So, I looked at one mare, never heard back from the owner. Looked at another mare, even scheduled a vet check, but the owner wanted to show her to some more people, so I canceled the vet check, and sure enough, she sold her to someone else.
Today, I looked at two geldings, and heard of a third.
Horse A, 15 yrs old, 15.1, stocky build. Hadn't been ridden in a few months, but free lunged nicely in the round pen. Has clearly been taught well. His head bobbed a tiny bit at the trot on a few separate occasions, but his feet were atrocious and it just seemed to be a case of tender feet that would come and go as if he stepped on a rock, got sore, and "walked it off." Owner got on, and he crow-hopped a few times. She wasn't sure what was wrong, was positive the tack fit (it's what she normally rides him ind), but said since she never rides him in the round pen (only lunges there then hits the trails), she would try him out in the driveway area. He was ouchy on the gravel, but did fine with her in the grass--didn't crow-hop anymore. My friend rode him second (he's a one-person horse, and she's more the size of the owner, and I'm quite a bit bigger, so I figured it'd be better if his first stranger was the size he's used to). He did fine with my friend, absolutely no crow-hopping, and she rode him past and away from his buddy, who was tied up nearby and absolutely freaking out. Horse A, though, was an angel, personality-wise. She returned, I got on, and he crow-hopped a couple times on the flat. We went up the same hill my friend rode him on, and didn't crow-hop much. Reached the top, turned around to come down, and he kept crow-hopping. At first, I didn't want to "give in," but it really seemed to be a pain issue, not an attitude thing where he was trying to dump his rider, so I got off. We untacked him, and the owner even hopped on him bareback.
Personality-wise, he's great. He appears to have some nice training (sidepasses, spins, was soft and supple in a sidepull). He definitely has not-so-good-feet right now, they were pretty chipped up, and ouchy, and he hadn't been trimmed in 10 weeks. I didn't see much to BE trimmed, so it's like he needs shoes, even when not being ridden. He's been exclusively trail-ridden, which is what I want to do with him. One concern is that she strictly walks on trail, and I'd like to do some trotting and cantering when/where appropriate, and possibly get into some longer-distance riding, which would involve quite a bit of trotting, I'm assuming. But when my friend and I trotted him away from his buddy, he was neither resistant to it, nor in a hurry to go anywhere, so I'm not too worried about that. His feet/back/whatever are really what worry me. The owner kept downplaying it, insisting he's never been lame, ever. I tried to make it clear I wasn't accusing him of being permanently lame, just suggesting maybe he needs a chiropractor or farrier to take a look. The owner made it very clear that she doesn't NEED to sell him, blah, blah, blah, so I don't think she'll be very amenable to a trial, meeting any conditions (have him shod first then re-evaluate sort of thing), or coming down on the price at all. She's asking $2,500, which is more than reasonable, but the top end of my budget, and means after outfitting him with tack, I won't have any left for a truck and will have to save up from scratch.
Horse B is 16 years old, 16 hands, and has also been exclusively trail-ridden, including overnight trips, and highlines and hobbles. She even demonstrated hobbling him. He's been without any significant riding for two YEARS, however. He doesn't seem to have anywhere near the training horse A did. He neckreins alright, but seems pretty dead-sided. The owner couldn't get him to canter under saddle, so she got off and lunged him, and he did fine. Neither of us ended up cantering him under saddle. She suggested I ride him out of the roundpen and into a pasture they're currently not using. He was a little gate sour at the various open gates in the pasture, but actually seemed more inclined to trot out there. Too inclined, maybe. They had him in a tie-down, and I found out why--trying to slow his trot, he threw his head up in the air and evaded the bit. That's not an issue I know how to deal with, nor do I know how difficult it is to re-train. His feet seemed much healthier--he'd been nearly as long without a trim, but his feet looked well-used, but not all chipped up, and he wasn't tender, even on the gravel. The owner brought up that she would be willing to let him go on a trial, which means she cares about him, and is confident he's a good horse at heart. It means I could take my time with a vet check, have a couple people evaluate him, and begin working on the head raising thing. She's only asking $975, and her demeanor says she might even be willing to come down (or at least deliver him for me) for the right buyer.
Horse C is apparently very big (was bought for a man who is 6'7" and not fat, but not scrawny either). I haven't met him yet, but my friend told me about him. Apparently the current owners bought him very cheap even though he was lame when they went (he was a long distance away and they came with trailer, so just took him anyway), and he did something that scared them. Not sure if it was a no-big-deal-just-scared-a-newbie sort of thing, or a deal-breaker sort of thing. But my friend mentioned him, and he's currently owned by the people who owns the property she boards at, so I can take my time checking him out and trying him, if I want. Price would be unbeatable (probably a few hundred bucks), but what if he has real lameness issues? I'll find out more about the behavior that scared them, of course.
I have long legs (36" inseam) and am very overweight, so am looking for a nice stocky horse, both so my legs don't dangle way below his belly, and so he can carry my weight. Horse A felt like a better "fit," but he's only packed around his current owner, who weighs half what I do. Horse B looks less substantial at first glance, but has packed his owner on multi-day pack trips, and she probably weighs what I do, or close to it. He didn't seem to have any issues with her or my brief rides on him today. I rode once or twice a week for a couple years over 10 years ago, and then have been riding a couple times a week for the past year and a half or so, but the latest stint has strictly been trail riding. I've had exactly two lessons in that time, and therefore don't have much confidence to be able to "fix" a horse myself. Horse A, if not truly lame/sore, is probably more of a push-button situation, but I wonder if I'm too big for him, given what he's used to. Horse B has some possible training issues, but I have access to more experienced people, both amateur and paid trainers, so I need advice on how hard it would be to get him to carry himself and not evade the bit, and also advice on how big a deal you think the head-bobbing (it was seriously barely noticeable, and intermittent) and crow-hopping (much more of an issue) are, and what I should consider regarding Horse A.
Thanks for any and all advice! I'm terrible at either/or decisions, which is why I've been considering once horse at a time up to this point. Now I've got trade-offs of stockiness, soreness, training, sensitivity, price, etc. to consider.