DO’s and DON’Ts of Buying a Rope Horse

I have sold quite a few rope horses in my time. I have bought quite a few also. It used to be that you would go to jackpot and tell someone that you were looking for a new main mount and word would pass through the roping community like wildfire. But now we live in the day and age of social media, where you can simply browse one of the many buy, sale, and trade pages and probably find exactly what you are looking for. But, BUYER BEWARE! There are a lot of things that you need to look out for when buying a rope horse these days.

Here are some DO’s and DON’Ts for buying your next head horse.

DO read the entire ad BEFORE asking questions. There is nothing more frustrating as a seller than having to answer questions that are clearly stated in the ad itself. Most legitimate sellers are going to be pretty clear about what they are selling in their ad. That means that you will typically see the age, height, ability, suitability, and location of the horse along with photos, videos, and papers if the horse has them.

I say, “most legitimate sellers” because people who are professional about buying and selling horses know what should be in the ad because they don’t want to waste anyone’s time, including their own. Most sellers do not include the price for reasons that are beyond my knowledge (this is actually a big pet peeve of mine which was discussed in a previous blog post), so you may have to request the price. But if you see an ad for a horse that clearly states “NOT FOR A BEGINNER” do not ask the seller if the horse is kid friendly. Common sense goes a long way; use that thing attached to your neck for more than a hat rack!

DO analyze the videos. If there are videos posted along with the ad, watch them multiple times. If you are shopping for a head horse and a horse with a lot of run is important to you, watch to see how well the horse is scoring and how fast he is getting to the steer. How are the steers running? Are they fresh, medium, or slow? How is the horse getting out on them? Is he coming out right on top of them or is he letting them out a ways and then running to them? How does the horse handle cattle in the videos? Is he running off with them or is he gathering up and getting ahold of them? Does the horse stop hard or just kind of leak out there to a stop?

Know what is important to you in a rope horse and look for those things. If the videos aren’t clear, it is always acceptable to request more videos. Just understand that not everyone has a lot of time or a lot of help, so it may not be easy for them to get more videos right away.

DON’T even bother to look at a horse that is beyond your willingness to travel to try him. Unless you are willing to buy a horse sight unseen, do not…DO NOT…even bother asking questions on a horse that you are not willing to travel to try. You can watch all the video in the world, but until you swing a leg over a horse, you don’t know if he’ll fit you. It is really frustrating as a seller to have someone ask you a million questions and then tell you, “well, you are a little too far for me to just come try him.” That’s not my problem. You have a truck, you have a trailer. If you are interested in the horse, you’ll come try him. It’s that simple.

I am a no BS kind of person when it comes to buying and selling horses. I’ll tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly about a horse because I don’t have time to waste. It’s that simple. I have traveled half way across the country for a horse that I had my eye on and when that horse didn’t work out, I lined out a few more to try so that I didn’t come home empty handed.

DO be prepared to have a vet check done on the horse at your expense. Again, as a seller, there are a few things that I am not willing to do. I am not going to pay for a vet check on a horse that I am selling. That is your responsibility as the buyer. I come from the era where a man’s (or a woman’s) word is as good as a handshake. One of these days I am going to have to realize that is no longer the way of the world and there are a lot of snakes out there just waiting in the grass to bite me the first chance that they get.

I have never paid for a pre-purchase exam on a horse. I am the type of person who shows up, tries the horse, runs hands all over him, flexes him, makes sure he’s not sore backed, looks in his mouth, checks over his condition, etc. Then I ride him. If he fits me, I buy him. Simple as that. However, it is very wise – and highly suggested – to have a pre-purchase exam done on a horse that you are paying any significant amount of money for. Just be reasonable.

I recently sold a horse with the stipulation that he had to pass a pre-purchase exam. This was a very healthy and extremely tough 9-year-old gelding who never took a lame step and had been used in some very tough conditions. Upon getting the vet exam, it was discovered that he had some very common and completely fixable issues, which included light farrier work (he had recently been shod and was trimmed a little short and didn’t have shoes on the hind feet). Rather than evaluating those issues and seeing that they were minor, that horse was inconveniently returned to me after he had been out of my ownership for two weeks. Luckily, this horse was returned to me in the condition that he left me, which is not always the case. Turns out, this was the second horse that same vet had failed for that guy in a matter of a month.

A vet exam is always a good idea, but again, use common sense. God gifted you with a brain for a reason.

DO get the papers if the horse has them. Oh boy, have I been burned by this a time or two over the years. “I have the paper’s but I can’t find them. I’ll send them to you.” And then you never get them. I bought a horse not long ago that is supposed to be a 15-year-old gelding. He could be 20 for all I know. According to my vet and dentist, he is no older than 15, but sometimes it can be hard to tell. The issue with this is now, when I try to sell the horse, I have to sell him as an unregistered gelding, which is less than desirable to a lot of folks.

Which brings me to my next point: you can’t always trust the papers. Unless your horse has distinctive markings, you could possibly be holding a fabricated set of papers. This is not super common, but it does happen. Always look in the horse’s mouth if you can – vet checks also help with this. You may not be able to tell the age down to the day or even exact year, but you can tell a 6-year-old from a 12-year-old and so on.

And one more thing: papers are not always everything. If you go try a horse, he fits you, and you know can win a fortune on him, but he doesn’t have papers…that doesn’t make him a bad horse. Go with your gut. If you like the horse, buy him.

DON’T lowball a seller. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, ticks me off more than when someone lowballs me on a horse that I’m selling. I have my horses priced according to what I think they are worth. If you don’t like that, then don’t come try him. DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT show up at my house to try a $10,000 horse with $5,000 in your pocket. You will witness first hand as a vein pops out of my forehead and I may or may not exercise my second amendment rights to run you off my property.

First of all, lowballing someone is extremely rude. Secondly, it makes you look cheap and no one likes a Frugal Fred. If you are going to try a horse, you show up with the asking price in your pocket. If you need to negotiate a little, that is fair. Be willing to explain your reasoning for not wanting to pay full asking price and expect for the seller to counter your offer as well.

DO be reasonable even after you purchase the horse. We have all screwed up at one point in time and ended up with a horse that didn’t fit us or maybe the horse came up lame after we got him home. If you rode the horse and had a vet exam, then that is no fault of the seller. Horses are accident prone and things happen. If you get a vet exam on that horse and it comes back that the horse is healthy and sound and then he drops dead in the trailer on the way home, I am sorry, but that is not the seller’s fault. Unfortunately, things happen.

If you don’t get a vet exam and the horse dies or comes up lame, sorry, that is also your problem. You should have gotten a vet check. When you hand over that money, the horse is sold as-is. And If you don’t try the horse and you get him home and he bucks you off and hurts you, that is still not the seller’s problem. Here’s the deal: a vet exam will determine if the horse has any sedation in his system. So, if you try the horse and he is nice and quiet, but then you get him home and he acts like he’s never seen a human before, there’s a good chance that he was sedated. Moral of the story: get a vet exam if you want to be sure and don’t blame the seller for your mistakes as a buyer.

Buying and selling horses can be easy. You just have to do your homework and take care of business properly. Most people aren’t out there to take advantage of you. They just want to sell their horse for one reason or another. Go with your gut and only buy a horse that you feel comfortable buying. There are a lot of horses out there and there is bound to be one somewhere that fits you…be patient!

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