What to look for when purchasing a trail horse? - The Horse Forum
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post #1 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 10:09 PM Thread Starter
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What to look for when purchasing a trail horse?

Hello all,

I'm looking for some advice on what to look for when purchasing a horse specifically for trail riding purposes. I have been riding for about 16 years, and have owned my mare for 12 years. Her companion recently moved away, and I'm hoping to purchase a new horse buddy for her that my boyfriend and other family can ride. The problem is I don't know how to evaluate a horse for this purpose! I do trail ride with my mare, but most of our background has been in the show ring. If I were looking for a new show mount, I'd be fine :)

I guess my main questions are:

1.) How do you know that the horse will actually behave on trails the way they do in a ring? I'm assuming most sellers won't have trails on their property for test riding purposes.

2.) The people I would let ride this guy will mostly be advanced beginner-intermediate riders. I will school him regularly, but will continue to ride my mare on trails. When I try out trail horses, will I be able to tell how they'll react to a less experienced rider? Do I ride them to the best of my ability during trial rides or try to be kind of unbalanced, etc. to see how they'll react?

3.) What are the most important questions to ask a seller?

Any advice will be greatly appreciated - I feel embarassingly lost on this subject!
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post #2 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 10:11 PM
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What I look for is an overall calm demeanor. You should be able to crack a stick by her, jump down off her without her spooking, and ride her without having to direct her every move. I like when a trail horse can make his own decisions and not rely on my verdict all the time, personally.
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post #3 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 10:34 PM
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Well first off, make sure you ask the seller how the horse is on the trails & be sure to mention that is what you want the horse for. Some people pasture ride their horses & think they can sell them as trail horses but then you get them & they're no good.
The horse should be calm & not flighty or want to run all the time.
It should be good with gravel, mud, snow & water. It shouldn't panic if it gets wacked with a stick or if branches brush against it.
It should WALK down hills (most horses prefer to charge down or up hills) Running up hills isn't necessarily a bad thing as some horses have an easier time getting up the steep banks if they're running, but they should be easy to control/stop & not run into others or ram your leg into a tree.
It should also be good with traffic, quads, dogs, cattle & other horses.
I prefer mine to be willing to ride out on their own without throwing a fuss. NOT herdbound.

As for test riding, I hate when they want you to ride a horse they say is "well-broke" in an arena or round pen. It's impossible to determine whether the horse is good on the trails or even out in the open if you're in an enclosed space.
You should be able to take it out in the yard & even ride it down the road. Maybe suggest the seller saddling up a horse & going with you.
Good sellers will make a point of proving if the horse is as good as they say.

"If a horse fails to do something that is because he was not trained to do it. If a horse fails to do something properly that is because he was not trained properly."
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post #4 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 10:39 PM
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O man I suggest a weeks trial first off

And I agree with lilruffian
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post #5 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 11:29 PM
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A good trail horse should be calm,smart, and confident. My grey is actually turning out to be a good trail horse. She is really smooth to ride and wants to go. Her first reaction to new things is usually curiousity not fear. She is really aware of her body & is good on her feet. I would also make sure the horse has strong feet. The harder the better. You should insist the seller let you ride the horse on the trail before buying it.
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post #6 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 11:30 PM
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calm demeanor is a must. Non spooky, rock solid kind of guy.

My new boy is very calm and goes up and down hills quietly. He is not a perfect trail horse but we are working on it.

A horse that will stand still for you to mount in different places without getting upset. A horse that will cross streams, creeks, or slews without freaking out or even leaping it. Will pass the odd toilet that pops up!!! We were riding in Ebenezer on day and another rider's horse blew up at a toilet someone had dumped!!

The should not spook at a deer that springs up, birds that blow up under their noses. Get along with other horses and not crowd them or kick, bite, snake their head at them.

One that will be happy in the front, middle or back of the group.

And it goes without saying one that doesn't buck, rear, run off!!

Good luck on your search. A good trail horse is a treasure. Not all horses are cut out to be trail horses. My husband's horse is a doll but I think he thinks trail riding is for sissies. He likes to ride up and down hills if he is "working" but following the tail of another horse is boring to him!!!

I found with my other horse that one that has a higher butt than withers doesn't make such a good trail horse on hills!! Make sure they they have rock hard feet!!

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post #7 of 19 Old 12-13-2010, 11:35 PM
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Make sure it rides alone and isn't dependent on another horse for security. Even if you will never ride the horse alone, a horse that rides alone will be more confident and secure. And it is a huge pet peeve of mine to ride a horse that won't separate from the herd and is herd bound.

I would also try the horse out on trails. Even if it's just around the neighborhood or some open area away from it's home turf. But try it somewhere outside it's living area and outside of an arena. How can you possibly know it will be good on trails if you never ride it outside? There is only one way to find out.

