Finding the right horse involves four key aspects: your goals, your abilities, your time, and your finances. You need to be realistic about all of them. Be honest with yourself, and start the process with a very specific list. Some things, like temperament, will be non-negotiable, but other things like size and color, breed, and even athletic ability may have more room for compromise. Once it is on a list, it is easier to determine which things you absolutely must have and which things don’t matter as much.
Begin with your goals. Do you want to compete? Recognized or schooling? Eventing, dressage or both? You are going to need a very different horse to do a CC1* than one just to do local elementary or beginner novice schooling shows on and maybe a recognized horse trials someday. Goals do not have to include competitions. They could be as simple as learning to jump again after a lot of time away from riding or even just to be the best rider you can be. I work with people who have very specific competitive goals in mind, and I also work with people who just love their weekly lessons and learning how to be a better rider and will never set foot in the show ring.
Next, assess your abilities. Honestly. And I include confidence under this heading. A person with a lot of confidence and natural feel could ride a different horse than one with not much confidence, irrespective of skill level. Confidence plays a huge role here as it can be ruined so fast (even in just one ride), and needs to be considered very carefully. Horses require leadership, and if you consider yourself and your horse a herd of two, you need to take on the leadership role. There are circumstances where a person learning would be best on a horse that will take a bit of a leadership role but not take advantage of the rider’s inexperience. These horses are called “schoolmasters,” and they have been there and done that and are basically unflappable. It is not generally a good idea to have a green rider paired with a green horse as this could be compared to the blind leading the blind. I have seen it work in several cases, but the horses were very sane, even at a young age, and the riders were committed to a weekly training regimen with a competent professional.
Time. The more time you can spend in the saddle, the better, but this may not be realistic. Don’t buy a young, green horse thinking you are going to come out late at night after work, be in a rush, jump on and jump off and have a lovely ride with no issues. It could happen, but it would be unusual. Again, the success of many equine/human partnerships depends on the nature of the horse in question and the knowledge and commitment of the person in question. Assess your work and your home life honestly. Do you really have time for a horse? I would say they require a minimum of two hours a day/four days per week. More is better. Horses thrive on consistency and regular attention. If you are not capable of doing that, can you pay a professional to do it? If you have to pay a professional to keep your horse going for you, do you really want your own horse? Maybe you should lease a horse a couple of days/week or find a horse that is very well adjusted and educated so you can just hop on and hop off, and it won’t affect your relationship with him/her too much. These situations do exist, but you need to find the right one.
Discuss a realistic budget with the person helping you find a horse. There are two parts to finances involved in owning a horse: the initial purchase and the upkeep and monthly expenses. Do some research, talk to your professional about what is realistic to spend in order to attain your goals and be prepared to prioritize and compromise on certain things. My priorities always lie with the horse’s brain. If it is young but has a good brain, it might be ok if you aren’t really confident as long as you have good, consistent help, and you can afford it. I never compromise on the horse’s personality or willingness to do the job, but I might compromise on certain soundness issues or color or size for instance. A bigger starting budget does not always guarantee a better horse. I would take a willing and calm mind, a big heart, and good personality over fancy movement, color, and athletic ability for the average prospective horse owner. Ask yourself, “Can it be trained?” It doesn’t matter how good it looks or how much potential it has if it won’t let you train it. Also be prepared to spend more money on those things that are important to you.
· Trust your gut. If you don’t feel comfortable, it’s probably not right. Riding the right horse should produce a feeling of elation, not fear and anxiety. If you are not comfortable riding the horse alone without professional supervision, it is probably not right for you. Any feelings other than complete ease should be reason to question if a horse is right for you or not.
· Be prepared to search for a long time for what is right. There are a lot of horses out there, and horses are much easier to acquire than they are to get rid of.
· Be willing to compromise, just not on certain things.
· Finally, be HONEST with yourself. Not only will this help you, but it is only fair to the horse you are looking at as a prospective partner.
Having a kind, intelligent, willing equine partner is one of the greatest joys in the life of those who love horses. Owning a horse is a big commitment of time, emotion, and money so be patient in your search. In the end, it will be worth it. Good luck!