“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather”.
I think Mr. Ruskin was probably more sanguine about the virtues of Winter than I am, but I do like his positive perspective. Makes me wonder if he thought up those lines while he was with a horse.
I know for me, being around a horse instantly brightens my mood. Having horses in my life makes almost everything more bearable, more vibrant, more hopeful. Even a cold, snowy Winter. It is a beautiful thing, sharing one’s life with a horse.
The next time you think about adding another horse to your herd, why not consider fostering or adopting a horse from a rescue center?
I have both fostered and adopted. My experiences with both were largely rewarding. I also learned a lot about myself and my horsemanship skills, particularly where my strengths and weaknesses lie. For example, if you read a previous post entitled “Trucks, Trailers and Loading-Oh My!” you will see that my foster horses taught me that I need a lot of improvement in the loading department. My rescue horses have certainly given me interesting experiences, plenty to mull over and lots of fodder for writing.
My adoption and fostering experiences all came about during times when I was looking for a new horse to keep an old horse company. I adopted my horse, Lance, from the Indiana Horse Rescue not long after I started my backyard horse adventure. I more recently fostered a series of nine horses over a three year time period. Some of the horses were exclusively companion horses due to age, lack of training or a health issue. Others were rideable but in need of a refresher.
I tried to get my fosters used to as much handling or riding as I felt I could do safely within my abilities. I figured that even if I never rode my foster, I could reacquaint him or her with the basic handling skills that might help make for a more adoptable equine. I also love to work with obstacles so I would often incorporate some into my horse riding/groundwork. I then sent any fun photos to the rescue in case they wanted to put them on their Facebook page to try to attract adopters. What horse doesn’t look impressive playing with a big ball, standing on a pedestal or traversing tarps?
In contrast, I also had one foster that I felt mostly just needed to be left alone. He stayed with me for about six months before he found an adopter. During his time with me, he seemed sour about being ridden and largely uninterested in interacting with me. He stood obediently for hoof handling and to have his teeth floated so I was able to address his physical needs, but I felt that I wasn’t doing him any favors by insisting on long grooming sessins, doing groundwork or introducing him to every obstacle I had to try to find something he liked. I decided the best I could do for him was allow him to “let down” in my quiet pasture.
Hopefully those quiet few months set him up well for his adoptive home, but I will never know. Sometimes your impact is clearly obvious; sometimes not. Several of my fosters went back to the rescue after I was done fostering so I never met their eventual adoptive families. Other times I had opportunities to meet the families when they came to preview a foster at my home. I always enjoyed showing what the horse could do and answering the prospective adopter’s questions. Sometimes you later hear about how they do in their adoptive home; sometimes you don’t. That is something you need to be okay with when you foster.
Just as with a private sale, a lot of your success comes down to finding the right match between you, the prospective horse and the horses you already have. Also consider your match with the rescue organization itself. Do you feel comfortable talking with the staff and asking questions? What are the options if you have difficulty with your foster or decide your adoptive horse isn’t going to work out? Make sure to get agreements in writing. You don’t want misunderstandings about “who pays for what” regarding the foster’s care or the length of their stay with you.
Be super honest with the rescue about what you are looking for and your abilities as a horse handler/rider. For example, the rescue I worked with knew that I didn’t have the skills or experience to accommodate a horse that was super aggressive or overly reactive. Rescues want to try to make a good match between horse and adoptive/foster home.
Keep in mind that your foster horse may not initially react like a horse that is regularly handled/ridden. Most of the horses that I fostered seemed to be victims of neglect where they were turned out without much human interaction or care. Even if a horse has a positive history with people prior to their neglect, it may take them awhile before they relax into being handled again. They may initially balk or shy at being caught in a pasture, haltered, fly sprayed, trimmed, etc . . . With all my fosters, I learned to take things slow and not assume the horse knows a certain thing/is okay with something. Patience and a calming confidence will be essential tools in helping the horse adjust to you and your home.
Of course, there are some horses at rescue centers that have not experienced abuse or neglect. Many people forget this- some owners don’t want to sell their horses but instead donate them to a rescue so the horse can be adopted out instead of sold. Most rescues allow adopted horses to be returned at any point after adoption, even if they don’t retain official ownership rights to the horse. This type of “return policy” provides a barrier in place to hopefully prevent the horse from ending up in a bad situation as happens sometimes when a horse is repeatedly sold down the road.
Unfortunately, there is no national governing body for horse rescues so they tend to operate independently. There are several national organizations though that want to promote horse adoptions and support rescue centers. Check them out at these links:
These websites provide general information about adopting/fostering that you might find helpful. Don’t forget that there are breed specific organizations such as those that cater to helping off-the-track Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds. BLM Mustangs are always available for adoption too. It seems like every year there is more interest in all types of horse adoption. Now is a great time to join the rescue bandwagon.
