Choosing the Right Horse: 10 Expert Tips

Purchasing a horse is an incredibly exciting time. It’s the beginning of a great friendship that will last for years to come. But choosing the right horse can be an intimidating process when you don’t have a lot of experience around horses. To make things as easy as possible for you, here are 15 expert tips for choosing the right horse. 

    1. Choose the Right Size 
    2. Choose the Right Breed
    3. Choose a Horse that Suits Your Personality
    4. Choose a Horse that Matches Your Experience Level
    5. Choose a Horse that Suits Your Riding Goals
    6. Bring Someone More Experienced With You
    7. Prepare Questions in Advance  
    8. Take a Test Ride 
    9. Have the Horse Inspected By a Veterinarian
    10. Take Your Time Making a Decision 

Now that you have a general idea for how to choose the right horse, let’s examine each of these tips in more detail.

How to Choose the Right Horse

Tip 1: Choose the Right Size Horse 

How to choose a horse to ride

Choose the Right Height 

Horses are measured in hands. 1 hand is equivalent to 4 inches. There aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to selecting the right height horse. The main thing to consider is that you aren’t too large for the horse and that you won’t cause them injury by riding them, which we’ll cover more in the next point. It comes down to personal preference. Some people prefer riding ponies, which are anything less than 14.2 hands tall. Others might prefer larger draft horses which can range from 16 to 19 hands tall.

Remember, the higher you are off the ground, the further you have to fall in the event of an accident. Additionally, it can be very difficult for a smaller individual to mount a larger horse. This can be particularly problematic if you’re out in a field without a mounting block.

Choose the Right Weight 

Studies like this one have shown that horses are the most comfortable when they are carrying no more than 15 to 20 percent of their body weight. Once you get into the 25 percent range and greater, horses start demonstrating significant signs of physical stress and fatigue. As you begin the process of choosing a horse, calculate your weight plus the weight of your riding equipment. Keep this number on hand so that you can compare it to the total weight of the horse that you are considering purchasing.

Something important to note is that the 15 to 20 percent rule applies to healthy horses that are in their prime. If the horse you are considering is very young or very old, you should exercise more caution and veer on the side of less weight.

Tip 2: Choose the Right Horse Breed

Tips for selecting a horse

With over 350 breeds of horses and ponies in the world today, there are more than enough options to choose from. Each different breed comes with its benefits and drawbacks, so you should do some due diligence to decide which breed is right for you. Here are some of the most popular breeds of horses to choose from.

Quarter Horse

Cowboys and quarter horses go hand in hand. Quarter horses are famous for being the go-to horse for the American West. Throughout American history, cowboys with ranches relied upon quarter horses for both manual labor as well as entertainment in the rodeo.

Quarter horses can run at incredible speeds for short distances. Their athletic physique makes them perfect for competing in western riding disciplines like barrel racing and reining, as well as English disciplines such as jumping. Quarter horses’ great athleticism is combined with a mild and calm temperament, so they can make wonderful pleasure riding horses.

If you’re looking for a particular color of horse, quarter horses come in almost every color. An added bonus for quarter horse owners is the large American Quarter Horse Association that holds competitions exclusively for quarter horse owners.

Arabian

Arabian horses are a very old breed of horse, dating back to 3000 BC. They were used by tribes living alongside the Arabian Peninsula, hence their name. As far as color goes, Arabians can be greys, bays, sorrels, or black.

Arabian horses are known for their high energy,  dolphin-like head, and chiseled features. Arabian horses are frequently used as endurance races horses because they have been bred for speed. Arabian horses usually aren’t recommended for beginners, but from time to time there are Arabian horses with a mild temperament that might make a good starter horse.

There are racing events exclusively for Arabians that take place each year. These are most frequently held by the Arabian Horse Association. Because of their reasonable price, many people purchase Arabians to compete in these races.

Thoroughbred

Choosing a horse for beginners

Thoroughbred horses originate from Brittain and were bred for racing. Because of this, thoroughbreds are incredibly fast, strong. They are the most popular racing horse, even before Arabians.

Thoroughbreds’ intelligence and athleticism makes them a great riding companion for experienced riders, but they can be a lot to handle for beginner riders. It takes time to learn how to handle such a powerful horse. In addition to racing, thoroughbreds to well in English disciplines like dressage, hunting, and jumping. They also make excellent trail horses.

Morgan

Morgan horses have their origins in Massachusetts in the 1700s. A man named Justin Morgan had a horse with incredible strength,  stamina, and mild disposition, that was bred all throughout New England when people discovered him.

Morgans are an incredibly versatile horse. They’re used in both English and western riding disciplines, as well as pleasure and trail riding horses. Morgan horses normally have darker coloration. If you’re looking for your first horse, Morgans make a great option.

Tennesee Walker

Tennessee walking horses are known for their very comfortable gaits, making them a great horse for beginner riders that aren’t used to sitting in a saddle for a long time. In addition to their comfortable gaits, Tennessee walking horses also have a very relaxed and kind disposition. They were bred in the southern part of the US and used to work on both plantations and farms.

