5 Things You Can Learn From Your Competitors

When I first started showing, I would get really nervous and run a constant loop of my shortcomings: too slow in my circles, too timid in my lead changes, too stiff in my stops. I would compare all of my faults to what I imagined were my competitors glorious strengths . I’ve improved somewhat in my show nerves, and I would never stop showing because of the butterflies. Or perhaps they’re actually bats, not butterflies. But no matter, I think competitions force you to focus on improving. It may seem counterintuitive because competition inherently ranks you against your competitors, but the only thing you can control is how well you prepare and perform. And you can use the arena to your advantage. And even more so if you watch your competitors in that arena to improve your own skill.

Learn From Your Horse Show Competitors
Oh, and always have a white rag handy, modeled here by this lovely trainer in blue.
  1. Watch what they do before they compete. I don’t mean linger at the end of their aisle peering around the corner making notes on every move they make. I mean more generally about how they spend their time. For example, when I first started showing I would get really anxious that I wasn’t going to be ready for my classes. I would get my horse out, tack him up, get myself dressed and ready, and then we would warm up and wait. And wait. And wait. For hours. My horse would get bored and annoyed at all the standing around. Any warm up we had was then nullified by all the time standing around doing nothing. But by that time it was too late to go put him up and give each of us a rest, because now we really did need to be ready and on deck. Over time I saw that others in my barn would work their horse earlier in the day (or the trainer would) and then they would get dressed when it seemed the class was about an hour out. And then they would sit down and wait a bit, chatting with friends, having a little wine, and then about 30 minutes before the class they would get on and warm up. Use your competitors as clues about what you could do differently or try out for yourself. Particularly if you don’t have a trainer guiding you on what to do. And always add wine. It makes everything better.
  2. While were on that topic of using your competition as cues, if you haven’t shown in a while, attend a show without your horse. Watch the classes that you intend to show in. See what people are wearing and how they have their horses tacked up. The first year I showed I wore my number on my back (reiners pin their numbers to the left side of the saddle pad) and I used my regular old saddle pad instead of a show blanket over a plain pad. Neither of those things was disqualifying, but they made me look inexperienced. When you’re showing, you have enough to worry about with your riding. You want to look and feel like you fit in. Don’t let the show norms surprise you. I once knew a lady who didn’t realize that chaps were required for her class. Now this is pretty standard stuff, but for her, she was old school and didn’t realize it was a requirement. Some lovely soul ran off and found her a pair to borrow for the duration of the class, but you won’t always have a show angel over your shoulder. And you don’t need that kind of stress anyway. Pay attention to what people are wearing, on themselves and their horses. And make sure you read the rules of your classes.
  3. Watch what your competitors do after they compete. If you’re anything like me, you may have a tendency to dramatize every little thing that happened in a class. Good or bad. Blue ribbon? Cue the acceptance speech and gentle weeping and blowing kisses to the judges as you’re calling out “You really like me. You really do.” And on the complete opposite end of the spectrum, the wailing and gnashing of teeth if there was no ribbon won at all. The fact is winning and losing are part of the game. And we pay to play, so we’ve got to be ready for the inevitable and give in a little less to the roller-coaster of emotions. A blue ribbon means nothing if you were the only one in the class. And not placing also means nothing if you were in a class with 20 Pro-Ams. Long running, successful competitors take what they can learn out of each class and apply it to their next ride. But they do not allow their class outcome to determine their emotional well-being for the remainder of the day. Or, god forbid, the show. I say this with a smirk because this is a case of “do what I say, not as I do.” I’m not very good about keeping my emotions in check. But we all have our demons.
  4. Watch what they do well. Then figure out how to do it better. We’ve all got to start somewhere, and in the beginning we are overcoming a great many obstacles to improve in horseback riding. But as you’ve been in the sport for some time and your skills improve, you see in greater detail the ways in which you still have to grow. Or maybe you don’t know exactly what it is that you’re missing, but you know someone is outperforming you because you’re constantly getting a red while that sparkly, annoyingly-perfect woman (she is probably none of these things, but envy is a nasty business) is always getting a blue. If you can’t figure out what she’s doing that you’re not, film her and film yourself and compare the two. A tad bit stalkery? Yeah maybe. But ask me if I care if I think it will help me improve? (hint hint, I don’t)*. And actually, quick side note, if you’ve never watched yourself ride, set up your iPhone on a rail and go around in a couple gaits. You will see some things that might make you cringe. (See post on sit your ass back and evidence of me not doing just that). The point is, use those who are excelling in your discipline to identify where you can improve. Obviously this is a lot easier if your trainer is pointing out where to improve. But sometimes listening to your trainer gets a little naggy (more leg, more leg, your reins are uneven, more leg, bla bla bla.) sometimes watching a competitor use more leg and seeing the difference in the ride can help solidify the lesson your trainer is trying to hammer into your thick skull. I can say this because I whole heartedly know that I am a thick-skulled dolt who my trainers patiently endure.
  5. And while you’re watching your competition, sometimes they are the lesson in what not to do. Like talking smack about competitors in the bathroom. Don’t do this. I don’t care if you think no one can hear you. Somehow, somewhere, someone is going to hear you. And you’re going to ruin their day and quite possibly their life. Sorry. That was a typo. I meant ruin their show. Not their life. Their show. Not that this has ever happened to me. But going to middle school predisposes every woman to have this deep-rooted fear that someone is making fun of her behind her back.
Learn From Your Competition
Another observable and totally steal-able tip: trim the excess paper from your number for a tighter look. As seen on our unaware model here.