Thank you to the Savvyhorsewoman for posting my article to their blog over the weekend! The article is entitled “Do You Want to Be a Backyard Horse-Keeper? Five Questions To Ask Yourself”. Use the following link if you’d like to read it!
I have seen several great articles about using human products on horses. What I have not seen as much are articles about horse items appropriated for people, pet or household use. As a backyard horse-owner, having my house within walking distance of my barn makes it easy to share products with my horses. Here are a few horse items that I have re-purposed.
Horse ear pom-poms– Designed to reduce the distraction of environmental noise, these pom-poms make excellent cat toys too. They are round, soft and fluffy. Many cats love to bat them around!
CoFlex bandages– I often experience soreness in my wrists. I do have specially bought wrist supports that I wear in the house and elsewhere. I hate to get them dirty, though, so if I find myself doing some heavy lifting in the barn, I whip out a roll of coflex and use it to wrap my wrists for extra protection.
Horse Shampoo- Yes, I confess that on an occasion that I have run out of shampoo in the house, I have run out to the barn and borrowed my horse’s shampoo. Frankly, I think it is better quality and has a more fragrant scent than anything I normally use on myself. I do notice that most animal products are labeled “not for human use” so I do not recommend that anyone copy my actions least you have a reaction to a product. I lived to tell the tale without adverse reactions, but I do not have any known sensitivities or allergies . . .
Fruits and Veggies– I know these aren’t normally defined as “horse-related products”, but I thought I’d mention that there are fruits and veggies safe for both human and horse ingestion. Using fruits and vegetables can be a fun and nutritious way to add a little fresh food variety to your horse’s diet, especially during Winter when there is no fresh grass.
Sidebar here: I would caution you to watch the sugar level in all treats if you have a horse with Insulin Resistance/Cushing’s Disease. For more information, I have listed links below. The first two links are from the Equine Cushing’s and Insulin Resistance Group Inc (ECIR) that is headed by Dr. Eleanor M. Kellon, DVM. The other is written by Dr. Juliet Getty, PhD, an equine nutritionist. Over the years, I have used information from both these professionals in formulating my horse’s diets while also noticing that they have differing opinions about what is appropriate to feed an equine with IR/Cushing’s Disease. IMO, the information from the ECIR group with Dr. Kellon presents a more conservative approach than Dr. Getty’s. That being said, I find helpful the listing in Dr. Getty’s article of the average sugar amounts in specific quantities of fruits and carrots. I use that information in the quest to make more informed choices about equine diets when giving treats that are outside what I understand to be the ECIR recommendations for a horse with Insulin Resistance/Cushing’s Disease. As with all things horse health-related, please consult your veterinarian about their opinion on what is appropriate for your horse. Information that you read in books or on the web may not apply to your situation. Your veterinarian is an important professional with eyes on the ground who can help guide your choices about applying the things that you read, including any information I present on this blog.
After reading the above blog title, I am sure at least one reader wants to throw a virtual snow ball in my direction.
But even Winter can’t be ALL bad for the backyard horse keeper, right? I know, dealing with frozen latches, frozen water hoses and frozen fingers is no fun. I live in the Mid-West where Winter is not as bad as the Antarctic, but it is no Miami or Los Angeles either. I have cried through ice storms when the power went down, and I was desperately trying to figure out how to water my horses when the water pump stopped working. So I know a long, cold Winter can be very demoralizing. And don’t get me started on how Winter interferes with my riding time . . .
But before I go too far down that rabbit hole, I want to focus here on the positives of Winter snow. I was looking through some of my photo archives online and remembered several of my favorite horse photos were taken in the snow in my backyard.
The snow makes a beautiful backdrop. It is a perfect canvas. It speaks to the possibility of a clean start, of beauty after a storm. It also allows for fuzzy shots of horses with the snow packed over their bodies, long coats and whiskers doing what nature intended- keeping them toasty despite the frosty environment.
If you are looking for a pick me up from the Winter doldrums, see if you can dig out your favorite snow-horse photos. What to do if snow doesn’t fall where you live? You google for images of “horses in snow”. I dare you not to be awed by the beauty or amused by the antics of horses in snow.
What is one of the biggest headaches in my horse life? It is trucks-trailers-loading.
My experience with this trio has varied wildly. I have had no truck and no trailer (these things are expensive to buy and maintain on a modest income after all). I have had a truck and no trailer. I have had a trailer and no truck. I have had a truck and trailer that I was afraid to drive. I have had horses that were terrific loaders at precisely the times I didn’t have a truck or trailer. I have had a truck and trailer that I felt comfortable driving at precisely the time that I had a horse that I couldn’t load.
