I just went through the process of buying my very own unicorn, and I am now an expert.
LAWLZ nope, I told my trainer I wanted to buy a horse, we tried a couple, we failed a vetting, we tried some more, and now I have a pretty pony. It seemed to be a pretty smooth process- smoother than usual.
I do think that a big reason this process went so smoothly is because of certain steps that my trainer and I took ahead of time. So I’m going to share my experience of buying a horse, in the hopes that it may help someone wondering how this whole thing works.
1. Took a long hard look at my budget. An honest look. I broke out my budgeting into two parts:
- Monthly expenses: I did not want to be dipping into savings every month to pay board. I knew monthly expenses can vary widely: will I want to put my horse into full or partial training? Do they need supplements? Special shoes? Do I plan to go to shows? I talked to my barn owner about rates. For me, monthly expenses include regular board (which includes hay, grain, stall, turnout, blanketing, and a whole bunch of other things), lessons (I lesson once a week, hack 4-5 days, and get 1-2 days off), farrier, horse show expenses (including trailering, coaching fees, and entry fees), and insurance (you bet your butt The Handsome is insured). Of course these will change month-to-month, but I tried to be REALISTIC about these expenses. Here’s how I looked at it:
Monthly paycheck – necessities – fun money – savings = $ for horse stuffs
Necessities = rent, utilities, insurance, groceries, gas
Fun money = going out to eat, movies, entertainment, clothes, etc.
Savings = I know we all want to plug our ears and ignore the future, but my future self will thank me, even if I just put away $20 a month. There are too many unknowns in life, and it is a huge comfort to know that I won’t ruin my credit trying to pay for those unknowns.
- Lump sum expenses: this is the stuff that came out of my savings up front: the horse itself (obviously) and all the gear I needed. If you already have most of the gear you need- great! I did not. So I did some research and figured out what I would need to purchase in order to bring home a pony. I also prioritized this list- the weather is getting warmer, so I’m not going to worry about buying a heavy blanket yet (unless there’s an awesome sale obviously). I also didn’t want to deplete my savings. What if the horse needs emergency vet care, or my car breaks down, or I need to go to the ER for something? I wanted to leave myself a generous cushion. Basically this is how I approached it
$ I currently have in savings – $ for gear – $ for cushion = $ for pony
2. Work with a trainer I trust. This trust part is huge! My trainer was my advocate in the process- it was reassuring to know they were looking out for my best interest.
- Talk about the logistics of buying. What will my trainer be doing for me, and what am I responsible for? In my case, my trainer handled the whole process from start to finish. I sent her sale ads and she took a look at them, but ultimately she found my unicorn through her own industry connections and then arranged the trials, and also handled all the negotiations when I decided to make an offer. NOTE: any service comes with a fee. My trainer took a commission (more than fair given that she did all of that work!). I had to factor this into my budget! We also talked about other expenses that could pop up during the process: average PPE cost, partial board for a trial period, etc.
- Once we established what all the “extras” cost, we talked budget. You may have $5,000 available in your budget, but once you factor in commission, vet exam, and all the other expenses, that may be closer to $4,000. Remember that $ for pony equation above? That really looks more like this:
$ for pony – $ for vetting – $ for commission – $ for random other stuff = ACTUAL $ for pony
- Talk about what I wanted. Are you looking to break into the High Adult Jumpers (yes!), or do you want a trail companion (also yes!)? Are you planning on showing in the hunters (sure!), or do you want to move up the levels in dressage (why not?!)? Do you want to show (totally!)? Local or rated (all of the above!)? Are there any habits that make you nervous? What are your goals for the future? We all know plans can change, but having an idea of what I wanted to do with this horse made sure my trainer didn’t match me up with something who couldn’t take me where I want to go. I had to be realistic within my budget: I would’ve loved a 17.3 imported warmblood who could do the GPs and learn his own jumpoff course. Alas, my salary has not magically quintupled in the last few months, so we talked about what I could realistically expect to get in my price range.
3. Start trying horses! This is the fun part. My trainer hopped on every horse before I even saw them- mostly because I fall in love with every single pony I sit on because THEY’RE ALL SO PRETTY AND I LOVE THEM and she wanted to evaluate without me babbling on about how sweet and wonderful the pony was. Only after she gave the seal of approval did she even tell me about ponies to try. I went back and tried the Handsome out a second time so I could handle him on the ground a bit more to decide if we could be buddies.
Buying is a horse is a huge investment. I wanted to make sure we got along! I had my priorities- for me it was super important to find something I could have fun on. Yes, I want to compete, and yes, I want to win, but I’m not headed to the Olympics. 90% of the time we’ll just be riding at home, and I wanted something I could feel safe on and play around with.
4. Get the vet out. Check out magic pony’s health. Will he need supplements? Injections? Special shoes? Does he secretly have a broken leg he’s been hiding? Get all the facts. My vet was a great guide about how in depth to go with the vetting. With one vetting we didn’t bother with any x-rays, but we got a few x-rays for the Handsome to act as a baseline in case anything happens in the future.
5. Negotiate. Time to start figuring out what number I’d be writing on that check as I numbly signed away my life’s savings! This can be as simple as deciding on a number, or it can get a little more complicated. Is the owner willing to consider a payment plan? Maybe you’re willing to pay asking price, but only if they throw in the horse’s blankets.
6. Stuff my new unicorn’s face with cookies. I have now successfully bought the pony of my dreams.