Breed, Behavior, Activity: How to Choose the Perfect Horse for Your Riding Style

December 21, 2021 6 min read

Breed, Behavior, Activity: How to Choose the Perfect Horse for Your Riding Style

Owning a horse is an exciting milestone for every equestrian to leap from renting, and it shows how immersed and dedicated you are to the horse world. Owning a riding partner is an investment that will pay off in the long run.

The perfect riding partner does exist, but there are many factors to consider when it comes to making your final choice. The choices can get overwhelming, but at the end of the day, the most important factor in determining the equine you choose is the purpose behind having your four-legged pal. Are you dreaming of being the best dressage rider? Are you in love with going on trails, or galloping through the fields? Do you get a thrill from jumping?

Much like riders, horses are built and sometimes trained to excel in certain disciplines. Some horses are better suited for trails, while others are born to race. The choice of an equine partner lies in what you love about riding the most.

In this article, we will talk about:

  • Why you should choose a discipline before choosing a horse
  • Helpful tips on how to decide on a riding style
  • The best riding disciplines and the breeds to match

Riding Discipline: The First Choice Before Buying a Horse

You never forget your first horse, and purchasing one takes more than simply browsing through the internet. While it’s good to have a shortlist of possible equine partners, there’s more to deciding on which horse is “the one” than gut feel. As a beginner rider, you will need to do extensive research, both on your horse and on yourself.

Have you zeroed in on which riding discipline you want to pursue? While the discipline isn’t set in stone, knowing what you would want to train for not only gives you a goal in mind, but it also helps you know what to look for in a horse. The reason behind knowing whether your riding discipline is English or Western goes beyond the tack used. Your riding discipline will greatly determine what kind of horse you need—their temperament, breeding, training, or lack thereof. When you match your activity to what your four-legged pal loves to do, you’ll feel the difference. They will love to go on rides with you, will be easier to train, and will follow cues more seamlessly compared to a horse that is simply not born and bred for the work you do or the activity you want to pursue.

Figure Out Which Style Suits You Best

According to the United States Equestrian Foundation, there are18 recognized disciplines—that’s a lot to choose from! How do you choose? You do it by choosing the disciplines you’re already familiar with, and some that you’re curious about, and take it out for a practice run.

  • Watch competitive events.The energy and thrill of being in a horse show is unlike any other and watching the equestrians and their riding partners at their best will inspire even non-horse lovers! Take notice which shows or disciplines catch your eye. Do you enjoy the thrill of rodeo or the refinement of dressage? Don’t worry about your current skill set and training—you’re there to watch what is possible for you, so push those limits! 
  • Take riding lessons. Even just one lesson on the discipline that you love, taken with a group or by yourself, will spark that interest in you to learn more. The same goes for disciplines that don’t ignite that fire in you—a few minutes in and you know that’s the last time you’ll ever do it!
  • Talk to an expert.Talk to someone who is either a seasoned rider in the discipline you’re keen on focusing on, or to your instructor or someone else who sees the progress you’re making in your riding journey. They will give you valuable insights into your strengths and points of improvement and what comes naturally to you. Experts will also get you an insider look at what it’s like to pursue a particular discipline.
  • Take a trained horse for a spin.A mature, seasoned horse that’s been trained specifically for the riding style you’re used to or want to know more about will give you a glimpse into what it will be like when you have the four-legged pal you want. It will also give a good idea as to how training and rides will be like in the future with your equine partner.
  •  Loan or lease the equine partner you’re eyeing. The owner or seller of your dream horse will most likely be open to loaning or leasing, so that you can get the best feel possible of having your horse. Having your horse for a while will not just give you a chance to go on endless rides and do training with just one four-legged pal. It will also introduce you to the responsibility and costs that go into having a horse to call your own.

Matching the Riding Style with the Breed

With 18 different riding styles, how do you know which one is the best for you? Some different riding disciplines naturally overlap, so the training you receive from some disciplines for beginners will help you in the more advanced riding style that you might want to pursue in the future.

While most shows have no hard rule against which horse breeds can do which discipline, some equines are better suited for certain disciplines than others because of their size, temperament, or the training they have received. A mature horse that’s already adept in your chosen riding style or discipline will be of great help to you. If you are to do Western riding, you will need a horse that’s athletic, quick to learn, and hardy. For English disciplines, breeds that are known for their discipline and endurance perform well—won’t hurt if they are great jumpers, too.

Given that, the following riding styles and the breeds for each discipline may be worth pursuing:

English Pleasure

This discipline is exactly what it sounds like—riding your equine partner must look like it is a “pleasurable” experience. If you are to enter this class, horses usually perform as a group, and each equine partner is judged for their gaits, canter, and the occasional trot or hand gallop. Your four-legged pal will be at the center of this, being solely judged rather than the rider.

Best breed for this riding style: Arabian

Most riders know that an Arabian equine is one of the most popular equines, and it’s perhaps due to their versatility and good temperament. They can excel in many varied disciplines, from something as simple as English Pleasure to more advanced ones like racing. Being one of the oldest breeds in the world, you can be sure that they are hardy as they are versatile.

Hunt Seat

Every rider has marveled over an equestrian and their equine partner clearing their jumps, seamlessly connected. This English discipline is a variation of the English Pleasure, but with jumps. Hunt Seat is slower compared to the quickness of show jumping, but it still gives you the thrill you want. In hunter classes, the horse’s skills and ability are judged. 

Best breeds for this riding style: Hanoverian or Thoroughbred

Known to be an uncomplicated breed to ride, the Hanoverian does well in the equestrian circuit because of its steady demeanor and round jumps. A Thoroughbred is more known as a racehorse, making some thoroughbreds (like Ruffian!) the most famous horses, and most expensive ones, too. But due to their ability to be precise and do great jumps, the breed performs well in Hunt Seat also.

Equitation

Usually grouped with other riding disciplines such as hunt seat and jumping, equitation brings the focus on the rider’s style, position, accuracy, and use of aids. The rider’s overall performance is judged, with the horse having no bearing in scoring. It is a good “middle ground” if you want to improve as a rider, but still get the thrill of jumping.

 Best breed for this riding style: Andalusian

An Andalusian does well in most, if not all, riding disciplines, making them a good choice if you do choose to change disciplines in the future. Their willingness to be trained, endurance, athleticism, and overall temperament make them a great choice for all equestrians.  

Dressage

Dressage is primarily you and your equine partner doing controlled movements. The great thing about dressage is that the skills and training you receive from this riding style can be carried into other disciplines, making it a solid foundation to use as a jumping-off point for other disciplines in the future. 

Best breed for this riding style: Warmbloods (Dutch Warmblood or Friesian)

As the name suggests, a warmblooded horse is both calm and spirited. The Dutch Warmblood is popular in dressage because of its powerful legs and impressive movements, while the Friesian Horse’s jet-black appearance is oftentimes seen as an advantage in Dressage because of its elegance

With the many factors that go into choosing your first horse, it can get overwhelming. But with these riding disciplines in mind and the breeds that may match your riding style, at the end of the day, what matters is that you choose a discipline that you enjoy, and you find an equine partner that enjoys it as well. Whatever the case may be, it may take a while to find the horse best suited to you, but when you do find them, they will feel like home.