If you’re looking for a horse that you can compete in competitions with, a Tennessee walking horse will do great. They excel at endurance and trail riding.

Draft Breeds

Horse selecting for beginners

Many breeds of horses fall under the category of draft horses, with some of the most people breeds being Clydesdales, Percherons, Belgians, and Shire horses. Draft breeds are most famous for their sheer size, with Shire horses taking the prize for the largest horse breed.

Because of their mild disposition, draft breeds can make great horses for first-time horse owners. Of the draft breeds, Percherons are the most frequently recommended for beginners. While Percherons were bred to pull, they have also been known to compete in events like dressage, eventing, and jumping.

Tip 3: Choose a Horse that Suits Your Personality

Best tips for choosing a horse

Even though there are some horse breeds that are known for their calm personalities, and others that are known to be more energetic, there are still personality variations within each breed of horse. Because of this, you should exercise caution when purchasing a horse to help ensure that you are matched up with a horse that suits your personality.

It can be difficult to tell a horses personality after only seeing them a couple of times. Because of this, you should ask whoever you are purchasing from a lot about their temperament. If possible, speak to several people that have been around the horse so that you will be more like to get an honest opinion.

If you aren’t able to get much information about their personality, you can always request a trial period with the horse to see if they’re a good fit for you. The owner may or may not go for this, but it never hurts to ask if you want a little extra time to make a decision.

Keep in mind, however, that no matter what horse you choose, you may be uncomfortable at the start as you begin your new relationship with one another. It takes time and commitment to form a strong bond with a horse, so you shouldn’t return or sell a horse at the first sign of trouble you have. If the issue isn’t significant, push through and you’ll be a better rider in the long run for it.

Tip 4: Choose a Horse that Matches Your Experience Level

One of the well-known rules in horse communities is that you should never match a green horse with a green rider. Doing so is only asking for trouble. A beginner rider should always begin with a horse that has a decent amount of experience.

As a new rider, it takes time to master riding basics. Placing a green horse with a green rider can result in incorrect techniques and bad habits for both parties involved. When you go to select a horse, make sure you make it clear what level of experience you have, and that you would like a horse that is properly suited for your level of experience.

Tip 5: Choose a Horse that Suits Your Riding Goals

Tips or choosing your first horse

As you begin the search for your horse, you should take some time to think about your long term riding goals. If your goal is to compete in high-level equine competitions or sports, then you should choose a horse in their prime with many strong years of riding ahead of them. You should also make sure that their physique is suitable for the physical demands that you will be placing on them.

If your goal is to do lots of trail rides and pleasure riding, then you don’t necessarily need a horse that is built for intense competitions. Rather, your main concern should be finding a reliable and level-headed horse with the endurance to carry extra gear for long distances.

If you aren’t certain quite yet what direction you would like to go with your riding, getting a versatile horse breed like a Morgan horse or a quarter horse could be the right option for you.

Tip 6: Bring Someone More Experienced With You to Choose a Horse

If you are ready to get your horse now, the idea of waiting around to find someone with expertise in the area of horses might not sound like a fun idea, but believe us when we tell you that it is well worth it.

If you haven’t made many connections in the horse world, but you know where you plan to board your horse, you can try calling the owner and asking if they or someone they know would be willing to come and assist you in your search. Having a second more experienced set of eyes assisting you can help alleviate any nerves that you might have.

Spend some time discussing your riding goals and your abilities with whoever you plan to take with you so that they will have an idea of what type of horse might be suited for you. When it comes time to test ride the horse, you can have them ride the horse first to get a feel for their temperament and how they respond to the commands of a confident and seasoned rider.

Tip 7: Prepare Questions in Advance Before Choosing a Horse 

As you search for a horse, be prepared with a list of questions to ask the current owner. Writing your questions down in advance will help you be thorough, and keep you from missing anything important. Here are the questions you should ask when purchasing a horse. 

Why are you selling the horse? 

The answer to this question alone can give you a lot of information. Are they selling the horse because of behavioral issues, medical issues, or just to cut back on their own personal expenses? Not everyone you ask this question to will be honest, so you should take everything with a grain of salt.

How old is the horse? 

Picking a horse for beginners

It’s important that young horses are not ridden until their bodies have fully developed. Riding an underdeveloped horse can cause back and leg problems to the horse, so this rule shouldn’t be taken lightly.  Horse’s bodies are not fully developed until they are 6 years of age.

Some people suggest that you can start riding your horse as young as 2 or 3 years old, but experts suggest that waiting until they are at least 4 or 5 years of age is a much better option. If you do purchase a younger horse, there is a lot of training that can be done with them, even outside of the saddle, to help prepare them for riding.

You should also consider whether a horse might be too old for your riding goals. While all horses age differently, if you plan on competing and riding with the horse you’re buying for a while, it’s recommended that you find a horse that is roughly 3 or 4 years old. Healthy horses live an average of 25 – 33 years.

What is the horse’s medical history and do they have any special requirements?

