What should you look for in your first horse?

“How do you know what a horse is really suited for in the way of a discipline? I am new to riding and looking at a beautiful 8 year old palomino mare… walker…. She has not been worked in awhile but we connected immediately! These are naive questions, but can you train for barrels, reining, or what breeds are more suited for particular disciplines? She is really smart and special!!
Thanks so much” …. Rozanne

What should you look for in your first horse?

Buying a horse is a big deal, especially if you are new to riding. This generally means that you will have less experience and, like any other area of life, less experience means your direction is probably not as clear. It is good that you are asking questions like this one but at the same time it is possible that a year from now you will have a better idea of the direction you are headed.

I am going to answer your question from several different angles. First, many breeds can compete at lower levels in a variety of disciplines. When you look at the high levels in specific disciplines you will tend to see certain breeds that excel. Sometimes breeds are lumped into categories because they have similarities. For example, if someone says that the ‘stock breeds’ tend to excel in reining they are lumping Quarter Horses, Paints and Appaloosas together under one title. If you are looking at a walking horse it would be good to look at what areas they excel in and see if those appeal to you.

When considering what appeals to you think about what the majority of your time will be spent doing with your horse. If you will mostly trail ride but occasionally show then your needs will be different then if you mostly show and occasionally trail ride. If you have been taking lessons from someone then ask them to sit down and evaluate things with you. Get their professional opinion of your strengths and weaknesses as a rider.

Many people also go about this with a completely different approach, especially with their first horse. They often buy a horse while they have little experience and accept the idea that they have no real idea of where they are headed except out for a ride. In this case these people tend to look at the horse for direction; they own a walking horse so they pick events that the horse would excel at.

Even inside specific breeds looking to the horse is important. I own a horse, Popcorn, that I bought at the Road to the Horse. He is a Quarter Horse and they typically do well in reining but he isn’t bred strongly for it.  Although I trained him and showed him successfully in reining, it was not his strength so I changed gears. He is my favorite trail horse, I use him when training my young horses and he has won me several belt buckles in mounted shooting. Popcorn wasn’t bought to excel in one sport, he was bought to be my horse and we do what we like.

When I am competing in reining I select horses that are strongly bred for that discipline but I rode horses for close to fifteen years before I began to focus on reining.

My first horse.

My first horse.

I do remember the excitement of buying my first horse. I also remember thinking about all of the different options out there and I worried that I would choose wrong. Much like you I looked at horses and picked the one that I connected with…strange how that happens. We also had a professional evaluate the horse and we did a vet check. I played with many, many things over the years from trail riding to contesting, parades, swimming and jumping. I never regretted my choice.

Not everyone has that same first horse experience, but many do. One of the advantages that experience gives is that quite often things become more clear, because much learning takes place in our mistakes. I tried many things with my first horse but we didn’t excel at all of them…but we still had fun.

If I had one piece of advice, beyond getting hands on advice from a pro, it would be to remember to buy a horse you will enjoy being with. That includes both the appropriate training level and who the horse is at the core. Are you drawn to horses with a sweet temperament? Goofy? Serious? Many aspects of your horse can be trained and improved but their personality should be one you enjoy.


  1. Peggy on September 16, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    It took me 3 years to find my horse. I had horses growing up, and decided to start riding more in my 50’s. I leased a horse and took lessons for 2 years (from a trainer) before I even started looking.I also had a trainer come with me to look at horses. It was so worth waiting for my horse, he was a diamond in the rough, but is an amazing horse now. I put a lot of time and work into him,and it has been so worth it. Also, take into consideration how much time you are willing to spend with a horse. I was pretty dedicated, and saw my horse every day for the first 3 years I had him. When you work with a horse every day, it is easier to reach your goals.

  2. Flo on September 14, 2014 at 9:23 am

    I like the hot, nervous, “rangatangs” preferably of the female chestnut variety. Always got along well with them, maybe because I can relate?

