Tips for Trying Horses for Sale

Guidance Before Buying Your First Horse

Updated August 24, 2023
A girl looking lovingly at her paint horse

If you are looking to lease or buy your first horse, trying out or “test riding” before making a long-term commitment is a smart step. 

While trying horses can be nerve-wracking, doing the preliminary legwork of making sure the horse is the right size, age range, temperament, breed, and has the experience you want is important before you ever get in the saddle. Being honest about your abilities and budget will save you time, money, and potential heartache. Remember, don’t be afraid to tell the seller if this just isn't the right horse for you. 

Here are some recommendations to help you prepare for trying horses to buy and making tough decisions throughout this process. 

Preparing Yourself

Finding the right horse can take months and may involve disappointing moments until you find your perfect one. Through the ups and downs, keep these four tips in mind. 

Be Honest

If you are not feeling that specific horse, speak up and tell your trainer or the seller. They will appreciate it if you voice your concerns and opinions sooner rather than later. Being honest will save you time and save the horse from working for an hour when you knew 45 minutes ago that they weren’t the one. 

It may feel uncomfortable, but everyone will be happier not to get their hopes up and waste their time.

Trust Your Gut

A western rider patting a dapple grey horse

If your trainer thinks it’s the perfect horse for you, but you disagree, that’s okay! You should always trust your gut feeling. Intuitively, if you don’t think it’s the right horse for you, then it is not right for you. 

In the long run, you are the one who will care for and ride this horse day in and day out. This may also mean you’ll need to stick to your guns and be comfortable with saying “no thanks.”

Be Picky

This is a time when it’s good to feel like you are being very picky. If you know what you want, don't settle for something less, even if others try to discourage you. With patience and perseverance, you can find a horse that is perfect for your needs. 

Don't rush into a situation that doesn't feel right and causes you anxiety. Taking the time to ensure you’re satisfied with the right horse is the best situation in the long-run. 

Know When to Compromise

While it’s fine to have your mind set on buying a horse of a certain level or demeanor, there are areas where you may have to compromise.

For example, if your budget is limited, you may not be able to purchase a horse that is already fully trained and decorated with ribbons. Another horse you try may not be jumping as high as you want to show, but she’s careful with her feet and has great potential to reach those heights. Or, you may have wanted a dark bay horse as you think they’ll be easier to keep clean, but you’ve just tried a grey horse and think he checks all the other boxes of what you want. 

Knowing when to compromise on certain aspects is key to making the right choice in horse ownership. 

What to Bring When Trying a New Horse

A rider unzipping a saddle bag.

Depending on how far you have to travel, this list will vary. If you have to fly, keep in mind the less you bring, the cheaper your baggage will be with most airlines. Also, less is more when traveling, so packing only the essentials can help to create a less stressful trip. 

Whether you are flying or driving to prospective sale horse’s barns, make a list of your standard riding gear, like your helmet, hair net, crop, spurs, etc. Below are a few items to get your list started. 


Some trainers will prefer you bring your saddle when trying horses as it is something you are already comfortable riding in. 

If you are flying, a safer bet for the integrity of your saddle is to carry it onto the plane in a saddle carry. A handy tip is to take the stirrups off your saddle and stick them in your checked bag. This will make lugging your heavy saddle through the airport easier and save you time (and questioning) when going through security!

If you are driving, a saddle bag is a layer of protection for your precious investment while it’s in the car. 

Boots and Helmet

The SmartPak Boot Bag protects your boots as you travel, and it makes it easier for you to carry them between barns. Likewise, packing your helmet safely in a protective helmet bag will save it from nicks and scrapes through travel. 

Plus, if there are a lot of other helmets at the sales barn, you will be able to identify yours immediately and not lose it. 

Bag or Tote

Of course, you’ll need a bag to carry all the other items you’ll need, such as your keys, crop, spurs, gloves, water bottle, phone and charger. You may want to bring a few grooming brushes, too, so you can spend time getting a feel for the horse’s demeanor on the ground. 

This Kensington Competition Bag Made Exclusively for SmartPak will be helpful for hauling all of your grooming supplies. If you are flying, it's also a great way to keep your brushes separate from your clothes and other belongings in your luggage.

What to Wear

English horse and rider trotting in an arena

Arriving at the barn with a professional and clean appearance is part of making a good first impression and being respectful to the new barn and its riders you’ll be meeting. Depending on your riding discipline and the horse you are trying, here are some outfit options.

Hunter Jumper Outfit

  • The Tailored Sportsman Ice Fil Short Sleeve Shirt is the perfect shirt for trying horses, especially in warm climates as it’s moisture wicking and fast drying. You can wear this top tucked in with a belt for a clean and professional look. Pack a few if you plan on riding for multiple days.
  • Bring a few pairs of the Tailored Sportsman Trophy Hunter Breeches. This high-quality, comfortable pair of breeches is perfect if you’ll be in your riding clothes for most of the day or riding multiple horses. 
  • You can wear tall boots or opt for a paddock boot and half chaps which may take up less room in your luggage. The Ariat® Heritage IV Zip H2O is a classic paddock boot that provides cushioning and traction for your lower leg. Pair it with the Ariat Close Contour Half Chap that’s made from premium full-grain waxed leather with a high Spanish cut. 

Dressage Outfit

  • The Hadley Mid-Rise Breeches has 4-Way Stretch fabric that will move with you in and out of the saddle. It will give you an elevated, polished look, plus the fabric is stain and water resistant. 
  • On top, the Hadley SunShield Long Sleeve Shirt provides protection from the sun with UPF 50 while keeping you cool and comfortable. It’s moisture wicking and fast drying, plus it comes in several different colors and patterns. 
  • Wearing your schooling or show tall boots may be recommended by your trainer. The Eliza II Tall Dress Boot is made with high-quality leather and has an ultra-comfortable memory foam footbed. Remember, never wear brand new boots when trying a horse. Always break them in first!

Western Outfit

No matter the season, you can complete your look with a classic pair of jeans and belt. Make sure the waistband doesn't gap and that the pants provide enough stretch and security for you to feel comfortable.

The information provided in the Horsemanship Library is based solely on our SmartPak authors' opinions. SmartPak strongly encourages you to consult your veterinarian or equine professionals regarding specific questions about your horse's health, care, or training. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any disease or behavior and is purely educational.