Purchasing a horse is a big decision and many things need to be taken into consideration. I have met people who have looked at horses for years and never found "the one" and some who bought the first horse they found. The best advice I can give to someone looking to buy a horse is to make a list of the most important qualities in a horse. Once you've looked at a few horses and have found one that seems to fit your needs, have a professional or a trusted, experienced horse friend come evaluate the horse.
The most common complications that occur when buying a horse is (1.) falling in love with the horse's looks (2.) Relying on what the seller tells you only (3.) Not spending sufficient time and efforts when trying a horse (4) Price.
1.) Falling in love with the horse's looks...The ancient saying "Looks are only skin deep" comes to mind!!!! Of course it is fun to own a gorgeous horse, however no matter the color, or conformation, the ugliest horse is the one that just bucked you off. Of course if you plan on spending the time and money to provide training for this gorgeous horse, looks may be a big factor that you'll want to consider, but no matter how much training a horse has, the true personality of the horse will never change.
It just kills me when I ask my clients what they are looking for in a horse and the first thing they say is Buckskin! If you are willing to wait until that perfect horse comes along in Buckskin color, so be it! Just know that you may end up looking for years to come.
2.) Relying on what the seller tells you only... I am not going to say that every seller lies, because they don't. I have met quite a few though who will stretch the truth or only point out the good qualities in a horse that fit the description of what you say you are looking for. Even a truely honest seller who tells you exactly how they feel about the horse may lead you astray. Things such as "too slow for me" makes it sound as if it is a laid back, kid's horse. When, really, if I say that about a horse, it is generally still too quick for most of the people I ride with. "Easy to learn on" sounds like it would be great for anyone. Not necessarily so...Easy to learn what on? I know a horse who is so easy to ride if you are a beginner learning balance and basic steering, but not a good one to learn collection on. If you ask her to do more complex movements, she is very cranky and resents the hard work. It's not that she can't get over that aspect with more training, but if you are looking for one to learn on then you probably aren't looking for one who needs more training.
Also perhaps a horse is really good at many things and is very responsive with the current owner who is very assertive and experienced. That doesn't mean that the horse will respond that way with you who may not be as experienced. Believe me I've seen this one over and over again. People tell me how naughty their horse is and then seem pretty disappointed when their horse didn't try to buck me off! As a professional horsewoman I am able to see the holes in a horse's training and fill them without usually having to deal with the naughtyness the owner describes. Their horses learn the correct behavior, but if the owner doesn't take the time to figure it out... the horse starts seeing the holes in the owner's training and starts to take advantage!
3.)Not spending sufficient time and efforts when trying a horse ... I can't believe how many people buy a horse without trying it!!! A long-time client and friend of mine was looking to buy a horse. She was looking for a confidence builder who she could learn to ride better on. She had lost confidence through time riding very spooky horses. She asked me if it'd be silly to bring tarps and bags, etc along just to be she the horse was ok with it. I'm sure you know what my response was! "SMART WOMAN!!"
It seems more that silly to me that someone looking for a trail horse would go try out a horse and only walk him around a roundpen. A roundpen is not even close to being similar to the trail. Even more silly is someone looking for a beginner's horse and not taking it for a test ride. If you are too nervous to ride the horse when you go to look at it, bring a trusted professional or friend. An even better solution for someone too nervous to test the horse is to instead of purchasing the horse, go take lessons on a trained horse with a professional to teach you what to do. Then when you have the experience, go find one that suits your riding level.
Another thing that happens when you don't spend enough time with the potential new horse is that you buy it and get it home only to find out it is lame. I've seen this happen a lot. A prepurchase exam is a great way to avoid this, but less expensively is to spend the time with it. A previous client of mine spent lots of money on a well broke horse and it was well broke, but it turned out lame. When I asked her if she saw the horse loping both directions, she realized the owner had only loped it to the left. Well, turns out that if they would have loped him to the right, he would have started limping. Be cautious and alert. Inspect every inch of the horse you are looking at, especially if you are an inexperienced horseperson.
4.) Price.... When is price NOT a complication?? Some times you get lucky and find a great deal. Sometimes a horse will be an excellent horse with issues that you are able to handle and will make the horse less expensive. No matter if you pay $500 or $5000 the initial price is usually the least expensive part of owning a horse. After vaccinations, farrier care, hay, boarding or mortgage on horse property, vet care, etc horse owners spend thousands every year on their horse.
Be realistic in the pricetag on your horse. You usually get what you pay for. The only exception is perhaps that rare good deal when someone is really in a financial bind and needs to sell the horse or if you meet someone who really can't keep the horse but wants it to go to a forever home. The latter of the two usually won't be advertised anywhere; you'll only hear about them through word of mouth.
If price is a limiting factor in your horse purchase, lessons and/or leasing may be a better option to satisfy your horse craving.
Remember there is no such thing as a bad horse, just a bad fit. A horse may be perfect for one person, but not another. Just like they say about couples, "there is someone for everyone..." same with horses-just a matter of finding that special one!!! Good luck!