According to a recent report, there are an estimated 500,000 horses in Canada, with roughly 855,000 people involved in the industry who paid $894 million in provincial and federal taxes and sustained 70,997 jobs in 2022. Canadians contributed $24 billion to the economy and spent more than $8.3 billion on equine-keeping expenses. That’s big business and illustrates the number of horse lovers that live in our country.

For those who are looking to join the crowd and buy a horse for the first time, we’ve put together some essential tips to help make the process more streamlined, fun, and (hopefully) less stressful. Equestrian Canada also has its own guide, Best Practices Guide for buying and Selling A Horse, that you can download from their website here.

1. Partner with a Pro

Whether it’s your first horse or 50th, the single most important thing you can do is partner with a trusted professional in the horse industry. Most likely this will be your instructor or coach. This person will know you and your abilities, and they will have relationships with trusted sellers and breeders, have a veterinarian for the pre-purchase exam (see tip 10), and assess the animal’s suitability and rideability.

“Our main priorities when helping clients buy a horse are matching their abilities, budget, and goals with the appropriate animal,” says Tina Irwin who, along with husband Jaimey, are both Equestrian Canada-certified High Performance Coaches and international riders with a thriving dressage business north of Toronto.

2. Be Honest with Yourself and Know Your Goals

It’s important not to overestimate your riding skills or think you can learn on a “green” horse. Instead, do some serious soul-searching and ask yourself the tough questions: are you a beginner rider or intermediate? Are you brave or timid?

“A great horse is never a bad colour.”

“Buyers need to honestly evaluate their abilities. If they are wanting the high-end performance horse but truly need a confidence-building schoolmaster, things might not go so well,” says Sabrina Kirdie, who along with her husband Clayton Stadnyk and son Chay own Coyote Ridge Ranch Performance Horses in Birtle, Manitoba, where they breed, raise, and sell American Quarter Horses. “Be honest with yourself and the seller,” she adds. “My goals are X, Y, Z. My abilities are X, Y, Z. Is this horse a fit?”

Calgary-based Rodney Tulloch, a hunter/jumper coach, trainer and rider whose students have won championships at Spruce Meadows and The Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, echoes Kirdie’s advice. “It’s very important to match the rider’s ability with the horse’s skill and temperament,” he says.

3. Discuss Budget

You will need to understand the full cost of the horse you’re looking for so you can properly budget. While this can include things like HST or shipping, there is also the cost of commission or finder’s fees.

“For first-time buyers, always rely on your professional,” says Tulloch. “Too often, people try to save money by not paying a commission and find themselves in trouble.” Discuss with your professional if they are expecting a fee from you or taking a commission from the seller.

4. Resources

The internet is a great resource to find horses that are for sale. Find sites that cater to the breed or discipline you’re interested in, but beware of ads that seem too good to be true (“Beautiful Friesian for $2,000!”) because they are likely a scam. Compile a list of horses you’re interested in and share this with your coach or trusted equine professional and get their input.

Your trainer will also know other professionals who will have suitable horses on the market. But you can also ask other rider friends about horses that are for sale. Reach out to local stables and breeders. Attend horse shows and events which often have a bulletin board; talk to people who are riding horses you like. Even if a particular horse isn’t for sale, the owner might have others.


A woman watching horses at a show.

Horse shows can be a good hunting ground for sale horses. Check the bulletin boards and flyers on stalls, and ask around. (Brett –

5. Research the Horse

The type of horse you’re looking for will depend on the discipline, your budget, goals, and skill set. It can also be breed-specific, such as a Quarter Horse or Arabian, versus a dressage horse or jumper which can be of different breeding. Breed registries have comprehensive websites and often include breeder directories and list sale horses.

“For first-time buyers I always tell them to keep an open mind,” says Tulloch – an opinion shared by the Irwins, who encourage their clients to be “flexible” about breeds, size, etc.
A common mistake first-time horse owners make is being “color blind and gender-biased,” adds Kirdie. “Your perfect horse could be a sorrel mare, but your heart is set on a fancy-colored gelding. A great horse is never a bad color.”

If the seller balks at a vet exam, this is a major red flag and you should walk away.