What have I learned from all of this? I learned that a lot of planets and stars have to align just right for me to actually transport a horse from point A to point B. I firmly believe that a small miracle takes place when I actually pull into an event with my horse(s) in tow and my sanity intact.
Here is the thing. If you want to fully participate in the horse world, it helps to be mobile with your horse. Sure, you can attend events without your horse. You can volunteer at events without ever riding. You can borrow a horse to participate in said events. I have certainly volunteered and borrowed on many occasions and probably will on many more. I have had many wonderful horseback riding experiences on someone else’s horse. A big THANK YOU to anyone who has ever trusted me with riding their horse at a show, clinic or trail ride! I am so appreciative of your generosity in doing so.
At the same time, I have to admit that my most satisfying horse experiences have always been when I am able to attend events with my own horse. I have felt the most agency in my life and the most accomplished when I have set a goal with my horse to attend XYZ event, prepared for it, completed it and lived to talk about it afterwards. Sort of my own yellow brick road story. I suppose I feel that way, because to do all that, I have had to conquer a long list of fears. I have had to conquer my fear of driving a live load, fear of loading, fear of being at a strange location by myself with my horse, fear of competing (if its a horse show). It is a lot to face.
I have often felt that I never really know what kind of relationship I have with my horse until we start traveling together. There have been many times that my horse(s) and I were getting along great together at home only to have things fall apart when we went somewhere together.
Sometimes they have fallen apart at the point of asking them to load, and I never even got to participate in whatever event I have planned. Sometimes they didn’t’ fall apart until we arrived at our location in an unfamiliar, busy environment. It is a sinking, isolating, panicky feeling to realize that you have a very nervous horse, that you are having trouble controlling your own nerves and are struggling to figure out how to help yourself and your horse calm down at the same time. Cue the ever-present crowd of onlookers making disapproving glances in my direction. I sense the crowd is feeling sorry for my horse, wondering how he had the bad luck to be paired with an owner who displays such poor emotional control and horsemanship.
The worst part is, in those unfortunate scenarios, I know there is truth in all those observations. Those situations show that I still have much more work to do on myself. On the other hand, when I have put in the work to change myself and increase my skills to match whatever challenges I am encountering, it is really satisfying to see the change in my horses. They so honestly respond to what that person on the other end of the lead rope is presenting to them.
Of course, just like riding confidence, truck-trailer-loading confidence can wax and wane. I have had a handful of very smooth years where I was traveling consistently with my horses. Traveling became almost old hat and lost its drama for me and my trusty steeds. But then, something would change. A horse dies or retires. The truck is totaled. Finances dip and we have to sell the trailer. A long, harsh Winter arrives. The rhythm and familiarity of our loading and traveling routines have now been broken. I have to start from the beginning again.
Probably the worst problems I have had with loading is during the several years that I fostered a series of horses for a local rescue. I cared for nine horses, one or two at a time, over the course of three years. If I had help when it came time to load, I was successful. But there was only one time I was able to load a foster horse by myself without help. Otherwise, I needed a rescue volunteer (bless you, John!) to come drop a horse off to me or pick up a horse up from me and take back to the rescue or onto an adopter.
I even had one situation where I picked a horse up from the rescue and then couldn’t get her to back off the trailer to unload at my house. The rescue’s phones were down, and I had no help at home that day. I ended up closing the trailer and returning to the rescue with the horse. A surprised staff member was able to figure out how to move my trailer divider in such a way as to allow the mare to turn around and unload. That incident was very stressful for the horse and very embarrassing for me. Sure, I was using a very small, straight load trailer with mangers while the rescue typically uses an open stock or big slant load. I would love to blame my problems all on my trailer’s configuration. But I can’t even do that with a clear conscious. Another time, with a different foster horse, I paid to have a trainer pick up the horse in their stock trailer, drove my own trailer to the trainer’s barn and left the horse and the trailer with the trainer to work on trailer loading. I then went back a week later, the trainer showed me how she was asking the horse to load, I was able to load the horse and back home we happily went. Then while practicing at home, I was able to get the horse to load once and then never again. So clearly, I could not fault my trailer, the trainer or the horse. The problem was me.
Another piece of this difficult puzzle is that there is not a lot of emphasis on teaching trailering/loading skills in the horse world. Yes, you have some natural horsemanship clinics where trailer loading is practiced. The clinician will work with your horse first, and you copy what the clinician does later. Occasionally, you might get a great trainer to come to your house to help you work through loading difficulties as in the above example. But apparently for me, I need a lot more training. And that is a hard thing when there just aren’t that many opportunities to practice this skill in a learning environment. I wish that more lesson programs, horse camps, clinics, etc would include lessons on all aspects of loading and trailering.
