Our neighbors are selling their girls? horse.? The girls are moving on to fancier mounts and larger shows.? As I read her e-mail, I thought this guy will make a great first horse for someone.? The e-mail read: We are selling our 18 yr. old Palomino QH, Harley.? He is a wonderful guy, easy keeper, no shoes, sweet, loves to trail ride, low level dressage, 15 hands, utd (up-to-date) on shots/worming.? We’ve owned him for almost 5 years and he was the girls’ horse that they shared.? He’s super special to our family and we would love to see him go to a great home.? It’s a very hard sell for us, but it’s also a shame to have him sitting here not being used.Age So, why will Harley make such a great first horse?? To start with, he has a lot of experience under his belt.? At 18 he is well set in his temperament and habits.? A young horse is like a young child, with a lot of learning ahead of him.? Harley is basically a finished product.? What you see is what you get with Harley.? I think a first horse should be at least seven years old but I really appreciate a horse in his teens.? A well cared for horse in his teens can still be active for another 5-10 years with the proper care.? Senior feeds have really extended the lifespan of our equine geriatrics! Sex Many people would say that Harley being a gelding is another big plus.? It is true that mares can be more temperamental when they are in heat (estrus period that lasts for 4-7 days and occurs about once a month).? My mare Bluebonnet would religiously come in heat every time we hauled to a horse show.? She would urinate a lot and holler at the other horses.? I had to spend extra time in the warm-up pen to get her to settle down for our class.? Over time, as we both grew older and more experienced, it took less time to get Blue to focus on her job. On the flip side, I have also had geldings that were just as silly as a mare in heat.? Sailor was a perpetual spooky horse, shying at his own manure piles!? My gelding Cat is very cold backed, and at 10 years of age still bucks when first saddled.? So, I don’t really care if a first horse is a mare or gelding–as long as it is NOT a stallion! Stallions are for experienced horse people who have a lot of knowledge about handling and managing stallions.? No matter how gentle and well trained, stallions are ruled by their drive to breed or fight for the privilege of breeding.? I have known docile, well-trained stallions that, seemingly out of the blue, have bit, pawed or kicked their handlers. WATCH this video featuring Paula Hitzler, the manager of the Michigan State University Horse Teaching and Research Center, to learn more about managing stallions. Size Does size matter?? I think that it is always ideal if the size of the horse can fit the size of the rider, especially if the rider is young, inexperienced or having trouble mounting.? I like to see kids be able to do their own grooming and saddling-up, which could be hard if you are dealing with a 17-hand horse and are only 4 ? feet tall.? On the other hand, if you are an experienced rider and handler, you depend more on your smarts and skills than your size to work with a horse.? Just look at the small stature of some of the Olympic riders guiding huge warmbloods through the strenuous courses in stadium jumping! WATCH this NBC? video of U.S. athlete Reid Kessler–18 years old, 5?3? and weighing 119 pounds–compete ?in stadium jumping on her Belgium Warmblood in the recent London Olympics.Conformation? Not every horse needs to be the Brad or Angelina of the horse world–thank goodness!? But a horse should be serviceably sound (able to do their job comfortably, whatever that job is). The conformation of the horse should be as good as possible, but definitely doesn’t need to be perfect.? For example, we can overlook a little toeing in or out as long as it isn?t so extreme that a horse ends up hitting itself with its hooves when it travels.? Like any “significant other,” you can overlook some physical shortcomings if the personality/compatibility is a good fit. ?Just remember, pretty is as pretty does! In older horses, some degrees of arthritis may be acceptable depending on what the horse will be used for. If your goals are slow trail rides on the weekend, that older horse may be a good fit. However, severe conformation problems that may cause major long-term lameness should be avoided. WATCH this?short video on deviations of a horse’s structure of the front limbs (toes out) from the My Horse University YouTube Channel. LEARN MORE by watching the webinar on Conformation and Selection of HorsesColor Harley is a golden Palomino?.? You either love the color or hate the color.? Is it flashy?? YES!? Is it important? Only if your overall goal is to show in Palomino shows.? I have seen many people fall in love with the color of a horse and end up with the wrong horse in their barn.? Even experienced horse people can become fixated on a color pattern and