Choosing my next trail riding partner

I am finally in a place where I feel ready to own a horse again, and bring them to our home for hacking out. I had taken a small break from horses after a series of bad/unlucky horse ownership scenarios. I lost my first two horses to random injury/illness and my 3rd horse (advertised as “kid” broke) was highly misrepresented with bad vices (rearing!) I didn’t feel equipped to solve on my own. I opted to sell with full disclosure instead of getting a trainer. Seeing as all this happened in less than 4 years, I was just severely burnt out and heart broken.

Now I am not an advanced rider. I had very little formal lessons prior to ownership and learned most everything through trial and error with support of horse friends. I have since enrolled back into weekly lessons and have been doing that for a few months. By now I obviously know all about horse care, horse minds, groundwork, and riding all the basics (W/T/C, correct diagonals, proper leads etc) more advanced maneuvers I have little experience with, and do not ride anything faster than a canter currently. It has refreshed my joy and confidence with horses and want to own, but the horse buying process is so awful in my opinion. I can’t tell you how many sellers tried to pull one over on me (and one successfully did!). I really want this next horse to be my horse of a lifetime as I don’t want another failed relationship.

To avoid purchasing a horse with its training highly misrepresented and spending a hefty budget for such a “good” horse again, I am considering purchasing a young, willing, calm horse (5ish?, I do not need a “baby”) That is lightly started in riding, but green enough that it’s time to develop a sour attitude, avoidance tactics is limited. I would then board the horse with my trainer for a few months to have them continue the training, while personally taking lessons with the horse as well. I suppose hoping to “mold” a great mount instead of hoping what I bought is what I get. My question is, is a process like this only for the best of riders who’s been doing the horse thing for over a decade? I’m not a green rider but perhaps I’m just being a dreamer with my experience level. Should I just suck it up and pay for that amazing, turn key, “trail horse deluxe” and hope for full disclosure?

I like the idea of boarding and gradually working your way into full time care. One thing to do is see if you can take a horse on trial. Particularly if you are working with a trainer, you will learn much towards deciding if the horse is suitable or not. I’d also be open to horses that are a bit older just because the crazies tend to leave as the horse gets older.

Congratulations on your decision to rejoin the world of horse ownership!


Personally no, I do not think this is a good idea. Young horses need a really confident and experienced rider. They do “mold” well but if you don’t know what you’re doing you could just mold them into a trainwreck into a perfect trail horse. Secondly, even IF you did everything right, or let’s say your trainer takes the horse for a year and does everything right, it doesn’t guarentee that you’ll get a good trail horse. Training is part of it yes, but some horses can get all the professional training in the world and they will never ever be able to do well with a novice rider on the trails.

You keep talking about false advertising, which yes definitely makes things hard but if I were you, I would stop going off what people SAY about the horse, and start going off of what your experience is trying the horse. If the seller says “Dobbins is a bomb proof trail horse and can be ridden by himself and won’t spook” you better have your trainer get on and take the horse on the trails and see what happens. People are going to lie and misrepresent horses for a whole slew of reasons. Just expect it and keep it in mind.

The rule I’ve always gone by is that horses will be sound, sane, or cheap and you usually get to pick 2 of those features but never all 3.


I enjoy your positive outlook and enthusiasm :blush:

I appreciate this point view, as I asked the question for honest opinions. Most of what was said are all things that have crossed my mind. I suppose I find the training process so appealing in that it’s such a bonding and growing experience for myself and horse. Perhaps neither scenario is ideal. Maybe there is a middle ground I need to consider… such as a nice broke horse priced correctly, that I bring back to the trainers to work out any “kinks” found along the way before bring them home and going mostly “solo”.

True, but horses don’t just “get trained” for the first few years of their life and then “ta da!” It’s usually way more complex and kind of a life- long journey so don’t think of it as “missing” anything. You just want to get a horse where you can pick up at a safe place.

My horse 4 and I started her myself and I would consider her completely “broke” now. But even now, just yesterday I was messing around with her doing some liberty stuff on the ground over poles and jumps and it was really fun and rewarding for both of us. They’re never too old or “too well trained” to teach them new stuff.