All these issues can be magnified for the backyard horse owner. If you are often there alone with your horse, you don’t have help in the traveling department. If you don’t travel anywhere with your horse, you may feel an increasing sense of isolation from the horse community. Without ties to the horse community, you may find your learning opportunities stymied. It can be a vicious downward slide. I think about theses things a lot because of my own difficulties. Some of my thoughts have even been fodder for an essay entitled “Strengthening the Horse Community One Trailer Ride at a Time” that was published in the July 2019 issue of The Horse magazine. Here is the link to the essay if you would like to read it
So as I write this, I sit on the cusp of once again tackling truck-trailer-loading issues. Currently, I have one long-time horse who is retired, Bear, and another horse, Shiloh, that is still sort of new to me. I purchased Shiloh at a time when I had my trailer but no truck after an accident. If you would like to read about that time, go to the following link. It will take you to my essay entitled “Note to Truck” that Horse Network published on March 6th, 2019.
I was finally able to purchase another truck almost a year to the day from the date when Shiloh arrived to my house (via hired help). We were then able to take a handful of practice trailering trips to a local barn. Bear, my retired horse, came with us to hang out while I did groundwork/rode Shiloh. Things went well. I felt like were establishing a nice traveling foundation. And then the Mid-Western Winter arrived with its low temps and lots of mud making loading and even driving the trailer off my property difficult due to the unpaved barn-area driveway. It has now been several months since we have trailered off the property. And did I mention that my trailer desperately needs a new paint job but finding someone to sandblast and paint is proving harder than you’d think it should be. I feel sad every time I look at all that rust.
I do have events I’d like to attend later this year with Shiloh. So I will have to get back into the ring again and fight my old demons. I’m never exactly sure if I am going to be able to defeat them. But I want to keep trying. Even though I will feel trepidation until I get my trailering mojo back, I do love the thrill of heading down the road with my horse(s) in tow, ready for a new riding adventure. I can’t wait to see what is up ahead.
I am one of those people that enjoys record keeping the old fashioned way using hard copies. I find gathering, sorting, labeling and filing to be very satisfying. Don’t judge me. Of course, if the record keeping and organizing is horse-related? Even better!
I divide my horse paperwork into four main types and keep each type in a different location:
*Standard horse paperwork like vet and farrier records are kept in a special filing folder on a particular shelf at home
*Paperwork related to horse transportation and first-aid articles are kept in a binder with my truck
*Horse care, riding and training articles are organized in a binder also on a particular shelf
*Emergency horse-care instructions stay in a clear plastic page container on a magnetized clip attached to my refrigerator
If you don’t have unused binders or even photo albums lying around, most dollar store have inexpensive assortments. Same thing goes for labels. Clear plastic page containers are sold through office supply stores. I find them essential for keeping everything clean, neat and crisp. Let’s say those three words again, shall we? Clean, neat, crisp!
Several years ago, I came across the CEO or the Complete Equine Organizer. I wouldn’t normally splurge on something like that when an old binder would have worked. But I had a discount offer and found this organizational system so appealing that I couldn’t resist. The case is a soft plastic with a handle on the top. It came with file folders that were decorated with horse art work and pre-printed labels. Unfortunately, I can no longer find a web link to the company that made the CEO. I suspect they are no longer in production, but you could easily buy something similar at an office supply store and customize it.
To the CEO, I added a horse-health chart. The specific chart that I use comes in the back of a free calendar that I get from my veterinarian’s office every December. I can clearly see all vet care, farrier care and deworming at one glance for the entire year. Very handy.
The longer you have kept your horses and the older your horses get, the more you will appreciate having your paperwork organized. As the years and vet visits pile up, it is hard for me to recall off the top of my head when the last time my horse had a coggins test or how long its been since he last had an abscess. And when are his vaccinations due again anyways?
Are you interested in setting up an organizational system but don’t have an organized bone in your body? Here is your step by step guide:
1. Make a list of needed supplies
2. Obtain the supplies
3.Unearth all your horse-related paperwork from around your home, barn, trailer and vehicle
4. Divide the paperwork up into piles according to category
5. Place them in your system of choice (like file folder, binder, etc . . .)
6.Choose a designated area to keep said paperwork
7. Finally, take a few photos of key documents to keep on your cell phone- you never know if you might be asked to provide proof of ownership or health records when you are out and about with your horse.
Bucket list. This two-word phrase holds its origins in the 2007 movie The Bucket List. The title references the three-word phrase “kick the bucket”. If someone asks what you want to do before you kick the bucket, they are asking what you want to accomplish or experience before you die. The idea of a bucket list fits perfectly with the equestrian lifestyle. After all, buckets are ubiquitous in the horse world.
