What Makes the Best Beginner Horse?
Authored by Katie Navarra
Authored by Katie Navarra
A well-behaved, kind and steady horse makes your first experience positive while keeping you safe. This is important for a rider of any age, but is especially true when buying a horse for a child. Beginner-friendly horses are kind, calm and experienced.
“A good beginner horse is pretty unflappable,” said Lynda Schumann, co-owner of Green Trees Farm in Troy, Texas. “They have ‘been around the block, so to speak.”
“They have ‘been around the block, so to speak,” says Lynda Schumann. What exactly does that mean? Look for these traits in a horse:
Purchasing a horse is exciting. There are hundreds of ads with photos of beautiful horses to consider. Look for ads that include detailed information about the horse’s age, training level, and temperament.
Some listings include phrases like “beginner safe” or “horse needs intermediate to advanced riders only.” Other advertisements don’t include these clues. In either case, it can be hard to tell from a posting if the horse is the best first horse for you.
Horse sellers can be persuasive; some will try to convince you to buy a horse that may not be a good fit to make the sale. If you’re buying your first horse without previous horse experience, it is a good idea to take a knowledgeable horse person with you, Schumann suggested.
A knowledgeable horse-owning friend can help you evaluate a horse’s temperament and basic health to decide if it is worth pursuing or walking away to try another. If you work with or know a trainer, they can also be helpful throughout the search process.
Nearly every horse is “pretty.” Some are plainer, others are like eye candy. Who doesn’t love a golden palomino, a flashy paint, or a horse with a lot of “chrome” (white markings)? Don’t be tempted by looks alone—beauty may only be skin deep.
How agreeable the horse is, how easy he is to halter and lead, and his willingness to be groomed and saddled are more important than looks.
Horse breeds are a lot like dog breeds—each is known for its temperament and suitability for the situation.
Horse breeds are similar. Quarter Horses, Paints and some draft horses are popular choices for beginning riders because they tend to be calmer. Thoroughbreds and Arabians tend to be more spirited. Remember, every horse is an individual. In every breed, you will find horses that are more laid back or energetic, so don’t necessarily rule a horse out because of its breed if it meets your other criteria.
Unregistered or "grade" horses can also have the same desirable beginner-friendly traits as papered horses. Grade horses also tend to be less expensive to buy.
A good beginner horse has enough age and experience to be calm and responsive. Schumann recommends looking for a horse between 8 and 12 years.
Sometimes people want to buy a young horse for a child so they “can grow up together.” Young horses are still learning life skills like respecting people and responding to cues that provide direction. A “green” horse and a “green” rider combination is dangerous.
Older horses in their teens or early 20s are also often suitable. Horses can be healthy and active into their 30s with a little extra care, so starting with an older horse can offer a trusted partner.
Shorter horses can be less intimidating to beginning riders. Horses between 14 and 14.2 hands (56 to 112.8 inches) are stout enough to carry young and adult riders and closer to the ground.
Young riders learning to ride often ride ponies because they are smaller. Taller riders may need a taller horse so the horse can more easily carry the rider. Draft horses are enormous and mild-mannered, so that they can be a good fit for larger riders.
Both mares and geldings (neutered male) can make excellent beginner horses. Ruling out one or the other simply because of gender can significantly limit your search. However, many riders prefer geldings as mares can be moody when in heat.
Stallions are never a good choice for first-time horse buyers because they require skilled handling. Beginners should also avoid buying a pregnant mare because of the knowledge needed for the foaling process and later raising a foal.
Some horses require extra maintenance such as supplements, specific shoes, or medication to stay sound and keep a good weight. There are many easily managed situations where a horse needs a little extra TLC. But it is essential to know those in advance to decide if you have the patience, ability, and budget to meet those needs.
Before completing the sale, you may want to have a veterinarian perform a pre-purchase exam. A pre-purchase exam is a basic physical that includes checking the horse’s vital signs, dental condition and can help identify lameness or disease issues. When possible, choose a veterinarian unconnected to the horse for an objective evaluation.