Best wishes to you in whatever your discipline. Don’t forget to have fun. That is why we do this whole horsey thing isn’t it?

What are the things you do to help yourself improve? Tell me so that I can try and use them to improve. Please. I’m begging you. Help me.

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Mountain Trail Show Competitor
For mountain trail it doesn’t matter much, but in the breed shows, it’s best to wear black pants under your black show chaps. Or brown under brown… you get the idea.

Shout Out To The Broke Rider!

Show season is starting, and even though I’m not showing this year, I still think about what I want to accomplish with riding and how far I’ve come. Thinking about my riding made me think back to my only “show” as a youth. As the youngest of five kids, the fact that I even got to ride horses was a miracle. Turning into a jodhpur-wearing, ribbon-winning equestrian was completely out of the question. So when the barn I shoveled manure at in exchange for lessons hosted their own show-day, I was excited to participate. I don’t remember what clothes I wore, but I do remember the boots: a pair of black, leather, knee-high boots that gapped a little at the calf and zipped up the inside. (Back in those days I rode hunt-seat.) When the trainer at the barn saw me all dressed up for my class, she gave me a big smile and said “I like your boots!”

Changing Room At The Horse Show
Don’t covet thy show-neighbor’s hat. Or Boots. Or show shirts. Or really anything.

I turned to my mom and whispered, “Do you think she knows they’re not real riding boots?”

Ever the practical woman, my mom said “Of course she does. But that doesn’t matter, she still likes them.”

I was naïve enough to not even realize that true field boots damn sure do not zip up the inside of the calf. Nor would they gap awkwardly at the knee. But I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that I was showing and I got a compliment on my outfit.

There are a few times as an adult I have cringed at this memory. If I remember distinctly what the boots looked like, I’m sure the rest of the outfit was just as awkward. Until more recently I had still carried some embarrassment at the lack of money I had growing up, and how completely obvious it must have been to others, but was not always so to me.

Thank god for that.

Arabian Horse Deep In Show Thought
He’s thinking about how nuts his mom is and how he wishes she would stop getting so worked up over a little horse show!

If you (or your parent!) are scraping together the money for lessons and then piecing together a show outfit (for horse and rider) I APPLAUD YOU! This is a tough industry not to have money in. It can feel real awkward at times not having money and trying to participate. But please do not give up. Please do not ever let anyone make you feel like because your boots aren’t brand new, aren’t $1000 Parlanti field boots, or that you don’t have the latest Yucca Flats saddle pad, that you don’t belong.

