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What Questions to Ask when Buying a Horse – with Brent Maxwell and Valerie Kearns


You are searching for your next show partner; you have called trainers to see what is available, scoured social media outlets, and stalked sale platforms for months.

Once you find a potential candidate for your next show partner, it may be overwhelming on how to proceed. Top trainers Brent Maxwell and Valerie Kearns provide insight into what questions to ask during your search. 

Soundness and State of Mind

Brent Maxwell of Mil-Max Training Center, located in West Mansfield, OH, which specializes in all-around horses, provides insight into his decision process.

“First and foremost, I question soundness and maintenance issues to see if the horse can physically handle the job at hand.” Often, all-around trainers are looking for prospects that they believe have the capabilities to succeed in other events.

Once Maxwell checks the first box on a horse, he moves on to the animal’s state of mind. “Then, I ask about trainability and mental attitude. Is he sully in his sides or resistant? Then, I ride, and basically, temper test them by pushing them beyond their comfort zone to see how they react to different pressures and techniques.”

Maxwell continues, “For an all-around horse, they need to follow their head or at least be able to comprehend the idea. Also, be able to move their front feet and can be athletic and turn around for events such as the horsemanship, equitation, and trail.”

Overall Health 

Once past those questions, Maxwell moves along to the essential health of the horse. “I’ll question allergies, shoeing regimen, or requirements. If maintenance is required, what is the frequency? I also question how the horse has been used and how he will take on more tasks. Along with the norm of clipping, hauling, etc.”

Valerie Kearns of Valerie Kearns Show Horses, located in Grayslake, IL, specializes in western pleasure, hunter under saddle, and all-around horses.

“When I’m looking for a specific horse, I call the people I know that have experience in that area. For example, we just bought a small fry for Annabel, who will carry her as an 11 and Under mount. I called several people that had experience with small children. It’s crucial that the people you are shopping with understanding what it takes to prepare one for the type of individual you are looking for.”

Ask Questions

“Do your homework on the people you’re buying from,” Kearns states. “Make calls to people who have purchased from them in the past. Ask a lot of questions. The more questions you ask, the more you know what you will have when you get home.”

Soundness issues? What kind of maintenance is done to keep the horse sound? “You can ask for a medical history from the vets that worked on the horse if you need more information,” Kearns shares. “I like to deal with people who tell you more than you ask. Get a pre-purchase exam. If you don’t know the vet doing the exam, have the results and X-rays sent to your vet.”

Keep an Open Mind

Horses have issues more often than not. It is likely the horse will not vet clean. The question is if the problems are maintainable. How will the issues affect resale?

“Some of the best horses I have purchased have vetting issues,” Kearns reveals. “The pre-purchase is to help you know what to expect in the future. Have blood drawn to know if the horse has anything in its system that would alter its behavior or soundness. Most vets will take the sample and hold it for 30 days. If you get the horse home, and it’s not what you expected, you can have the vet run the sample.”

Bad Days

All horses have good and bad days. Ask about what you will encounter on a bad day. It’s much easier to transition to a new horse if you know what to expect. “Remember, there is always an adjustment period,” Valerie told us. “Be patient as you learn what works and what doesn’t with your new partner.”

Kearns sums up her thoughts, “Don’t be afraid to call and ask the previous trainer any questions you might have after getting the horse home. They will want you to be successful and should be more than happy to help with things you encounter as you get to know each other.”


About the Author – Lacy Watson was born and raised in Goshen, OH, where her mother Jamie Watson continues to train all-around horses, but now resides in Cloverdale, IN. She is an independent consultant for her jewelry business, Rustic Lace. Lacy competes in the all-around events, but her favorite class is the horsemanship.

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