Find the Right Trail Horse

Picking the right trail horse is never a trivial consideration. Horsemanship clinicians travel the country and see variety of horses, riders, problems, and achievements. Here, top trainer/clinician Martin Black of Sanger, Texas (, offers his best advice on how to find the right trail horse.

Background: Martin Black was born into ranching, and the fifth-generation Idaho cowboy has traveled the world starting colts, working cattle, rodeoing, training horses, and teaching clinics. Black has seven videos available, including one on his pioneering use of the A-pen, and has published many articles. He now operates horsemanship and ranching schools in Texas and Oregon part of the year.

Top tips: “Regardless of what experience level you’re in, you need to find a horse that’s safe and that you’re comfortable with,” says Black. “Safety can’t be overlooked in anything. Then you just need to match right horse with the right person.”

It sounds easy enough, but it’s not always a simple task. It takes a trained eye to know what to look for in a prospective trail horse.

“If you don’t have the experience, then hire someone you trust to evaluate the horse,” says Black. “If it’s not a good match, it’s going to cost you money, so even if you’ve got to hire somebody to help you pick a horse, well, it’s probably money well spent.”

As you horse hunt, consider the horse’s age, says Black. “Generally speaking, after a horse gets to be 5 to 7 years old, he’s going to mellow a little bit,” he says. “He’s not as rambunctious. A 2- to 3-year-old, you know, that’s like a teenage kid. He’s wanting to roughhouse a little bit. Confidence is built by good experiences and minimizing bad experiences; takes some bad experiences for horses to appreciate the good things, same as with us.”

Another tip Black offers is that any horse benefits from being ridden with a purpose. If you focus on a task, even if it’s making an even circle or opening a gate, a horse performs better.

“Typical trail riding is no different than ranch people wanting to go for a nice quiet ride,” he notes. “Even when you’re just sight-seeing, give the horse a purpose as you try him out.”

For horse-hunting tips from renowned clinicians Harry Whitney of Salome, Arizona (, and Bryan Neubert of Alturas, California (, see “Two Expert Views,” The Trail Rider, June’10. 

Ready to look for the right horse for you? Go to, the premier classifieds site of the Equine Network, to search for the perfect horse!

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