The Dangers of Buying Horses Unseen

How are we buying horses in 2020?

Coronavirus and Lockdown 2020 has been tough, some of us have been grateful that we could enjoy more time with our horses outdoors and doing one of the most socially distanced sports around, however, some people were not even allowed to visit their horses due to yard and covid restrictions. Things are still far from normal and one of the other things greatly affected by lockdown 2020 is the Horse and Pony selling & buying market.

Buying a horse or pony during 2020 is currently somewhat rivaling the crazy puppy trade. With people having more spare time wanting to get out and enjoy horse riding and everything else that comes with owning a horse, and as a result of the demand, prices for horses and ponies for sale have skyrocketed.

Lockdown 2020 has greatly effected the way we have been buying horses.

How do we value a Horse or Pony?

This is a very tough question to answer as there are so many different aspects to consider and so many different categories and types of horses and riders/owners. People say ‘Horses are only worth what someone is willing to pay!’ (How wonderfully vague) but it currently seems to of got rather out of control!!

However, there does now seem to be a lot of frustration coming through, where people are unable to find a horse or pony within their budget and, quite rightly, do not want to pay over the odds for something they feel is not worth the price tag and that at the beginning of the year in some cases would have been potentially half the price.

Firstly, what the owner of the horse wants for the horse they are selling is possibly the most important factor, but do not let greed or your feelings for the horse cloud your valuation and equally sellers need to have a realistic look at what type of horse their budget will allow them to buy and the compromises they will have to make if their budget is limited.

Listed below are the main factors that people judge a horses value on:

  • Competition experience and results
  • The potential to compete (in a chosen discipline) at X level
  • Conformation
  • Temperament (This could vary massively dependant on use: from do you want a super safe horse for hacking or the kids, or a hotter dressage horse that’s reactive and has the drive to work)
  • Speed of sale (Do you need the horse sold quickly)
  • Previous injuries (How long ago were they? How serious? Ask for vet details)
  • Do they hack out alone and in company? (I’d also add to this clipping, travelling, loading, good in open spaces etc.)
  • Is the horse a professionals ride/novice ride/ or amateur ride?
  • Blemishes and other ailments. (Does the horse have any splints, melanomas (especially greys), sarcoids)
  • Vices/ Stereotypical Behaviours. (See our blog on this Stable Vices in Horses Blog)

Buying Horse Unseen

search for a horse in the UK
How do we buy a horse unseen as safely as possible?

Firstly, horse welfare should be an absolute priority here, we do not want to see horses passed from owner to owner, yard to yard without care, due to people being irresponsible. People not assessing the horse correctly (see further down) or the horse arriving in very poor condition (not what you had seen or expected from the photos they had sent. So please, don’t forget horses already put up with a lot from us humans so let’s give them the best possible chance!!

Buying a horse unseen, simply means that you (the buyer) do not go to view the horse in person yourself but there are still plenty of ways to see the horse if not in person.

Lockdown restrictions did nothing to deter people from buying horses. We are instead now seeing a massive trend for buying horses unseen, and when not done correctly its a scammers delight.

On many Facebook threads, I’m seeing people being warned of stories of how they have lost money or even worse had horses arrive in terrible states of welfare. The scammers are often taking random photos off the internet, advertising a horse on Facebook, and then when the potential buyer leaves a deposit the seller suddenly disappears without a trace.

To buy a horse unseen can come with great risks, as well as the financial risk, if you have not seen a horse be ridden and not assessed the horse correctly then it could potentially put you in danger of an accident, however, with correct measures it can be done safely.

Buying a younger horse (3-4 years old or below) would arguably be a safer option in as much as it is less likely to have previous riding injuries, you can have it backed for riding yourself or by someone you trust if not already done, so you will know all ridden history, and if they have had good handling from a young age you could find yourself a fabulous horse that can be easily assessed from videos and photos.

Horse Search has a dedicated section for Horse Dealers. Buying unseen from a Horse Dealer can give you security in your purchase, for starters they have a business and reputation to protect, you can do your research on their business and get reviews from previous customers.

Horse dealers like Emily Chamber from EJC Equine has always offered a 28-day exchange warranty when you buy a horse, plus has hundreds of reviews on her Facebook page, and during the first lockdown only, was selling horses with a 2-week money-back guarantee.

Make sure you research your chosen Horse Dealer

If it is not a Horse dealer but a private sale you intend to buy a horse from you can still find a professional to help advise you, whether this be your riding instructor, knowledgeable friend. They will be able to help you by looking at the horse or pony with a knowledgeable and unbiased eye and may think of extra things you don’t when you get caught up in the excitement of thinking you may have found a horse to buy.

How do we buy a horse unseen as safely as possible?

With the beauty of having smartphones almost constantly on our possession, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t get up to date photos and videos of the horse or pony we are interested in. (A photo and video of a competition from 3 years ago is not good enough)

Buy a horse
Use a video call to better assess a horse for sale.

Ideally, if time allows I would want to do a video call with the seller. That way you can ask questions as you go along and this is actually the most time saving as it saves tooing and froing with messages.

  • Think about what is important to you, do you hack a lot and are on a busy road? If so, ask to see a video of the horse on the road with some traffic passing
  • Is it a pony that will be handled by kids? Ask to see it on the yard and being tacked up and groomed etc.
  • Is it a horse for hunting? Ask what pack the horse has hunted with and call the secretary of the hunt for a reference
  • If you want to jump the horse, ask for a video of a course at a specific height possibly with fillers under the fences. (Be aware that not everyone may have the facilities for this though)
  • Get a video of the horse walking and trotting up on a hard surface in a straight line (I would say this an essential). And if possible a video on the lunge is a great way to assess soundness. (Even if you plan to have the horse vetted, this could save you hundreds if you spot a lameness yourself)

BE AS THOROUGH AS YOU POSSIBLY CAN!! If the person/ seller is not willing to do as you request or answer any questions WALK AWAY!! There will be another horse, be patient, and take your time.

I am aware that this takes time that people selling may not have, but if it is a horse that is in work there is no reason why they couldn’t get you a simple video of the horse during a ridden session. We’re not talking edited, high-resolution videos here. The seller could so simply prop a phone or camera on the fence when riding.

Finally, get a photo of the passport to check for reference and if you wish the horse to be vetted, do your research yourself on local veterinary practices that you could use. ( You can request any X-rays to be sent to your own vet for them to assess themselves)

Most importantly and all we really want is that we all get to enjoy our horses, stay safe and give the horse the best possible life along with it.

So, the final rules you should give yourself to buy a horse are:

  • Do your research, ask around for references on the person/ seller
  • Get up to date photos and videos (Ideally a video call) ( Ridden and in hand)
  • Be prepared to walk away
  • Be thorough!
  • View the passport
  • Find your own transporter and vet (if being vetted)
  • Ask for an equestrian professionals opinion
  • And, Think with your head, not your heart.

We hope this article will help make good choices and help you to find your perfect next horse or pony!! You can advertise horses and ponies for sale on Horse Search (Free for all adverts during covid restrictions) or search through the horses for sale currently listed.


  • Comments are closed.