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4 Questions to Ask when Buying a Trail Horse – NWHS Jan 2015

NWHSjan2015Questions to Ask When Buying a New Trail Horse – As published in the Northwest Horse Source Jan 2015

A new year is upon us. And for a few of us the New Year may bring with it a new horse or mule. I’m looking for a new trail and pack mount and I’m sure that some of you reading this are on the hunt too.

In previous New Years columns we’ve talked about What Makes a Good Trail Horse (Northwest Horse Source – January 2014) and selecting the Right Horse for the Trail Rider (Northwest Horse Source – January 2012) so this year let’s talk about the next steps after you’ve located your “Good Trail” horse but before you’ve bought him.

A good trail horse is worth his weight in gold; just ask anyone who enjoys this wonderful activity and pastime. The perfect trail mount is born and trained just as much, or more, than any other performance horse. This combination of criteria means that you’re going to look at a lot of animals, and kiss a lot of toads, before you find the perfect mount for you. Here’s a list of questions you should consider before falling in love with a new horse’s big brown eyes.

Q- Is he a match for my riding style and ability?

Age and experience aren’t the same. Trail horses aren’t generally bred for trail riding instead they’re “tutored” to carry you safely in a multitude of trail situations. I think it goes back the wet saddle blanket theory where the more experiences the trail mount has the better he’ll be. Speaking of trail experiences. The greener you are the more experienced your horse should be. Rarely is paring an inexperienced horse with a similarly green rider a good idea. Age is always a concern when looking for a trail mount and younger is not always better. I like an animal that is in the low teens and has seen his fair share of backcountry trails. He’ll have many good years of trail riding ahead of him. I may have to work out a few kinks but the worst of the boogers should have already been handled. When considering experience make sure that the horse’s experiences match your intended use and riding goals.

NWHSjan20151Q – Will he Pass a Vet Check?

I know, it’s hard not to get emotionally attached when you see a new horse and visualize heading over a mountain pass on him. Fight the urge and save yourself some heartache by always insisting on a pre-purchase exam by a qualified veterinarian. Do this regardless of the owner’s asking price. Keep in mind that every horse will have some issues. The key is talking with the vet to determine which problems you can live with and which are deal breakers. Don’t feel too bad about rejecting a potential horse there are lots of other great mounts out there.

Q – Will he Lope?

I don’t lope often. I don’t see the point in hurrying down the trail; there are too many great sights to rush the experience. That being said when you’re checking out a new horse be sure to break into a lope a few times. Most any horse or mule will do a passable walk and trot without too much hassle. The canter is where holes often start to appear. I always ask the owner to lope first. If he declines run, don’t walk, away from the deal. If you don’t feel comfortable loping of a strange mount bring along someone who does.

Q- Is he Consistent?

This question is really a way of saying never buy a horse the first time you first see him. If all seems fine on your first encounter visit him again, on a different day. Ask to ride in various settings and see if the owner will come along on a trail ride. Lots of horses act differently away from home and this is a great way to see their reaction to new places.

I hope that these pre-purchase questions help you find that perfect equine partner for many wonderful trail rides and memories.

Wishing you a trail filled New Year! As always for the largest directory of horse trails and camping areas to visit with your new horse or mule, visit