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Selecting The Right Horse Breed

By Jeffrey Rolo

Many first-time horse buyers do not put a lot of consideration into which horse breed may be most compatible with their desires, but this lack of forethought can be a significant error. Some of us place more thought into a car purchase than we do a horse! But to continue this analogy, when purchasing a car it's true that any functional car could get you from point A to point B, but beyond the basic need (riding) are there other factors you would normally consider? Are you looking for a fancy car? A car with a lot of passenger room? A pickup truck that can transport items?

Just as any car can drive you from place to place, any healthy and sound horse can provide you a horseback ride, so it is important to push that goal out of your mind and take a deeper look at your needs or preferences. Each horse breed has individual characteristics that set it apart from others. Here are some examples that illustrate various secondary needs you might desire beyond companionship and horseback riding:

bulletAre you looking for a horse with a visual beauty that is rivaled by few? How about a horse that is extremely popular on the show circuits in the U.S.? If so, the Arabian may be the horse breed for you.
bulletPerhaps you are looking for a horse that can handle the most rugged of trails with ease. Or how about a horse that can handle intensive western-oriented events like barrel racing? If either of these goals meshes with yours, the Quarter Horse just might be the best horse for you.
bulletAre you interested in jumping with your horse, whether for pleasure or at show? A Thoroughbred would be a strong horse breed to consider.
bulletWould you enjoy horseback riding but prefer to do without the jostling motion of the trot? Many arthritic or pleasure-seeking riders are finding gaited horse breeds (such as the Mountain Horse or Tennessee Walker) to be perfect for them due to their silky smooth ride.
bulletIf you are a shorter rider or are seeking a perfect horse for a younger child, perhaps the Icelandic horse would be the best horse breed for you due to their smooth gait and smaller size (12 to 14.2 hands).

The list can go on and on, and even within each of the broad categories I just mentioned there exists many variations depending on which horse breed you choose. The above list is also fairly simplistic, meant only to provide a couple possibilities you could and should consider.

To make matters even more interesting, there are horse breeds that can fit into more than one of the "categories" in the list above.

For example, at one point I was looking to purchase a new horse, so naturally I had an idea of what I desired and what I could do without.

I wanted a horse that was striking to look at, much like an Arabian. A horse breed that could handle rough New England trails was also a must, much like a Quarter Horse. The thought of a gaited horse also intrigued me – how neat would it be to enjoy a silky smooth ride? But alas, trying to meet all these goals was an attempt to eat my cake while keeping it too, right? Wrong!

After studying the various breeds available I found the perfect horse breed for me: Mountain Horses. They possess a liquid smooth and completely natural gait from birth, yet they are also extremely agile trail horses since they were developed for the rough mountainous regions of Kentucky rather than the show ring. In addition many of the horses within this breed possessed a color unique to most horse breeds – a chocolate coat with a flaxen mane and tail. Such a color, when paired with their strong conformation, gave them the unique beauty I was looking for. Eureka! All my goals were met with this horse breed and I proceeded to purchase the first of many Mountain Horses.

The above may sound like a sales pitch for this breed, but it surely isn't because while this horse breed was a perfect match for me, it may not be for you! I wanted to illustrate just how possible it is to have your cake and eat it too when trying to find a horse that possesses all the attributes you marked on your checklist for the "perfect horse." If you can dream it, chances are it is out there… but you will need to do some research to find that perfect and sometimes elusive horse breed.

There are multiple sources at your disposal to aid your research into the best horse breed for your needs. I generally suggest starting with a good book that covers a very wide spectrum of horse breeds and talks about the special attributes and qualities of each. In fact I found a book that I believe is almost perfect for those considering a first horse (though this book can be handy for even a current horse owner).

You can also find enlightening articles about various horse breeds within a horse magazine, particularly ones that offer horse profiles such as Horse Illustrated Magazine.

And of course there is the most obvious source – the very same source you are using now. The Internet! Although not as convenient as a horse reference book, with some persistence you can find some sites that offer good, solid content about any horse breed that interests you. In fact I generally recommend you use a horse book to isolate strong possibilities and then switch to the Internet and do searches on the specific breeds you pre-selected. By doing this you will not only learn about the breed's "claim to fame" in the reference book, you will also find many farm or breeder websites that offer a variety of pictures and/or further information.

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