make a costly mistake.? If you are really excited about a horse’s color, put up a big red flag and proceed with CAUTION!? Take a picture of the horse, put it in a Photoshop program and paint the horse a dull brown color or whatever coat color makes you sleepy.? Then write all of the horse’s plusses and minuses and make sure you are not being razzle-dazzled by the color of the horse. LEARN MORE about coat color from eXtension/horses.orgBreed Harley is a Quarter Horse?, the most abundant horse breed in the United States.? If you specifically want to show in AQHA shows, you must have a registered Quarter Horse.? By the same token, if you want to show in any breed specific shows, like Arabian, Tennessee Walker or Appaloosa shows, your horse will need to be registered in that breed association. There are a lot of open and discipline shows where the horse can be any breed and compete. ?Obviously, if you want to be competitive in hunter-jumper events, you need a horse that moves like a hunter and can jump.? If you want to compete in reining events, you will probably be looking for a stock type horse that can stop hard and turn fast. A good reining horse is agile and balanced, with plenty of strength to stop hard and turn fast, while staying under complete control. LEARN MORE about reining at Discoverhorses.com. Your breed or discipline preference might be dependent on your background or even your access to a good instructor, trainer or club that specializes in a certain breed or riding style.? When it comes down to it, all breeds have a lot to offer–the horse’s nature is fairly constant throughout the different breeds.? Still, your more hot-blooded horses like Thoroughbreds will tend to be more active and spirited while your colder-blooded horses like the Quarter Horse will display a calmer disposition.? However, there are so many exceptions to this generalization.? It really comes down to evaluating the individual horse to see if it is the right fit for you. My first horse was a fairly nondescript grade (unregistered) mare without any breed background.? She was raised by a 4-H family and was being sold to make way for project turkeys.? (There is a lot of money in show turkeys at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo!)? She was the perfect first horse for me and I showed her in both Western and English events.? Everyone loved Blue.? So don’t overlook the unregistered horses! LEARN MORE about breeds and disciplines from Discoverhorses.com Training I believe training and temperament are the most important factors when selecting your first horse.? Your first horse certainly doesn’t need to be a Grand Prix dressage horse. However, he should have a solid foundation in the fundamentals of good horsemanship that can translate to both English and Western disciplines.? Harley?s low level dressage training lets me know that at the very least he can walk, trot and canter a 20-meter circle (hopefully) in a relaxed frame, move away from leg pressure and back up.? His trail riding experience lets me know that Harley gets around and has seen the world.? As a new horse owner, you will want to go trail riding with your friends and see the world on horseback. WATCH?this video of Ravel and Steffen Peters competing in Grand Prix Dressage. LEARN MORE about dressage from Discoverhorses.com. Background Knowing the background of a prospective horse is extremely important.? From a health standpoint, you need to know that the horse is up ? to ? date on vaccinations, has been on a successful parasite control program, has good dental health and has well maintained hooves.? Beyond that, the horse’s background will give you a sneak peak at how a horse might fit in to his prospective new home.? Harley has been owned by the same family for the last five years.? He has been involved in 4-H, county fairs and Pony Club activities during that time.? He is also an ?easy keeper? and is primarily housed outside.? This is a better fit for most buyers than if he were in a fancy show barn under the guidance of a trainer.? Harley would fit in just fine in most situations where he was allowed plenty of outdoor time and TLC. I know Harley will get placed in the right home and give another family years of enjoyment.? His current owners are being extremely careful in how they advertise Harley.? He definitely deserves a great home where he can continue to teach someone the joys of horse ownership. What do you think is the most important trait when selecting a first horse?? Please share your comments with us!Dr. Christine Skelly?is an extension specialist at Michigan State University where she founded and directs?My Horse University, an online horse management education program.? Dr. Skelly developed the free online course?Purchasing and Owning a Horse 101, in partnership with Discover Horses.Follow My Horse University on?Facebook,?Twitter?and?YouTube?and take the?FREE online course?Purchasing and Owning a Horse 101.