1. Take riding lessons for at least six months.
Riding lessons will teach you the basics of control on your horse and the foundation for correct horsemanship. These lessons will teach you to ride and also how to safely groom and handle a horse. You’ll also establish a relationship with a professional horse person in your area who knows you and who you can turn to for help if you need it.
2. Decide on the type of riding you want to do.
There are many types of riding styles. The most basic are Western or English. Then you can break down those two styles into many subcategories. You don’t have to make one choice exclusive of all others. Many people enjoy riding both styles and compete in both. And you know what? It’s perfectly ok to ride ‘english’ in a Western saddle and ‘western’ in an English saddle! Decide if you want a horse to trail ride and just enjoy having him or if you want to be competitive and show.
3. Your Horse’s personality
The type of personality you want for your horse depends a lot on the type of riding you want to do and also your personality. Some riders want a horse with a big engine and a lot of fire. Others like a horse to be quiet and laid back. Use those six months of riding lessons to help you figure out what kind of personality you like. If you’re
already an experienced rider, take time to think about all the horses you’ve ridden in the past and what you liked and disliked about them. Remember, you can retrain a lot of things about a horse, but his personality isn’t one of them! It’s usually easier to get a laid back horse to rev his engine than to get a hot horse to relax.
4. Decide on what breed of horse you most want.
Once you have decided on the type of riding you’re interested in and the type of personality you want your horse to have, the breed choice will become easier. Some breeds are associated with certain types of riding. For instance, a Thoroughbred or Warmblood breed are usually thought of for the Hunter/Jumper circuit or dressage. In the past, the Quarter Horse, Appaloosas and Paints were thought of for Western riding. Today, these breeds can sucessfully compete at all levels with the more traditional hunter type horse. If you want a very smooth ride, look at the gaited breeds such as Missouri Foxtrotters, Tenessee Walkers or Paso Finos.
5. Decide on how big a horse you need.
If you’re looking for a horse for a child, buy a pony that your child can groom and handle now. A too big horse is intimidating for a young child to deal with. If you are looking for one for yourself, consider the type of riding you want to do. Western styles of riding do not require a large horse and most of the stock type horses can carry a large adult even if the horse is 15 hands or smaller. A larger horse in a western class has an automatic disadvantage because he will have to work so much harder to shorten his stride. A big horse who is actually going slow is still going to pass the smaller horses and appear to be too fast. If you want to show in hunter/jumper classes on the ‘A Circuit’, a 16+ hand horse is necessary to be competitive. However, if your plans are to learn to jump and go to smaller local shows, you’ll save money by buying a smaller horse. Typically, people tend to think you need a big warmblood to be competitive in dressage. That isn’t always true unless you want to show at the top FEI levels. These horses are expensive and hard to ride for a novice or youth. A smaller horse of any breed with good correct gaits can be quite competitive.
6. Decide on the gender of the horse.
A gelding or a mare should be your only consideration. A stallion is difficult to handle and can be downright dangerous even if you are a very experienced rider. He is not suitable unless you’re in the breeding business. Geldings make great riding horses and companions. Preferably he was gelded before his second birthday so that he never learned stallion behavior. Mares sometimes get a bad rap for being difficult every time she comes into heat. Perhaps some are, but there are many wonderful mares with very stable personalities.
7. Decide where you will keep a horse.
If you plan to board, check out several boarding stables. Your first choice is probably the barn where you have been taking lessons. Look at some others to have for back-up choices and as a general comparison. If you plan to keep your horse on your own property, build a safe fence, a solid barn and know that your time schedule will allow you to feed your horse at least twice a day – every day – rain or shine, hot or cold, sick or healthy (well, you get the picture). Find out any local and State liability regulations on keeping a horse on your property before you bring your new horse home.
8. Figure how much you can afford for the initial price of a horse.
The original purchase price of a horse is a large upfront expense. Obviously, the more you can afford to spend on a horse, the more choices you’ll have to look at when shopping. If you have this money saved up in advance, you’ll have better bargaining power with a seller. If you have to buy your horse on payments, you’ll limit your bargaining power and choices because many sellers won’t want to take payments.
9. Figure out your monthly expenses.
Monthly expenses include board, lessons and supplements if you keep your horse at a boarding stable. If you keep your horse at home, you’ll be buying feed, hay and stall bedding instead of a board bill. There are recurring expenses that don’t come every month but still need to be added up for a year’s cost and averaged as a monthly expense. These include farrier visits, worming, vaccinations and vet care such as floating teeth and a Coggins test.
10. Tack and Supplies
Purchase the basic supplies before you get your horse so that you’ll be all set when you bring him home. Brushes, shampoo, linament, leg wraps, buckets and a first aid kit are a good start on supplies to have ready. An all purpose headstall and a few bits, saddle pads, a saddle,halter and a long lead rope with a stout snap are your basic tack supplies.
If you follow these 10 steps before you begin horse shopping, you’ll be able to better focus on the horse that will be the best choice for you when you do begin your search.