How to Pick the Right Horse

Posted by Allie Layos

If you want to pick the right horse, there are a few important qualities to keep in mind.

"A good horse is never a bad color." This old saying still rings true, as color is a vanity consideration. But if all horses are great, what should you look for when you're choosing a new mount?

Here are the three main points you should consider in your test ride.


Choosing a horse of the right size is important for a number of reasons. A horse's size generally has an effect on its physical limitations and capabilities.

A fourteen-hand pony will probably not jump as high as a sixteen or seventeen-hand Warmblood, so you should take your riding goals into account when examining the size of a potential mount.

Horse Stock Photos
Ellen Einkauf Photography

Size also comes into play in the show ring. If you have two equal horse and rider teams that both put in flawless performances, and one is mounted on a horse of appropriate size while the other is a six-foot woman mounted on a fifteen-hand horse, chances are the blue ribbon will be awarded to the first pair, simply because the overall picture or look of the team is more pleasing.

If you plan to do a lot of showing, this is definitely something to take into account.

Thoroughbred Horse Show Association
Thoroughbred Horse Show Association


A horse's breeding and conformation both play into its suitability for different jobs. This is not to say that breeds can't defy their intended purpose -- some breeds, like the American Saddlebred, known mainly for its natural high-stepping gaits in the show ring, are actually quite versatile -- but horses were bred a certain way through the centuries for a reason, and it's important to research the breed you are planning to buy beforehand.

If you plan to do a lot of long trail rides or compete in endurance competitions, an Arabian might be a good choice, as they are known to be hardy endurance horses. If you want a horse that can hop fences and maybe even perform in the dressage ring, a Warmblood might make a better mount.

Even within breeds, a horse's conformation comes into play. Some horses have a more upright shoulder or a higher-set neck, and all of these things can affect how well they can perform specific jobs.

Sussex County Horse Show Series
Sussex County Horse Show Series


Personality may be the single most important quality when choosing a horse. Horses are just like people; you don't get along with all of them equally well. And when you're about to drop a lot of money on a thousand-pound animal, you want to make sure it's one that you actually enjoy riding, not one that merely tolerates you.

Riding a gelding is often a very different experience than riding a mare, but even within these categories, each horse is unique. Some horses are lazy and need to be pushed and some are bursting with energy and need to be calmed down or held back.

Most riders prefer one or the other, and while riders should learn to ride both types of horses, when you're going to buy one, it's probably best to choose one that matches your style.

Horse & Style Magazine
Horse & Style Magazine

Personality also encompasses the elusive quality that has come to be known as "heart." Some horses just care more than others, and try harder, and these are the horses that become champions.

In fact, heart is so powerful that it can actually make up for some less desirable qualities; the 1984 Show Jumping Individual Olympic Gold Medal winner Touch Of Class was a small, hot, Thoroughbred mare, all generally undesirable qualities in the show jumping world, where larger Warmbloods are preferred, but none of that mattered because she had heart.

Choosing a horse is a big undertaking, but if you keep these three things in mind you'll be having the time of your life with your new equine partner soon.

How did you choose your horse? Tell us in the comments below. 

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How to Pick the Right Horse