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Owning a horse can be incredibly rewarding

You think you have everything in place to take the plunge.

Horse ownership is replete with dream-come-true moments, physical activity the likes of which is not provided by any other sport, and the sheer beauty of the magnificent animal that you can feel permanently attached to.

People often become lifelong horse owners and learn how to manage and maintain their lives in order to provide adequately for their horses. But in many cases, what begins as a fulfilled fantasy ends in a disastrous situation - perhaps for the owner, but more importantly, for the voiceless horse that is dependent on human care.

Although it may seem easy to leave a horse at a boarding barn that is managed by someone else, there are still other factors that can come into play that might make or break your ownership experience. Sometimes, what seems at first as a small inconvenience can turn into the deal-breaker. 

Take a look at the questions below to see how many you can answer "yes" to. All of them are important factors in horse ownership.

Do you have time?

If you think lack of time at the barn might be a factor, then hold back from committing to horse ownership. Horses take time - to groom, to clean tack, to feed and turn in/out if you are going to care for them yourself. They want time for attention, handling, training. They thrive on routine, including regular riding. If you think you might have trouble getting to the barn several times a week, consider other options.

Do you have a fair amount of experience?

At some point, most of us were complete strangers to horses and the horsey lifestyle. Although we probably recognized a strong affinity right from the beginning, learning about the ways of horses takes several years of regular exposure and consistent feedback from someone who is willing to train you.

Someone new to horses might unknowingly live the adage: "a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing." Many people bite off more than they can chew, especially in the early years, simply because of lack of experience.

If you are still developing your skills, take another route. Try part-boarding someone's horse so you can learn as you go.

Do you have patience to spare?

Horse riding and training takes a lot of patience! At times, you must be willing to try again and again, and be satisfied with one step forward, two steps back. You will learn quickly that there is no replacement to consistency and that especially in horseback riding, there is no such thing as instant gratification.

There is an old horsey truth that the horse is the mirror of the rider. You must know before you step into commitment that the horse will only be able to do as much as you can, regardless of his previous training level. However, you can be sure that he will improve as you improve - and there is no shortcut!

Are you responsible?

You can count on one thing: problems will come up. For example, there may be unplanned injuries, when the horse ends up being unrideable for weeks on end. You will still have to pay for board and increase the level of daily care. Whatever happens, you have to always keep your horse in mind and be ready to be the "go to" person. 

Is it more than just about how cute they are?

Yes, horses have historically been revered for their magnificence and enduring beauty. Watching a horse perform at his potential is an awe-inspiring moment, even at a basic level show or demonstration. Being witness to the power and grace of a rambunctious horse as he plays with his pasture mates can become a lasting memory. But none of the above should be the entire reason for purchasing a horse.

Are you humble and empathetic?

Some people seem to ride only to demonstrate their strength and superiority over such a huge animal. There is probably going to be a time to assert yourself, especially if you find yourself in a dangerous situation.  However, if you want to constantly impose your desires on a horse regardless of the horse's level of ability or if you feel offended when the horse doesn't comply to your requests, then horse ownership is definitely not for you.

Good horse keeping is a life-long pursuit, and you learn something new from every horse you come across. It has been said that there is a horse somewhere that humbles every rider. You need to be able to separate the ego from the event and be willing to give it another try another day. Just like people, horses have good days and bad days. Know when to let it go.

Do you have a mentor?

Even if you have spent several years learning from the other people and their horses, you will do well to find yourself someone who is willing to help you figure out your horse, especially in the first few years. There is nothing worse than having to address problems for the first time without having the background or someone's help. Having a mentor can make all the difference in your success as a new horse owner. 

Can you afford it?

It certainly is true that horse keeping is very expensive. Either you have to pay someone to provide care, feed, bedding and shelter for you, or you have to do it all yourself. After the basic requirements, you will most likely need to budget for riding lessons at the least, or horse training by a professional if your horse is young or needs additional training. Add to that vet bills, supplements and show costs, and you will have a good idea of the financial commitment you are making. Plan out all of this ahead of time!

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What can you do if you don't own a horse?

The possibilities are endless:

- take regular riding lessons to see if you can maintain a consistent riding schedule. Learn the basic skills of riding, and wait until such time that you have ridden several different horses of different types and temperaments, so you know what style of riding you like and what the ideal personality of your horse should be.

- ride someone else's horse. You might be lucky enough to find a horse owner who is happy to share their horse with you at no cost, especially if you are fairly experienced and can improve their horse's training in the process.

- part-board a horse and share in the wonderful experience of horse ownership without actually owning the horse. When part-boarding, you will discover what it is like to be part of a barn community and develop the experience necessary to know what to do during specific situations. You can always turn to the horse's owner to learn how to deal with horse health concerns and training problems that you might not otherwise be able to solve on your own.

- take on a full lease. Choose to take on a full lease if you want to be the primary rider of a horse, but you don't want to be responsible for the horse over its entire lifetime. Many owners are happy to lease their horse to someone who will incur the costs of keeping the horse and provide the regular exercise that the horse needs, even if only for a year or two.

Once you make the decision to take on the full care and responsibility of a horse, be ready to make real and significant changes to your lifestyle. Knowing what the possible difficulties might be ahead of time will enable you to make the best, most informed decision, and will likely predict the success of your endeavor!

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Buy the book for many more riding tips! Horse Listening – The Book: Stepping Forward to Effective Riding

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Read more here: 

In the Beginning (riding): Part I – What to expect when you first start riding.

Riding (with a capital R): Part II – When riding becomes more than just riding.

On Enjoying the Path: I can hear you now – you’re groaning… the path?? How can “the path” be fulfilling?

A Cautionary Horse Tale: Once you decide to ride horses, you put into place a domino effect of consequences, which will occur whether you are conscious of them or not. It’s like a rule of nature.

Take the Credit, Bad AND Good: In our quest for balance (not just on the kind on the back of the horse), it is essential for us to look at our achievements from both angles.

3 Comments

  1. Respectfully – I saw “ride someone else’s horse” recommended several times for the beginning rider. I winced a bit… because as much work as I put into making my mare safe and kind and sane… I know that it wouldn’t take a lot to undo that. I wonder if you would adapt those statements a bit? Because “riding someone else’s horse” means shifting a LOT of cost and effort onto the other owner. Part boarding is a variation on that (which you suggested) that puts more onus on the prospective rider to invest in the horse in terms of time and care. Even then… I’d hate to have someone with lousy hands yanking my mare around. Really – “ride someone else’s horse” might be better expressed as “take lessons on someone’s schoolmaster horse”… because the trainer could at least rescue the horse from innocent but harmful cluelessness, which takes about 2 years to go away (meantime, my mare gets hurt or naughty because if it).

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