How to Select the Right Horse for You

Buying a horse – especially if it's your first – is a big step. Horses vary widely in temperament, ability, size and price. They can be eager to please or stubborn; relaxed or high-strung; affable or feisty; easy to control or a challenge to handle.

Depending on your needs and riding abilities, some horses are better suited for you than others. Remember, horses have experienced a chain of events prior to your consideration, including training, conditioning, feeding and human contact, that have patterned their behavior. This process of preconditioning along with their genetic makeup, although not irreversible in the long run, will determine the horse's short-term abilities to deal with exercise, stress and the environment.

There is often no way to know anything about the horse's history beforehand, so first impressions can be misleading. Generally speaking, you don't want to fall into the trap of buying a horse, especially for riding, just on first impressions. If you feel pressured into buying a horse, take a second look. Take your time, consider all aspects of the horse and try him out first. If you do your research and take your time understanding thoroughly your purchase, chances are you'll pick the right companion for you.

Personality Counts

Different breeds display different temperaments. "Before you buy a horse, it's important to understand something about that breed's heritage and where he is coming from," says Dr. D.L. Proctor, an equine veterinarian in Lexington, Ky. "If you know what the tendencies are for the breed, you'll be able to anticipate what type of behavior problems you may have to deal with down the road and whether or not you're up to the challenge."

Another factor to consider is how you plan to use the horse. A horse ideally suited for cross-country competitions or harness racing, for example, probably won't be the best choice for trail rides or for a "backyard" horse for children to learn to ride on.

Of course each horse is an individual and you may see some variation among horses of the same breed. "You might meet a thoroughbred who is extremely calm or come across a Morgan who is a grouch," Proctor says.

Here's what to expect, in general, from some of the most popular breeds of horses:

Regardless of breed, it's most important to choose a horse that's healthy and safe to ride and in good condition, without a lot of bad habits. "Most any horse, no matter what the breed," Ewing notes, "can be an excellent companion animal if properly trained and cared for."