The Perfect Riding Companion: How to Select the Right Horse

The Perfect Riding Companion: How to Select the Right Horse


Buying a horse is an exceptionally big decision that requires much thought and consideration, particularly for first-time owners. Horse ownership requires a great deal of responsibility, because it places the owner in the position of caring for a living creature that will rely on him or her for food, grooming, shelter, affection, and other needs. Selecting the right horse serves as the first step in assuming responsibility as a horse owner. For both new and veteran owners alike, several factors go into making this important decision.

Beginning Considerations

horse trainerOwner’s needs: The first thing to consider before purchasing a horse concerns the owner’s needs and previous experience with equestrianism and horse care. They must consider their reasons for wanting a horse and which activities or equestrian sports they plan to participate in, such as racing, show jumping, showing, or general riding.

Riders with an established history of horse ownership will also need to determine if they want a fully trained horse or a partially trained one that will require additional training and commitment. Inexperienced riders or capable riders who cannot dedicate considerable time to training will want to avoid purchasing an untrained horse, and may wish to seek out an older horse that will offer the confidence and experience necessary for riders seeking to improve their skills. Additionally, other factors to consider include the rider’s height, weight, and fitness ability.

Type of horse: After a rider identifies their needs and riding ambitions, it becomes time to determine what type or breed of horse best suits those needs. Horses come in a broad spectrum of sizes, breeds, and types, and each breed of horse has its own unique set of characteristics and physical attributes.

Informally, breeds typically fall into three categories: coldbloods, hotbloods, and warmbloods. Coldbloods consist of larger, gentler breeds used for working or hauling, and hotbloods include the swifter breeds better suited for racing. Warmbloods account for the many breeds used in the various equestrian sports and competition.

While most horses can adapt to the type of activity their rider intends to participate in, some breeds are bred to perform specific jobs, making them more suited to certain functions than others. For instance, the versatility of the American quarter horse makes it adept at barrel racing and working cattle, and the Clydesdale’s size and stamina allow it to excel at working jobs. Thoroughbreds serve as the breed of choice in the racing circuit, and Arabians are known for their affectionate dispositions. Research on different breeds and types of horses will help owners narrow down their options and determine the perfect fit.

Horse Prospects and Traits to Consider

A thorough examination is in order before making a final decision, and owners should visit any horse they’re considering purchasing in order to assess its temperament, health, and training. At this step in the selection process, future owners can also examine prospective horses to determine how closely each one meets their individual needs and expectations.

Behavior traits and temperament: Temperament and behavior are the most important traits to consider when purchasing a horse. First-time owners will likely do best with a gentle, affectionate horse that listens well and reacts to mistakes with a calm demeanor, particularly since a new or inexperienced rider will make lots of mistakes during handling and riding their new companion. An easygoing horse enjoys close contact, readily accepts offered treats, and will not spook easily.

Judging temperament also involves looking for signs of behavioral problems, such as teeth grinding and habitual kicking or chewing of objects in the stall or paddock. Questions are vital at this stage, especially for new owners, who may not know what to expect from any horse, let alone the individual horse they’re considering. Areas of consideration for questions include the individual horse’s specific behaviors, social tendencies, current stall arrangements, and its equipment or paddock size.

Riding disposition: Owners will want to observe how the horse responds to riding and working. Stiffness and head tossing may indicate a resistance to riding, while relaxed horses will exhibit regular breathing in time with their stride even after 5 to 10 minutes of cantering or loping. A horse’s disposition and physical reactions when riding and performing requested actions such as jumping or cantering can also indicate its level of training and health. For instance, weakness on difficult terrain may mean the horse requires additional training to navigate new terrain, and labored breathing may point to a potential health problem.

Health and Conformation Assessments

horse and trainerWhile prospective owners will benefit from organizing a pre-purchase examination by a licensed veterinarian, they may still want to conduct their own assessment of a prospective horse and its conformation. Conformation refers to the horse’s physical attributes—such as its musculature, proportions, and bone structure—and the degree to which they are considered desirable for the horse’s purpose. Questions are vital at this stage, and owners will want to voice any concerns about health and conformation. Additionally, no examination is complete without a review of the horse’s health records to ensure deworming and vaccination history.

Head and neck: A thorough head and neck examination will include close inspection of the eyes, teeth, tongue, jaw, and rings of the trachea. Signs of ill health include a bluish film covering the eyes, misaligned teeth, and swelling or sensitivity of the glands on either side of the horse’s jaw. Foul breath or nostril discharge may also indicate an infection or illness.

Legs: An examination of the horse’s legs focuses on inspecting the joints and hooves for abnormalities, such as bony growths, lumps, and joints that point in different directions. A complete leg examination also includes looking for signs of lameness and checking the digital pulse leading to the hoof, which should be even on both sides.

Topline: Topline examinations begin at the horse’s withers and involves running the hands firmly down the horse’s back all the way to the tail. Slight dips in pressure and signs of discomfort such as arching or ear pinning can indicate a health problem. Irregular breathing is another warning sign that may signify an obstruction or chronic respiratory problem.