You are going to need a check off list where you set your priorities and rate each horse accordingly. Right now you are looking at all sorts with varied ages and training.
You need to settle on exactly what you want and exactly what you DO NOT want to deal with.So, let's talk a little bit about how I'm doing my horse search and how I approach choosing/eliminating the various possible horses. I think of my search as having several steps, and a possible horse has to pass through each step before I move it to the next step. Also, it's clear that many of the on-line ads are lacking in information or useful photos, so in some cases I may include a horse that may be quickly eliminated once I have a conversation by phone with the seller - I prefer phone to e-mail as it's more interactive and I can hear tone of voice and how the seller is responding (I used to do business due diligence in a prior life and did a lot of phone interviews/checks). So the stages are: identify possible horse (more about how I define possible in a minute) from an ad, call seller and have a fairly lengthy conversation about the horse (more on that too) and then review follow-up information, decide whether to visit, then visit.
So, what horses am I interested in from an ad? Confirmation, confirmation, confirmation - although even that has some wiggle room. My Noble didn't have perfect confirmation - he was fairly straight in the legs, had small feet and a long back, but he was about the perfect horse in my book, and he stayed sound right to the end. But my bias is to nice big feet, solid legs, good leg/body/head confirmation - I want a horse that will stay sound for a long time. I want the horse to be put together in a certain way, but I'll vary that if a horse has the experience I like.
Does that mean that I don't stretch those criteria for a horse that meets other criteria - no - I will stretch any decision criteria if there is something else I like about the horse. I think of this search about like I approached building a new team when I was in business and doing the hiring - I cast the net wide and then look for reasons to eliminate a candidate at each stage of the process. Those that make the final cut get a very close look and a good bit of in-person time. The early stages of the process - reviewing ads and making phone calls - are low investment on my part so I'll do a bunch of that even if a horse may fall out of the process at that point.
So, for example, horse #8 had smallish feet and not as much bone as I'd like - but I liked his pedigree and the way he looked and moved - worth a phone call. The burden to overcome his feet and lighter legs would have been a heavy one, but it was worth a call. Horse #7 had a nice pedigree and I very much liked her look - the toeing in and her limited riding experience (and possibly being too quiet) killed it for me. Horse #9 has great feet and legs - from what I can see from the photo - but the ad isn't clear on his trail experience - worth a call. Horse #6 has longish pasterns and looks somewhat worried but has relevant experience and is very cute - worth a call. Horse #5 is Impressive-bred - not a body type I like - but has strong experience on the trail - worth a call. Horse #4 has a somewhat weird looking neck and head and not perfect leg confirmation, but he has relevant experience, a sweet face and very nice feet and bone - worth a call. Horse #3 is right down the middle - relevant experience and a sweet face, but is a bit plain and his neck and head aren't all that appealing (to my eye) - worth a call. Horse #2 is very pretty and seems to move well, but her experience level isn't clear and her confirmation isn't well-shown in the photos - worth a call. I'm taking horse #1 off my list - I like his experience but his confirmation doesn't make me happy - particularly the legs and neck/shoulder.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that each of my criteria is a sliding scale. A horse with more relevant trail experience might get a call even if the pedigree or confirmation aren't quite what I wanted. A horse with really nice confirmation, and legs and feet (as far as I can see), with less relevant experience, will get a call. I want a certain look and also as much relevant experience as I can get. I also have pedigree biases, but those could be overcome if the other factors were strong. It's true that the horses I've shown you so far are at various points on the spectrum on various criteria, but it's the mix I'm looking for.
The two things that I wrestle with the most are looks and calmness/forwardness. As all of you know, I'm a big sucker for a pretty horse (hence Maisie). This time, I'd like to get a pretty horse who also has good confirmation and likely long-term soundness. I don't think I'm likely to buy a pretty horse with bad legs and feet - at least I'd hope not. But I may have trouble buying a plain horse who otherwise meets my requirements - I know that doesn't necessarily make sense, but that's how I am. And pretty isn't a certain color or certain markings - it's an overall look, but if the basic confirmation - legs, feet and body - are good, then I'm looking for a nice head and neck (and the shoulder between) with a good expression.
