How to use a budget when browsing horses for sale

Browsing through “similar” horses for sale and seeing a huge gulf between the cheapest and most expensive can lead to head scratching moments. It’s a domain that even experienced equestrians can find difficult to assess. To help you use a budget correctly and find horses for sale that are suitable, here are some useful points.

Requirements of the horses advertised for sale

First up, write out your list of requirements. You’ll have little idea what your budget needs to be when browsing horses for sale without jotting down a list of must haves. For example, I am six feet tall, currently competing at BE90, have 20+years experience with horses and would like to event at Novice level at some point in the next two seasons.

My list of requirements might look like the following;

  1. Minimum height of 16.2hh
  2. Minimum age of 7 years old
  3. Maximum age of 10 years old
  4. Eventing experience up to BE100 (the level below Novice)
  5. Bold and plenty of scope – Novice cross-country fences are big!
  6. Three established paces and a horse that will work in an outline

Now that I have my requirements, I’m in a better position to view horses for sale on Whickr and look at the prices of horses advertised for sale that match my requirements.

Price range of horses for sale that match your requirements

After an hour of browsing, you’ll get a good idea on the price range of horses for sale that match your requirements. In my example, I’m looking at event horses for sale, 16.2hh or taller, 7 years-old or older, that’ll take me around a Novice course in the next couple of seasons.

The first on my list of horses for sale is priced at £12,500, the fourth horse down in comparison is advertised for £70,000ono, next one down is £20,000, the horse below that one is advertised for £5,000, and then there’s a few more horses around the £10,000 to £15,000 mark and then another advertised for £60,000.

Whilst all of these horses for sale match my requirements, there is a huge range in price, the lowest being £5,000 and the highest £70,000.

Often people struggle to understand when it comes to buying horses that the most expensive horse doesn’t necessarily mean it is the best for you.

As someone who is an amatuer rider, works full time and is new to eventing, even if I had the budget to buy the £70,000 event horse, the reality is that the horse is priced for a professional home and someone more competent than myself. In the description, the horse for sale is being advertised as a potential Badminton horse! I’d be overhorsed, have a horrendous experience, knock my confidence, do a disservice to the horse and re-advertise the horse for sale in 12 months time for half the price.

This is a real risk for horse buyers with strong budgets. A horse is bought destined for greater things than the new owner ever wants to achieve, has too many gears and a big engine. The horse is then labelled as naughty and both horse and rider have a bad experience. Whereas there’s usually a perfectly suitable horse for sale for less than half of the budget but isn’t considered an option because it is too far below the buyer’s maximum budget.

To narrow the price range of horses for sale that might be suitable, I need to add to my requirements that the horse isn’t destined for far greater things. I found four horses for sale that match my criteria, they are priced at £15,500, £20,000, £30,000, and £35,000. At this stage, based on the information I can find online, it is safe to assume that for a horse that is 16.2hh+, 7 years-old, with some experience at BE100 or higher to take me around a Novice in the next two seasons, it is going to cost between £15,000 and £40,000. Still a large range but easier to work with than £5,000 to £70,000!

What can you afford to spend to buy a horse?

If you’re in a fortunate position where your maximum budget exceeds the prices of horses for sale that appear suitable, what you can afford may not be much of a consideration. However, most equestrians have a fixed budget to work with. In my example, to find a horse for sale to take me to my first Novice event competition, the price range is £15,000 to £40,000. But, my maximum budget is £13,000 and I can’t go any higher. This is a disappointing reality for many equestrians; my goal is unattainable with the budget I have available.

Or is it? The next point will help you stick to your budget and still achieve your goal.

What requirements are you prepared to budge on?

My budget of £13,000 is below the price range for the type of horse I want of £15,000 to £40,000. Going back to my list of requirements, I need to see what I can budge on;

  1. Minimum height of 16.2hh
  2. Minimum age of 7 years-old
  3. Maximum age of 10 years-old
  4. Eventing experience up to BE100 (the level below Novice)
  5. Bold and plenty of scope – Novice cross-country fences are pretty big!
  6. Three established paces and a horse that will work in an outline

At this stage, I want to stick with a minimum height of 16.2hh. The horse definitely needs to be bold with plenty of scope and have three established paces and work in an outline. That means my requirements I am prepared to budge on are minimum and maximum age of the horse and eventing experience.

