How to Buy a Trail Horse

Trail horses are horses that, due to their physique, temperament and training, are suited to trail riding, or riding outdoors on roads and natural trails. If you enjoy trail riding and you have the time, space, and finances to own a horse, knowing how to buy a trail horse can help you select a mount you can train and work with for many years. It's important to understand that when it comes to buying a trail horse, its physical stamina and strength, along with its ground manners and temperament, are more important than its conformation or breed. Read the steps below to find out how to buy a trail horse.


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    Decide whether you want a mare, a gelding, or a stallion. A gelding, or a castrated stallion, is perhaps best suited to most riders, as it is less dominant than a stallion and doesn't pose the hormonal challenges some mares do when they're in season.
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    Ask around. Ask friends and local breeders if they know anybody who has a trail horse for sale. If word of mouth doesn't yield any results, try the classifieds in local papers, equestrian magazines, or on the Internet.
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    Schedule an appointment to see a horse. Before making your choice, you should have the chance to thoroughly evaluate the horse.
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    Bring somebody along with you to evaluate the trail horse. Make sure the person you bring along is knowledgeable about horses and can offer an objective opinion. If possible, bring along a video camera to make a video of the horse. This way, you can watch the video later at your leisure to help you make your decision.
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    Look the horse over from a distance. Before you approach the horse, look it over from a few feet away. If it looks well balanced, sound of body and calm, continue with your evaluation. If it doesn't look good and seems nervous, sick, or otherwise unsound, leave.
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    Evaluate how well the horse reacts to handling. Ask the owner to touch the horse on its head, neck, flanks and belly. Watch it move and look for signs of discomfort or skittishness, such as a bobbing head, pinned ears, or a swishing tail. Determine whether the horse's reactions look trustworthy.
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    Evaluate how the horse moves. Ask the owner to walk it and ride it. While the horse walks, trots, canters and gallops, watch for signs of lameness and check the range of motion and the length of stride. Determine whether the horse's movements look safe.
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    Analyze the horse's ground manners.
    • See whether its posture is relaxed or uneasy. If you can see the white of the horse's eye, its nervous or panicked.
    • If the horse is relaxed enough, stand to the side of the horse and use a progress string (promise string), a 6-foot braided nylon rope with an eye at one end and a leather popper at the other, to tap the horse on the forelegs to direct its attention. This way, you can evaluate the horses reaction to handling.
    • Make a sudden movement in front of the horse and see how it reacts. Stand at least 5 feet (1.5 m) away from it, in case it rears up or tries to bolt.
    • Evaluate if the horse can stand still, how it handles getting in and out of trailer, and how calm it is during bathing and clipping.
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    Decide what your demands are in terms of conformation, appearance and physical ability. Though everybody wants a pretty horse with perfect conformation, this doesn't necessarily mean the horse will perform better. Determine what conformation or appearance flaws you can live with so long as the horse is a good trail horse.
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    Check the horse's medical history. Obtain a copy of its medical history from the owner, and ask your own vet to give the horse a physical to find out if its in good health and whether there are any structural complications of which you need to be aware.
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    Consider the horse's age. An older horse can still get many good years, while a young horse will need time to become strong enough to take a rider and go on long treks. Because not all breeds develop at the same speed, you should have your vet evaluate whether your horse is fit to ride and how many years you can expect to enjoy together. Most horses can't be ridden until they're 2 years old, but they still require years of intense training. For a trail horse, it's often to be advised to choose an experienced horse that's over 10 years old. Many trail horses are in their 20s and some even make it to 30 years, so age is a question of your preference and the horse's health.
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    Ride the horse a number of times. Ask the horse's owner if you may ride the horse in order to see how you interact. Ultimately, your interaction will be one of the most important factors when buying a trail horse.


  • Buying a trail horse that is registered or branded can add to its value, and it will most likely also have papers so you can track its age and pedigree. However, you'll probably also pay more than for an unregistered horse.

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Categories: Buying and Owning a Horse