I want a horse to have been ridden consistently - no horses that have been started and then been broodmares or not ridden for a significant period of time - I don't want to do a restart - I can do it but it's time-consuming and I'm not up for that right now. I'd also like a horse that's been under saddle for a while - horses with less than a year aren't likely to make my cut. I'd also like a horse to have some trail experience - how much is a matter of judgment. If a horse is of a calm, relaxed disposition, I'd be comfortable with a horse with some but not a huge amount of trail experience. I've taken horses on the trail who've never been there before and can cope with that, although I'd prefer more experience for the same reason that I don't want to do a restart. A horse with a lot of trail experience might cause me to bend other criteria a bit.
The calmness/forwardness thing gives me trouble. I've always ridden very forward (even very hot) horses, and I'm used to that. This time I'd like a horse with more basic calmness of temperament - this can only be confirmed in person - but one that also is willing and able to move forward and go. A horse that's very, very quiet or even dull isn't going to make me happy - I don't need bombproof, I just need sane. It's a real balancing act, and this is probably the one that is hardest to judge without meeting and riding the horse, although I can get some important clues by talking to the seller - remember, I used to do due diligence investigations to figure out things in my prior life.
Here's the type of things I ask the sellers by phone, to decide if I want to visit:
1. What is the horse's history, both with them and with prior owners if they know?
2. Why are they selling the horse - and does the reason make sense?
3. Horse's health history - soundness, feet (abscesses worry me a lot), shoeing/barefoot (how often), other health issues? Vaccination history/Coggins/worming program (the answers to these give me a lot of clues about the quality of the horse's care).
4. Skills and holes in training - tying, ground tying, bathing, clipping, loading, farrier, vet? Herd status and how horse behaves with people - is the horse dominant or pushy? What does the horse know how to do and what does the horse still need to learn? Training history - when started, who has trained the horse and in what disciplines? Show experience (this is often a negative for me depending on what type of showing the horse has done)?
5. How often is the horse ridden right now, and by what people at what level of experience? What sort of rider is the horse suitable for/not suitable for and why? What tack is the horse usually ridden in - including bit and any use of tie downs/martingales? Do you do ground work with the horse before riding, and if so, why?
6. If the ad didn't state the pedigree, I want that.
7. What's the worst thing the horse has ever done? Has the horse ever bitten or kicked a person, or reared, bucked or bolted under saddle?
8. If you could change one thing about the horse, what would it be?
9. Is there any question I haven't asked that I should have about this horse?
10. If I still like what I hear, and the horse isn't close by for an easy visit, I ask for confirmation shots - from each side, from the front and from the back, on level ground, without tack and showing the whole horse including feet and legs. I also want shots of each foot.
If I visit, I ask for the horse to be left in the turnout/pasture and not brought in before I get there - and then I get there at least 15 minutes early so the seller isn't ready for me yet. That way, I get to observe the horse being caught, groomed and tacked, as well as ridden, before I decide if I want to ride it. And I bring my helmet!
If I get really serious, and the horse looks and feels sound to me, I'd do the on the ground soundness tests I've learned and if the horse still looks good, arrange to have a full vet check (by my vet or one recommended by my vet - not the seller's vet) including x-rays of front feet and pasterns, and anything else that needs checking - possibly hocks, knees and rear feet and pasterns depending on the horse's history. Bone chips are a deal killer for me even if the horse is completely sound - there's some evidence that horses with bone chips are more likely to have subsequent fractures - I've had this experience once and don't want to repeat it. I'd rather pay the money than buy a horse that's going to have soundness issues. And if I can get it, a 30-day trial period would be nice.
I hope that clarifies what I'm up to - I'm sure all these possible horses do look a bit scattershot, but there's a method to my madness (I think!). If I've left out anything you think is important, let me know. And I would like to say that I very much appreciate all the thoughts and comments on the possible horses - all of you have valuable experience and knowledge.