Be frank with yourself and ask if the horse you're looking for will be ridden a lot, or is it a horse that is not going to be ridden very often due to your personal or medical limitations?
And also, what type of riding you'll be doing? Remember, Western and English styles of riding involve different types of tack.
For example: cutting, roping, or reining involves western tack - while jumping, hunt seat, or dressage involves English tack.
Either style can be used for trail riding, for me I ride Western.
Third: Do not limit your search.
Be willing to look into Horse Rescues, Horse Shelters, for those owners that have a horse that they simply cannot afford anymore and are struggling to feed and care for.
Like with a few of my horses, you may find a jewel where others see junk.
Example: I was given a papered sorrel Quarter Horse gelding that an owner said was navicular. Navicular disease is one of the most common causes of chronic forelimb lameness.
Since the owner felt the horse could no longer be ridden, I took the horse "company" for my other horse Murphy.
After observing this horse over time, and seeing no signs of lameness, I had the horse, which by then I called "Mac," examined by a Veterinarian to x-ray the hoof and find out if indeed he was navicular. Come to find out, he was not.
Looking back on that horse today, I have to say that he was the best riding horse for anyone to hop aboard. Whether a greenhorn adult or a child, that horse was absolutely "bombproof."
He was a great horse to have around for guests or thier children who may show up during a visit or Bar-B-Q and want to ride.
Looking back on my horse Murphy, even though he was a papered Quarter Horse, he was mistreated and in horrible condition when I bought him.
After I got him in shape, put some weight on him, and put some time with me in the saddle with him -- he was priceless. To me, not even Bill Gates had enought money to buy him from me.
And yes, looking back on it now, I realize that he was a "rescue" horse.
Third: Ask yourself if you know what to look for in the kind of horse you need?
If you don't know what to look for when choosing a horse, you may need to find some help.
Try to find a horse to match your size.
If you are 5’1” and want a horse for trail riding, a horse that is 16 or 17 hands may not be the best choice. It could work out fine, but it is something to consider.
This is very important. You should find a horse that falls into your comfort level.
A horse with a kind disposition is important for a young rider or a first-time horse owner - especially one who has only ridden sporadically in the past.
The effect of disposition on usefulness is ten fold!
If riding is to be a joy, and safety a requirement, good dispositions become a "must." They may be both "born" and "made."
Some breeds are more docile than others, and there are wide differences among individual horses within the different breeds.
Any horse appropriately trained will have a satisfactory disposition for normal riding.
Conversely, horses of excellent dispositions can be spoiled by improper handling.
For me, the breed that I trust is the American Quarter Horse. The breed’s inherent quickness and agility made it ideally suited to the tasks of the developing the frontier of the Old West.
And yes, its good-natured disposition and natural cow-sense made the American Quarter Horse a favourite mount among cowboys during the open-range era of the West.
They have a calm, cooperative temperament. Traits needed when riding.
When looking at a prospect, watch the ears and eyes of the horse for nervousness and resistance.
Have the owner handle its feet to see if it will give you problems when you go to clean its hoof. Remember that a "Shoer Friendly" horse is also something that owners should strive for.
And yes, to find out the true disposition of a horse -- ride the horse.
If it is trained to ride, you will be able to see if the horse is dependable and adequate for your purposes. If at all possible, take it on a trial basis.
If a horse is "green broke," its usually unsatisfactory for beginners. And in most cases, you will find out if it's green or not fairly quickly.
Usually a short test ride before purchase will let you know if the horse will be hard to handle because of a lack of training - or if the horse has had a lot of training.
Major contributions to a good-bodied horse include long, sloping shoulders, short, strong back, long underline and long, rather level croup.
If shoulders are long and sloping, they extend the stride in running, absorb shock, reduce stumbling, move the elbows away from the girth, and raise the head slightly. They should be surmounted by clean, high withers that extend well backward to afford maximum security of the saddle.
Long, rather level croups accommodate more muscling, increase style and balance, and are less often associated with crooked hind legs.
Since all of the power used in motion comes from the hindquarters, muscular development should be extensive, commensurate with breed requirements. Breeching, thighs and gaskins should be especially muscular. Long, smooth muscles are preferred to those that are short and bunchy.
Leverage is gained with maximum length from hip to hock and minimum length of cannon. These dimensions are developed to a high degree in breeds that race.
Smoothness, balance and symmetry are a result of all parts blending together, being of proportionate size, and each contributing equally to the whole of a symmetrical individual. These combined with refinement, alertness and a proud carriage contribute to style.
Leg Set: A very important aspect of overall conformation.
If a horse stands straight, he will probably move straight. Conversely, if he stands on crooked legs, he must move likewise.
Crooked moving detracts from appearance, wastes energy and predisposes a horse to unsoundness. Legs should be positioned on the corners of the body.
A straight line drawn from the arm downward should bisect the forearm, knee, cannon, fetlock, and pass behind the bulb of the heel. A line drawn from the point of the shoulder downward should bisect the arm, knee, cannon, fetlock, pastern, and hoof.
Pasterns should be medium in length, sloped at approximately 45 degrees, and flexible but strong.
Hoofs should have the same angle as pasterns, and be deep and wide at the heels, moderate in size, dense of horn, and free of rings. White hoofs are softer (wear faster) than others. Slope of shoulders and pasterns and expansion of heels account for shock absorption when the horse is in motion.
Bone should be adequate in size, show definition of joints, and should appear flat viewed from the side, compared to a front view. Bone spavins, bogs, and weakness are common to sickle hocks.
Jarring from short, straight pasterns and shoulders predisposes to side bones, stiffness, bogs, and lameness.
Pigeon toes tend to wing, whereas splayed feet tend to swing inward in motion.
Good circulation in the legs is important to durability.
Coarse, "meaty" legs with reduced circulation tend to stock, puff, bog, and become unsound.
A horse of quality has more attractiveness, therefore more buyer appeal.
The effect of head and neck on flexibility: This should not be dismissed.
The length and shape of a horse's neck and size of his head affect action. The neck should be long, slightly arched, and fine and clean at the throat-latch for maximum balance, style and maneuverability.
Fine throats enhance ease of breathing and allow maximum flexion of the chin without binding the jaws on the neck.
Short-necked, thick-throated horses "steer" hard and may be "head slingers" from jaw pressure when pulled up short.
Size of head should be in accord with breed requirements. Ears should not be over-sized and should be carried alertly.
Eyes should be wide-spaced, large and clear. Nostrils should be large but refined, and lips firm instead of pendulous.
These are the basics guidelines to selecting the right horse for you. A horse with the conformation and disposition described is physically able to be an effective partner in whatever your choice of riding.
Lastly, my opinion is that every owner should keep in mind "Responsible Ownership."
That's just how I see it.