Like many of us, I have a list of horse-related activities I would like to complete before death. I’ve certainly had some fun riding adventures so far. If the good Lord grants, I would surely appreciate experiencing more.
On that note, 2020 seems like a great year to try something new or reach for a long-held goal. Those round, even numbers just roll off the tongue when you say them. The numbers call to me somehow. It’s like 2020 wants to be featured prominently as part of my life story.
In the future, when you look back on your life, is there anything you might want to say that you started or completed in 2020? For me, beginning a horse-related blog was one of mine.
Here is a list of other activities that are on my bucket list. Some I might be able to accomplish in 2020, but others will definitely have to wait.
*Ride in a parade *Ride in a horse fair/expo demo *Try a “new to me” discipline like maybe endurance riding, mounted archery or jousting *Adopt another horse- This time from a rescue/mustang training challenge *Work cattle from horseback again *Ride in a horse show again
The number of riding and driving disciplines and breeds of horses is really astounding to me. I find it so interesting to read or hear about a group of people who are working with a type of horse that I had never heard of and in a way I had never considered. The beauty in the variety of it all is amazing.
I wonder about the average backyard horse owner (if there is even such a thing?). What saddle do most use? Do most only ride at home? How many compete on a show circuit? Do most keep young horses or senior horses? I could go on and on. I am curious about how others chose to incorporate their love of horses into their lives.
I like to try out different disciplines and meet different breeds of horses. Of course, what is “different” to me might be perfectly normal to you. It all depends upon your point of reference. Of the six horses I have owned, four have been gaited. So gaited breeds are quite normal to me, but I certainly know they are a novelty to others. While there is nothing wrong in sticking to one breed or style of riding, if you have ever wondered about venturing outside your comfort zone, you certainly have lots of choices. The following is a sample list of different breeds/disciplines that I have tried. Maybe they will spark your own interest in trying something new.
Miniature Horses These guys and gals are so much fun! I used to be employed at a therapeutic riding center where they regularly incorporated minis into their services. One of the minis was trained to drive. I got a kick out of watching him trot while I was in the cart behind him. It was such a blast to drive a mini. I have never owned any, but if I had the right set up, I suspect I wouldn’t hesitant in adding some to my herd.
Draft Horses That same therapeutic riding center where I worked with the minis often kept a draft horse or two for riding and driving. I never rode one of the drafts, but I did do some driving with a handsome black Percheron. What a feeling directing all that size and power.
Mules I have never ridden or driven a donkey, but I did once ride a mule named Frosty. He was for sale, and I made two offers on him, but lost out to another buyer. If Frosty’s new owner is reading this and if you ever want to rehome him, please let me know!
Hunt Seat (hunters and cross-country) I basically grew up taking huntseat lessons and loved to jump as a youngster. Most of my jumping was within the confines of an arena, but on several occasions I got to canter a lesson horse through cross-country courses in woods and open fields. Super fun.
Saddle Seat As an adult, I started taking saddle seat lessons during the Winter when weather made it hard to ride at home. I have ridden several Saddlebreds as well as a Friesian, a half-Dutch Harness Horse and a Hackney-Arabian mix. I also took several driving lessons behind a Hackney pony and a Saddlebred. Not easy riding mostly very big horses in flat-seat saddles!
Dressage This is the discipline that I’ve had the least formal instruction in unfortunately. I very much appreciate the principals of dressage though and try to incorporate my limited understanding of it in my riding. I sure would like to learn more.
Barrel Racing I have taken a handful of barrel lessons. Getting the right approach to the barrel, the bend around it and the take off away from the barrel is really challenging. At my level, I was just doing the barrles at a walk/trot, but I still thought it was hard. Can’t imagine at a gallop!
Trail Riding There is nothing like enjoying nature on the back of a horse. Enough said!
Western Riding Most of my riding at home has been in a Western saddle, but I don’t have much formal instruction in the Western disciplines. I must say that the funnest thing I have ever done in a Western saddle is work cows.
So what breeds/disciplines to you enjoy? Anything you’ve been meaning to try but haven’t gotten around to yet?
I think most people assume that if you keep horses at home that you also ride them. You and I know this isn’t necessarily the case. If your horse(s) are retired from riding due to age/injury/illness, you may very well keep horses at home and never sit on their backs. Others keep horses just for the joy of being around them and have never had a desire to ride. Some may also begin home horse-keeping with every intention of riding but then decide not to ride or are prevented from riding along the way. Our lives are filled with up and downs. Not all of the peaks and valleys end up accomodating our riding desires.