Also, a trial period would be an excellent, excellent idea! I did that with my Mustang. Got him on a two week trial and knew after one week (of trying him out in every way possible) that he was the horse for me! But of course not all sellers will be willing to do that. So you have to decide how much of a chance you are willing to take. My last horse I didn't get a trial period on, and I lucked out. But I also bought a couple of lemons that way too.

Actually, the only reason I bought my last horse without a trial period was because my neighbor promised she'd buy the horse if I decided I didn't want her. She had that much confidence in her horse-judging skills. I don't, and without the reassurance I don't think I would have bought her. I don't feel I can know much about a horse in just a 10 minute ride around a pasture, and that was the situation I was in. Kind of a "buy it or it's going to auction" situation. I got lucky, but that's NOT the way to buy a horse.

Also, soundness and health is a must, but that goes without saying.
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post #8 of 19 Old 12-14-2010, 12:05 AM
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Make sure you know what kinds of places you trail ride. If there are no rivers or streams, then it might not matter if they walk through them or not and if you aren't riding anywhere near a road being "car" safe might not be important.

Ride the horse how you normally ride and then try and ride down to the level you need them to be able to go at. For my mom's first horse I tried to see how she would react if I only used my reins to steer her, fall on her neck, swing my leg, ride slightly and then totally unbalanced, I dropped the reins at the walk, trot, and canter. I simulated falling off at the trot with an emergency dismount and I pulled on her mouth to try and stop her. We were looking for a very broke, dead beginner horses that could take someone from walking to cantering.

Even if they do have a trail you can test ride on I would suggest doing a trial period. I would 100% recommend you write up a contract for the trial so both you and the owner are protected. Even if the owner seems like the nicest, most calm personal you've ever met, get everything in writing.

If they don't agree to a trial, and many people don't, see if they are willing to drive to you or another neutral property and do a trail ride with them with you on their horse and them following on either another horse they bring or on foot. Or write a clause in the buying contract that you can return within a week if horse to preform as presented.


Also, something I do that everyone says is unneeded. Drug test the horse, even if you don't feel like a full PPE is needed. Not everyone is honest.
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post #9 of 19 Old 12-14-2010, 12:38 AM
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One very important detail to keep in mind is to know how well they load! That can ruin your day right there if your horse gives you issues.

"Horses donít have hard mouths, they have hard, stiff bodies. The softer you can get the horse through his body, the softer he will be in your hands." Clinton Anderson




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post #10 of 19 Old 12-14-2010, 01:42 AM
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I completely agree with everyone.

However, I do want to mention that whatever horse you eventually get will be what you make it. My previous trainer liked to say that if you went in with a mindset of "will she do it?" or "I don't think this is going to work" it most likely won't. But, if you sit up there and say "ok, I'm going to take this horse out by herself and we're going to have fun (and not give up or get worried about whatever happens)" it most likely will work out fine.
For instance, my mare, when I got her, was basically bonkers. She was the spookiest, most badly stereotypical Arab EVER. She would jump out of her skin at everything and freak out, without stopping, for seemingly no reason. She was basically the last thing I EVER thought could be trail horse (I had no aspirations of doing much trail riding with her at that point, so it was ok). There are even threads on this forum from a year or two ago where people encouraged me to try her on trails and I flat out refused because she really was terrible on trails.

However, you know what? She's basically the best trail horse EVER now. Watching her, you'd have no idea that she used to be a spooky sociopath. She now goes up to things that scare her and she "spooks" (her spooks are really tiny jumps in place) maybe once every 6-7 rides, even in completely new places. We even had a freaking BOMB go off while we were riding towards it and she just jumped a little, stood for a moment assessing things, and kept going forwards. We've also encountered deep (2-3ft deep) water that she willingly crossed, even though she doesn't like water very much.
She's currently an only horse and we go out on trail rides 2-3 times a week, alone, and she's just as steady as ever. Of course, she enjoys going home but she's perfectly willing to go where ever I ask. For instance, today we went on a 2 mile trail ride in the woods with lots of little creeks to cross and we had a great time.
Her only fault is that she doesn't like following other horses. She wants to be in front at all times. However, she's so steady that whenever we ride with other horses she is generally put in front since she is so "seasoned" and she's a great role model for the other horses. But if you had told me two years ago that I would have basically the worlds best trail horse in a few years time, I would have scoffed in your face.

Now, I'm not recommending that you go find the craziest horse ever and turn it into your trail horse, but I am saying that with the right attitude on your part and the right training for the horse, pretty much any horse can be a great trail horse.


Anyway, story time is over. Haha Sorry for the novel!

Good luck in your search!

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Atticus - 4 year old LaMancha/Alpine cross goat

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