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By Robert Norman Schwyzer, D.V.M.

Caring for your own horse is a remarkable experience. There is something extraordinarily special about the company of a true herbivore. The kindness in the eyes, the warmth of a soft, inquisitive muzzle and the friendly nicker of recognition denote the affectionate bond.

Prior to embarking on this union, especially if this is to be your first horse, please do a little soul searching. Ask yourself if you will have the time available that your horse needs. Do you have the financial wherewithal to provide adequate stabling, good quality feed, bountiful, fresh water, and a place to exercise? Health and foot care are necessary expenses which will be encountered. In the long haul, the least expensive aspect of ownership is the purchase price.

Horses come in a variety of shapes and sizes, colors, abilities, and intelligence. Know the type of horse you are seeking. Look for a horse that will be suitable for its intended use. Consider the disposition of an individual as well a as its athletic prowess and personal appeal.

Buy a good horse. It costs just as much to feed a good horse as it does to feed a bad horse, but is more rewarding. A good horse is one you like, one that is capable of learning and performing at an acceptable level. A good horse is sound and trusting.

Try to look at several horses before you choose yours. Ride them if they have been broken and your intention is to have a riding horse. Spend a little time with them to assess their personalities. Build rapport. Be honest with yourself. Avoid buying a horse that is too much or too green for your confidence and experience. Challenges are good. Intimidation is a drag.

Once a selection has been made, consult a professional to evaluate your decision. This is known as a “pre-purchase exam”. Veterinarians with a strong background in equine practice are best suited for this service. The basic principle provides a thorough examination of the horse I question, emphasizing general health, soundness and attitude.

No horse is perfect. However, dramatic and inapparent flaws can be detected prior to a final sale. Strengths and imperfections can be weighed to ascertain the suitability of this individual. X-rays and other diagnostic modalities may be indicated if certain conditions warrant further investigation. Fees are required for these services and amounts are often relative to the asking price, as well as the proposed performance level of the horse.

Ethics among equine veterinarians dictate standards of etiquette. During the examination, the equine veterinarian is working for you, the buyer, solely. He or she is obligated to reveal the objective facts to the best of his or her ability. If the equine veterinarian has an ongoing relationship with the seller, the veterinarian may choose to defer this examination to another practitioner of the buyer’s choice to avoid any conflict of interest.

When you get your horse, enjoy it. They are big and kind and warm and talented. There exits a saying that goes “The best thing for the inside of a man (or woman) is the outside of a horse.” Take good care of your horse. Your horse will take good care of you.

Robert Norman Schwyzer is a veterinarian in Santa Fe with a specialty
in equine medicine.

This article first appeared in the Winter/Spring 1997 issue.

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