I admire your enthusiasm for training/ horsemanship but you can still do all that stuff and establish a connection with a broke/ safe to ride horse.


If you are a beginner rider with some unfortunate experience so far, no, do not buy a young green horse. Buy a horse that is already doing the job you want. Training is a whole other skillset beyond riding. You need to be a good rider to train but not all good riders are excellent trainers.

My advice would be to stay in lessons for a year. Move up to a part time lease, on different horses. Try to find a lease horse at a barn that has access to safe trails that don’t require riding in busy roads.

When you go to buy, have your trainer ride first. Test the horse on trails alone and in a group. Look for a horse over the age of ten that has lots of back country experience. A good ranch horse is perfect for you.

What do you mean by trails? Some people just mean an hour on a groomed park path once a week. Other people get into back country riding and camping, or endurance riding. If you want to go for 4 or 5 hours in the mountains, even just walk and trot, you need a totally sound fit healthy horse. If you want to do endurance rides you need a super fit horse that is a superior athlete.


I would add, don’t go looking for super bargains. Be prepared to pay a fair price to an upfront and reliable seller. Bargain horses have holes in them.


Thank you for the input. I do think after listening to replies that I will opt for a horse that is mentally more mature than a real young one. Right now, most all the riding would be down gravel roads and groomed trails around our neighborhood and the pretty rare couple hour rides out at some local parks, that are also easy terrain. I truly enjoy leisurely rides with horses and some fun cantering around. I am willing to pay every penny a horse is worth, but also apprehensive to pay an astronomical amount for a horse that seems absolutely perfect only to uncover flaws in time that I will end up having to pay for training as well.

I ride a continuing changing (as in changing after months, or years) run of lesson horses. A lot of these horses sort of ended up being “dumped” at my lesson stable.

Even the best trained of these horses had at least two to three holes in their training, often gaping holes in their training.

You will be able to train your horse, there will be a good chance that even a good, decent horse will have problems with contact ,&/or response to the leg,&/or major or minor problems with using their backs correctly. I’ve patched up training holes in super experienced horses in their twenties. I have yet to meet a perfectly trained horse of any age.

If you have a choice between sound, sane and perfectly trained go for sound and sane. Basic training is desirable for your safety, able to walk, trot, canter and jump small jumps calmly and safely. Better training than this is best “put on” by yourself, otherwise you can become “over-mounted.”

Enjoy your journey. Be patient, you never know but your perfect horse may suddenly appear when you are ready to ride him.

In the meantime try I recommend riding lessons, the lesson horses have their own wisdom which they are willing to teach to those who bother to listen to them.


I think the best advice is to find a horse that is already safely and successfully doing the thing you want to do, unless you are both athletic and an expert. I love older horses, personally. If they are 18 and haven’t taken up bucking or rearing yet, you are probably good to go.


How exciting to be horse shopping again! I know it can be awful, but, the right horse is worth the slogging.

Go look for a sweet, sound ( as per PPE from a reputable vet) middle-aged horse who is already experienced in doing exactly the kind of work you want, and then start taking regular lessons on this horse with a knowledgeable, educated trainer who gets you and gets the horse.

Why bother having a trainer do all the riding and mold the horse? Even if the trainer molds a horse into a dream ride, even the most saintly Dobbin may just unmold itself when it comes home and finds itself with a less-experienced owner. Find a horse you love to ride as it is, and then get to know each other together through regular quality lessons. Then keep taking lessons, at least here and there.

Are there any good lesson horses in the barns in your area that are well-known to the local instructors, that you could lease for awhile and then buy?


What you want to do is totally do able with the right minded horse. There are some young horses who are sane, quiet and very safe at 5. Finding them might be a challenge as they are rarely sold but it happens.

My kids have had a pony and several horses growing up and everyone of them was a quiet and safe mount for them and not old at all( 10 or under).

What helped me find them was horse owning people in my community( I knew and trusted) who had first hand knowledge of how good each of these horses were. They knew because they saw them in action many times.

