuit. This horse has experience at nonrated shows. Are you familiar enough with the local scene to evaluate what the sellers tell you or to know which local nonrated shows are competitive and which aren’t?

This horse is not confirmed as an A show competitor which is a whole other thing. On the other hand I bet he isn’t priced like one either.

Are you planning to compete at his current height or do you want him to go higher?

I don’t see anything odd in a barn keeping a nice home bred horse. Presumably he has earned his keep as a lesson horse, lease horse, or maybe for the trainer or her kids. There’s nothing stranger there than buying a 5 year old OTTB and selling him at age 10.

  1. Homebred and never moved is not a red flag for me. They obviously liked him enough to keep him, at least until now. Situations change all the time. They may be selling him because he no longer fits their needs, or they cannot keep him for whatever reason.

  2. I’ve bought and sold a few. I do not allow trials, and don’t expect them either. My barn owner sent a few horses out to a gal who free leased a mare, and leased to buy another mare. The free leased mare came back rearing, bucking and bolting under saddle, and pulling back on the tie. The other mare, the owner went to go get after 2 days of the other horse coming home. She came home with ulcers so bad she was biting riders legs, rearing and bucking too. She had these mares less than a year. This was supposed to a highly respected, experienced rider, who also owns an equine massage/saddle fitting business. You literally can’t trust anyone.

  3. NO ONE has done much of anything in the past year. I would ask to see video and photos of him at shows. Ask to talk to his grooms and riders. See what information you can get.

I think you’re overthinking this a bit, all because you don’t want to be burned again. I get it. Just go ride the horse there, bring your trainer with you for another set of eyes and go from there :slight_smile:

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Around here the market is really hot. I’d ask to meet at a “neutral ground” and try him there. Local show, different barn a mile down the road. If they have other buyers it may be too much of a pain for the seller but worth asking. That should give you some reassurance he is (close to) what he is at home. Also, if he’s only an hour away and in the same discipline someone will know the horse if he’s been off the farm. I’d ask your trainer to make some discrete inquiries. Also, even our local shows now post results, Good luck. Horse shopping is hard.

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Honestly I am confused about why these would be red flags. I would think that it is nice to get a horse from someone who has known it since birth. I wouldn’t automatically think that he isn’t loved enough to have gotten swooped up by someone who rides there.

No one allows trials these days, especially with the horse market the way it is. I call on a horse 2 hours after it is posted and it is already gone! Why would they send a horse off for a trial when someone might come along and buy it without a PPE that day?

I am guessing you have a local horse budget with a-rated taste? It’s not a bad thing, but if you aren’t spending mid-high fives for something, it’s not going to have some amazing a-rated show record with numerous videos showing how perfect it is at shows. You said the barn is only an hour away, so they must be showing around your area. Ask around (or ask your trainer to ask around), see if people have watched him go.

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#1 and #2 would definitely not be red flags to me, it would actually be great to be able to get the horse’s whole history (assuming they are honest about it). Trials really only happen when brokered between professionals who have an ongoing relationship, or occasionally paid trials are worked out these days. As far as the showing, as someone who bought a young horse and had the seller flatly misrepresent how the horse behaved off property (terrified, but they told us he was the same horse home and away), I think it is a valid concern. But, there are ways to mitigate it as people have mentioned above - even local show results should be online somewhere, see if the horse was shown by an amateur, what type of classes it was doing, etc . . . Ask friends who show on the same circuit if they’ve seen the horse. And talk to the seller/trainer about what the horse’s show routine is, some people are very honest about the prep (some aren’t of course, but you might as well ask). And, you can always explain your concern and ask if there is an off-property location where you could try the horse if you get serious about buying it. If you’ve tried the horse and it seems like a good match, they may be willing to work with you on finding somewhere other than the home farm that you can try him.

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Going to offer a different perspective on the homebred issue, which is most likely not at all applicable to the present case, but nevertheless…
Bought a homebred from a big horse family in our area that was very successful with one of their children in the region and somewhat nationally. Horse had NEVER had another rider except those in the family, save a ride by a kid (perhaps just 1) for the purpose of selling the horse. Both children in the family are super riders (and also very nice people) one is now a legit professional. It has become apparent to me and my now trainer that the horse never really had a true “amateur” rider (read in my case, sometimes missy and always floppy) and therefore, is not suitable for your run of the mill A circuit 3ft. adult or child, despite the sellers saying that the animal was “kid and amateur friendly.” There are MANY stupid things I did in purchasing the horse, so I should have known better, etc, and I am not blaming the sellers, etc., disclaimer, disclaimer. Just putting it out there because I am now thinking of buying ANOTHER HOMEBRED! It couldn’t be any other way in the world of horse buying! Good luck OP, it looks like you are asking great questions.

