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Choose The Right Horse | Summer 2007 Out Here Magazine

Before buying a horse, make sure it’s the right one for you and your family by familiarizing yourself with its disposition, health, breed, and size.

There's more to buying than just the purchase price.

By Samantha Johnson
Photography by Samantha Johnson

You're scanning the local classified ads, when you spot a horse for sale. "17-year-old thoroughbred mare, 16+ hands, shown by teenager, has previous hock injury but is now sound. Sensitive disposition, needs patient handling. $500."

A horse for $500! Your kids have been begging for one, and you had one when you were a child. Is this horse the one for you?

Before you leap at the deal, consider several things:

Your experience. Honestly evaluate your level of horse experience. If you don't have much, look for a quiet, well-trained animal, suitable for a novice owner. Typically, these characteristics can be found in an older horse (over age 8), but don't discount a super-quiet and well-mannered younger horse if you find one that is gentle and reliable.

Size. Consider who will be using the horse. If it is just you, choose whatever size works best for you, but if this will be a family animal, a large pony or small horse — which are less intimidating and easier to handle — might be the perfect balance.

Breed. Acquaint yourself with the vast array of breeds available and their characteristics. Breed associations offer detailed — and often, free — information on the qualities of their breed to help you to narrow the list of breeds suitable for your needs.

Disposition. Probably the single most important attribute for a novice horse owner to consider is the horse's disposition. A kind and quiet horse is worth its weight in gold, and will provide you with an enjoyable and safe introduction into horse ownership. Be leery of "sensitive," "excitable," or "nervous" horses or any that "needs an experienced handler." These should be red flags to the novice horse owner.

Cost. While a $500 horse might be intriguing, don't base your purchasing decisions strictly on price. It's often said that the purchase price is the least expensive cost involved with horse ownership; it's the routine maintenance expenses — feed, farrier, vet, bedding, tack — that cost the most over time. It costs the same to care for an inexpensive horse as it does to care for a more expensive horse, so consider spending a little extra at the outset if it means that you are buying the right horse.

A cheap horse with a bad disposition or health issues is not a good deal in the long run. With careful consideration, you can bring home the right horse.

Samantha Johnson, co-author of How to Raise Horses: Everything You Need to Know, is a certified horse show judge and raises Welsh Ponies in Phelps, WI.