I was a HORSE crazy kid. Just ask my parents. At age 4 I started begging for a horse. I got a riding lesson here or there, and a week or two at summer camp with my aunt, who grew up on a ranch and took us riding the “dude string” horses, but that was it until I was nearly 12 — at which time I got my first two horses. Little did my parents know that 75 rodeos a year later, I’d be getting a scholarship to college, and would eventually make my living horseback. I’ve learned a lot in the past two and a half decades with horses and I will never stop learning. But I figured it’s time to share a bit of that knowledge with you.
1. The horse is the least expensive investment in this endeavor. I know that sounds like a joke – but it’s not. You’re putting your life, the life of your child, the life of your spouse in the hands (so-to-speak) of this animal. Wouldn’t you want to make sure you’re getting the right one? You may think that $5,000 is a lot of money for a horse, and it is, but isn’t your life or those of your loved ones worth making sure they’re well-mounted and safe? Make sure that whatever you’re buying is broke (will go where you want, when you want at the speed you want), thoughtful and gentle.
2. Purchase your horse from a reputable breeder/trainer. But, please, not from the local horse-trader. If you get to a facility to try a horse you’re interested in, and the horse is saddled, ask them to unsaddle it, put it back in a pen, catch it, groom it, and saddle it. You want to see what the horse looks like from the start of the ride to the end. Find someone willing to give you a trial period, or money back guarantee. And make sure the horse passes a pre-purchase examination. Many reputable breeders/trainers will even offer lessons for free/a reduced rate if you purchase their horse. It behooves them (no pun intended) to make sure the horse and you get along well. The last thing they want is their name being drug through the mud. That said, realize that any horse, no matter how well trained, will, to some degree, ride/handle to the ability of the person riding them. That essentially means, that a more experienced person will get more out of your horse than you will — and they will better understand his behavior. That’s okay. You can learn. And a thoughtful, kind, gentle horse will help you. So will point #3…
3. Do not skimp on the riding lessons. I cannot stress this enough. The right instruction will not only help keep you safe in the saddle but safe on the ground too. There is a safe way to do things with your horse. I recommend watching people ride — the people who have horses I’d like mine to mimic, well, I’m all about riding with them. That’s why I choose to ride with Buck. If you have a particular clinician you’re fond of, find an instructor that practices that type of riding. When I got my first horse, the summer before my 12th birthday, I cleaned stalls for a professional trainer down the road. I walked to his place every morning and cleaned stalls in exchange for lessons. In college I worked for a reined cow horse trainer, and cleaned stalls, groomed horses and helped ride in exchange for learning more about that style of riding. Where there is a will there is a way.
4. Every time you handle the horse you are teaching him something: Good, Bad, Indifferent. Horses are not natural born leaders. They’re naturally creatures of flight. But if you don’t make a plan for your horse, he’ll make his own plan, and that might involve running over you. He wouldn’t mean to hurt you, but he may feel like you’re the path of least resistance. A good instructor should be able to help you make a plan for your horse. And while you’re at it — you may want to take the approach that we do here at the ranch: The horse is never, ever wrong. Not even then. Learn to be aware of what he’s telling you so you can be ahead of the situation.
5. Spending money on a good fitting saddle, and the right gear can save you heartache, medical bills and vet bills. There is no substitute for quality. As much as our checkbooks would appreciate the break, the better quality saddle you buy, the better quality saddle pad you ride, and the better the bit, the safer you’ll be because your horse will be more comfortable. You can take my word for it, or you can learn the hard way. I did.
6. Horses are excellent teachers and they’re exceptionally honest. They’ll help you learn to be aware of your mood much sooner than you might be on your own, if you’ll pay attention. If you’re crabby, they’ll likely want nothing to do with you. But come to them with a pure mind and heart, and they’ll help you sort out the world’s problems. Cry into their mane, and they’ll take the pain away, but to get there, you’ve got to work on the relationship too. The onus can’t be entirely on the horse.
I hope these little bits of information help. And if you are lucky enough to be getting your first horse soon, congratulations!