If you are a backyard horse-owner who doesn’t ride, remember that you are still providing a home for an animal that not just anyone can accommodate. Consider a few statistics. According to my Google search, of the 325,000 million people living in the US in 2017 only 2 million were horse owners. And according to the American Horse Council 2017 Economic Impact Survey, there were 7.2 million horses in the US that year. That is a lot of horses living in a country where only a small portion of the population has the interest/ability to house and care for them.
In my opinion, every horse that has a stable, loving home has a hedge of protection around them from abuse, neglect and slaughter. I know that some folks feel guilty for having horses and not riding, but assuming you have the aptitude and resources to provide a good home for a horse, it seems to me that you are doing a community service of sorts. Keep in mind too that nobody has proven that horses want to be ridden. Some people even think that most horses shouldn’t be ridden. So there is certainly precedent for keeping horses without riding them.
That being said, I would encourage backyard horse-owners who don’t ride their horses to think about the following three issues. I will preface my comments by saying that I have no expert proof of my assertions. I have instead formed them over my years of horse-ownership including several years spent fostering a series of horses for a local rescue.
1) A horse’s market value, particularly for your average backyard horse, is largely in its ability to be safely ridden by your average rider
If you have questions about your ability/intent to keep your horse “until death do you part”, your unridden horse will eventually enter a market where he or she may have a tough time finding another loving home. That now ten-year- old mare that was born on your farm but never trained under saddle is at risk for a dimmer future than her trained counterparts. There just aren’t that many equestrians who have the interest or skills to take on an untrained horse. Of course, all horses have a meat value, but I am not a proponent of the horse-slaughter industry so that won’t factor into my discussion here.
Even if you personally don’t plan to ride your horse, could you arrange for some initial training so the horse at least has a foundation? If your horse is already trained to be ridden, could you find somebody else who does want to ride her? This might be a good way to keep your horse’s skills in tune AND give a horseless rider the opportunity to enjoy time in the saddle. If you do what you can to keep your horse’s skills marketable, you increase her chances of finding another good home if you are unable to keep her for the rest of her life.
2) Remember that whether you ride or not, your horse still needs basic care
Your horse will still need things like hay, veterinary care, dental care, farrier care, and deworming. The unridden horse can be as expensive as the ridden horse. In my case, my now retired gelding, Bear, has actually cost me more money as a retired horse than as a riding horse. The expenses related to his health changes initially caught me off guard. I will most likely address that topic as a future blog post since I suspect it might be an issue for many of us. Our horses are living longer lives than they did even a quarter century ago. We would do well to be prepared for their senior care.
3) Even if you don’t ride, handling your horse regularly is still important
Spending time with your horse on the ground can go a long way towards keeping your horse in the habit of working calmly and cooperatively with people. This will make him much more pleasant to be around for you. It will also make him easier to rehome if you ever need to go that route.
If your horse is mostly left alone and the only time you handle your horse is for constraining and potentially stressful procedures like vet or farrier care, it doesn’t leave much room for them to have positive associations with people. Tension in the horse-human relationship invariably leads to behavior problems. Do what you can to create a balance in your horse’s activities. For my unridden horses, I try to balance the times where they need to cooperate in very specific ways (like to get their hooves trimmed) with times where they can interact with people in a more relaxed manner.
Not to mention, some horses seem to really enjoy a certain amount of human company and interaction. Some really like to be groomed so they can get all their itchy spots attended to. Some seem curious about doing groundwork with obstacles. Some enjoy playing with toys like the big horse balls. It is fun to discover your horse’s interests and preferences in these areas. And if you keep just one horse at home or your horse spends large amounts of time in a stall, he or she may benefit tremendously from enrichment activities.
Some simple ideas I have incorporated into my “unridden horse-keeping” are taking my horse for a walk in-hand around the property, experimenting with different grooming tools, and trying some massage or Reiki-type/ T-Touch techniques. I also like to spend time just hanging out with my horses in their pasture. I might pick weeds while they graze. I might turn over a large bucket and take a seat while I watch them snooze during a nap on a sunny day.
I also love doing groundwork with obstacles. For activity ideas, I absolutely love the book The Horse Agility Handbook by Vanessa Bee and her Horse Agility DVD. I appreciate that the author’s training style is super positive, super calm and non-confrontational. It struck me that she is the type of teacher I would want if I were a horse. You can buy both the book and DVD via Trafalgar Square Publishing at http://www.horseandriderbooks.com. You can even download a free sample of the book via their website to get an idea of what it offers. Please note that if you purchase the book through the affiliate “horse books and dvd’s link” on this webpage that The Backyard Horse Blog receives compensation.
Until next time, I hope that you are able to get out there and enjoy your horses (or mules or donkeys if that is your preference! Gotta love those long-ears!). Living with such large, powerful creatures certainly has challenges. But striving to have positive relationships with our equines, whether we ride them or not, is well worth the effort.
