When you desperately want to own a horse, an offer of a “free horse” may sound like a winning lottery ticket! However, horses that are free are usually free for a reason.
Sometimes that reason is as innocent as the owner no longer has time for the horse or has an unexpected life change. (I personally gave away two horses once as I was making a cross-country move) Other times it means that the horse has a severe problem or may even be stolen.
Free horses can be healthy, well trained, and stable horses- but you’ll need to use extra caution and follow the tips in this article. Just because free horses usually equal ‘problem horses’ does not mean you can’t find a good horse for free- here’s how.
In this article, you’ll find out: Why some good horses end up being given away for free, some cautionary warnings & 🚩 red flags 🚩 to look out for, and some advice on how to find a free horse.
Reasons People Give away Free Horses
Many people believe that if someone gives a horse away for free, the horse must have issues, but that is not always the case. There are many horses that are advertised as “free” that make excellent companions.
- They may have ‘problems,’ but that doesn’t make them a bad horse (DO NOT purchase a horse that is beyond your riding skills, take an experienced horse person with you to check the horse over).
- Free horses can be a way to get a horse when other avenues are not realistic (i.e., when you have enough money to look after a horse and keep with all of their expenses but not enough to make a $5,000 purchase upfront)
- Free horses often make wonderful companions if you do not want a horse to ride and you are just looking for a friend (for you or another horse).
- Ethical owners disclose why they are giving the horse away. If the owner doesn’t have a good reason, it’s very likely the horse does have major issues with health or behavior.
🚩 Red Flags to Look For in Free Horse Ads
While there are plenty of reasons that you should consider taking a free horse, there are also plenty of reasons not to. If you do decide to go ahead and look at ads for free horses, keep in mind the following red flags.
🚩 They might be sick
The horse might have a disease that is progressive, or it might be injured and unable to be ridden. The person giving it away might not want to pay for the horse’s medical care.
🚩 They might be misbehaved
A horse that someone is giving away for free might behave badly because it has not been properly trained or has bad habits like cribbing.
🚩 They might be dangerous
The horse may have picked up dangerous habits like bucking, rearing, or bolting that the owner isn’t able to fix or willing to pay a trainer to correct.
🚩 They might be stolen
A horse that’s free or comes without papers may have been stolen from another rider. The current owner may want the horse gone ASAP without questions asked, and list the horse for free.
As we said above, not all horses have an issue, but when looking at a free horse, keep these things in the back of your mind to ensure you do not end up with more trouble than you bargained for. You can read our article on identifying red flags in ‘for sale’ posts.
Where to Find a Free Horse
When you start your search for a free horse, there are a few places you can look:
- Ask your riding friends whether they know anyone rehoming a horse
- Check EquineNow’s listings of free horses to see if there are local listings.
- If you are part of a riding club, ask the club if they know of any horses needing a home or if you can put a flyer up in the club room
- If you attend a riding school, ask your instructor whether they know any horses being rehomed
- Check the classifieds. The classifieds are a long shot but are still worth keeping an eye on. These horses may not always be free, but you may find a cheap horse
- Check online. Look up craigslist, local classifieds, or other horse sale sites such as dreamhorse.
- Contact local horse auction operators. They likely have an existing contact that takes unsold horses, but a free horse may be available through this avenue.
My experience owning a horse I got for Free
My first horse was not free, but she was very close to free. I paid very little money for her and was provided a place to keep her for free. On that day I took her home, she was not the champion horse I gave away a decade later. When I got her, she had a nasty habit of bolting, didn’t know how to jump, and was difficult to turn. In fact, she bucked me off the first time I rode her!
Despite all of this, I don’t think she was a problem horse. The previous owner never spent quality time with her. They used a painful girth that pinched her skin and left saddle sores, a hard bit, and restrictive equipment to keep her under control.
My free horse, which was someone else’s nightmare, practically became a different horse with small changes. Through changing her bit, buying her a comfortable girth, and bonding with her, her personality changed and she became very nice to ride. After 1-2 months, I was also able to start training her in jumping and dressage.
Fast forward to a year later: the previous owner almost didn’t recognize her because she was so well behaved and was winning blue ribbons in entry-level cross-country events.
After a decade with that horse, I had to move and could not take her with me, so I gave her away for free. There was nothing wrong with her. She could still be ridden, she didn’t have any health issues (though she was likely to develop arthritis within the next five years), and she was under 20. It took several weeks of applications before I found her new home. A sweet nine-year-old girl who cried when I dropped her off.
I decided to give her away because she was given to me. I would not have been able to have a horse without the kindness of the woman who gave me a free horse and the man who gave me access to land for free. I wanted to show that same kindness to the next little girl dreaming of owning her very own horse.
Final Thoughts on Purchasing a Free Horse
Free horses can be wonderful companions, and with the proper training and time, they can be amazing riding horses that dominate the competitions. However, if you choose to look at a free horse, remember to look at all the details. The unfortunate truth is that some people give horses away because they are too old, sick, or misbehaving. But if you are very lucky, you may find your perfect horse match!