... and you get 25 different answers!


This phenomenon is a well-known fact in the horse industry. Over the years, I've been approached time and again by people new to the horse world,  in a mixed-up state of frustration and confusion. Who do they listen to? How can EVERYONE have a different way of doing something? Isn't there a 'standard' method in the industry?

New horse owners go to look for a boarding barn and discover that every barn has a different feed program, turnout routine, barn rules, and so much more. Or, they take lessons from one instructor and then watch a clinic and discover that there are many ways to train one movement. Turn the horses out 24/7 or leave them in most of the day? Ride with contact or go 'on the buckle'? There are so many extremes to horse keeping and riding, and then there are all the gray areas in-between. Where is a newbie to start?

For example, look at the variety of disciplines found in the horse world. Although every horse has four legs, a head and a tail, you find such a huge variety of activities from riding (so many sub-classifications in just riding) to driving (almost as many possibilities as riding), vaulting, ski joring (look that one up!), line/breeding classes, trick training, and so much more.

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And you can't stop there. Feeding horses can be as varied and emotionally-laden as the discipline you choose. With the huge variety of 'complete feeds' as well as the old 'tried-and-true' grains, it can be hard to make a decision - especially when even in one barn, there may be as many different types of feed as there are horses!

After you get past the information overload, you will realize that the various points-of-view are in fact, often helpful and inspiring. However, you may not agree with everything everyone says, and you may find that you are attracted to certain 'types' of horse keeping and riding over others. Part of the appeal of the horse world is in fact that you can find your own niche among a variety of options that matches your wants and needs.

The trick is to find a mentor, or instructor, who is willing to take you under her wing for your first few years of horse ownership. You should find this person to be knowledgeable, competent, honest, and most of all, interested in seeing you progress into becoming a self-sufficient horse owner. This person should be willing to explain his or her reasoning and teach you how to make an informed decision among the various options. She should be willing to listen to other opinions and then capably explain why she either accepts or rejects that opinion. Finally, your mentor should be interested in seeing you grow and meet your own goals.

Try to stay with that person for some time. Switching from coach to coach will only serve to confuse you and cause a disservice to your horse. Learn all you can before heading off to "greener pastures" because although it may be tempting to jump on the next (band)wagon, too many differing opinions too early in your understanding of the horse world will cause another well known syndrome: "a little knowledge is a dangerous thing". Be sure that you stay with the person long enough to have a complete understanding, at least from their perspective.

There is another part that you must play too - you must read (books and magazines), watch videos, attend clinics and seminars, take courses, and find a good boarding barn and lesson situation that helps you acquire the knowledge you need to be a responsible, educated horse owner. In essence, you need to 'study'. No one else can do that for you.

And finally, we go back to the original question: what about the multitude of answers to that one (seemingly simple) question you asked? You have two points of reference to weigh the answer against. First, how does the answer balance with what you have learned to date (and ask your mentor for his or her opinion if you don't know). Second, just listen to your horse! He will always be honest!

What do you think?

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More fun reading:

Good Day For A Little Horseplay: Snort, snort, snort, SNORT! My gelding couldn’t tell me in any clearer terms how much he was enjoying the moment.

Ode to the Stretchy Trot: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

Top 6 Reasons Why Horse Lovers Love the Earth: Caring for and riding horses must be among the most earth-dependent activities left to us (aside from farming and other such activities).

HL on The Dressage Radio Show?? Yes! Follow the link to hear me speak about 20 Ways Horse Riding Becomes Life Itself.

Eight Legs Plus Two: A poem.


  1. In this world of fast everything…fastfoods, fasttract,instant gratification, it is no wonder many equestrian minded people want, demand quick and easy solutions. I suppose one is not easily convinced to take the slow and winding road of discovery.

    1. It is a costly undertaking to get the skills in as serious a manner as other sports. People without their own horses taking lessons do not put as much time into it as they do into other sports. You seem to practice a lot more for basketball or football or golf before you undertake a game. A horse unfortunately can make up for your faults and make you feel like you can do more than your skill level warrants.

  2. I guess just like with everything, it all comes down to a person’s personality. There will always be those who follow one way (maybe because that’s how they were taught, or because it’s so easy to live in the same old habits, or simply because they think they’re right) and those who want to ask more, learn more, develop more. There will always be those who keep horses just for the sport and those who enjoy their horses’ companionship above all.

  3. Late comment here – It’s too late for most folks, who put the horse before the knowledge. Looking back, it would have been a much better idea for me to get lessons, find that instructor/ mentor and prepare myself *before* getting a horse – a little of which I did, but not enough.

