When you're hunting for a new equine trail partner, look for an experienced horse with a mellow, kind, forgiving attitude. For trail riding, also look for a horse that's been out and about, hauled around a lot, and will enjoy the ride with you.
When you visit a prospect, ask the following questions before you mount up?and before you buy.
(For Julie Goodnight's 10 steps to horse-buying success, see Ask Julie Goodnight, The Trail Rider, May '13.)
1. Why is the horse for sale?You'll see the warning glances if there has been an issue or training problem with the horse. There are lots of legitimate reasons to be selling a good horse, but the answer to this question can possibly throw up some red flags. Trust your intuition.
2. Is the price firm? Assume that the price isn't set in stone unless otherwise stated. If you're shopping for a horse that's in a $5,000 range, don't hesitate to look in the $10,000 range. You don't know how long the horse has been for sale and how urgently the seller needs to sell.
Many riders purchase a horse that seemed affordable at the time, then realize that sending a horse to a trainer is much more expensive than purchasing a trained horse.
Try to find the safest and best-trained horse your money can buy. You'll love a horse that makes you feel safe. One trip to the emergency room can more than make up for the money you saved buying a "project" horse.
3. How long have you had this horse, and what have you done with him?Again, the answers to these questions can potentially throw up some red flags and/or give you greater insight into the horse.
4. What do you know about the horse's history before you got him? Ask what kind of training the horse had and what was done with him (showing, group trail riding, ranch work, camping, etc.). The more you can learn about the horse, the better. Often, there are situations where the history isn't known; this could end up creating more questions than it answers. It's not a deal-breaker, but it makes further scrutinizing even more important.
5. Has the horse ever colicked? If the answer is yes, find out how often the horse has colicked and how severe the episodes were. Horses that colic frequently may be more likely to die of colic complications.
6. Does the horse load into a trailer easily? Ask how often the horse has been hauled. Does he enter the trailer willingly? Does he tie well? These are good things to know before you make a decision?especially if you want to load up and hit the trail most every weekend! You don't want to buy a trailer-loading project.
If the answers to these questions are satisfactory, go back and ride the horse at least three times before purchasing, and make one unannounced visit. It's important to see what the horse is like when the owners haven't had a chance to prepare him before your arrival.
Julie Goodnight (www.juliegoodnight.com) lives in central Colorado, home to miles of scenic trails. She trains horses and coaches horse owners to be ready for any event, on the trail or in the performance arena. She shares her easy-to-understand lessons on her weekly RFD-TV show, Horse Master, and through appearances at clinics and horse expos held throughout the United States. She's also the international spokesperson for the Certified Horsemanship Association (www.cha-ahse.org).
Heidi Melocco (www.wholepicture.org) is a lifelong horsewoman, equine journalist, and photographer based in Longmont, Colorado.