Did you notice all of those things I just listed are THINGS? That’s right. I didn’t say anything about your riding, your passion, your desire. That’s because money can’t replace those things. If you (or your child) are passionate about riding, about improving, about showing, then find a way to do it and just do it. Maybe don’t show in western pleasure, because those bedazzled jackets are ridiculously expensive. (Can we I just be real for a moment? Most of those jackets are too much. Like QVC bedazzler-on-clearance too much. But I digress)

Still ride. Still show. In spite of what money you don’t have, what fancy tack you lack, in spite of a less-than memorable pedigree. Just ride.

And if you’re willing to work to get better, any trainer worth their weight in golden horse shoes will recognize that and help you. They might not pay your entrance fees, but they will help you in whatever way they can and in the ways they know you need. That may come in the form of lending you needed tack, digging through their old show clothes to find fill-in pieces for your wardrobe or working a deal to get you second hand show boots.

Horse Show Happiness
Who says broke horse girls can’t win ribbons? This is my very first rosette ribbon! Okay, technically it’s still my only one. But I plan to get more.

The equestrian world is filled with lots of people who have lots of money. It’s also filled with people who only have a little money and want to look like they have  lots of money. And then there are the rest of us who have very little extra money and. I once set an alarm for 2am so I could wake up and be the final bidder on an E-Bay auction for pair of Hobby Horse chaps. I won them. I regret nothing. I bragged about my 1/2 priced, used chaps. Please don’t let looks intimidate you. And don’t also begrudge those who have more money. They may be wishing they could trade in their perfect tack for a more natural seat. Everyone has their own path and their own struggle. Mine (and possibly yours) just happens to be lack of funds for an expensive hobby.

So keep up the good work. Keep doing your no-stirrup lessons. Keep an eye out at those used tack sales for the mythical saddle that is worth so much more than what it’s priced at. And if your parents are footing the bill for your crazy horse addiction, make sure you thank them. And go do some extra chores, like putting away the dishes in the dishwasher. And of course thank your trainer! (If you need a refresher on exactly why, see 5 More Reasons To Thank Your Trainer)

And don’t forget to have an AWESOME show season!

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Five Useful Barn Gifts For Under $5 Each

I saw a post last week on one of the horse forums I follow discussing gifts to buy for fellow boarders. I thought it was a great idea, but it could get expensive fast. I like doing nice things for people, but I can’t do Oprah style giveaways on a Jerry Springer budget. And like everyone else this time of year, I’m scrambling for time. So I didn’t want to buy anything that required wrapping or any kind of extra stress.

We're In Good Hands Hand Warmer Barn Gift
We’re in good hands… do you see what I did there? The hand warmers will be in good hands.

So with a little thought I came up with five inexpensive (and useful!) gifts to give your fellow boarders to let them know how much you appreciate them. I mean really, fellow boarders can make or break your barn experience. Certainly my fellow boarders keep a watchful eye on my pony and I return the favor. It’s a satisfying feeling knowing there’s someone at the barn for about 14 hours per day to let you know if anything seems amiss.

Youre The Balm Barn Gift
Pardon my puns.

To get out of the whole wrapping ridiculousness, I came up with adorable (in my opinion, of course I’m biased) little gift tags which I’m sharing with you. Now your gifts can look Pinterest-worthy without the Pinterest time commitment. (Or getting sucked into scrolling for an hour looking for cute ideas. Pinterest is the devil. And I love it!) Just open the PDF, print, cut, and tie to the gift. Voila! Done. Find the PDF here: Fellow Barn Boarder Gift Tags

Useful Barn Gifts Gift Tags

The Five useful barn gifts for under $5 each are:

  1. Hand warmers
  2. Gloves
  3. Scissors
  4. Chapstick
  5. Hoof pick

Hand Picked Especially For You Hoof Pick Barn Gift

I mean really, who couldn’t use an extra set of scissors or hoof pick? I don’t understand where they all go, but they do seem to grow legs and wander off.

Youre A Cut Above The Rest Scissors Barn Gift

Don’t despair if you want to give gifts but don’t have a lot of money or time. A simple gesture with a useful barn item is memorable and thoughtful. Have fun!

All You Need Is Glove Barn Gift

What inexpensive useful gifts do you give?

