Selecting Your Riding Horse
Horses should be selected for a specific purpose. If the purpose changes, the horse may not be able to adapt to it. Some horses have great versatility, but none can excel at all of the activities required of horses. Although some overlap exists, these activities can be grouped into five general categories:
- Working stock
Pleasure horses include all types kept for the sheer joy of riding and ownership. Trail riding affords an excellent opportunity for relaxation, wholesome exercise and companionship with friends while riding scenic nature trails. A variety of pleasure classes in shows challenge the skill of both horse and rider in competition for ribbons and prizes.
Like most other horses, a pleasure horse spends most of its time under saddle at a walk. Therefore, it should have a prompt, fast, flat-footed walk of 4 or 5 miles an hour. A faster gait that is easy on both horse and rider is also essential.
Most accomplished riders started by riding pleasure horses.
Horse breeding as a business is highly specialized and requires considerable capital investment. Mares may have a low foaling percentage and they have a long generation interval, making the venture expensive. For these reasons, only superior animals should be mated.
In many breeding establishments, mares are not used for riding. However, they may perform normal work in early pregnancy and light work until about a month before foaling. A youth's experience in awaiting the birth of a foal and watching it grow to maturity is indeed a good one, although not always financially rewarding.
Working stock horses are in the unique position of being one of the few classes of horses used for essential purposes in this age in which machines and equipment have made inroads on tasks formerly assigned to horses. However, it is hard to imagine replacing horses completely on ranches and farms in the Southwest and mountain areas where large numbers of cattle are produced. Working horses are popular in the Midwest and in other beef-producing areas.
Western stock horses are essential for the sport of rodeo. They are also responsible for most growth in numbers of pleasure horses in suburban and urban areas in the Midwest and East.
Show horses are defined as those kept mainly for competition in shows. They are shown at halter or vehicle or under saddle. To be winners, they usually require professional training and expertise in handling and management. However, many amateur show classes are available where modest competition exists. Some riders get great satisfaction from exhibiting, whether they win or lose. Those who feel they must win need to prepare themselves to face stiff competition when they decide to enter the horse showing business.
Horses used for sport include race horses, both running and harness, and rodeo and game horses (barrel racing, pole bending, polo, etc.). These are highly selected, expertly trained and superbly conditioned animals used for a single purpose. Race horses are not usually the type with which an amateur should begin an involvement in horsemanship.
Conversely, most western horse shows offer game classes where amateurs and others enjoy trying their skill and their horse's speed against the stopwatch in timed events.
After deciding the intended use for your horse, consider the following seven topics before making your selection.
There are 20 or more different purebred horse breeds in the United States. They differ in size, shape, color, disposition, conformation, ability and adaptability. Some are "specialists," excelling in a narrow field; others are "generalists," adapted to many tasks without being superior in specialized fields. None will be excellent in all uses to which horses are subjected.
If you want a parade horse, you may select for color and style, but these characteristics would contribute little to a working stock horse. Selection for speed would dictate certain breeds. Selection for gaits would eliminate others.
Although there are exceptions to almost any statement, it is seldom practical to select an individual horse to perform a duty not characteristic of its breed. You would do well to view a large number of horses performing the task well, and select accordingly from them.
If you desire an easy ride, you may prefer gaited horses. If maneuverability and "cow sense" are required, the western stock horse type may excel. Crossbred horses sometimes combine the fast, easy walk of one breed and the flexibility of another. They make good horses for sustained traveling such as trail riding.
Conformation refers to physical shape and balance of component parts. "Good" conformation increases the probability that a horse can perform the functions characteristic of its breed for an extended period of time without becoming unsound, but it is not a guarantee. "Faulty" conformation may impair some activities and may predispose a horse to unsoundness.
Although horses vary in size by breeds from 200 to 2,000 pounds, some characteristics of good conformation are common to all of them (Figure 1).