Once you have a mentor to help you navigate the trackless wilds of horse-buying, it’s time to think about just what it is you want to buy. Part of that decision depends on your riding goals and your abilities. Even if your ultimate goal is to ride Prix St. George at Wellington or compete in endurance racing, your first horse should be suited for what you can do now, with some ability to progress further as you develop your riding skills.
What kind of horse should I look for?
Calm, reliable, and ‘been there, done that’ are attributes you want. A young, spirited mount that’s full of energy may well be a challenge to a rider who’s still mastering the concepts of ‘go’ and ‘whoa.’ A horse with a lot of heavy competition experience could be a wonderful schoolmaster but could also have a strong personality that can take over the partnership.
There’s no one breed that is ideal for new riders, but some are better prospects than others. Almost universally, the American Quarter Horse is at the top of the list. Smart, sturdy, mellow, patient – they are easy to train and eager to please. Another advantage: they are not big horses, standing on average under 16 hands. (A ‘hand’ is 4 inches.) For those of us with short legs and\or bad knees, that’s a gift! Other breeds that are similar in size and temperament are the Paint, Appaloosa, and Morgan. These are called ‘cold bloods’ because of their temperament. The Friesian – those grand black horses with feathers on their legs that look like they trotted in from a medieval festival – are large but have the personality of Labrador Retrievers.
Other ‘cold blood’ breeds are the draft horses – Clydesdales, Percherons, and Shires. They are usually too large for riding, but a crossbred – a draft mixed with another cold blood or even a hot blood can be a fantastic mount. They often have the best attributes of each breed.
‘Hot Bloods’ are those breeds with lots of energy to expend, endurance, and often excitable personalities. Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and the Akhal-Teke represent the hot bloods. While many of them are mellow and kind to beginners, make sure you know the horse’s past performance before committing to a partnership.
If there’s a ‘cold’ and a ‘hot’, then there must be a ‘warm.’ Indeed, ‘warmbloods’ were developed in Europe by breeding ‘hot’ and ‘cold’ breeds for farming as well as riding attributes. These days, Warmbloods are popular as event\combined training and dressage mounts. Selle Francais, Dutch Warmbloods, Swedish Warmbloods, Holsteiner, and Hanoverian are all part of the fraternity. They are large horses, averaging 16 hands and above, and they are solidly built and usually big movers. But they are also intelligent and willing.
Mare vs. Gelding?
Some people swear by mares; others swear at them. Like all of us females, they deal with hormonal changes. Some maintain a sweet disposition all of the time; others periodically become raging lunatics. Geldings are generally easy-going, far more interested in treats, and easier to train because they have fewer mental or physical distractions.
One horse you should not consider is a stallion. Romantic Hollywood movies aside, a stallion is one-thousand pounds of testosterone and muscle with one goal in life, and it’s not calmly teaching a novice rider. Many stables don’t even board stallions because of the difficulties they present.
Up Next: Where to Look for Your Dream Horse