I know you have a trainer but is there a vet or farrier you could talk to ? So many time they know of a horse who might fit the bill who is local and something might work out that way.

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If I had it to do over, I would follow the advice a trainer gave me: Buy a 10-year old quarter horse who has done trails, camping, out alone, out in a group, loads, and handles nicely on the ground.

3 of us who’d been taking lessons together received this advice years ago, and none of us followed it in purchasing our first horses. We had that same opinion, that training = bonding. I bought an OTTB who was 5, a guy bought a hot young Trakehner, and a gal bought a 4 year old Lipizzan. Oh the thinks we did think! As these horses overwhelmed us with their personalities. The Trakehner would not load, and was a fence-jumper. The Lipizzan could walk around on his hind legs all day. The OTTB had an 18-foot sideways spook that a dust mote could provoke.

I hope you find a nice horse who will safely pack you on your roads and trails, and will not be ‘expressive’ in any of the above ways!


Thanks for all the replies! They have all been very enlightening and make me give this a lot of thought before proceeding. I have decided that a freshly green broke horse is out of the question. I would like a horse that has had enough time under saddle so I can accurately gauge how they are already going. If I can’t handle them in their current state, I will have to pass. I am still very intrigued at purchasing a sound, sane horse, at a lesser price whom may need some practice and refining in some areas (ie neck reining, leg yielding, softening etc). I would invest the money saved into training/lessons with my instructor to still get that experience of watching and learning from the instructor and be involved in the growth of my horse. I have just owned several very different types of horses now and no matter how good the horse, there are always things a trainers take on them would be beneficial. Even if it’s just giving you the confidence boost you need during setbacks. Buying a totally finished, perfect horse and paying for a trainer just wouldn’t be feasible right now. I suppose I also really like the idea of having that trainer to lean on during the first few months when you’re really getting to know a horse. Still giving it thought though, as there is no rush in finding happily ever after :blush:

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This is great advice. This is exactly what I did when I was looking for my horse, and I found my perfect trail partner. I had never bought a horse before, and I had no one to advise me, so I know I got really lucky when I found my horse. My criteria were a gelding (preferably), 10-12 years old, good in groups or alone, loads easily, not spooky, not barn sour, not buddy sour, lots of experience trail riding. The horse I found is a grade (no papers) quarterhorse type paint, and he was 10 years old when I bought him. Like any horse, he came with a couple of issues. He was hard to catch at first, but I spent a lot of time walking him down and now he comes to me and follows me without a lead. A couple of years ago he went through a spell of wanting to gallop everywhere we went just because it was so much fun, so I sent him to a trainer for a couple of weeks to work out that kink. His good qualities far outweigh those minor issues. He’s curious and loves to go new places, he’s not afraid of dogs or cows or snakes, he’s calm in traffic, he crosses bridges, he loves water, he never hesitates to leave the property or his pasture buddy, and he never tries to rush home (sometimes he keeps going right past our driveway when we get home!). He is my sunshine.

Shelby720, my advice to you is to have confidence in yourself. You know enough about horses to pick a good one for your needs, and I’m quite sure you know more than I did when I bought my horse. Find a horse that can already do what you want, but don’t expect that he will be perfect. Working on those little issues and building the relationship is part of the journey.


I just wanted to update everyone that I unexpectedly found my next partner. I was going to wait until spring to get my horse (because why do winter chores if you don’t have to!) but randomly the neighbor of our best friends mentioned to them they were about to sell their beloved gelding. He is a 10yr old AQHA that came from a working ranch with all the fancy buttons, and a great head on his shoulders. I of course could not pass on the opportunity to test him out. I was putting him through the paces and all was well but when I geared him into canter, it was in that moment I fell in love. Nothing quite like cantering around on a horse feeling in sync. So freeing! I didn’t have to deal with any “sketchy” sellers and happened to find just what I needed 15 min from home.


Yep, that’s the way it happens! You’re not really looking and all of a sudden there he is, your perfect trail partner. I hope you have as much fun with your guy as I’ve had with mine.