Horse buying and selling has been on my brain lately, probably because it seems a lot of my students are in the market for a new horse and/or are selling their current horse! Horse buying is extremely dangerous business. If you don't know what you're doing, you could end up losing a lot of money, or worse, getting hurt. That's why I always tell my students to take me or another horse professional with them when they try out a horse. I can tell quickly if the horse will be suitable for the student or not.
Since most of my students are kids, here are some of my requirements for a good kids horse:
1. A horse that your kid can ride NOW. It is a huge mistake to think that you can buy a young or inexperienced horse and train it to be something your kid can ride in a short amount of time. Horses are like people, with different personalities, levels of athleticism, and even likes and dislikes. If the horse you're looking at isn't suited for what your kid wants to do now, it could be that the horse will never be suited for what you want. Not to mention the time and money you will spend training the horse. If your child is riding a green horse, he/she will constantly be worried about what the horse is doing or trying to keep it under control instead of focusing on their riding and developing their own skills. "Learning together" doesn't really work in the equestrian world. You want something experienced that can teach your child, instead of your child trying to train a horse while learning to ride.
2. A horse that is safe. This goes hand in hand with the first requirement. If the horse is spooky or hot or has a tendency to buck, rear, bolt, etc., leave it for a professional, not your child. Some good words to look for for a kids horse are "bombproof", "unflappable", "kid-safe", or even "lazy". Lazy horses can sometimes be the safest horses for kids.
3. A horse that your child fits now, with a little room to grow. I have constantly seen kids that are over-mounted, meaning the horse is either too much to handle (see number 1) or just too big. Horse buyers need to realize bigger is not always better. Make sure your child isn't too big or too small for the horse before you buy.
4. A horse that has manageable health problems, if any. This is where a professional horseperson comes in. Horse sellers can be dishonest, and a professional will usually be able to tell if the horse has had health issues in the past, and can certainly tell if the horse has health issues currently. Some issues can be maintained, such as minor arthritis. Don't overlook the horses with minor, maintainable issues, as they can be just as good or better than a horse in perfect health. Do be sure that the issue won't worsen, especially with the work you will be doing with the horse. Pre-purchase exams are great for this. Your veterinarian will give the horse a thorough exam to determine its fitness for what you want it to do. These exams are worth the money, especially if you don't have a professional to help you and/or are spending a lot of money on the horse.