What you need to know about buying a horse

Purebred horses are by definition registered, says Dr Mac ‘Unregistered purebreds’ are a fiction.

This purebred Arab gelding is for sale. But is it registered? It is up to the buyer to make sure.
Photo: Dr Mac

If you are looking for a purebred horse to compete with or breed from, make sure the seller is fully registered with the relevant breed society. This seems to be stating the obvious, but there is an increasing trend of horses on the market being advertised as ‘purebred, eligible for registration’.

Let the buyer beware: a ‘purebred’ horse whose sire and dam are unregistered can often be almost impossible to register unless the owner was a member in good standing of the breed society at the time of its birth. There is no such thing as an ‘unregistered purebred’, but the buyer is likely to spend a lot of money and time before he or she discovers the sad truth.

By that time a great deal of effort and money may have been put into training the horse and the owner may be very fond of it. Such horses are also sometimes sold on to other buyers, who fall for the same fraudulent claims.

Registration
The SA Stud Book, like other livestock registering bodies worldwide, is there to protect the consumer and preserve animal breeds. Its mandate is to prevent fraud and to ensure that only the best genetic material is selected, based on performance of better-than-average individuals in a particular breed.

To achieve this, it records the details of specific animals belonging to members in good standing. The provenance of the genetic background of an animal is called a ‘registration paper’. It has the same legal value as a car registration certificate and, similarly, is used to facilitate and prove transfer to a new owner after purchase.

You only own a car or a purebred horse if it is registered in your name. Cars have engine numbers and registration plates linked to make, model and colour. Horses have DNA or microchip numbers, with breed characteristics and colour markings to match. Selling purebred horses without these matching details is a criminal offence.

While motorists are aware that a car has to be registered in the name of the owner and registration payments have to be made, many horse owners do not realise that the same applies to their animals. The breed society facilitates the registration and transfer of horses and also provides a template for the registration certificate, but it is the stud book that actually registers the horse – and keeps details of its markings, date of birth, DNA number and microchip.

It will soon be mandatory for all breeding and performance horses to have a microchip, which can be accessed with a microchip reader.

Reality check
A breeder is defined as anyone who has registered a stud prefix, is a member in good standing of a breed society, and owns a registered mare at the time its foal is born. Over the past few years, the economic downturn has spawned chancers in the horse industry. They are often retrenched horse owners who think they can make an income out of breeding foals from a few purebred mares purchased from a breeder.

Reality creeps in when they find that three breeding mares can turn into a herd of 10 horses over three years. Feed costs escalate and the first thing the owner often does is to stop paying breed society membership. The horses land up at an auction or are even given away to horse traders who resell them as ‘unregistered purebreds’.