Six Must-Have Qualities For a Trail Horse

Six Must-Have Qualities For a Trail Horse

A good horse makes all the difference. Read about six qualities to look for when shopping for a trail-riding partner.

generic trail riding photo of Magdalena Arbes taken by Devon Dixon

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By Magdalena Arbes

There is no better way to overcome a busy and exhausting work week than by saddling up your American Quarter Horse and hitting the trails. No matter if you are riding by yourself or with some friends, rain or shine, it’s essential to have a horse that is comfortable to ride in any terrain and under any circumstances. Just like in every other equine discipline and activity, your horse must be equipped for the task.

Trail horses should be or have:

  1. Patient and independent.
  2. Gentle.
  3. Not too slow and not too fast.
  4. Good feet.
  5. Endurance.
  6. An overall comfortable ride.

I am obsessed with making lists about every aspect of my life: the pros and cons; the do’s and don’ts. If you can relate, then lists are probably the way you should approach horse shopping. You might be partial to certain colors and markings. But when it comes to shopping for the perfect trail horse, those attributes seem rather unimportant. The six qualities listed below should be at the top of your list when picking out your new four-legged equine adventure buddy. 

1.    Patient and independent.

Most every rider has experienced the very uncomfortable situation of riding an impatient horse. This likely happens when you’re riding with friends and you and your horse find yourself separated from the group. Usually it starts with a deafening whinnying, followed by an antsy jig-jogging half-walk, half-trot, and all you can do is whisper to your horse and pet him, hoping your calm manner will calm him down. Usually that doesn’t help at all. Your horse just won’t stand still, won’t stop whinnying and if you dismount, he will make it impossible for you to get back on. This is when your previously “calm manner” will turn into anger and frustration. (This goes hand in hand with the top 10 rules for trail riding.) Unless you have the ability and patience to get your horse over such annoying habits, make sure you avoid the problem in the first place. 

Find a trail horse that doesn’t mind being separated from a group of horses. His center of attention should always be you, rather than his surroundings. Your horse should be patiently waiting for your cues and be content being by himself.

2.    Gentle.

Your trail horse should not only have a gentle mind and be kind to you, but he should also be kind to other horses. A grumpy horse that tends to pin his ears, snap or even kick at other horses will easily make you two the “unpopular pair” of the bunch. When shopping for your trail buddy, make sure to ask plenty of questions about his composure, attitude and behavior around other horses. This way, you get to ride in the middle of the pack without putting other people or their horses in danger.

3.    Not too slow and not too fast.

In most every trail riding group, there are horses that walk too slow or tend to out-walk or even out-run all the others. Usually, the riders in the very front or back enviously stare at the “middle group,” whose horses are walking at a good speed without having to be held back or constantly paddled so they keep up. If you’re shopping, make sure to pick a horse with a comfortable walking speed. It will make for a much more enjoyable ride.

4.    Good feet.

There is nothing more frustrating than going on a trail ride in rough terrain and having your horse throw a shoe about halfway through the ride. It happens to the best of us and is usually caused by the horse’s hooves growing a little too long prior to the next farrier appointment. However, despite good farrier attention, your horse might be the type that often loses his shoes. Often this is caused by dry and bridle hooves and poor foot conformation. Make sure you shop for a four-legged partner with healthy hoof walls and thick soles. This will save you a lot of money in the long run and will save you the discomfort of dismounting and walking your horse the rest of the way.

5.    Endurance.

You want to be able to take your horse on a long trail ride, so he must be in shape. However, conditioning your trail horse can take time. Make sure your horse seems physically fit and strong. If otherwise, plan ahead with slow conditioning of your horse to prevent exhaustion. (Here are some tips for using hills to condition your horse.) Exhaustion can lead to dehydration and even colic. Thus, if you are horse shopping and want to hit the trails right away, make sure to find an equine partner that is physically up for it.

6.   An overall comfortable ride.

Often times we don’t notice if our horse is lacking one of the qualities listed above. You might be used to your horse walking too slow or pinning his ears one too many times. It’s not until we have the privilege of riding a great trail horse that we experience how much fun a trail riding really is. Unless you are intentionally setting yourself up for a challenge, a trail ride should be pleasant and comfortable. And it is that pleasant and comfortable feeling that you should get when seeing your trail riding horse for the very first time. Make sure to follow your heart and choose a horse that makes you feel safe and can comfortably carry you over the obstacles presented by the daily trail of life.