First-time horse owners
You’ve waited all your life for this. All those years wishing for a horse when you were a kid. Although, the best you ever got was the occasional ride on your friend’s pony or a few riding lessons at summer camp.
Now, your life is finally settled (or as settled as it’ll ever be), and you’re ready for horse ownership!
Or are you?
There are a lot of moving parts to horse ownership. If your head doesn’t lead, instead of your heart on this decision, it could end up being your worst nightmare, instead of the realization of your fondest dream.
No two paths to horse ownership are the same; however, all of them have a few major details in common:
Trusted horse person
Think of these categories as jumping off points to conversations you should be having with your family, a knowledgeable and trusted horse person who knows a lot about horses, and you.
It’s vital that you ask yourself the hard questions and don’t go into this secretly holding onto the ideal horse of your dreams from when you were 11. The Black Stallion books are great, but not such a great map to horse ownership for us midlife folks.
Remember, pretty is as pretty does. So let’s start at the beginning:
Although we all say we’re going to be safe, this is one place where your head definitely needs to take the lead. You may remember riding as a kid cantering through the field bareback on your friends’ horses. Falling off never seemed to be an issue. You fell off, you got back on and kept going.
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we don’t bounce like that anymore. I’ve got great bones but osteoporosis is rearing its ugly head in my life. I also know that my soon-to-be 60-year-old body takes longer to heal than my 12-year-old body of long ago.
If you’re a beginner or even intermediate rider, you want a horse that’s been there, done that, and gotten the saddle pad. First horses not only need to be safe to ride, but excellent ground manners should also be a priority. You’ll spend maybe 20% of the time with your horse actually riding. The rest of the time will be feeding, grooming, tacking up, and holding the horse for the vet or farrier.
Safety is critical. The selection of a horse includes where to keep your horse as well as riding feasibility. You may have a 100-acre ranch which is perfect for horses, but if the nearest neighbor is miles away that presents a safety issue. If you’re riding alone, no around is around to scrape you up off the ground, if you fall.
The other crucial piece of the safety puzzle is your horse handling knowledge. If you’ve never cared for a horse on your own, it might be better to board the horse at a stable. You may find experienced horse people you like and trust to help you figure out how this whole horse ownership thing goes.
Better yet, talk to your local 4H Horse Program Leader, United States Pony Club Leader, an equine vet or high school Vo-Ag program head. There are plenty of places to get yourself comfortable handling different horses in various situations before your horse is actually delivered to you.
Suitability is a component of safety, but suitability touches on whether you (and your new horse) enjoy the time you spend together.
If you’re a timid rider that doesn’t want a horse that’s very quick off the leg, a horse that’s been running barrels for the last 8 years might not be your best bet. Think about the job you’re “hiring” your horse for.
What are some qualities that are really important? If you’re 5’0″ in your cowboy boots, you might prefer something 15.2 or under. If you want to do 3-day eventing, you want a horse that has some experience jumping. And the big caveat here, please, please don’t get hung up on the color, markings or breed.
Before you answer a single ad, make a list of “must-have”, “would-be-nice”, and “oh, Hell no!” characteristics. Some people don’t mind a horse that weaves because the horse will be living out most of the time; while for others, weaving would be a complete deal breaker. By having this list, you’ll be able to save time and effort by only trying out horses you know fit the “job description” you’ve created.
Sustainability, in this case, means what is it going to take to keep your new horse happy, healthy, and able to do his job.
That barrel horse mentioned above may no longer be up to running barrels. If calm enough, it may make a great trail horse. A horse that’s been eventing at Prelim but is getting a bit old for the job could be the perfect partner for you to take in the Baby Novice division if you are new to eventing.
Sometimes the almost-perfect horse needs bar shoes or a joint supplement. Specialty shoeing, supplements, and injections all add to the upkeep costs, which is another item for consideration.
Once you’ve found a likely equine partner, make sure the vet that does the pre-purchase exam for you knows what type of riding you’re planning with the horse. Ask about any special upkeep the vet feels the horse may need. By taking the time to do your homework upfront, you’re giving yourself, and your horse, a good foundation for a long and happy partnership.
So, what’s on your list of “must-have”, “would-be-nice”, and “oh, Hell no!” characteristics?
Penny Hawes is a life coach from Monroe, VA, who has taught hundreds of people to ride on two continents. She specializes in helping re-riders confidently rekindle their internal fervor for equestrian sport. Penny offers experience to help guide ‘mid-life’ riding students with any challenge in or out of the saddle.