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Buying the Right Horse

Updated on January 1, 2012
DonnaCSmith profile image

Donna Campbell Smith is a published author, freelance writer, and photographer. She also specializes in horses.


Selecting a Child's Horse

There was a time when you could pick out a pony from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. I asked for one every year at Christmas, and every year my parents told me we couldn’t keep a pony in town. I didn’t know anything about boarding stables back then, so I settled for my imaginary horse until I was an adult.

Mail order ponies were never a good idea, and the catalog company stopped offering them. In today’s technical world you can find horse classifieds by the hundreds. But, buying a horse or pony is more complicated than shopping on the Internet. There are many things to consider besides the price and appearance of the advertised animal.

Safety is the most important criteria when choosing a child’s mount. That little pinto with the shaggy mane and long tail looks harmless and sweet, but might have some nasty little habits in its repertoire.

Make sure the prospective purchase does not bite, kick, rear, run away, or buck. It should also have good ground manners. That means it will stand tied while being groomed and saddled. It will pick up its feet when asked so the child can clean its hooves and it is not afraid of bathes or fly spray.

Age, Health, Training, Manners

Trail riding, jumping, western riding, driving and barrel racing all require special abilities for the horse. While the first horse or pony might only have to carry its young rider safely around the riding ring or the backyard, the purpose of the animal must be considered. It might be tempting to buy the sleek and shiny show horse at your child’s riding stable. But, not only will it be more expensive than the shaggy pony in the back paddock, it will probably be to advanced a horse for an inexperienced rider. On the other hand, if the child has been taking riding lessons for a while, and has been to shows on academy horses a show horse might be what you want.

An older, experienced show horse that is relaxed away from home is the best choice for a child’s first show horse. Sometimes stables will sell their academy horses to students. This is often a good way to start because you and your child are already comfortable with the horse.

Age is another consideration when horse shopping. A young horse will lack the training and experience needed to be a quiet and steady mount for a child. In the other extreme, too old a horse may have health problems. Middle age, 8-12, is a good range—most of the time. Of course there are rare times when an older horse may have led a sheltered life and not be any better broke than a two-year-old.

Don’t over-look the health of the horse. Be willing to spend the money for a pre-purchase exam by a veterinarian that specializes in horses. The vet will do a wellness exam and a lameness check to rule out any major health problems. Ask for records of the horse’s vaccinations and a negative Coggins test.

Breed can relate to purpose. A pony breed may be a good choice for a small rider, but bear in mind that your child possibly will outgrow the pony. On the other hand a really tall breed like a Saddlebred or Walking horse might be over-whelming. Some breeds are better suited for western riding, others for English.

Get Help

Color is not at all important in choosing a good horse. Let it be your last consideration, or even better—don’t consider it at all. When talking about horses, the old saying, ‘Beauty is only skin deep,” couldn’t be truer. What is important when looking at the outside of a horse is his conformation—how it is built. He should be well balanced and have strong bone and smooth muscles. Beware of crooked legs, a narrow chest or thick, chunky neck. These faults will interfere with the horse’s ability to perform.

If all this seems overwhelming do not despair. Ask for help from your child’s riding instructor or a horsy friend. If you don’t know anyone that is horse knowledgeable call your county livestock agent (co-operative extension service) and ask if he/she can recommend someone.

One final bit of advice: do not take your child with you to look at the prospective horse or pony until you have decided it is a good candidate. Children have a sense of urgency that over-rides logic. They fall in love at first sight, and will want the first pony they see. So, save yourself the trouble of saying no to a teary-eyed son or daughter and shop alone until you have ruled out the unacceptable choices.

When you and your advisor have narrowed the field take your youngster for a test ride. Then watch love bloom.


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    • Nancy Owens profile image

      Nancy Owens 5 years ago from USA

      I completely agree with you that an older horse is the best. When my daughter was around 7 years old, my brother-in-law gave her his retired rope horse. At the time, Sela was around 20 years old, but he had heart and loved to be useful. Although this horse had a competitive and successful career, he was very gentle and patient with my daughter and her friends. She wanted to barrel race in pee wee rodeos, and although this old rope horse did not seem to see any sense in chasing a stationary object, he faithfully learned the pattern and carried my daughter safely every time. She had fun, won ribbons and even a couple trophies, and the old rope horse felt useful and happy.

    • Brett Winn profile image

      Brett Winn 5 years ago from US

      Donna ... what a great start ... I had no idea you once could buy a pony from Sears! I love it!