Buying a horse - How to protect yourself

Buying a horse is to many equine enthusiasts a substantial investment. It is therefore important that, not only you thoroughly research the horse you have in mind before buying, but also that you protect yourself with a written sale agreement.


You either love them or you hate them, but a checklist is an essential part of all horse viewings. It is essential that you take a checklist of things to ask about the horse and make notes of what the seller says.

Your checklist should include:

  1. How is the horse in the stable?
  2. Is the horse good to catch, clip, box (in a horsebox and/or trailer) and shoe?
  3. Does the horse hack alone and in company?
  4. Does the horse have any vices?
  5. Are you aware of any behavioural problems (napping, rearing, bucking) in your ownership or before?
  6. Does the horse have any history of lameness, injury or illness?
  7. Can I see the horse’s passport? Ensure you see this and check it thoroughly before you go as far as making an offer to purchase.
  8. Will you disclose the horse’s veterinary history (a computer printout from the seller’s vet and any other vet who may have treated the horse e.g. a specialist vet).
  9. If the seller is not prepared to disclose the veterinary printout you should ask yourself why and not go ahead with purchase unless you are happy with the explanation.
  10. Ask the seller to sign and date the checklist.

If your new horse turns out to be different to the way he was described before purchase, the amount of research that you did before buying the horse, and whether you have a sale contract in place, will affect whether or not you have a legal right of recourse. This is when the checklist, complete with the handwritten recording of the answers given by the seller (ideally signed and dated by the seller), are extremely useful.

Once the horse has been vetted, you can then arrange a sale agreement/contract which must be signed before payment is made. The sale agreement (a written agreement) needs to include:

  • Name and addresses of the parties;
  • Date of purchase and date of completion of the contract;
  • Details of the horse;
  • Purchase price and how funds are to be paid;
  • Any vices/behavioural problems disclosed to the buyer;
  • Any illnesses disclosed to the buyer;
  • Exactly when and how the purchaser will be allowed to return the horse for breach;
  • A time limit within which a complaint must be made or the animal returned.

Sale in the Course of Business

Section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act 1979 imposes implied terms of fitness for purpose and satisfactory quality where a horse has been sold in the course of business. It is important to note that for section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act to apply. The seller must be selling in the course of business and must not be a private seller. In the event of a dispute these statutory terms can be relied upon by the purchaser.

Private Sale

If the seller is selling privately, the purchaser cannot rely on section 14 of the Sale of Goods Act. In this situation the rule of caveat emptor (‘buyer beware’) applies and the purchaser must prove that the horse was not as described in accordance with section 13 of the Sale of Goods Act and/or has been misrepresented to them by the seller. The buyer also has to prove that the representations were relied upon by the buyer in deciding to buy the horse. Where the purchaser is unable to prove a breach of section 13 of the Sale of Goods Act or misrepresentation there will be no comeback over undiscovered problems or vices unless the purchaser has an express agreement with the seller.

Horse prices usually run into thousands of pounds, yet purchasers are still handing over large sums of money without obtaining a sale agreement, the price of which is very inexpensive in comparison to the price of an average horse.

Top Tips for the Buyer:

  • Insist upon having a written purchase agreement, which should fully detail how the horse has been described to you.
  • Always view a horse prior to purchase. It is almost impossible to assess whether a horse is suitable for you unless you have seen and tried it.
  • If possible try the horse more than once. Go with an experienced friend or trainer. Do as much with the horse as you can. If you want him to jump then ask to jump the horse; if the horse is to hack, ask to hack him out alone and in company.
  • Have Rider Insurance cover to protect you in the event of an accident for provides personal accident, emergency vets’ fees and third party liability cover in respect of any horse you ride.
  • Have the horse vetted and go to the vetting so that you can discuss the vet’s findings as they go along. Tell the vet what you are purchasing the horse to do and ask the vet to confirm how the horse has behaved at the vetting (if you are unable to attend).

Buying a Horse Unseen

If you buy a horse from a trader/dealer unseen, if you are a consumer then you are protected by the Distance Selling Regulations and so can return the horse for any reason within 7 days of delivery. This only applies to a sale from a trader/dealer to a consumer and the horse must have been purchased unseen.

For further information on equine law visit

For further information about Horse Insurance options visit or for Rider Insurance visit

The materials and opinions contained under our 'Advice' pages are for general information purposes only, are not intended to constitute legal or other professional advice, and should not be relied on or treated as a substitute for specific advice relevant to particular circumstances. Petplan makes no warranties, representations or undertakings about any of the content of the 'Advice' pages (including, without limitation, any as to the quality, accuracy, completeness or fitness for any particular purpose of such content).