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This sounds like a reasonable request.
I’d also ask if I could take a lesson with my trainer (assuming proof of insurance) at their barn.

Re: A-rated capability
Have you shown at that level?
If so, am I safe assuming you can evaluate this horse compared to your local A-level competition?
How important is showing A to you?

Any horse, homebred or not, is going to take time to settle into a new situation.
Will you board or keep at home?
I’d allow at least a month for either situation to become his New Normal.
No set guideline, horses are individuals.

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Yes, you are and no, they probably aren’t.

  1. No, it’s not strange. Why do you assume that the horse has been for sale for 10 years and they haven’t been able to sell him? A more likely explanation is that he simply hasn’t been for sale until now.

  2. I’ve got a horse for sale right now. There is no way that I would let someone take him on trial. The risks are just too great. If that means you won’t buy him, fine. In this market, there are plenty of other buyers out there.

  3. I’d say no shows in the past year is the norm, during these days of COVID lockdowns. As far as thinking that you have to “trust the owner” on how he did at previous shows, I doubt that’s really the case. There has to at least be photographic and video evidence of some of those shows. Did you ask?

Look, I get the concern. Buying a horse is a big investment and if it doesn’t work out, it can be both expensive and heartbreaking. But that’s how it goes with horses. Unless you wait around for one of the horses in your barn to be for sale or have the budget to lease a horse for a year and then manage to convince the owners to sell it to you if you love it, you don’t really have much alternative.

In situations like these, be extra diligent on the PPE as they don’t test for drugs and medications at local shows. You don’t know the exact reason why the horse didn’t show rated shows, but you also shouldn’t assume all is okay. Sure, 2020 was a weird year, but what happened before 2020? Does this barn just do local shows? There are a lot of barns like that where I live, so perhaps the horse never had the chance to show rated shows?

Thinking along the lines of not allowing trials - I’m in the same camp as those suggesting you try to negotiate an on-site 1 month lease to purchase. If they say no to that I think you’ll have your answer.

No, you would not “have your answer.” This is a seller’s market. Why agree to a lease-to-own deal if they think they have a good chance of selling without having to do that?

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I think she means the OP will have her answer as to whether this seller can agree to terms that work for the OP. If not the OP can buy from someone else and the seller can sell to someone else. Totally agree it’s a seller’s market right now. Still, I allowed a lease to own and I bought a horse that the seller let me take on trial. So even in this market some people will do it. Some people won’t. And that’s ok too. If the OP needs it and the seller won’t allow it, then she’ll have to move on. That’s life.

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None of these are red flags. The horse doesn’t have verifiable show experience - only you can decide if you’re ok with that or not. You can ask the seller to send you video of the horse at a show, or you can ask the seller if you can try the horse at another barn/show so you can see how he is. They may or may not agree, but they won’t think you’re crazy for asking.

Points 1 and 2 aren’t red flags to me but I just wanted to second this, if the horse has only ever shown locally and you want to show rated. Do a super diligent PPE to be sure there isn’t anything brewing that he was maybe getting a wee touch of help with, and ask a lot of questions about show day prep and his routine in general. And ask around about the barn/trainer, too. There’s plenty of horses who do great on the local circuits thanks to chemical assistance that wouldn’t fly at a rated show. Doesn’t meant they are dangerous, but that nice packer might be a lot less quiet (or sound) on the morning of your big A show without his usual cocktail on board.

  1. Homebred isn’t in itself a red flag as long as the horse has been out and about enough for what I want. There are so many reasons that he wouldn’t have sold in barn, I wouldn’t over think that.

  2. I have had two horses go out on trial and colic and die and there are so many risks with letting a horse go off with someone. I don’t mind if someone wants to come and ride at my barn a bunch of times and I’ll usually offer to haul to whatever location they would like (within reason) for them to see the horse off property and ride it but I’ll never let a horse go on trial again and I don’t expect to be able to take horses on trial either.

  3. Sometimes local shows have online results available too. The local shows around here show up on horseshowsonline sometimes or their own website or Facebook pages. Might be worth checking out to see if you can find anything. But this wouldn’t necessarily be a red flag for me either, especially with last year being such a wash.

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Reminds me of this meme I saw floating around awhile back.

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