An online ad shows a beautiful horse for sale, and the buyer is drawn in. The ad describes the horse as a perfect show horse, unflappable trail horse, kid-friendly, easy-keeper, and free of vices. The price is low, and the buyer rushes to make the purchase. The buyer makes the purchase sight unseen and sends money to the seller, a total stranger. The buyer sought no veterinary pre-purchase examination and no drug screen. The parties had no written contract.

After the horse arrives, serious problems become apparent. The horse might show none of the characteristics that were so glowingly advertised. Registration papers might not exist. The horse might be seriously lame or ill. The horse might be downright dangerous or untrained. When the buyer complains, the seller refuses to rescind the deal.

Certainly, buyers in these situations may have options available to them for legal recourse. But most buyers will keep the horse rather than invest in legal fees. 


With careful planning, buyers can help avoid purchase disputes. Here are a few suggestions to consider:

  • Don’t purchase a horse sight unseen. Get valuable, knowledgeable opinions regarding the horse before you buy. Hire an independent veterinarian (not one recommended by the seller) to conduct a pre-purchase veterinary examination, along with a drug screen. Hire a respected equine professional, such as well-recommended trainer, instructor, or judge, to assess the horse, especially if the buyer has special goals for the horse's use after purchase. If the seller refuses to allow these evaluations, don’t make the purchase.
  • If you cannot be present for the veterinary or professional exams, arrange for them to be videotaped. Watch them. Consider sending a video of the veterinary exam and results to your regular, local veterinarian for a second opinion.
  • Insist on seeing a copy of the horse's registration papers before you sign the contract or send payment. Do they match the horse? Is the seller even listed on them?
  • Protect yourself by using a well-written sale contract that covers details that are important to you. The simplest elements can include, at a minimum: If the seller insists that the horse has never been injured, lame, or ill, put that in writing. Have the seller specify how long he or she has owned the horse. If the seller promises that the horse is registered and that the seller will sign over the papers, get that in writing. If the seller describes the horse as an “easy keeper,” put that in the contract and have the seller explain in writing what he or she means. (Example: How much feed and hay the horse receives each day, what type of feed and hay the horse receives, feed supplements, and how frequently the horse is pastured.) If the seller promises that the horse has never received treatments, such as joint injections, put that in the contract. Always make sure that the seller promises that he or she owns the horse and has the legal authority to sell it free of all liens and encumbrances. Consider an attorney fee clause in case a dispute arises. Send payment only after the buyer and seller have signed the same contract.


Unscrupulous horse sellers exist, and they expect buyers to refrain from taking legal action against them. Horse buyers have every incentive to proceed cautiously and protect themselves. A knowledgeable lawyer can help.