Seeking advice: buying a 2 year old

I can’t seem to find anything on this subject but I would love to hear peoples’ experiences and advice. I’m looking for another dressage horse and am leaning towards younger (~2 years) prospects as this market is just so on fire at the moment, and I’d like to buy a fairly quality horse but am finding the older ones are a bit outside my budget. I have experience with green horses and a trainer who can help me bring the horse along.

My question is this: what are the watch-outs? I haven’t done this before and am wondering if there are any special things to consider with the vet check? I would also like to let the horse keep growing at the breeder’s facility and anticipate paying board there until the horse is old enough (probably around 3.5) to start living part time in a stall. This means I would essentially be skipping the return to the field that usually happens between 3.5 and 4 years old - is this potentially problematic?

Thanks in advance for any advice that this group would be open to sharing. I’m not a green pea by any stretch but buying a young horse (probably out of state) would be a first for me.

I have a few comments since I’ve done this multiple times in the past. First I would make sure you ask all of the same questions asked of an older horse - previous medical issues, ever colicked?, ever lame, etc. One of the most valuable lessons I learned early on as well was to find out about the health of siblings, parents etc especially if they were living in the same maintenance program. With the breed I have it taught me about metabolic disease very early on and how to avoid future issues. I also when possible really learn a lot about siblings, other offspring of the dam and sire and luckily for me even rode/drove parents when I could. This really educated me a lot about bloodlines and desired traits as well as those I wanted to avoid. Of course I was doing this because not only was I looking at future performance (and for me developing a breeding base) I was also going to be the only test dummy. I am very particular on what I will risk throwing my leg over. I am a vet so I don’t always have young prospects vetted out unless I have not been able to look at them in person. If there are no issues with pasture injuries, history of OCD in the bloodlines or breed, or issues that appear to be a theme amongst the barn herd then I just request a basic PPE (including drug testing - not necessarily sent in but held until I get the horse in my hands and any genetic testing appropriate for the breed) on camera.

I have also always had the opportunity to grow them out at my place or keep them at the breeders if I felt it in their best interest and start the as a mid to late 3 year old. I tend not to throw them back out after starting. I just keep their work load appropriate for their age and development and continue on with short breaks as it suits both my and their schedule/needs.


since you are seeking a very specific use personally I would not buy an unproven horse

I bought a long yearling with a specific use in mind, horse came for long lines of that use, the training barn was of that discipline however my purchase never ever did the discipline she was purchased for (however the horse was Very successful in other disciplines National champ and Regional Champion)

A more recent purchase was a weanling (who is now two headed to three) … he is “nice” and does everything he was purchased to do… but my god he is allergic nearly everything we commonly used… the special care required to keep him at peace is expensive … but he is really a nice horse (as a two year he is the World Champ in his discipline -which he had been purchased for)

So, really I would spend a little more for just the horse I wanted if I wanted to be competitive in a very specific discipline…otherwise you could end up spending more money to accommodate the young horse that could never do what you desire.


I bought a 2 1/2 year old and would do it again.

I think it’s important to know your breeder, the bloodlines, and parents/siblings. It’s a crapshoot, but the risk can be managed.

I knew the breeder and the sire/dam of my mare. I saw probably 10 horses at the breeders and narrowed it down to a mare and a gelding. I saw both twice and spent time with them to try to see what their personality was like. I ended up vetting my mare. I focus on dressage and my mare has 100% jumping breeding, so that part was somewhat of a surprise.

I did a full vetting, minus blood work. Despite never being exposed to anything like that, my mare was great through the entire thing.

She remained at the breeder’s for another 5 months, learning what a stall life was like, and then was shipped to the person I had hired to initially back her.

There are a lot of unknowns for sure. My mare is about 1.5 hands taller than I expected her to be. It’s fine, as I am tall, but dealing with an 18.2 rising 6 year old isn’t for everyone. She also has a strong stubborn streak. But she’s also kind and has a good brain. She is my first young horse, so we’ve had our issues, but we now have a great team of trainers and are improving every day.

Good luck to you!

I’ve bought two young horses from the field from breeders. Both came home immediately to my farm.

The first as a long yearling… he was exactly what I wanted except he outgrew both his parents and ended up just a smidge under 18hh at 6yrs old… with no signs of stopping. I ended up selling, just to much horse for me, his 5year old year was wild and I didn’t want to get hurt or him to learn bad habits because I was worried about getting hurt. No PPE

The second was unbroke rising 4yr old. She didn’t grow enough. She was 15hh when I saw her and she’s 15.1h at rising 7. (Was hoping for 15.3)So a little too small but she is fun and fancy thing to ride and while a very opinionated mare (although getting better the more training installed) I don’t care because she’s not big. Full PPE with full set of X-rays including neck and back.

I probably would do again but older 3-4 year old. Unbroke but full PPE, is a risk I would be willing to take. The changes of a young horse and years of waiting for a yearling to grow and goodness knows how much are too many risk factors for me at my age anymore.

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It can work out well, and it can be a disaster!

My racing bred QH gelding, who will be 17 this year, was purchased fall of his 2 year old year. He matured really nicely, and would have been amazing, but he was one of those never quite sound horses. He seemed fine the first few months under saddle as a 3 yo though, so this could have happened if I’d bought him a little later as a started prospect. I found out later that he had been borderline starved, and I suspect that nutrition was lacking for proper development of his 17H frame. He eventually shattered his mediocarpal bone in a way that suggested that his bones are less than strong.

