Last updated: September 14, 2023
As anyone who has spent time in the saddle knows, finding the right horse for riding is crucial to having an enjoyable and successful experience on horseback. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how to choose a good riding horse, and I’m excited to share some of my tips with you.
A horse that is a poor fit for your riding level, goals, or temperament can be not only frustrating but also dangerous. On the other hand, a horse that is a good fit can help you achieve your riding goals, build your confidence, and strengthen your skills.
In this post, I’ll be sharing tips to help you pick the best riding horse. I’ll cover everything from working with a reputable trainer or instructor to getting a pre-purchase veterinary exam. By following these tips, you can make an informed decision and find the perfect horse.
Considerations for Choosing a Riding Horse
Selecting the right horse requires taking into account several critical factors. Below are some of the most important things to consider:
Riding level and experience
The rider’s experience level is a crucial factor to consider when selecting a horse. Beginner riders typically require a horse that is gentle, forgiving, and easy to handle. High-energy horses that are too strong can be overwhelming for novices. Intermediate riders may handle more challenging horses, while advanced riders may prefer horses with a lot of energy and athleticism.
Riding goals and discipline
The type of riding you plan to do will also influence the type of horse you should choose. For example, if you plan to compete in dressage, you’ll want a horse with good movement and a calm demeanor.
If you plan to do trail riding, you’ll want a horse that is sure-footed and comfortable on varied terrain, and if you are interested in jumping, you’ll want a horse that is athletic and has excellent conformation.
Physical characteristics of the rider
When selecting a horse for riding, it’s important to remember that horses can generally carry up to 20% of their weight safely and comfortably. Therefore, it’s crucial to consider the rider’s size and weight to ensure they are compatible with the horse’s build and fitness level.
A horse that is too small or too large for the rider can cause discomfort or even injury. It’s essential to assess the rider’s height, weight, and leg length to find a horse that is a suitable match.
Here is a YouTube video of our young Thoroughbred bucking off its rider.
Horse Temperament and Personality
Finally, the disposition and personality of the horse are crucial considerations when choosing a horse for riding. Horses can have a wide range of temperaments, from calm and gentle to strong-willed and energetic.
You’ll want to choose a horse whose personality and character match yours. For example, when I pick a horse for long pleasure rides, I want to go on a calm, gentle horse. If you are a more assertive rider, you may prefer a horse that is more energetic and willing to work.
It’s important to spend time getting to know potential horses before making a decision to ensure that you find a horse with a personality that is a good match for your own. No matter what level of rider you are, finding the right horse personality is key to a successful ride.
Best Horse Breeds for Riding
Although some horse breeds may be more suitable for specific riding disciplines or experience levels, it is crucial to remember that every horse is unique and may not necessarily match the general characteristics of their breed.
Therefore, when selecting a horse, it’s essential to assess each horse individually and work with an experienced horseman who can assist you in finding the ideal match for your needs and objectives. Here are some of the best horse breeds for riding:
My Top Choice: Is the American Quarter Horse
When picking a riding horse, there are many different breeds to consider. As someone who has spent years in the saddle, I have found that one breed stands out: the American Quarter Horse.
There are many reasons why Quarter Horses are my top choice for riders of all levels. Here are just a few:
- Calm temperament: Quarter Horses are mostly calm and easygoing, which makes them well-suited to beginner riders and children, as well as more experienced riders who prefer a calm, steady ride.
- Versatility: Quarter Horses are one of the most versatile breeds and can be used for a wide range of riding disciplines, including Western riding, rodeo, trail riding, and even some English riding disciplines.
- Athleticism: Despite a calm demeanor, the American Quarter Horse is highly athletic and agile. They have a strong, muscular build that allows them to perform well in various riding disciplines, including barrel racing and roping.
- Easy to handle: Quarter Horses are generally easy to handle, making them a good choice for riders learning the ropes of horse handling and care.
Overall, an American Quarter Horse is an excellent choice for riders of all levels. They are calm, versatile, athletic, and easy to handle, making them a great fit for a wide range of riding goals and preferences.