Budging on your age range requirement of horses for sale

Starting with the most common decision (not necessarily the smartest) of buying a younger horse. If your budget doesn’t stretch for the horse at an age that comes with the experience required, dropping down a couple of years to a horse unproven typically opens up a much broader range of options of horses for sale that are in budget – great! But, then comes into play your own experience producing horses and your time as well. There are plenty of stories of people buying young horses advertised for sale because they are in budget for the new owner to subsequently spend thousands of pounds on training and riding lessons; that’s fine – but then why not increase your original budget, and buy the experienced horse to help achieve your goal quicker and with more certainty. This is what happened when my novice friend bought a novice five year old horse.

The often overlooked or quickly dismissed option is to buy an older horse, in their mid to late teens with plenty of experience. I’m not sure where the myth came from that a horse in their later teens is basically one more competition away from a retirement home. But that simply isn’t true. Andrew Nicholson won Badminton Horse Trials on Nereo when he was 17 years old! If suitable horses are out of budget, consider increasing the maximum age of horse you’re prepared to buy. That gives you the experience you want, if not more experience, and saves the investment you’d need to put into a younger, less experienced horse.

With my example in mind, I opt to expand my search to horses aged up to fifthteen. I search again and nothing suitable comes up within my price range. Whilst I said I wouldn’t budge on my minimum height of 16.2hh, I can’t afford to spend more than £13,000 to buy an event horse to take me round a Novice event. At this point, I budge slightly on my minimum height requirements and expand my search to horses 16hh+ and taller; Not what I want to do, but it is what my budget has determined.

Now my requirements look like this;

  1. Minimum height of 16hh (previously 16.2hh)
  2. Minimum age of 7 years-old
  3. Maximum age of 15 years-old (previously 10 years old)
  4. Eventing experience up to BE100 (the level below Novice)
  5. Bold and plenty of scope – Novice cross-country fences are pretty big!
  6. Three established paces and a horse that will work in an outline

After adjusting my height requirements, there are three suitable horses for sale that are all 16.1hh, only an inch smaller than I had wanted! An 11 year-old for £8,950, a 12 year-old for £10,000 and a 10-year old for £12,500.

The 11 year-old for sale at £8,950 has very limited BE experience, only attending two BE90s so fails my requirement of experience at the BE100 level or higher. The 12 year-old horse for sale at £10,000 has plenty of experience in all disciplines and has completed two BE100 events, so although older and advertised for more money, the 12 year old is a better fit for my requirements and still within budget. The 10 year-old for sale at £12,500 throws a curve ball because the horse has the most experience in all disciplines by far, has done two seasons at BE100 and is very well bred; the gotcha is the horse is advertised as quirky and has been seen to windsuck. If a horse for sale looks too good to be in your budget, there is typically a reason. However, vices or what I like to call PRAs (price reduction attributes) can be a blessing in disguise. If I consider myself capable enough to manage the quirks and don’t mind a horse that windsucks, I’m getting a lot of value for my £12,500. A horse with that experience and quality without the quirks and that didn’t windsuck could be worth £20,000, putting the horse well out of my £13,000 budget.

Vices can be a good thing for horse buyers who can put up with the odd fault here or there!

With the 11 year-old for sale’s limited experience, that horse is out of the running which leaves the 12-year old with some experience at BE100 advertised for sale for £10,000 and the quirky 10 year-old that windsucks but much more established and experienced for £12,500.

At this stage, it comes down to your own experience and preference. A capable rider who is brave and doesn’t mind a challenge might opt for the quirky one with better breeding and more experience, whilst a less experienced rider, or a rider who simply wants a smoother ride, may opt for the quirk free 12 year-old. Another consideration is the £2,500 price difference. Although they are both below my budget of £13,000; £10,000 for the 12-year old and £12,500 for the quirky 10 year-old that wind sucks; it is a considerable price difference when you are on a limited budget.

In summary

When browsing horses for sale, setting your budget should start with writing a list of requirements your next horse must have. Once compiled, find 5 to 10 horses you like the look of online with their prices displayed to help gauge a realistic price range of horses for sale that meet your requirements. If your budget is too low and you cannot afford the ideal horse, look at adjusting your requirements until you find horses for sale that are in budget and not too far away from your ideal horse.

Hopefully there are some useful points to takeaway, and good luck with your horse search!