Behavioural Issues

The horse behaved just fine when I tried him, and now he’s bucking me off. Can I return the horse?

As we discussed in Part 1 of Misrepresenting Horses for Sale, it is important to get a pre-purchase examination done when you are considering purchasing a horse. The buyer should also get the horse’s medical history and fitness stage from the seller before purchase, so that the buyer is aware of any past problems or tendencies that do not exist at the time of the pre-purchase examination.  This should preferably be recorded in writing from the seller, so that any representations about the horse’s medical history are on record.

It is recommended that both you and your trainer view and try the horse before purchase. You can also ask the owner if he or she would bring the horse to a local competition ground or equestrian centre so that you can view and ride the horse out of its home environment, as this may help to show how the horse behaves in an unfamiliar situation.  If the seller will allow it, the buyer may use a trial period to further evaluate the horse’s appropriateness for the buyer.

Despite taking these precautions, some riders find that the horse’s temperament and behaviour changes when they bring the horse home. What can you do then?  What if you have sold a horse that seemed a perfect match for its new owner at the inspection, but now the buyer wants to return it?

If the horse shows a sudden change in behaviour, physical causes should be ruled out. A veterinarian should examine the horse to ensure that the behaviour is not caused by pain or injury.  For example:

  • A horse in a new environment may take time to settle and could injure itself in a new pecking order squabble, or strain a muscle running away from the dominant horse in its new herd.
  • A change to deeper footing or increase in workload may cause initial soreness in a horse which is not accustomed to it.


It is also possible that the horse may have been drugged and/or fed excessive calming supplements in preparation for your inspection. Click here to read a recent story out of the UK which resulted in criminal convictions for the sellers, who are currently awaiting sentencing:

The fit and appropriateness of the tack should also be checked. When you purchase a new horse, take note of exactly what the previous owner has been using on the horse in terms of fit, size and type.  An ill-fitting saddle or bit, for instance, can cause a normally quiet horse to show behavioural problems or resistance under saddle.

If you are purchasing a horse from a reputable breeder or trainer, he or she may be willing to continue to train the horse and/or give you lessons on your new horse to ensure safety as well as to evaluate whether you are inadvertently causing or permitting the behaviour. If the horse must remain in training for a long period of time, this will likely increase the cost to the buyer of keeping the horse.  As a buyer, you may need to consider whether it is indeed the right horse for you.

We recommend that when buying and selling horses, you insist on a properly drafted sale contract regardless of whether you are the buyer or the seller. This contract should address these issues and allow for an agreed way of dealing with a potential return.  If you are the seller, you should consider carefully how you wish to handle this scenario.  If you sell a horse to a client and it does not work out, there is a risk that you could be found liable if the client gets injured or if the client pursues you for misrepresentation.  Stories from unhappy clients also spread throughout the horse community very quickly, especially in these days of social media, so an unhappy client can damage your reputation.