  3. Nancy on September 14, 2014 at 9:08 am

    Sadly, I wish I’d had this advice when I got my first horse. I grew up like most girls, total horse crazy. Fast forward several years to a friend who bred and raised Egyptian Arabian horses, she hooked me up with a deal, a friend of a friend sort of. The horse I got was an arab/appy and was as snotty as the day was long, and I suspect now she had been heavily drugged the few times I saw her before buying her. Every time I’d gotten her broke of one bad habit, she’d develop another one and I ended up getting rid of that horse when she tried to kill my 18 month old son (who just happen to commit the sin of walking past her). Fast forward a few more years and I ended up with a beautiful double Clabber bred mare that was really sweet, except for the annoying habit of becoming severely barn sour no matter what I did. My Clabber mare ended up tossing me off in a way that broke lower back and cracked my skull. That riding accident left me extremely sensitive sitting in any kind of saddle and crippling panic attacks being on any horse and I’ve never fully recovered from that. Indeed, your advice for anyone’s first horse is very sage and sound.

  4. Cindy Tozer on September 14, 2014 at 4:06 am

    I first look at a horses eye. If I don’t like what I see, it doesn’t matter about anything else, I look no further. The eyes are the window. Every horse I’ve owned, with the exception of two I bought sight unseen, has told me who they are by their eyes. The eyes have never steered me wrong.

    • Flo on September 14, 2014 at 9:31 am

      My current project is a 2 1/2 yr old filly I bought out of dealer herd at approximately 5 mos old. Don’t know where the mother was. She’s smart, willing, and sweet but also tougher than a boiled boot. Her eyes change dramatically depending on her mood. They’ll go from soft to hard to soft during training sessions as she processes. I’ve taken it real slow and easy with her as I can see she’ld be all too willing to take it into a knock down drag out if she got too frustrated. btw I’m following Jac’s training videos to train her. Doing my best to balance discipline with fun and interesting.. so far, so good. She’s about ready for her first ride.

  5. Lesia Lowe on September 13, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    I have heard you refer to your husband as your “coach”…how has Jesse’s coaching helped you to achieve all that you have accomplished and do you think you would have done things differently or even attempted the things you did/do without him coaching you? just curious.. thanx!

  6. Mary Bieganski on September 13, 2014 at 5:35 pm

    I like the feisty ones. I am good at calming horses down, and I find that I get frustrated more often with a lazier or less driven horses and have to remind myself to use more leg than I’m typically used to. This has been good and bad, while I don’t regret my first horse and we bonded very well I should have gone with a horse that better fit my riding level at the time. However I chose our connection over that and in turn learned a great deal about training and different philosophies with her. Liking the feistier horses does mean that I get some strange looks at times as I’ll go for horses that many riders would not pick first, but I think finding what compliments your personality best is important. It’s always fun when I hear someone complaining that the horse won’t slow down or focus for them and then having a completely different experience than them on the same horse, personality clashes can hinder the relationship so much, especially if the rider isn’t able to adapt to a different type of horse.

  7. Chana on September 13, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    I had a talk with a friend the other day about being afraid of animals and how it links to being able to ‘read’ them. We went to visit a barn and this relatively young German Shepard came straight at us barking loudly. I could immediately tell, that while he was excited and making alot of noise, he was not aggressive. So I stood still and petted him. My friend had backed up behind the car. She didn’t grow up around dogs and read his behaviour as aggressive.

    I think this is the difficulty when choosing your first horse and the higher risk of getting it wrong. You might not have spent much time with them apart from riding lessons. Which makes it difficult to ‘read’ them and even recognise the different personalities. I think that’s the reason my first horse was completely wrong for me anyway 😉 According to my trainer at the time she suited my goals, and she did, but we could just not get on personality wise!

  8. Diane on September 13, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I would also say to be cautious in a first horse. My first horse was a well trained 15 yo Arabian with an unruly attitude . Most people would say you are crazy to get an Arab as a first horse. But Missy and I just clicked. I moved her away from the barn she was at and she almost instantly became the sweetest horse in the world. She taught me more things than any Horse I ever rode in my life. Just make sure you and your horse click. Ride him a few times before purchase. Even ask if you can lease him for a month if possible. Good luck in your search..

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