If you find a specific horse you’re interested in, you should ask the seller more questions. As a breeder and seller, Kirdie suggests a phone call is the best place to start. “We want to be talking to a prospective buyer to get a feel for what they want and need. So much can get lost in translation conversing in text or email,” she says. “That initial conversation can go a long way to building a trusting relationship.”

Tulloch also adds that he wants to know the horse’s background and show record as well.

Here are some questions to ask, as per EC’s Best Practices Guide for Buying and Selling A Horse:

  • Are there any health issues? Has the horse ever had colic or any surgeries?
  • Is the horse on any specific medications or supplements?
  • Does the horse have any behavioral issues such as rearing, or vices such as cribbing?
  • How does the horse behave for the farrier?
  • Does the horse travel well, and load and unload well?
  • What is the horse accustomed to when it comes to turnout? Is it on individual or group turnout?
  • Is the horse up-to-date on vaccines and worming?

6. Research the Seller

The horse world is notoriously small, so ask around about the reputation of the seller. Your coach will help steer you away from anyone with a bad reputation. You may also wish to ask the seller for references from people they have sold horses to in the recent past. Sellers should be honest with you about the abilities of the horse ,as well as its temperament. “When selling horses, I am up front as to what the horse can and cannot do,” says Tulloch.

7. Try the Horse

Take your coach or trusted horse person with you for a valued second opinion. Ask to see the horse untacked to look at its condition and conformation in real life. If it’s a youngster, ask to see the horse at liberty, either in an arena or round pen to assess movement.

Ask the seller to ride the horse first. Your coach may ride the horse before you do as well, so they can ensure it’s a good match and safe. Then it’s your turn. Be honest with yourself and your trainer. No matter how beautiful or talented the horse is, it won’t work if it makes you nervous, or isn’t comfortable, or whatever issue you discover once you’re in the saddle.

Ensure someone videos your ride on your phone so you can watch with your coach, and also compare to other horses you try.

8. Buying Online

Buying a horse strictly based on a video was fairly common prior to the COVID pandemic, but the practice increased dramatically during the health crisis. From European sport horses to reining prospects to racehorses, many choose to buy a horse without seeing it in real life. But this comes with obvious risks.

“I’ll preface this by saying that both the seller and buyer have responsibilities to be transparent and honest with the other party,” says Kirdie. “When a person decides to purchase a horse sight unseen, online, etc, they also need to be okay with the outcome, good, bad, or otherwise. They need to make sure they are asking the right questions, doing a pre-purchase exam, and are confident in their abilities to carry on with the horse when they get home.”

A vet examining a horse.

Always have a vet check performed before you purchase ‒ and preferably with a vet of your choosing, not the seller’s. (Monkey Business –

9. Auction Basics

Auctions, whether live or online, can be an exciting experience and a good way to buy a horse. Many auctions post videos of horses online prior to the sale. Some, but not all, offer vet exams and x-rays, or allow potential buyers to contact sellers directly and arrange a riding trial or vet exam prior to the auction. You will need to research the specific auction to know the rules and expectations. You will have to register ahead of time and be prepared to pay for the horse the day of the auction and to have a stall ready for the horse to be shipped within a few days of buying. Each auction will have its own setup and rules pertaining to these basic points, so read the fine print carefully and know what you’re signing up for before committing.

10. Get a Pre-Purchase Exam (PPE)

Having your vet examine the horse before you buy it should be a condition of sale. If the seller balks at a vet exam, this is a major red flag and you should walk away.

There are different kinds of PPEs depending on your budget. You can opt for a basic health and performance exam including flexion tests but forego x-rays, bloodwork, etc., which increase the cost. But x-rays will help you better assess the horse’s long-term suitability for your goals. A blood sample can be taken but held by your vet and not tested. This reduces costs, but you have it for a set time period while you ride your new horse. This would allow you to test to see if the horse had been put on sedatives to make it seem quiet or more rideable, should you get home and find yourself with a bronc.

You should also inquire from the seller if there are x-rays or a previous PPE that your vet can review and compare. For horses bought from a video, you can have a local vet visit the horse (preferably not the seller’s vet), do the vetting and have the exam filmed so your own vet can view it.

Just like any relationship, buying a new horse means there will be ups and downs and an adjustment period. In the end, no matter how carefully you chose your new equine partner, there are no guarantees that it will ultimately be the right fit. But if it doesn’t work out, a good horse will become a solid ride for someone else.