    In looking for a good mentor, I would want some one who emphasized safety, respect (on BOTH sides) and enjoyment, in whatever way. Responsibility is a given.

  4. when I was 4 years old I was given a small horse. I wasn’t told how to get on him . So I use an old chair . and climbed up the back of it so I could get on. I remenber how he would turn his head and watch . I though it was OK because he didnt move. No one said I couldnt go to sleep. So I turned around layed my head on him back end. I listened to him graze. Felt him move to the rythem of his feet side to side as he would reach for more grass. I got a bit later on. and put string around him head and he held his head down for me, So think he didnt mine. I rode round our yard around the barn. where I looked seemed to be ok with him. I just pulled a string or maybe I lended a little but it seemed to be ok. There have been many who say that must have been a very well broke horse. But for me he was Tony a friend of mine that I never said a word to. We just watch each other, and we learned .

  5. Sorry for the missed spelled words I think I was being a child again, Just caught up in the memory.

  6. I want to breed my mare for the first time but I am scared that when she gives birth that it may be to much for her and she may die… What.should I do?

  7. Go to the library and read up on Horse Breeding and Raising Foals. Breeding any animal is a huge undertaking and even bigger responsibility. I would first look at the reasoning behind your desire to breed your mare and ask yourself if she qualifies in terms of quality. If she is a high quality mare and you have the resources to cover health care and management of 2 horses, then a visit with a large animal Veterinarian who you trust, should answer your questions regarding delivery, etc.

  8. I agree with you and yet- I disagree (smile). Few trainers, coaches, or lesson givers will teach you about basic horseman (horsewoman)-ship in general. If you are ‘brand new’, the itch is to quickly acquire your first very own horse! Yet, after 55 years of experience, I believe people should find a quality quiet safe horse to lease- one that either that owner will work with you- and one that ‘does’ what type of riding you think you ought to do. This does several things- for one, the owner who is leasing will want the horse cared for- and two you will probably get honest good care advice.

    Yes, you will get different opinions (but this is that way in life in general) because of an experience someone has had with a trainer, their horse, etc. This may have no bearing on your situation. You may get along famously with a trainer while someone else will not.

    Fortunately we have the world wide web and most universities with Vet Hospitals post accurate and up to date information about feeding and nutrician needs of a horse- always check that out- as sellers, branders, or distributors of grain and feed usually know very little about that. Plus, one must analyze their particular horse – in some ways as people do- are they low or deficient in something? Ask a Vet- not a horse neighbor.

    I have had wonderful fortune to have wonderful teachers, trainers, lesson givers, and 4-H back when they taught real horsemanship, regardless of what discipline you rode. I’m not sure that is done anymore. So we see 40+ year olds on horses – even after 10 years- still not taking safe and proper precautions in general handling or take into consideration that their horse needs to be ‘kept in condition’ before you go out for a 2 or 3 hour trail ride.

    Horses can’t talk. But they can react. Newcomers don’t understand reactions and that takes years of experience and understanding to listen to what your horse is saying. And, you can still be ‘wrong’ because our human mind likes to think we ‘know it all’.

    I believe in study, reading, always! But having a variety of coaches is important as you learn from each lesson and each person- even if you ‘did not like them’. Taking field trips, talking and listening to professional grooms – is a great way to learn. Watching other lessons, from other trainers, and taking lessons from more than one person is very important. Otherwise, you will get ‘stuck’ because the one person is ‘trying’ to tell you something you are not hearing, and the other one will tell you ”the same thing’ but for some reason the way they said it- the way they showed you ‘clicks’.

    Trainers and coaches often don’t like to hear that- as they want you to be ‘loyal’ and say you will get confused…..I disagree. Trainers and coaches want that lesson money (which is not bad) because they are often earning their livlihood doing this…but if they understood that you might become more successful from just one lesson by someone else – and cared they would not be so territorial about you.

    You have to think for yourself, make your own decisions, as it is your experience and no one elses. But – if you are new- do start with a lease….because it may not be what you ‘thought’ and there is only one way to know this- by doing it!

  9. This issue can be so exasperating. Especially when being a new horse owner and basically being verbally attacked by various opinionated people with differing opinions. I found myself with my head spinning and completely confused in the very beginning due to completely polar opposite opinions. How do you politely let these people know that you respect their opinion but ……

  10. 2 words don’t belong around horses and sum up horses
    and Always
    if you find those in sentence around horses chances are it’s wrong

  11. Yes, there are many different ways to do things when it comes to horses, but I have found that by studying equine anatomy, biomechanics, physiology, and conformation it makes it easier to weed through all the opinions to focus on what is really beneficial to the horse and avoid things that could harm them