So now you want your own Miniature Horse. How do you go about buying one?
The very first thing to do is to make a list of exactly what you want. Many times it is tempting to come across a horse that appeals to you but isn't what you need, but "convince" yourself that the horse will work. So consider these things:
1. Show or pet? It is usually much cheaper to buy a pet-quality animal than it is a show-quality animal. Although there are many nice, healthy pet-quality animals out there, I would consider the likelihood of you ever wanting to show. If it even crosses your mind, you may want to purchase a show-quality animal, even if you never plan to breed or show. Although the initial cost of a show-quality animal is a bit higher, the upkeep for a $500 animal is exactly the same as a $3000 animal over the years. I personally experienced this... I bought a pair of pet-quality animals and then immediately sold them to buy show stock when I first started out! But do keep in mind that even a pet-quality animal may have some show potential in performance such as liberty, obstacle, or driving. Also, a horse that is more conformationally correct will usually have less soundness problems throughout their lives. Be especially aware of dwarfs.
2. What am I going to do with the horse? If you are looking for a horse for your kids to ride, a miniature horse may not be the best option. As miniature horses can only carry 50 pounds or so, a child will quickly outgrow them. If you want a driving horse, be sure to get one that is old enough to break (3 years minimum) or one that is already trained. If you just want a cute pet, anything may do!
3. Ask what the horse is trained to do. Does it lead, tie, clip, stand for farrier and vet, and load into a trailer? Does it ride or drive? Has it been shown?
4. Does the horse have any vices? Many miniature horses are not treated like "horses" because they are so small and "harmless". Some bite, kick, or rear just because these actions don't seem as dangerous as they are with a full size horse.
5. Does the horse have any health problems? Find out the horse's medical history. Make sure they are current on worming, teeth floating, vaccinations, and hoof trimming.
6. Why is the seller selling the horse?
7. Gender. In the miniature horse breed, there is a widespread reluctance to geld, so there are many stallions. If the horse is under two years old, it may be all right to purchase a stallion and geld it yourself. For most purposes, a gelding or mare will be the easiest for anyone to handle, including kids. There are some claims of "calm" stallions, but a stallion in miniature is the same as a full sized stallion, and they should never be trusted under any circumstances.
8. Papers and registration. The majority of miniature horses out there are either registered with AMHA, AMHR, or grade (no papers). A grade horse will be the cheapest, but if you are planning on showing, find out what clubs are near you and what papers a prospective show horse must have. Always ask for copies of the papers to make sure all paperwork is in order!
9. Color and size. Although these things should be far down on your list, they are important since you must look at the horse every day! Minis come in all colors, so you should be sure to find one in a color that pleases you. Also, size matters... a larger horse will be better for kids to ride, and will do better in performance such as jumping or driving. But many people like the charm of the real tinies! Decide what color and height ranges you prefer.
10. Price. Decide what price range you are looking at. The current price for an "average" miniature horse will be about $1000-2000. Do not expect a small horse to carry a small price tag! Also, a cheaper horse may have some reason for carrying such a small monetary value. Some farms offer terms; this may be a good way to budget for a horse you really like but may not have cash in hand for! Geldings and colts will be cheapest, followed by stallions, then mares. Actual values will also factor in quality and training.
11. Bloodlines. I personally feel bloodlines are the least important thing to consider when buying a horse, unless you are looking for breeding stock. Any show or pet horse will not be affected by bloodlines... a quality horse will speak for itself. Many sellers will try to impress you with the fact that the horse has "so-and-so" as a grandfather, but this really does not matter. If you are very knowledgeable about bloodlines and love a certain stallion and want one of his sons or daughters, I could understand that. But background really doesn't matter for a show or pet horse.
When to buy? The fall and winter is usually the best time to find a horse. People do not want to pasture and feed the horse throughout the winter, and show season is now freshly off of their minds. Many breeding farms start thinking about the upcoming foal crop, and will be in a hurry to sell off the current year babies to make room for the ones that are coming. They will also be in more of a dealing mood to sell the remaining "leftover" horses that didn't sell first in the spring and summer.
Prices of horses are negotiable in most cases. If you have cash in hand, or even if you don't, don't be afraid to make a lower offer than the advertised price. In the horse industry, "horse trading" runs rampant, and a $2000 horse will often sell for $1700 or so. Unless the price states "FIRM" don't hesitate to make an offer. The worst thing that can happen is for the seller to say "no". Unless you find it very awkward, negotiate!
Where to buy? Look all around for the perfect horse... the internet is one of the newest up-and-coming ways to buy a horse. Videos can be mailed to your home, pictures can be sent through e-mail. The possibilities are endless when you search across the country. You will have to factor in shipping, which can run in the hundreds of dollars depending on locations. Some states you can find cheaper horses due to cost of living and acreage. Here in California, for instance, I find that the same horse can be sold for cheaper elsewhere in the midwest, and it is almost cheaper for me to buy out-of-state AND pay for shipping too. Some of my favorite miniature horse farms are included on my "Links" page so you can browse them and get some idea of what you are looking for. The Internet allows you to see hundreds of horses from the comfort of your own home, and you are less likely to be influenced by the pressures of the seller. Looking at the seller's website allows you to see the overall quality of the farm's horses as well as see further pictures of the horse's lineage and sire and dam. When buying a horse sight-unseen however, be very careful. Although the majority of miniature farms I have encountered are honest and reputable, you will need to be very careful. The seller, when called or emailed, should answer every single one of your questions to the best of their ability. Steer far away from sellers that are reluctant to answer questions or beat around the bush. Ask for as many pictures as you can; ask for pictures of the horse's bite, pictures of the horse from all angles (side, front, and back) hopefully clipped and on pavement. If a video can be obtained, try to get footage of the horse walking from the side, front, and back, as well as the horse turned loose to trot and canter. Pictures and video can easily be shown to unbiased third parties to evaluate conformation. Ask for referrals from other clients who have purchased horses from the seller. Ask if the seller offers a height and/or fertility guarantee if that is important to you. If the horse is out-of-state, find out who has to pay for the Coggins and Health Certificate necessary for shipping. Once you find a horse that appeals to you, make sure you get a written, signed contract with everything included. Be as thorough as you can. A vet check (using a vet that the seller does not know or use) is highly recommended for serious purchases especially if the animal will be used for breeding.
Research the market. One of the biggest helps will be to find an experienced horseperson, preferably one that has experience with minis, to help you. They can help you avoid common pratfalls in buying a horse.
Happy horse hunting!
Andrea Rollins (c)2003