The goal with this question is to find out if there might be any health complications in the near future for the horse. If they have a long history of medical problems, then there are likely to be more problems going forward. Make sure that the horse has had regular vaccinations, that their teeth have been floated, and that their feet are in good condition.

What is their temperament like and are they consistent? 

A horse that seems calm one day, could be bolting around with energy the next day. Ask about their temperament to help you determine if they are generally calm and easy to control, or are they more high-energy and free-spirited. Depending on your riding goals, it might be worth getting a high-energy horse because once trained, they’ll do well competing in strenuous activities.

Are they well trained and have they been ridden frequently? 

great Beginner horse tips

If you’re not an experienced rider, this question is really important. You should find out what level of training the horse has received and how easy they are to ride for a beginner. Riding a well-trained horse as a beginner will help improve your confidence as a rider, and prepare you to work with less trained horses in the future.

The frequency a horse has been ridden is important as well. Even if the horse has received a lot of training, if they haven’t been ridden very often they will likely have some bad habits that need dealing with once they begin regular riding again.

How does the horse do riding with other horses? 

A horse might do great riding out in an open field, but do poorly riding around other horses. If the horse is prone to charging or kicking at other horses around them while riding, this is something that you want to be aware of.

What is the horse’s height and weight? 

Make sure that your weight combined with the weight of your gear won’t be more than 20 percent of the horse’s body weight. Having an estimation of this weight going in will help you determine whether or not the horse is a good size for you.

Is the horse registered? 

Wester horse tips for riders

If you’re looking for a particular breed of horse, or you’re interested in breeding the horse, it’s a good idea to find a horse that is registered. There are various breed associations that horse owners can register their horse with.

In addition to registration, there is purebred registration. Any horse with purebred registration will be more expensive to buy, but they’ll be able to compete in certain competitions that are specifically for purebred horses.

Has the horse been known t0 kick or bite? 

Horses typically kick or bite as the result of abuse in the past, or a medical condition that is causing them discomfort. Out in the field, horses might learn to kick as a defensive mechanism to keep other horses from taking their favorite patch of grass or trying to mate with them. Asking if the horse you’re considering is prone to kicking and biting will help you know what you’re committing to.

Do they have any quirks? 

All horses are different. Some might have phobias of unusual things that you should know of before working with them. Has the horse been known to buck, bolt, or rear? It’s a good idea to learn if there are any behaviors that could catch you by surprise as a new owner.

While these might not be all the questions you should ask when choosing a horse, they should hopefully get you off to a good start.

Tip 8: Take a Test Ride When Choosing a Horse 

Horseback riding guide for beginners

Taking a test ride on a new horse can be scary, but it’s a necessary step in the buying process. If possible, have someone experienced with you to ride the horse first to get a feel for them.

Keep in mind that the ride probably won’t go perfectly. Focus more on the bigger picture, and whether or not the horse will be easy to adapt with training to suit your specific riding needs. Waiting until you’ve actually purchased a horse before you ride them can put you in a very nerve-racking situation, so it’s better to get the test ride out of the way before you’ve made the commitment.

Tip 9: Have the Horse You Choose Inspected By a Veterinarian

Even if you feel like the owner of the horse has given you detailed information about a horse’s medical history, it’s wise to always have the horse you’re considering thoroughly inspected by a trained veterinarian before signing any papers or exchanging any money.

They will be able to tell you if the horse is in good riding condition, and if there might be any medical issues in the foreseeable future.

Tip 10: Take Your Time When Choosing a Horse 

Horseback riding for fun

Purchasing a horse is not a decision to be made lightly, horses are a lot of fun, but they’re also a lot of work! Do your research so that you are able to find the horse that is right for you. Even if you find a horse that you love towards the beginning of your search, we recommend seeing other available options before committing.

This might all seem like a lot of work, but it will be worth it in the long run when you’re able to enjoy countless hours with your great new riding companion!

Related Questions 

How Much Does A Good Horse Cost?

The price of a horse can range from $500 dollars all the way up to millions of dollars. The price of a horse depends on a variety of factors like their breed, the amount of training and experience they have, and whether or not they’re registered. For the average horse owner not looking to buy a purebred racehorse or a horse competing in the Olympics, you can expect to pay from $1,000 dollars to $5,000 dollars for a well-trained horse.

What is a Good Age Horse to Buy?

How to find a good horse

If you’re ready to ride straight away after you purchase your horse, a horse that is at least 4 years old will be in optimal condition for riding. However, if you have experience with horses, you might be interested in getting a younger horse that you can prepare for riding by means of groundwork exercises.

How Do You Tell If a Horse is Drugged?

Some horse owners that are ready to sell a high-energy horse quickly have been known to drug their horses so that they appear more docile to potential buyers. The only good way to tell if a horse has been drugged is with the assistance of a trained veterinarian who can perform tests. 

While a drugged horse does at times demonstrate signs, like a drooping bottom lip, and half-closed eyes, these methods are not reliable enough to tell you whether or not a horse is drugged.

Thank you for reading! Once you get your horse, it will be important that you learn some of the basic safety precautions for working around horses. You can read about them in an article we wrote here. 



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