Trying Horses: What You Must Know

Photo by Barbara Olsen on

By Real Riderz

Trying a horse can be an exciting and a nerve-wrecking time. On one hand, you are getting a new partner, on the other hand, you are taking a risk. Here’s a what you need to know before, during, and after you try a horse.


Make the goal and budget as clear as possible before you even start searching. What do you need this horse for? Will he/she be competition or a trail partner? A budget is important to determine because it will narrow your choices, sure you might end up paying a tad bit more or a tad bit less, but it’s best not to waste your and the owner’s time on horses you can’t afford. You will also need to look at your riding experience as realistically as possible. Have you just started riding? Or maybe you have been competing for a while but are a bit more timid? This is where a trainer’s experience comes into play (or at least that of a more experienced equestrian).

Once you start looking, keep in mind the age of the horse/pony. A five year old horse which is sold as a beginner pony will more likely than not need some further support from a more experienced rider. Keep that in mind and be realistic about what you can give the horse. Height does make a difference but it should not be a dealbreaker (well unless we’re talking about a 177cm rider riding a 120cm horse, no…just no). Breed is also something that, although should play a factor, should not lead your decision. Besides, for a lower price range, a well-bred horse might be too out of reach (or if in reach, too green to even consider). Color should come last when choosing, and who knows…maybe you’ll end up loving greys!

Now that you have seen the horse (preferably in some videos), and have recieved the approval of a professional (preferably), it’s time to contact the owner! You will want to ask some questions about the horse and schedule a trial ride. Here are some questions you may consider asking over the phone:

  • Why are you selling the horse?
  • When is the last time this horse has been ridden?
  • Has he/she had any medical issues (e.g. sacroids, ulcers, colic, etc.)
  • When did you buy the horse and from who did you buy the horse?
  • How is the horse with the farrier/vet?
  • How is the horse on the trailer and can he/she travel alone?
  • How much does the horse weigh?
  • What is the horse like to ride?
  • Can the horse go on trail alone?
  • Does he/she live mostly outside or inside?
  • What type of schedule is he/she used to?
  • What type of experience does this horse have (e.g. jump height)?
  • Does the horse have a passport/registration?

Be patient and curtious to the owner when working out a time to work this horse. Once you have a time, prepare yourself by turning on your logical skills, intiution, and brining a trustoworthy horse person with you!


So you have packed your riding equipment and arrived on time to your trial, now what? It can be a bit daunting, but try to act as if you’ve done this before. A good sign from the get-go is if you are allowed to lead, groom, and tack the horse yourself. You will want to see how the horse handles and acts when you are on the ground. Run your hands all over the horse and take in as much detaul as you can. A bad sign is if the horse is sweaty, has droopy lips, and generally seems a bit unaware. You can test for sedation using a pen light. If you shine into the horse’s eye and the horse does not react instantaneously, it is best to leave and not bother trying the horse. This may be a sign that the horse was drugged or worked before you came. Another bad sign is if you are sent to the arena and given an already tacked up horse. The process must be as trasnparent as possible.

Avoid getting on the horse first, as this could be potentially dangerous. When the rider gets on, notice what the horse is like. Does he/she stand still? Or do a bunch of people have to hold the horse? Or maybe the rider only gets on outside of the arena? Keep all of this in mind. Watch how the horse handles under the rider. Watch how he/she uses her aids and if he/she wears crop/spurs. Also watch how the rider warms up the horse (notice details such as from which gait he/she does the canter transition). If you like what you see, get on. Or (if you are less expeirenced) have the trustworthy friend to get on first and try some things that maybe you don’t have the skills for yet. If the trainer/friend gives you the thumbs off, get on and start slow. Stay at the halt for a couple of seconds, and only then walk. Try some transitions from walk, and if you feel comfortable, move on to trot. At a faster pace, make sure you have your controls. If you like the trot, try a couple steps of canter. If anything feels out of control, stop and re-evaulate. Your safety should always come first, and you have nothing to prove.

If you are a jumper, try a few jumps, and if you are a dressage rider, maybe try a few moves. Only do this if you feel comfortable and safe, if you don’t like something, it’s ok to turn around and leave. The owners will be grateful that you didn’t waste their time and the horse’s energy that could be used for another potential client. If you did try the horse to the end, be kind enough to cool him/her down. Don’t be quick to leave and offer to help put away the horse. Note that the more time you spend with the horse, the more you may find out. Linger even a bit longer to ask a few more questions, and if you like the horse, tell them that! If you have other horses to try, keep the owners informed and tell them of a deadline when they can expect an answer. Don’t expect the owner to “hold” the horse for you and realize that business is business. Do expect that you may be able to negotiate the price with the owner, but you are unlikely to get more than 20 percent from what the horse cost. If the price doesn’t go down, consider asking them to sell the horse with some tack or perhaps help you with shipping. Do note that if the owner offer to ship the horse themselves, this may be a red flag because the horse may be a difficult traveler.


Once you tried the horse, avoid getting to emotionally invested because there are several pieces of approval that you need to recieve. The most important approval is from your trainer and other experienced equestrians (trustworthy!) However, keep in mind your feeling. It’s a horse for you, and if your gut tells you something is off, trust it. Avoid external pressures from the owner (e.g. them saying that they have other interested buyers….*sigh*). Any red flags and you need to run, because a horse shouldn’t be a compromise. Once you are certain and have taken the time to get approval from the pros and your brain (and soul), STILL don’t get too emotionally invested because the horse needs to pass the pre-purchase examination (PPE) or vet check. More on that in the next article but rember that if A) the owner doesn’t let you have a PPE or B) the owner tells you that they will do it but only with their own vet: RUN. A PPE may be costly, but it will save you a lot of money in the long-run. Once you get a pass from the vet, consider having the horse on trial or at least trying the horse in a different environment (maybe even at a different barn), it may cost you more, but it will ensure that you are certain about your choice.

Happy Horse Trying! 🙂

Published by realriderz

Many riders coming together to make our horses' (and our own) voices heard

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