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Holiday Gift Review & Giveaway

You guys! There are only five weeks left until Christmas. I cannot believe it. Anyway, for a little holiday cheer I am reviewing (and giving away!) the Arctic Horse Tongass rain skirt, the Georgia Horseback Weekender Tote and my favorite earrings to wear in and out of the arena from Adornable.U. Who doesn’t love free stuff? And, hint hint, these little goodies would make excellent gifts.

Before we get to the goods, A little legal stuff. I was not paid by any of the below companies for my reviews. Where I received a free product, I will let you know that, as well as the fate of the free product. It’s important to me that you know this isn’t just an advertisement parading as a heartfelt product review. So now you know!

First up: the Arctic Horse Tongass Rain Skirt

I was so excited to get the chance to try this baby out. I did a full review on the skirt for Northwest Horse Source, which you can read here. What you need to know is that if you’ve ever wanted to ride in a blanket on a cold winter night, or not get soaked during a rainy trail ride, this skirt is for you. I have ridden in rain slickers, chaps, chinks, snow coats and now the rain skirt. The rain skirt wins for warmth and dryness. Now, it’s definitely not going to do the job of chinks or chaps if you are riding through brushy terrain. But if you’re looking to stay dry and warm, then the skirt is perfect.

Artic Horse Tongass Rain Skirt

You might be wondering why you couldn’t just buy a quarter sheet, and you definitely could. But the quarter sheet is made primarily with the horse in mind. Even if you ride with the sheet over your legs, it’s not going to cover very far down your legs, and the waist area is not going to fit you the way the rain skirt does. You can wear the rain skirt over your regular riding clothes and get on with it, using the snaps to keep the skirt out of the way while mounting. Or you can get on your horse and then pull the skirt on and snap it into place. I opted for the latter. I will give you a little word of caution, if you have a sensitive or spooky horse, work with him first to get him used to the feeling of the skirt on his rump. My half-Arab took to it pretty quickly, but I had my doubts at first. There are also leg snaps so you can keep the skirt from flipping up or flapping if the weather is windy or if you’re doing a fast ride. Another important part to keeping your horse spook-free!

So those are the details on the skirt. And what will make you want to part with your money even more, is that these skirts are designed and sewn in the United States. Jen Dushane, the creator and owner, lives in Alaska and each skirt is custom sewn to your specifications in her fair state. I love shopping small businesses, and when they have such a high quality product, the decision is a no-brainer. Shop the Tongass Rain Skirt and any of the other great trail skirts here.

Arctic Horse Tongass Rain Skirt Black
Note how far down the material comes down my leg. Lined with fleece, this sucker is warm. I didn’t want to take it off.

Jen made a custom skirt for me to try, and that was to be the skirt for the giveaway. In between the time I received the skirt and the publishing of this article, Jen discovered a quality flaw with a few sections of stitching and did not want the skirt I received to be given away. So the giveaway skirt will be a custom order through Jen at Arctic Horse. Can you say customer service? That does mean that I was invited to keep the skirt that was made for me. However, my review for Northwest Horse Source and opinion on the product was made before I knew I would be keeping the skirt.

Next Up: Georgia Horseback Weekender Tote

I did receive this bag for free to review. I road tested it and the tote will be awarded to one lucky winner at the end of the month. Don’t worry, I kept it in mint condition for you.

georgia-horseback-equestrian-weekender-tote-close

If you’ve been following my blog for longer than five minutes, you know that I ride western. So this tote was a little outside my wheelhouse. That being said, regardless of the jumping horse depicted on the outside of the bag, this tote is a workhorse. Pun intended. I employed one of my hunt seat friends to help test the bag. We loaded it up with her boots, helmet, gloves, jacket and had room to spare. The material is easy to wipe off and the dark color would easily hide the arena dust that is sure to settle on it. The tote also comes with a zippered removable pouch and a helmet bag. You can even use the metal horse shoe on the outside of the bag as a key clip. I prefer to toss my keys into the cavern of whatever purse I’m using so then I can look for them for 10 minutes when I need to go somewhere. I know how to have a good time.

georgia-horseback-equestrian-weekender-tote
Look how pretty with my gorgeous model!

