Riding Tips

Helpful Hints for Savvy Horse Selection

three people riding gray horses in pasture
Written by Susanna Wright

Choosing the Right Horse for YOU!

To ensure a safe, happy, and productive relationship, you need to choose the right horse for you. Sometimes it takes time and adaptation (from both parties) to build a good relationship. In other cases, a match might just not work out.

Finding the “right fit” leads to happier horses and humans!

close up of horse eye

Source: Canva

Equine Personalities

Equine physiology influences equine psychology, and both can contribute to equine personalities. For example, some horses are more dominant than others.

It is important to understand your horse’s personality and behavior so you can learn how to react (or temper your response).

Here’s a helpful video about key personality traits: 

Some examples of equine personalities you could encounter include:

Timid – This horse will require a confident rider that can help address the horse’s fears and work through any spooks or mishaps.
“Bomb-proof” – Calm horses can be worth their weight in gold! Bomb-proof horses are great for beginners, as they are less likely to spook or react to changing stimuli. They are also popular with more timid riders or pregnant/senior riders who are less willing to risk a fall and want a more reliable mount.
Lazy – These horses may be described as having “more whoa than go.” Again, these are great choices for beginners or assertive riders that don’t mind pushing for what they need. Sometimes lazy horses can be frustrating for beginners, as it can take a lot of leg/encouragement to get them moving.
High-strung – “Hot blooded” horses will require a more confident rider that can navigate a horse with a lot of “go.” Some riders prefer horses with more “go” while others will be intimidated by this. A few breeds can be stereotyped into this category including Thoroughbreds and Arabians.

herd of horses in field

Source: Canva

Here are a few real-life examples of both successful and unsuccessful horse/human matches:

A timid beginner paired with a lazy, bossy mare.

The horse, in this scenario, needed a rider that was assertive and was going to MAKE her do the thing.

The owner, a timid beginner, would ask, but never enforce cues. This led to a lazy horse that would actually lay down with the rider still mounted to avoid doing work. In this case, the owner brought in a more assertive, experienced rider who was able to break the bad habit and create a strong team that went on to be successful at local shows.

The owner was able to build confidence by watching and then doing. With more understanding, she was eventually able to successfully ride the mare.

paint horse cantering in field with fall colors

Source: Canva

An experienced amateur paired with a spooky, green gelding.

In this case, the amateur attempted to go it on her own and got in over her head. The horse was reasonably talented, but needed constant activity since the second his mind was allowed to wander, he would spook or buck. After a few falls, the experienced rider lost her confidence.

The amateur enlisted the help of a trainer, who determined that the team was just not a good match. The horse was sold to an experienced youth in a full-time training program, and the amateur went on to buy another, quieter horse that made for the perfect team.

An amateur lacking confidence paired with a green, bomb-proof gelding.

The amateur in this scenario knew she needed help from a trainer and purchased a green horse in the trainer’s program. Together, they brought the horse along to be a very successful show mount. The horse, a very calm, laid-back gelding, was the perfect match for a higher-strung human.

Despite this horse also being green (i.e. inexperienced), the two complemented each other and went on to be very successful at top levels of competition.

woman and quarter horse at the quarter horse congress

Susanna and former horse, Ridin Good N Radical

A youth paired with a very smart, stubborn pony.

This match worked out well because the child’s mother was a skilled equestrian who was also small enough to ride the large pony. The child learned to be assertive and had to work hard for her results.

This helped build a strong, confident young rider. If the pony acted up too much, Mom was able to hop on and correct the issue.

Making a Smart Choice

A good rule of thumb is to buy a horse that complements your experience. An experienced trainer can help match you to an appropriate mount and/or navigate the search/purchase process.

Generally, beginners should not be paired with green horses, as it drastically increases the risk of an accident.

It can be beneficial to try a variety of horses to learn what you like and do not like. Do you want a calm, quiet horse or one with a little more spunk? Do you prefer mares or geldings? What do you want to do with your equine partner?

For example, a horse bred for reining is not going to be built to be successful at higher-level jumping competitions.

gray arabian horse at sunset

Source: Canva

Don’t be afraid to ask questions before getting on ANY new horse. Each horse is different, and your safety is your responsibility. A few questions to consider include:

● Does s/he have more “whoa” or “go?”
● What are his/her “buttons?” (i.e. what cues does the horse know/respond to)
● Does s/he spook? Buck? Rear?
● How sensitive is this horse?
● What else do I need to know in order to have a successful ride?

Pro Tip: Check out our 60 Questions to Ask When Buying Your Dream Horse.

Looking for Clues

Tack can be a good indicator of what situation you are getting into with a new horse. A horse that uses a more severe bit may have a tendency to ignore the rider or bolt, therefore needing something “stronger.” Or, that could mean the horse has more “go” and needs a more serious bit to rein him back in.

bridles hanging in tack room

Source: Canva

A mild bit may mean the horse is sensitive and doesn’t appreciate a lot of contact on their mouth. In this case, you may change your approach and ride with lighter contact.

Some horses need spurs to go because they are a bit on the lazy side, or have learned to ignore their rider. Others go better with spurs because they are highly trained and respond to the slightest pressure.

It is not advisable to put spurs on if you don’t know how to properly use them.

Parting Thoughts

The more horses you have the chance to ride, the more you will learn about what you prefer vs. what you are willing to tolerate. A trainer is always an asset in determining the best match for your skills, abilities, and personality.

Having experienced people on your team can also help speed up the process of finding the perfect mount!

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About the author


Susanna Wright

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