Morgan horses originated in the United States and are known for their versatility, athleticism, and friendly personalities. They were originally bred as all-purpose horses for work on the farm, and their stamina, strength, and intelligence made them a popular choice for a wide range of tasks.
When it comes to riding, Morgan horses can make great mounts for riders of all levels, thanks to their steady temperament and willingness to please. They are known for their smooth gaits, making them a popular choice for riders who enjoy long trail rides or endurance riding.
Morgan horses are typically medium-sized, with a compact, muscular build that gives them excellent balance and agility. They have a distinctive, elegant appearance, with a refined head and a high-set, arched neck. Their strong, broad shoulders and powerful hindquarters give them the ability to perform a wide range of movements with ease.
Overall, Morgan horses are a great choice for riders who want a versatile, friendly, and athletic horse that can excel in various disciplines. With their steady temperament and smooth gaits, they are well-suited to a range of riding styles, from trail riding to dressage and everything in between.
Paso Fino horses are a great choice for riders who want a smooth, comfortable ride and a horse that is sure-footed and agile. With their unique gaits and their athletic build, they are well-suited to a range of riding styles, from trail riding to endurance riding and more.
If you’re looking for a horse that is distinctive, comfortable to ride, and sure-footed on any terrain, a Paso Fino may be the perfect choice for you. They are typically small to medium-sized, with a refined build and a muscular, athletic appearance.
Paso Fino horses originated in Latin America and are best known for their distinctive, high-stepping gait. Their three unique paces- the paso fino, paso corto, and paso largo – are exceptionally smooth and precise, which allows riders to cover long distances with ease.
Warmbloods are a type of horse that is known for their athleticism, grace, and trainability, making them a great fit for riding, especially in disciplines such as dressage, jumping, and hunter-jumper competitions.
Although they are not a specific breed, warmbloods are typically a cross between a hot-blooded breed, such as an Arabian, and a cold-blooded breed, such as a draft horse. This crossbreeding results in a horse that combines the best traits of both breeds, resulting in a versatile, high-performing horse that is well-suited to a variety of riding goals and experience levels.
It’s important to note that which specific warmblood breed is best for riding can vary depending on several factors, including the rider’s experience level and riding goals, as well as the horse’s individual temperament and physical characteristics.
When it comes to warmblood breeds that are best suited for riding, there are several options to consider. Some of the top warmblood breeds for riding include:
- Hanoverian: The Hanoverian is a German warmblood breed that is highly regarded for its athleticism, trainability, and versatility. They are one of the top dressage breeds and excel in jumping and eventing and are known for their smooth gaits and natural talent for collection.
- Irish Draught: The Irish Draught is a breed that originated in Ireland and is known for its strength, athleticism, and versatility. They are typically used for hunting, jumping, eventing, and even dressage and are known for their calm temperament and willingness to please.
- Dutch Warmblood: The Dutch Warmblood is a breed that originated in the Netherlands and is known for its athleticism, power, and grace. They are known for their trainability and intelligence and are a popular choice for riders of all levels.
It’s worth noting that while these warmblood breeds are well-suited to riding, there are many other warmblood breeds that may also be a good fit depending on the rider’s goals and experience level.
Thoroughbreds are a great choice for riders who are looking for an athletic and spirited saddle horse. With their speed, agility, and intelligence, they are well-suited to a range of riding styles, including racing, jumping, and dressage.
While it’s true that Thoroughbreds are generally high-energy horses that require a skilled rider, it’s worth noting that each individual horse has its own unique personality and temperament.
For example, I currently own nine Thoroughbreds, and while two of them were exceptionally high-strung, the other seven are level-headed and calm. I’m comfortable allowing a beginner rider to ride these gentle Thoroughbreds.
With proper training and guidance from a skilled rider or trainer, Thoroughbreds can excel in many disciplines and provide rewarding rides for their riders. However, it’s important to keep in mind that they require proper training and handling.
Arabians are a popular breed for riding, particularly for endurance riding and dressage. They are known for their beauty, intelligence, and endurance. Arabians can be high-energy and require a skilled rider, but they can also be gentle and willing to work.
Andalusians are a popular breed for riding, particularly for dressage and riding exhibitions. They are known for their beauty, grace, and trainability. Andalusians can be high-energy and require a skilled rider, but they can also be gentle and willing to work.
