The purchaser should know something of the ancestors of the animal under consideration, as a horse may have inherited characteristics and specialized qualities which cannot be discovered until the animal has been used for some time. Only in rare cases has the purchaser an opportunity before buying to drive the horse enough to discover all of its desirable or undesirable qualities, or its probable future development. Therefore, the breedng of the animal, or, in other words, the pedigree, written or unwritten, should be fairly well known, when possible.
The selling of horses gives the owner great opportunity to indulge in exaggerated statements, even to misrepresent and to skilfully conceal defects and the true age of the horse without becoming legally liable. The seller may offer to guarantee the animal to be sound and free from vicious habits; but even then there are usually loopholes left in the guarantee through which the seller may crawl by the aid of a lawyer, if he leave his conscience behind. It is often wise first to investigate the pedigree of the man offering a horse for sale before looking up the history and pedigree of the horse, especially if he has bred and raised the animal under consideration.
If the animal has passed through many hands, remaining with no owner any considerable length of time, it is safe to conclude that there is some radical fault or blemish which is not easily discoverable. If a horse is purchased of a thoroughly reliable dealer or breeder, it is only fair that something of the price of the animal be considered as representing the reputation of the seller. One can afford to pay more for a purchase from a well-known, reputable horseman than from a stranger.
The horse should be led out of the stable slowly. While this is being done, stand at some little distance in front of the animal. Little defects, such as slight lameness, may be detected if the animal is not excited. Some horsemen make it a practice to excite their horses, even when standing in the stalls, by sharp words and a liberal use of the whip. All this tends to make the horse hold his head high, to forget for the time the pain in an unsound foot or limb, and to appear alert, spirited and beautiful. These little tricks of the trade are sometimes seen at professional horse sales.
In judging horses, four ideas are paramount: ability to perform the service desired, reliability, endurance, and symmetry and beauty of form. True service consists in using energy economically, that it may give satisfaction to the owner, whether the energy be expended in moving heavy loads or in covering the greatest distance in the shortest possible time. Horses, then, should be selected with the view of securing the results desired in the most economical manner. Since they are put to a variety of uses and are placed under greatly varying conditions, it follows that they should have widely different characteristics if they perform the different kinds of service satisfactorily. The horse should, therefore, not only be good but also be suited to the service he is called upon to perform. He should be trustworthy, that is, free from vicious habits. Utility is not all, however; beauty in the horse counts for much. Many horses are kept neither for laborious work nor for fast driving. The family horse is the most conspicuous type of this class. A large number of horses besides the true family horse are not called on for either laborious work or for rapid driving. Beauty or symmetry of form in all this class counts for more than either superior strength or speed if they be trustworthy. But what is beauty? On a true roadster a neck with straight or concave top line would be appropriate, and, because appropriate, beautiful; but such a shaped neck on a draft-horse would not only offend the eye but be incongruous. Beauty, then, may, be of two kinds - that which is beautiful because appropriate, and that which exhibits the blending of forms or lines or colors so harmoniously that the thought of abstract beauty is emphasized above the idea of mere utility. So the horse may be valued for the highest beauty consistent with greatest usefulness, or for attractiveness in form, color and action. Fortunately, beautiful, useful and appropriate qualities may be combined to a large degree in a single animal; because, where all parts of the horse are symmetrical and adjusted to serve in the best manner the purposes for which the horse is maintained, many lines of beauty will necessarily be present. A good draft-horse may be beautiful, though not so beautiful as a Kentucky saddle-horse.
Advancing civilization demands not only a useful, but a beautiful horse, and the breeder is wise who now pays much attention to the quality of beauty, even if the horses he is raising are designed to do laborious work. The color of the hair and its texture, as well as symmetry and temper (for a horse may have a "beautiful" temper), may add to or detract from the beauty of the animal and its value and selling price, whether draft-horse or roadster. All that has been said is to emphasize the need of producing in the future not only better, but more beautiful horses.
The colors of horses may be either beautiful or striking. The calico, or piebald horses, when seen on the street or under a circus tent, certainly attract attention; but persons of good taste usually select horses of solid colors. Only in rare cases are unusual colors preferred, and then for the purpose of advertising or attracting business, or for the delectation of children. Bright bay, seal-brown and dark chestnut are the colors preferred, because they are not only beautiful but usually do not fade in hot weather. Horses of these colors are more easily kept presentable than light-colored ones, and in old age their coats do not become unsightly, - that is stained, "flea-bitten" or rusty. Black horses seldom retain the full brilliancy of their coat; when exposed to the sun, the black often changes to a dirty, unsightly brown. It is believed that darkish skin, hair and hoofs have the power to resist some of the skin, leg and hoof troubles to a greater degree than those of light colors. Many think that dark-colored animals, like brown men, are able to withstand adverse conditions better than those of light color. Be this as it may, it is safest to select animals of strong colors with dark points.