My first warmblood, I also bought fall of her 2 yo year, from a small breeder with a good reputation. Did my research and bought ammy-friendly bloodlines. Mare had some odd sensitivities that I didn’t translate into potential problems under saddle. Got thrown, put her with a western trainer who got her in a wreck, spent 18 months with another trainer who was the best option for repairing a wrecked horse, then eventually got rid of her. Found out later that her dam never performed under saddle because she had bucked off a bunch of pro riders.

Currently I have another WB mare that I got as a 2 yo. She is a little late in her training because she had OCD surgery spring of her 3 yo year and it took 3-4 months before she came sound. However, she has turned out nicer than what I think the breeder expected her to be, and seems to be sane and sound, if not rather obstinate and clearly not one who has read the books on how young horse training is supposed to progress. So hopefully third time is the charm!

In five years or so I think I might go down this path again to hopefully get a GP prospect, but will probably have the horse professionally started. I felt the need to back my current horse myself to get past the baggage of mare #2, but doubt I’ll want to do it again when I’m five years older.

I’m also trending towards not starting horses until they are a full 4, and find that having the year of doing ground work and really getting to know the horse is valuable. I probably would have started current mare summer of her 3 yo year if not for the post-surgery lameness, but now I’m glad that I spent more time. To that end, the one critique of your plan that I have is that I would want to have the horse with me for at least several months before the serious training starts, to build that relationship, rather than having it in a field at the breeder’s.


Massive thanks to all who have commented, I wound up having a chat with the breeder and have literally used some of the thoughts in this thread in our first discussion. If it’s not too much trouble I was going to share a bit more details about my plan and I would welcome critique.

The horse I’m looking at would only be expected to get to around third level with me, and would not be expected to be competitive. I’m looking for a second nice horse to ride myself and care for, but would do at the most two shows a year and more for experience than any burning desire I have to win.

The horse in question is from old lines that I know extremely well, have ridden several offspring of both the sire and damsire. All known for safety and sanity, and that reputation has been true in my experience with the offspring.

I’m going to travel up to the farm to meet the breeder and see the property, both parents are on site. The breeder is a super competitive jumper and I was going to have her start the horse for me in the middle of her three year old year to get about 60 days on before she comes to live with us. This would also give the horse a chance to transition to stabled life in a familiar environment.

During my trip to the farm I was going to attend the vet check and expect to do a basic lameness, limb xrays, back and neck xrays - what else?

Thank you again for your input, it’s fun hearing everyone’s success stories and cautionary tales (I’m so hoping to avoid the 18HH horse lol, my current green baby is 17.2 and balancing all of that is pretty physical).

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Haha! I was thinking, geeze, a horse that grows extra heads really IS unexpected! :crazy_face:

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An interesting exercise that may be worth considering is to run the numbers. Purchase price + 10 months of pasture board + 2 months of full training = X. In a year, could X buy you a nicely started 3.5 year old. If so, you could set aside the money for a year then something to consider is whether you would rather buy exactly what you want rather than hope your 2.5 year old turns out how you want.

A friend of mine purchased a 4 year old who will definitely make it to GP one day barring injury. She loved him so much and loved the breeder so she scooped up his 2 year old full brother. Full brother is stunning but a very different ride and looks like he may end up a full hand shorter than his brother. He isn’t what she needs but she’s really struggling to list him because she’s had him since he was so young. The emotional attachment is another piece to think through. If it really isn’t a good match, are you one who can let go or would you suck it up for a lifelong mediocre match.

Link to my Opus baby. Turned 3 in August. ](

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OP, I don’t think I understand your plan. The horse you are asking us about is one of two you’ll own? The other is a (yet unpurchased) riding-aged horses? And this prospect only needs to get to Third Level, but doesn’t have to be competitive? Does it need to get scores good enough for a Bronze Medal? Is this true in California or Florida? Or are you showing in a less outrageous market?

I ask because it seems like a lot of time and risk just to get a non-FEI level horse. But it’s your journey so I don’t think you are necessarily wrong to do it as you are.

Having bred and raised a hunter for myself and now interested in doing this again for a dressage horse, here are my thoughts.

  1. Know how you want a baby handled, raised and started.

  2. Be able to line up the pros who can do that. For example, I want a foal pasture for an unstarted horse. I also want a horse started in a way that’s closer to Western/ranch broke than to what Dressagers seem to do. So for me, the horse can’t come until I can find these pros.

  3. Interview the parents and all the relatives for the qualities you want. Don’t forget the mind. But know, too, that the long-term project works much, much better if you are one of those riders who can (and be willing to) ride the ride you end up getting. Some people can (and want to); some can’t and even more don’t want to have to really change themselves or their approach to suit a particular horse.

  4. When choosing and raising the baby, I think it helps to think about resale a little bit: Give this horse an ecumenical education. Make him rideable, experienced with a lot, and polite on the ground. If you do this, even with a horse you’ll keep forever, you’ll have on that you can enjoy. You’ll also find that you have a ton of low-mileage things to do with your young horse while you are waiting for him to grow up.

  5. When I meet an unstarted horse, I usually want to figure out what kind of student he will be. Is he interested, curious and even bold? Is he thoughtful? Can he take a joke? How sensitive is he? I promise you, the sensitivity inherent to a horse will make the first, green stages of his riding career harder than if he were a touch more dull. But you’ll come to love the sensitivity later. I have ridden enough that I know the kind of mind I prefer AND I can usually think of ways to interview a baby horse to learn about his mind. I’m not expert at it, but I do try.

Good luck! I hope you find the right one.


Lovely lad! Thank you for sharing!

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