In my previous post, I mentioned some challenges of staying in the saddle as a backyard horse owner. Definitely among them is the issue of riding alone. While some prefer the experience of riding solo, I venture to guess that many more find it difficult. If you want to ride at home, think about how you can either avoid riding alone in the first place or increase your personal skills/focus when you do chose to ride alone. The following is a list of ideas for tackling this very real problem. I employ many of these ideas in an ever rotating combination.
1. Find a riding buddy
Are you open to keeping a friend’s horse at your home so you can ride together? Can a friend trailer his horse over to your place or you theirs? If you have a friend who is willing to ride your horse, can you ride “together” by taking turns- you ride your horse the first half-hour while your friends rides the next half-hour?
2. Find eyes on the ground
If it is within your budget and available in your area, can you arrange for a riding instructor or trainer to come give you lessons on your property? Can you trailer your horse off your property to riding lessons or clinics? What about asking family or friends to come watch you ride on occasion? Even non-riders can give you useful insights into what they are seeing during your ride. That person could also take photos or video clips that you could use to track and improve your riding. Not to mention, who doesn’t like to have a million photos of their horses! You might even be able to rope someone into accompanying you on foot or on bicycle for a trail ride. My husband and I spent a memorable Thanksgiving Day when we trailered over to a local park to do just that. He walked while I rode. Super fun!
3. Create a virtual safety net
Having your cell phone accessible while you ride is a first measure. This means having the phone in a pocket or safely attached to your body with a phone holder (if the phone is in a saddle bag and your horse runs off, your phone is no longer accessible to you, right?). Keep in mind though that if you are unconscious or injured in such a way that you can’t read/tap/type or the phone gets damaged, you will need a back-up plan. Can you check in with someone by phone before and after your ride to make sure you got on and off safely? Something else to consider is an Apple watch. The Apple Watch Series 4 or later has fall detection that will text you if it senses you are still moving after impact. If it detects no movement after one minute, it contacts emergency services on your behalf. I don’t have an Apple Watch yet, but that feature looks mighty promising to me.
4. Wear a helmet and/or safety vest
I personally prefer to wear a helmet. I wear one if I am riding alone. I wear one if I am riding with other people even if I am the only one wearing a helmet. I have never worn a safety vest but am interested in trying one if the prices become more accessible in the future. Obviously, safety equipment is not just for the solo rider. But if you are riding alone, with no one to help you in case of an accident, it may give you extra incentive to wear that safety gear.
5. Start off with groundwork
Depending upon the particular horse or the environment, I might decide to do an entire groundwork repertoire of exercises that I have learned in natural horsemanship circles. Sometimes I might do some longing. In other cases, maybe just leading my horse once around the riding arena may give me the indication that he or she is “with me” and ready to mount.
6. Do more at the walk
You risk injury anytime you ride- at any gait- even while mounting, even at the halt, even while backing up, even at the walk. I am guessing that in general, though, your average rider who struggles with nerves will feel more confident at the walk than at faster gaits. You have a better chance of having a successful ride when you are feeling confident (my previous post mentioned the circle of anxiety that can envelop the horse and rider when the rider starts off nervous). So don’t feel sheepish about mostly or even exclusively walking. There is quite the variety of things you can do with your horse just at the walk- combinations of walk, halt, back transitions patterns that incorporate turns and bending- following lines and making square corners- shortening and lengthening of stride. You can still improve your horse’s way of going at the walk, positively affecting their balance, how they carry themselves, their musculature and so on. For more great ideas download this “Walk Work Outs” PDF by dressage rider Jec Aristotle Ballou!
7. Incorporate lateral movements, cones and obstacles into your rides
If you don’t know how to ask your horse to do movements like leg yield, turn on forehand, turn on the hindquarters and sidepassing, consider spending the money for training/lessons so you can expand your toolbox. Done correctly, those exercises help build you skills as a rider, your horse’s balance/self carriage and allow you to communicate more precisely with your horse. They are a great addition to that walk work with your horses that we just talked about. On a similar note, one of my favorite things to do is set out cones. I use them to mark out patterns while I am riding. It is so easy for me to get unfocused or start to worry about something when I am just going around the arena or down the trail. If I have some patterns in my mind and some markers already layed out, I can use those to keep myself and my horse interested in where we are going and less likely to zero in on random spooky stuff off in the distance. Same goes for obstacles. I love setting out tarps, groundpoles, gates, etc . . . I find it super fun and engaging to set up tasks for me and my horse to accomplish.
8. Keep your horses at home and ride somewhere else on someone else’s horses
You may find yourself wanting to ride but have nothing but retired or otherwise unrideable horses in your backyard. Or maybe you really do want to ride your own horse, but you just can’t see yourself riding solo. By all means, get out there and find your riding tribe!
