Buying your first polo pony

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Tips when you are buying your first polo pony.

So imagine you have had a fair amount of lessons, have tried chukkas and you are hooked. There comes a time where you no longer wish to share the ponies you play with others at your polo club. Also you may have noticed that the school ponies can get fed up with being ridden by different riding levels and styles. As a result of this they can open up on the ball or run over it on purpose just to be rid of the mallet near their face. Horses are like people, they also get bored of repetition.

Once you feel like you would like to ‘grow up’ as a player, the time comes that you start looking for your own pony or multiple ponies. Playing the same ponies gives the advantage of learning and growing with that pony. Still, it is seen as a large investment and most beginning players are hesitant to commit to getting their own. However as soon as you become a more competitive player there is no point to keep renting as you will spend a similar amount renting horses. On top of this, the people that rent out horses often do not want to rent them to you anymore when you have reached a good level as it may be hard on their horses.

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The moment you then start looking for a horse there are a lot of question marks that make you feel like you would like to wait just a but longer with buying a horse. Things you may have never thought about have to be arranged for your new horse such as insurance, vetting, stabling, groom, etc. You probably already feel overwhelmed by just thinking about it. Well this is exactly why I am writing this article. Because I myself once went through a similar experience. The goal is that I take you with me through my learning curve and make you feel like you ‘got this’.

So first of all, where do you start looking for a good horse?
There are lots of websites where one can look such as groups on Facebook. Through other polo players who have horses you like; you can ask them where they bought those. Always be aware if your friend or acquaintance receives a percentage. This may influence his judgement.

How do I know if I can trust the seller?
I myself have seen sales happen where you know that the sales man could have been more honest. Of course, as a salesman, you cannot scare off your customer with every minor detail but in the case that the horse has issues the new owner should be aware of it for the sake of the horse. As a buyer just think like this: you cannot just trust the horse is fine. Buying horses is tricky and even the best friend you may overlook a health issue in the horse. What is most important, and this is not to scare you, is that there are a lot of dodgy people looking for quick money. Especially horse brokers that are looking for their cut without even informing the owner of the horse himself. In my opinion, even if the owner is hiring someone to sell the horses, the process should be transparant. All parties should know what they are engaging in.

What process should go through with a vet?
In the UK there is a 2-Stage and a 5-Stage vetting procedure. I would always suggest you do a 5 stage vetting procedure. So in the process of having your vet go to check the horse out you have the choice between a 2 and 5 stage procedure. I would suggest in the case that you are buying a sport horse, that you always do the 5 Stage vetting procedure.

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What does the 5 stage vetting procedure look like?

Stage 1: Preliminary examination
This is a thorough external examination of the horse at rest using visual observation, palpation (touch) and manipulation to detect clinically apparent signs of injury, disease or physical abnormality.
It includes an examination of the incisor teeth, a thorough examination of the horse's eyes in a darkened area and auscultation (listening) of the horse's heart and lungs at rest.
It doesn't include an examination of the inside of the horse's sheath, a detailed mouth examination with a speculum, a height measurement or any examination for pregnancy.

Stage 2: Walk and trot in-hand
Here the horse is walked and then trotted in-hand to detect abnormalities of gait and action.
Ideally, this is carried out on firm, level ground. The horse is turned sharply each way and is backed for a few paces.
Flexion tests of all four limbs and trotting in a circle on a firm surface may also be carried out, but these aren't mandatory parts of the standard procedure and there may be circumstances when the examining vet concludes that it's unsafe, inappropriate, unsuitable or impossible to perform them.
Most purchasers expect them to be performed as they can provide useful additional information about a horse.
The pre-purchase examination (PPE) certificate records whether or not they were done, and, if not, the reason for omitting them.

Stage 3: The exercise phase
In this phase, the horse is usually ridden and given sufficient exercise to allow assessment when he has an increased breathing effort and heart rate.
This tends to include assessment of his gait at walk, trot, cancer and, if appropriate, gallop, and finally for the purpose for which he's being purchased.
If ridden exercise isn't possible for any reason, then this stage may be conducted by exercising the horse on the lunge, but this fact should be made clear on the purchaser and on the certificate.

Stage 4: Period of rest and re-examination
The horse is allowed to stand quietly for a period during which time his respiratory and cardiovascular systems are monitored as they return to resting levels.

Stage 5: Second trot-up
Finally, the horse is trotted in-hand again to look for any signs of strains or injuries shown up by the exercise and rest stages.
Once the PPE has been completed, the vet may report their findings and opinion to you verbally at the time or soon afterwards, as well as documenting them in a certificate that's issued to you as the purchaser.
If the purchase doesn't go ahead, a certificate may not be completed, unless you require one.
Certificates are not transferable to another purchaser - each vetting is unique to each potential buyer.
(Source: https://www.yourhorse.co.uk/advice/vet-advice/articles/what-to-expect-from-a-five-stage-vetting )

When is the best time to buy?
When the horses recently come out of winter they have fully recovered from possible injuries. It is therefore the best idea to go and try horses when they are well into the second month of training and playing. A month and a half into the season is when they can be expected to be fit and any possible defaults are more likely to show. So for example for the Western European season you should go and try in May.

Who do I go to see the potential horse with?
Go with someone who's bought horses before. The first time I went to try, I went by myself and I strongly felt like it would have been better to have someone who knew to ask the right questions. Also, being alone, I felt a lot of pressure for the seller. Logically they want you to act fast as then you do not have enough time to doubt. It is the seller who has something to gain and if you do decide you do not want the horse that should be no problem to him.

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What should I focus on when I try the horse?
If you are planning to use the horse for playing polo on grass, make sure you try the horse on grass. It seems an obvious fact but an arena horse does not necessarily work on grass. Try to see if it does flying changes well as it is very important in polo. Also do have a look if the horse has normal response and does not act sleepy (sign of being drugged). It should stop properly and should feel safe as it goes flat out. Try all the polo shots with the horse and make sure you try him in a ride off and in a game situation. Traits to rule out are; running off the ball, shying away from the mallet and shaking its head when you are stopping.
Have a look at this video on lameness to educate yourself on this subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=134&v=1WEnagMtu_Y

How many times do you try the horse?
Try the horse two times before you buy him at least. If you want have someone you know try the horse as well. Do not abuse the seller by trying multiple times even though you are not planning to buy, Just be honest and move on to vetting if you are interested.

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I tried the horse and like him, Now what?
Ask for his passport information and the payment details of the sale, Ask for a sale certificate from the buyer. The seller should provide you with all information of the horse. Do not hesitate to ask for the medical history of the horse, the seller should be willing to provide you with this as he should have nothing to hide. Most injuries do not have to influence the future performance of the horse. The seller should expect you to ask as many questions as you may need. This should be more than normal even more so if you are about to commit yourself to buying a horse.

You have decided to buy the horse. Now what do I need to know?
Have a look into if you need insurance, where you can stable it as well as if there will be taxes to pay for having a horse. This may defer per country. Again you can ask local players to for their experience and advice. If you are new in the world of buying horses do not hesitate to ask someone to help you in this process. Also do follow you gut feeling when you buy, When it seems to good to be true it usually is.