Here is a topic that's touchy for sure, and make no mistake, the horse world has more than its share of unsavory characters. Unfortunately, there aren't many ways you can research those you'll be communicating with when you're looking to buy a horse, however, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. Now, let's be clear. I have nothing against horsetraders in general. They're out to make a living just like the rest of us. Many are decent, honest folks who happen to enjoy buying and selling horses, and interacting with the public. Then there's that other element.
Let's define what a horsetrader is. Generally speaking, it's someone who deals in buying and selling a large volume of horses. Those who honestly portray the horses they're marketing are usually only going to do a cursory evaluation of the horse before offering it for sale. Because as we all know, the longer you hold onto a horse, the more money you're going to have invested in that horse and if you've bought him to resell, your profit margin decreases the longer you own him. Horsetraders usually buy a majority of their horses from low-end auctions or sale barns. This is generally because there are lots of horses to choose from and it saves both time and money not having to drive from place to place in order to fill the trailer with horses to resell. Buying at auction for $200 to $500 and turning the horse over for $1000 to $2000 within a couple of days can be decent money. Of course, the major problem with this is that many things a buyer would notice looking at horses in a private sale setting might be overlooked.
Soundness issues are a common theme with auction horses, as many wind up at the sale yard because they're unsound. You cannot vet check an auction horse before purchasing him, and you can be positive that trader won't spend anything deemed an "unnecessary" expense, so never take his (or her) word that the horse is sound. I used to only recommend a vet check with higher priced horses, but you're really better off safe than sorry. Invest in a vet check. A couple hundred dollars even spent on a cheap horse is money well spent if it saves you thousands in vet bills down the road.
There are several things many horsetraders do that don't sit well with me, so buyer beware is always the best policy. In addition to possible soundness problems, you often encounter behavioral issues in a horse sent off to auction (and picked up for resale buy a trader). It's not a huge deal unless the seller deliberately tries to hide such things from buyers. Keep in mind, what you see isn't always what you get -- that good looking horse who seems perfect may have a habit of kicking his stall walls to smithereens, and if you buy, him you're stuck correcting the issue, dealing with it, or sending him down the road again. Here's where my major beef with unscrupulous horsetraders lies: They usually target buyers looking for gentle, safe, well trained and frequently child safe mounts. Then, even after picking up the horse at the previous night's auction, that trader is already advertising him as "sound, safe, bombproof" the very next day, often after not even getting on the horses back once. Inevitably, some naive family will come look at the horse because he's priced so low, and get suckered into buying him, not realizing what they're in for.
Dangerous horses get people hurt. Hurting horses can become dangerous because being ridden causes them pain and they don't understand. See where I'm going with this? When a newcomer to the horse world, or someone coming back to horse ownership from a long absence is injured riding an unsafe horse, an untrained horse, or a horse with pain issues, they often times want nothing more to do with horses or the people involved in the horse world. Those victims of shady horsetraders frequently feel so burned that they give up entirely on ever having the right horse, that they find another venue for the recreational dollars. That affects us all, and it affects the horses we love, because that means fewer homes available and less money being invested in equestrian sports. That's my bottom line being reduced, folks, interfering with my ability to make a living.
If you are a potential buyer who needs to find that truly bombproof, safe, well broke horse for your family, first find an honest, reputable trainer or horseman / horsewoman you can trust to help you look. Don't discount the joy you'll experience when you purchase the right horse (at the right price).