9. Attend clinics with your horse
Riding lessons are typically the way that we improve our skills. While riding lessons generally are short in duration and spread out through time, clinics allow for in-depth learning opportunities. They can engender a faster or a different type of growth than lessons alone. They can be expensive, but I am glad I have stretched to attend clinics from time to time. I particularly learned the value of attending clinics with my horse Bear. During our first years together, I had a series of very embarrassing, very public episodes with him when we trailered off my property. I became downright fearful of taking him anywhere and thought seriously about selling him. But Bear had a lot of really nice qualities. And I had a nagging sensation that the problem was mine and not his. So on the recommendation of a friend, I signed up for a three-day natural horsemanship clinic with Ed Chambers Horsemanship in Roachdale, Indiana. The clinic helped me to see what I needed to do differently. I learned that we could in fact work well together when I was more active with my riding and displayed more confidence. The clinic activities allowed me to practice supporting Bear during one sticky moment after another in a busy environment. I am happy to say that Bear and I went on to have many fun riding adventures after the clinic. He is now retired, and I anticipate celebrating our 15 year anniversary and his 25th birthday in the Spring of 2020. Not every clinic that I have attended has been that good a fit, but I now know the powerful, positive changes that can manifest from clinic participation.
10. Give yourself permission to change
We develope and age. Our horses develope and age. Enthusiasm can wax and wane. Preferences can be fluid. Don’t let what you used to do or used to want to do keep you from doing what you can do or want to do now. Remember that- gasp!-you might even decide at some point not to ride at all. Some people chose to put riding aside while they are pregnant, pursuing a career or attending to family obligations. Some might decide that after an accident that the risks of riding outweigh the rewards. Right now, I absolutely want to ride, crave riding and get sad/cranky if I don’t ride with some frequency. And yet after years of judging others for not riding, I have now lived long enough to realize that I might not always decide to ride either- double gasp! I have learned to reserve the right to change my mind in the future. Likewise, I will hold space for you as you navigate your own decisions about riding.
I have more to say on this topic of horsekeeping without riding, but I will save that for a future post. In the mean time, if you are still inclined to ride, may you enjoy happy trails!
Every time I get on a horse, I have to refrain myself from squealing with delight! The experience of borrowing the horse’s power, speed and athleticism is exhilarating. Feeling their warmth, their movement and their individuality when mounted is a singular experience. Like most equestrians, I definitely have my own personal preferences on breed of horse, size of horse, and the type of saddle I most enjoy riding. But I have dabbled in several disciplines and when you get right down to it, the thrill is largely the same. Doesn’t matter if the horse is my own horse, my friend’s horse, lesson horse, rescue horse, horse from a trail string, humble pony, fancy Friesian or a mule! Sitting on ANY equine is a privilege.
Backyard horse-keeping is not all about riding though. In fact for me, it is mostly about not riding. I spend much, much more time caring for my horses and being on the ground with them than I do on their backs. Good thing that I very much enjoy that aspect of horse-keeping too! I love watching my horses from the house or hanging out with them in the pasture while they graze or while they take a snooze. Listening to them eat. Watching them take a roll. Grooming. Doing groundwork exercises with them. There are lots of ways to enrich our lives with horses (and us theirs) other than riding.
With work and family commitments as well as the daily task that come with farm keeping, it can be a challenge to find time and energy to ride. Without an indoor/covered arena or the ability to trailer your horse to one, the weather can play havoc with your riding plans during the time you do actually have free to ride. It can definitely be a struggle to stay in the saddle for the do-it-yourselfer.
Another impediment to riding can be isolation from other equestrians (or even non-equestrians for company) when you want to ride. Riding is risky and riding alone is more so. If that fact impedes your confidence, it can lead to tension in your riding. Tension in your riding can create problems in your horse who is becoming anxious because he feels your tension. Your horse doesn’t know why you are nervous and will need help in moving through that tension back to a state of relaxation. But if you are too anxious to notice your horse’s distress or are too tense to help your horse relax, the cycle of shared anxiety between you and your horse grows worse. At that point, your horse may start displaying behavioral issues. Even without a precipitating event like an fall or other accident, you have the perfect recipe for the avoidance of riding.
If you are considering backyard horse-keeping and find it hard to ride solo, think about how you can either avoid riding alone in the first place and/or increase your skills/focus when you do decide to ride alone. Having horses at home AND staying in the saddle are equally important to me. I constantly have to be creative in finding ways to ride even without support. It is not easy, but it is well worth the effort. My next post will be entitled “Ideas For Staying In The Saddle If You Struggle with Riding Alone”. Stay tuned!