There are many other breeds that can be well-suited to riding, depending on your preferences and goals. For example, if you are interested in trail riding, you may want to consider a gaited breed, like a Tennessee Walking Horse or a Missouri Fox Trotter.
If you are interested in Western riding, you may want to consider a Paint Horse or an Appaloosa. It’s important to do your research and find a breed that is well-suited to your riding goals and preferences.
Expert Tips for Choosing the Best Horse for Riding
Picking a good riding horse is not an easy task. It requires careful consideration and research to find one that is a good fit for your riding goals, experience level, and personality. Here are some expert tips for shopping for a riding horse:
Work with a reputable horse trainer or instructor
One of the best ways to ensure that you choose the right horse is to work with a reputable trainer or instructor. They can help you evaluate your riding level, goals, and preferences and provide valuable guidance on finding the best horse for you. They may also have connections in the horse community that can help you find potential horses to consider.
Take your time and do your research.
Choosing a horse is not a decision that should be rushed. Take your time to research different breeds, consider your riding goals and preferences, and evaluate potential horses carefully. Read reviews, watch videos, and talk to other riders to get a sense of what different horses are like.
Test ride potential horses before buying or leasing
Before making a final decision on a horse, it’s important to test-ride them to see how they handle and to get a sense of their temperament. Test ride the horse in different environments, such as in an arena and out on a trail, to get a full picture of how they behave.
We’re testing out a couple of new horses that we hope the kids can use for both barrel racing and trail riding. Unfortunately, one of the horses only seems to have one speed: fast.
The kids are having trouble controlling him. On the other hand, the other horse only wants to walk and doesn’t seem interested in running the barrel pattern. These are issues you need to know before buying a horse. If you can’t use the horses for your desired purpose, don’t buy them.
Consider the horse’s history and training.
The horse’s history and training can also provide valuable insight into its temperament and behavior. Find out as much as you can about the horse’s previous owners, any injuries or health issues they may have had, and the training they have received. A horse that has been well-trained and handled with care is more likely to be a good fit for a rider.
Get a pre-purchase veterinary exam.
Before finalizing the purchase or lease of a horse, it’s important to get a pre-purchase veterinary exam. This can help identify any health issues or injuries that may impact the horse’s ability to perform and can also give you a sense of the horse’s overall health and fitness. It’s always better to be proactive and address any health issues before making a commitment to the horse.
Choosing the Best Horse for Novice Riders and Children
When it comes to picking a horse for novice riders and children, there are some important factors to consider. Here are some topics to keep in mind:
Importance of finding a horse that is gentle and forgiving
For beginners and children, it’s important to find a horse that is gentle and forgiving. A horse that is too strong or too high-energy can be overwhelming for a new rider, while a horse that is gentle and easygoing can help build confidence and develop riding skills.
Certain horse breeds are well-suited to beginner riders and children. For example, ponies are often gentle, easy to handle, and well-suited to small riders. Some Quarter Horses are also well-suited to novice riders, thanks to their calm temperament and willingness to work.
Safety is a top concern when choosing a horse for novice riders and children. It’s important to consider the horse’s size and temperament, as well as the rider’s physical abilities and experience level. A smaller horse or pony may be more appropriate for a child or small rider, while a gentle, easygoing temperament is crucial for novice riders.
When evaluating horses for beginner riders and children, it’s important to work with an experienced trainer or instructor who can help you evaluate the horse’s handling and training experience. Look for a horse that is calm and easy to handle and that has experience working with novice riders or children.
Choosing the best general-purpose riding horse is a crucial step toward a successful riding experience. By taking the time to evaluate your riding level, goals, and preferences and by considering breed, temperament, and training, you can find a horse that is the perfect match for you. Here are some final thoughts to keep in mind:
- Work with a reputable trainer or instructor
- Take your time and do your research, test ride potential horses, and consider the horse’s history and training.
- Get a pre-purchase veterinary exam.
Finding the right horse is important not only for your safety and comfort but also for your success as a rider. The right horse can make all the difference in your ability to achieve your riding goals and develop your skills.
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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