By Carolyn McFann
Having a horse is fun, but a major responsibility, so be thorough on your research of barns to board it at. It pays to choose a place that is close to where you live, has facilities that are well maintained and most importantly, gives its horses proper care and nutrition. Each barn has its own atmosphere, is it one you can live with? If you want to participate in horse shows, it may be a good idea to choose a barn that frequents the kinds of shows you want to be in. If you live in a cold climate, make sure the barn has a large indoor arena for winter riding.
Do you ride English or Western? If English is your thing, then make sure your barn has jumps available, and/or a dressage ring. I ride English, and my barn had a top show trainer in it, so if I needed to prepare for a show, he was there to critique my riding during lessons. I liked boarding my horse at a place with a competent, experienced trainer, one that took the time to explain the exercises and gave me quality instruction. Since I spent most of my money at this sport, I wanted to make sure I was doing everything right.
If you ride Western, make sure there are trails to ride on nearby your barn. And again, find a barn that has a trainer suited to your style of riding in order to get the proper instruction. Once you find a barn you like, whatever style you ride, spend time taking lessons there before buying a horse, just to get a feel of the place. If you haven’t found a horse yet, trainers can assist you in looking. Ask around, and tell them how much you are looking to spend on your first horse. Another great way to find a horse is during the summer, many young horse owners are getting ready to go off to college and need to sell their animal fast. This is a good bargaining time, if the seller is motivated, you may talk the price down on his horse. Have them throw in the tack (saddle, bridle, etc) too, as part of the bargain. When I sold my horse to go to college, I gladly gave the buyers (a well maintained show barn) all my tack since I knew he was going to be in good hands. It pays to ask about the tack, to save on money, since having a horse is very expensive any way you look at it.
Make sure the horse is healthy before committing to buying it. This is incredibly important. Make sure to have a vet look it over, and tell you what condition he is in. Are his legs sound? Has he ever been lame? Has he had all his shots, and is he disease-free? Also, make sure there are no growths on his ears. A friend of mine bought an expensive show horse, only to find out he had skin cancer on one of his ears. One of his ears had to be partially removed, it was really sad. Make sure the animal is completely sound and has a personality you can live with.
One way to try out horse ownership is to lease a horse from its owner. Most barns have horses that are up for lease, you can even get a half or quarter lease sometimes. Then, you help with the bills of the horse, but are not fully responsible for it. You work out with the owner, and anyone who may be sharing the lease with you, what days you will ride. That is a great solution if you have limited time, because owning a horse, even when boarded at a show stable, is still very time consuming. You must groom, saddle, ride, unsaddle, wash then clean its feet every time you ride. And, I used to let my horse out into the paddocks and wait for him to have fun kicking up his heels every day, instead of paying extra to have the trainer do it for me. I spent at least four hours every afternoon at my stable since he was my full responsibility, I owned him so his well-being was totally up to me alone. The barn workers fed the horses, mucked stalls and kept the grounds up. I kept the horse clean, healthy and happy, as well as my tack spotlessly maintained.
Keep in mind, horses have other bills that must be paid, such as vet bills (worming, shots, etc) and farrier (horseshoes, hoof trimming, etc). These must be done on a regular schedule and not ignored. Taking good care of your horse’s feet is of major importance so never skimp on cleaning or trimming them. Also, buy shampoo and other grooming products online to save money. If you don’t have a locker in your barn, get a caddy to hold your grooming supplies, and keep it in the back of your car. Leaving it out in the open at the barn invites trouble, in the form of others “borrowing” things and forgetting to put them back, so it’s best to have a locking trunk or keep the caddy in the back of your car.
If you plan to show your horse, ask your barn how much they charge to use their horse trailer. Most barns will haul the horse for you, for the asking, as long as they have enough trailer space for all the horses going to the show. Showing is addictive. Start at a small, local show and see how you like it. Then, if you do well and enjoy yourself, work your way up to bigger shows. Going to a horse show is a enjoyable family event. Many people bring picnics to watch the show as their children ride. If you win a prize, it’s a bonus, but do it for the sheer pleasure of it all. If you show, make sure to wear the appropriate clothing and boots. Advance preparation of both the rider and horse is the key to a successful day of horse showing.
Once you and your horse are settled in and know each other, you will make a good team and build on your experiences together. Bring him treats, talk to him and give kind approval so he learns to trust you. My horse used to whinny whenever he saw me walking towards him. We were buddies and I used to make him carrot cake every New Year’s Day (he was a Thoroughbred and all registered Thoroughbreds share the birthday of January first, whether they were born on that day or not). He plowed through that cake in minutes flat and looked for more. We were a great team and I’ll never forget him. These little things make the relationship you have with your horse all the more special. Owning a horse is a special privelege so enjoy each and every day with him. Grow together, learn new things, and both your lives will be enriched and happy. I highly recommend it.
Carolyn McFann is a scientific and nature illustrator, who owns Two Purring Cats Design Studio, which can be seen at: http://www.cafepress.com/twopurringcats Educated at the Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, Carolyn is a seasoned, well-traveled artist, writer and photographer. She has lived and worked in Cancun, Mexico, among other interesting professional assignments in other countries. Clients include nature parks, museums, scientists, corporations and private owners. She has been the subject of tv interviews, articles for newspapers and other popular media venues.
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