When what you “see” isn’t what you get: The risks of buying horses sight unseen

Laddie was very underweight on arrival at Belwade Farm.
Laddie was very underweight on arrival at Belwade Farm. © World Horse Welfare

Online shopping has become the norm for many during the Covid-19 pandemic, but it can easily go very wrong when horse shopping.

An equine charity has posted a cautionary tale about buying horses sight unseen, after two horses who were “not as advertised” ended up in their care.

Laddie and Angel came into the care of World Horse Welfare’s Belwade Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre in Aberdeenshire in March 2021 after the pair’s new owner had bought them both unseen online from a horse dealer 500 miles away.

Laddie, a bay Thoroughbred cross gelding, arrived in Scotland after his 11-hour journey and was a sad sight: Dreadfully underweight and, having been recently fully clipped by the dealer, his ribs were also clearly visible with his hip bone and spine protruding through his skin – a stark contrast to the advertised stunning schoolmaster horse that was depicted in the videos and pictures sent to the potential buyer.

Angel was in good body condition when she arrived in Scotland but was nervous, skittish and flighty – not the bombproof hacking pony advertised.

Laddie and Angel’s owners paid £7000 ($US9600; $NZ13,700) for the pair.

The new owners asked World Horse Welfare to help these horses when they realised the specialist care, attention and facilities needed to nurse them back to full health. After several months of specialist care and rehabilitation Laddie and Angel have a bright future.

World Horse Welfare Field Officer Leanne McPake said the new owners bought the horses unseen from a dealer in Essex and paid for them to be transported up to a remote area of the Highlands.

Laddie on arrival at Belwade Farm. His condition was in stark contrast to the pictures the buyer had been sent.
Laddie on arrival at Belwade Farm. His condition was in stark contrast to the pictures the buyer had been sent. © World Horse Welfare

“Laddie came off the lorry a sorry soul who was in poor body condition – he was nothing like the photos and videos seen on his advert. Angel, although in good body condition, was spooky and nervous, not the bombproof pony advertised. The owners very sensibly recognised their own limits and the care needed to rehabilitate Laddie and Angel and they asked World Horse Welfare to help and both ponies were then signed over into our care,” McPake said.

“Laddie has made a remarkable recovery and is ready to start work with his groom at Belwade Farm. Angel has settled into her new surroundings and has responded well to the rehabilitation and handling process.”

Although some people do buy horses unseen successfully it is seldom advisable as there may be hidden costs. New owners may have to factor in ongoing veterinary costs of sick animals, specialist feeding and time nursing the horse back to full health. Sadly, in the end, the new horse may still not be fit for use.

Where possible, buyers should always meet the horses to check that they are as described and suitable for their requirements. If buying unseen is the only option, you should always check the seller’s or dealer’s names and reputations online and get animals vetted before parting with your money.


» Help support the work of World Horse Welfare and horses and ponies like Laddie and Angel by sponsoring a stableyard.


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