Saddle up with Beth Eva: So You Want To Buy A Horse? Pt. 2

(Photo contributed by Beth Eva)

By Beth Eva | Owner of Heartland Ranch

Hi again everyone! Beth Eva of Heartland Ranch Horse Training and Lessons bringing you Part 2 in my “So You Want To Buy A Horse?” series. In Part 1 we looked at you, the potential horse owner, and in this segment we’ll begin to look at the options and considerations in the horses themselves.

There are many things to consider when choosing a horse, such as color, gender, age, breed, temperament, conformation, training, health and experience. There are, however, two items that should top the list: intended use and intended handler/rider. Sadly, these are often the last considerations given when buying a horse for a great many people. The number one problem I see with people who have recently purchased a horse is that they bought “too much horse.” That isn’t to say that they bought too large of a horse, but rather that they bought a horse that is generally too sensitive, powerful and athletic for the current ability of the rider, which can be true no matter the size of the horse in question. As we addressed in Part 1 of this series, matching the horse and rider is the single most important factor in successful horse ownership.

So, how do we properly match the horse with the rider? By paying attention to what’s important, and ignoring what’s not. A common example is color. People often have an image in their mind as to what horse they see themselves riding, and seek out a horse that looks like the one they have in their mind. This is a very common mistake made by all level of riders, not just beginners.  The adage “you can’t ride color” comes to mind, and I find it to be true. Sometimes the perfect horse for you looks nothing like you pictured, and the worst choice looks exactly like what you had in mind, so be careful not to fall into the trap of choosing a horse based on its pretty color alone. In my mind, color should be one of the last considerations why buying a horse for any level rider and for any use, except possibly for breeding purposes or a pasture pet that will rarely be handled.

Let’s take a minute to go through some of the other considerations and see what else is truly important, or should be ignored by a potential buyer. What should you look for, and what should you ignore? The answer, simply put, is that it depends completely on the rider and intended use.  Until you clearly define exactly what the horse will be used for, and exactly who it will be used by, then you can’t choose the attributes of the horse with any degree of success. Let me give you an example; say you find a 20-year-old Thoroughbred gelding with a slightly swayed back, some mild arthritis, with very little formal training but a long history of being used by beginner level riders for suburban trail riding. If you’re an advanced rider looking for a horse to be used for Cattle Sorting and Team Penning, then this horse would most likely be a terrible choice for you, while possibly being the perfect choice for a beginner rider looking a for a safe mount for some short and easy trail rides. What makes a horse ill-suited to one person may make it the perfect choice for someone else.

Gender can make a difference, as Geldings are often less moody and quirky, making them easier for beginner horse owners to manage. Mares can sometimes have issues with ear pinning, squealing, and aggression. Certain breeds are known for being “high-spirited,” which could cause some problems for people new to horses. While these traits can be common with a gender or breed of horse, they are not given as fact.  Each horse is an individual, and as such, must be viewed without preconceived ideas about who they are and what they can or can’t do. There are some very high-strung Quarter Horses that can’t be ridden safely on trails or on cattle, and some Arabians that are lazy and quiet, allowing them to be perfect choices for even beginner and child riders. While these examples are not the norm, they are more common than you might think. My advice is to take each horse for who he is as an individual and look at his temperament, training and experience. Consider his health history, who has ridden him and for what purpose, and most importantly, how well you can ride him in your intended use.

Some advice I’d like to offer is that you should make sure the horse is a good fit for you as-is.  Don’t find behavioral issues or problems and say “I think I can live with it” or “I think I can change it.” Most of the time you won’t, and you can’t, fix what’s wrong with the horse, but it’s very common that it gets worse instead of better. Horses look for the easy way out – it’s in their nature. Many riders, not just beginners, have an issue where their horses become more “dull” or “disrespectful” over time, and that is often because the easy way out for the horse is to ignore or challenge the rider. Every time a trainer rides your horse, it’s his or her job to do so, and therefore they ride every step with a strict mindset of improving the horse. Most people just want to ride for fun and simply want to enjoy their time with their horse, and often fail to notice as the horse loses responsiveness and increases in disrespectful behaviors. If you take a less educated horse and put him in the hands of a proficient trainer, then that horse will generally improve with each ride. The converse is also true, that if you take a more experienced horse and put him in the hands of a less educated rider, the horse’s abilities will seem to diminish over time. What I commonly run into are new owners who come to me for help because they recently bought what seemed like a great horse, and now it doesn’t seem so great any more. The horse has learned the limitations of the new owners and started to cheat them and often started to try to run the relationship. Horses need an experienced and educated person to keep them tuned up and behaving correctly, and if you purchase a horse with some kind of behavioral issue but don’t have the experience and ability to correct it, then it will get worse. If you come across a horse with any issue that gives you pause, then I suggest you immediately contact a trainer to have that horse’s problem evaluated before making a purchase. Regular training can keep a great horse great, and can make a good horse better.

I’d like to finish this segment with a little hard-earned wisdom for those who are thinking about buying a horse but have limited experience: don’t overlook an older horse just because of his age and some slight physical limitations. Many of the happiest and most satisfied horse owners I know are in proud possession of an aging horse. The benefits of an older horse can be in their safety, consistency, emotional maturity, broad range of experience with both situations and riders, and their knowledge of their job. Those “limitations” caused by age can be a blessing to many riders. A horse that is a little slower, safer and less physically high-strung is exactly what most beginning riders need, even if it’s sometimes not what they choose.

Until next time when we’ll wrap up our series on buying a horse, I wish you a blessed day!

For questions or more information, please feel free to contact me at or call 559-281-0782.