What breed should a new horse owner look at?

Question: I am about to buy my first horse. I have a smaller budget, and want to buy a filly. What breed is best? I like Welsh Cobs.

Answer from April Reeves: Your first horse! How exciting! I agree with you on one thing: mares. I love mares and have always had a better, all around horse with a mare than any gelding I have ridden.

Fillies are usually 4 or under, and not something I would recommend for a first horse. Look for a mare of 5 and over. Not only will their skeletal system be mature enough for you to ride consistently but their minds will also be ready for a new rider.

Breeds
I love Welsh Cobs. I am working with an 8 year old mare and her 3 month old filly right now. I have shown Welsh Cobs in the past, but this is the first Welsh I have had the honor to spend time with. What a fabulous horse she is! She is tough, strong boned, and exceptionally intelligent. She is able to work independently from the foal, who is usually in a field right next to the outdoor ring we ride in. Both her and the foal quietly go about their jobs without screaming or fussing for each other. They are easy to train, in fact they seem to be very smart, which could backfire for a new horse owner if the horse is not trained well enough when you get her. If this is the breed you go looking for, take the time to get to know the mare, how well she is trained (manners on the ground and in the saddle), her physical conformation, soundness and does she bond with you? Mares are very herd oriented, and will bond with their humans quickly if treated well. Because Welsh have such good bone, if you find one that has leg damage, walk away. It takes quite a bit of abuse to damage those legs. They also tend to gain weight easily so try not to buy an exceptionally fat one. They are prone to metabolic syndrome and Cushing’s disease, being easy keepers.

Arabians
While many people pass by Arabians, I have bred and shown them for many years and have found them to be one of the quietest breeds around. The ‘bouncing’ and ‘hot’ associated with them is created by humans, for humans. They are smart, bond very fast, are strong and brave when met half way. In the wrong hands they can tend to get hot as they can become anxious quickly when not handled with respect, or in pain.

Again, look for a mare 5 or over, and watch the leg bone density. They are breeding a bit too light boned for my tastes lately. I bred Polish Arabians with good, strong, thicker bones. I never shod any of them, and my stallion went on 3 to 7 day cattle drives all the time. They are also beautiful to watch, and very loving.

Quarter Horses
They come in all shapes, colors and sizes, all temperaments, bone structure and looks. I own one that is 16.1 hands high, and train one that’s 14.2 and twice as wide. I love them both.

Again, watch for the bone density and hoof structure. A great deal of breeds are being bred without thought to the future. They follow trends to make quick money, and that is not always the best plan for the horse. I have found more than a few Quarter horses lately with poor hoof structure and legs. But boy, do they have pretty faces! Too bad you don’t ride their heads. You ride their bodies. Buy one with a real body.

As far as temperaments, they generally are quiet. Generally. When they are hot, they are HOT. I do find this breed to be one of the better when choosing a first horse, as you can find some really good ones out there with solid training for very little money compared to other breeds.

Appaloosa
Many people pass this breed by, but I have never found a bad one yet. They do everything. They tend to be a bit too ‘Quarter horsey’ now days, but the older foundation stock was really nice; great bone, temperament, and color on every one. They are fun to own and have quite interesting personalities, being rather inquisitive and smart. They are not ‘pushovers’, and tend to question humans when not treated or asked to do something properly or respectfully. Don’t pass this breed by if you find a nice one.

Saddlebreds
Not a breed most people recommend, but they are tough, strong, and smart. They do come in many temperaments, so take your time when looking at one. I have owned and shown them for many years, and love them. They have fallen under the trap of ‘human enjoyment’, meaning some have been bred for trends and not long term usefulness. Just be careful, but look for the really great ones. They are fun, good looking in a classic way, and make great companions. Do be careful about how much riding the mare has had; they tend to be worked early and hard.

Morgan
Fabulous horse; comes in all shapes and sizes. I had a 14.2 Morgan mare for my first horse, and she did EVERYTHING: english, western, pleasure, jump, games, barrels, you name it, she did it. She was crabby but gentle, honest and strong. I won everything in all levels of shows, breed and open. Never had a vet bill with her. Don’t pass this breed by.

Breeds I Would Not Suggest for a First Horse
There are a few breeds that can be bought fairly inexpensively, and I would not recommend for a first horse. There are also breeds that won’t tolerate the new rider well. And some breeds that are just ‘over the top’ expensive for what you get.

Standardbred
While they can be inexpensive to buy, almost every one has raced. They come in many sizes and temperaments. What I don’t find useful for beginners is the foundation training they have, and some will pace (a gait where the front and back legs on each side move together, NOT diagonally). They cannot be shown in breed classes and are hard to resell. I have known one who is absolutely beautiful, but he is an exception.

Thoroughbred
One of my favorite breeds, but it is generally for a more experienced rider. Not because they are hot, but they are generally not easy to work with. Many of them have raced. Vets follow them around.

Warmbloods
I ride and show many varieties of Warmbloods, but if you find one in your price range, it likely is not a horse you would want to own. They are expensive for what you get, as many breeders get good money for a horse that’s just big, nothing else. Size has no relation to quality. There are many great breeds whose value for the dollar is much better spent.

Regardless of Breed
Find one that is sound in body and mind first. Then fall in love with her. Always in that order, or you will be vulnerable to making a very big mistake.

Before you go see it, ask the owner how old the mare was when it was first ridden. If the mare was broke before spring of her third year, walk away. While there are horses broke younger who are sound, the numbers are not good. Horses are just too young at 2 to be ridden by anyone. I am a firm believer about this, and have proven it again and again with my own horses. Riding early will rear it’s ugly head in the later years, with spine and back problems, stiff necks, and lameness that is difficult to detect.

Get it vet checked. Take the money from the horse account and keep it for the vet.

Be able to ride it easily in the arena, and outside on trails and roads. If the mare panicks when the saddle is being put on, question it. Or the bit. Question everything the current owner does.

Ask about the history. Get past owner names and numbers. Who bred her? History is important for training or health issues.

Ride her and make sure you can stop her, get her to move forward, and that she is relatively comfortable to ride. No short, choppy strides. Get a mare that moves her legs easily with good reach.

There are so many breeds out there to choose from. The ones listed are typically easier to find. Above finding a breed to buy, find a really great horse with sound body and mind who will work with you through your learning process. Many older mares are ‘teachers’ for beginners. Horses are expensive and take up vast amounts of time, so be patient. Let me know what you buy!

April Reeves

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