I think the biggest challenge to the bag is the length of the straps. They aren’t quite long enough to comfortably carry the bag slung over your shoulder. But overall I think this bag would be a welcome addition to any equestrian’s arsenal. There is so much to tote around for horseshows, a bag this size is always helpful. And, similar to Arctic Horse, Georgia Horseback is a woman-run company by Cella Nelson. The bag isn’t made in the USA, but the design and business behind it are. Get yourself the weekender tote right here.

My favorite earrings, by Adornable.U

I did not receive these earrings for free, I purchased them specifically to giveaway to you. Yep, that’s how much I like them. And at only $19 I feel like I can afford that kind of generosity for my loyal readers.

adornable-u-celebrate-earrings-box

These little gems are simple, inexpensive and add a bit of polish to any outfit. I’m not one for the enormous blingy earrings of western pleasure. No offense if you are, it’s just not my style. I’m actually not much of one for lots of bling at all. But I like to wear earrings when I show and I feel like these are tastefully sparkly. They catch the light really well and are comfortable to wear. The earrings are from the company Adornable.U and are the Celebrate April birthstone earrings. I wear these the most out of any of my earrings, at the barn, at work and out on the town (read: the feed store). They are low maintenance and make me feel like I look somewhat put together. If you don’t win them in the giveaway, get your very own here.

adornable-u-celebrate-earrings-in-rodeo-action
Even though my face is shaded, you can still see my hardworking earrings shining brightly as I waited to carry that big, beautiful flag around the arena. PS, yes, I am quite blingy right here, but this is not my usual style. You gotta up your arena game for the 4th of July rodeo.

And, surprise, Adornable.U is also a female-run business for women. Ann Wooten, jewelry designer extraordinaire, established the direct sales company in 2015. I didn’t set out to do a review and giveaway of items all from female entrepreneurs’ businesses, but that’s how it turned out, and I love that!

So about this giveaway…The Rules

There is no purchase necessary. The giveaway will take place on Facebook so you must have a Facebook account and you just need to like and comment on each post related to each giveaway item. Each item will be listed as a separate giveaway post so that way if you aren’t interested in a certain item, you’re not entered to win that item. The Arctic Horse Rain Skirt will be custom made. I will provide the winner’s information to Jen Dushane and she will contact the winner for design specifics. The skirt will then be custom made and take 6-8 weeks to sew and ship. The Georgia Horseback Weekender Tote and the Adornable.U earrings will be shipped by me personally and I will cover the shipping costs (it really is a free giveaway!). You can only enter once for each item. By participating in this giveaway you acknowledge that the promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by Facebook and that you hold Facebook harmless. One winner will randomly be drawn for each item (3 items: 1 skirt, 1 tote, 1 pair of earrings) and announced on Thursday December 1st on the Sass In Boots Facebook page. The drawing will close at 5pm PST on Wednesday November 30. I will PM you via Facebook to obtain your shipping address if you are the winner of the tote or the earrings. If you are the winner of the rain skirt, I will request your email address to provide to Jen Dushane of Arctic Horse. The information you provide to me will not be used for any other purposes. Good luck and THANK YOU for participating and giving these business a look-see.

Did you read all the rules?? You little rebel you! Go on over to my Facebook page and comment and like the free item posts to get entered.

No Stirrup November is No Joke: How It’s Kicking My Ass & Can Kick Yours Too

I’ve never been much of one for trends. I dismissed trends like a hipster before the term hipster even existed. If something was trendy, I would purposefully avoid it. Pretentious? Absolutely. But this little personality quirk of mine saved me from several terrible fads: the flippy mini skirt, wearing (or even owning) ugg boots with said flippy-mini, and zebra-stripe highlights. But the No Stirrups November trend piqued my interest.

After working with my horse so much outside this summer, returning to do circles in the arena (because it’s dark out or pouring down rain or both) has seemed like returning to be chained to a dungeon wall. So I’ve been finding ways to keep it entertaining. Read: not lunging him. Because if I have to stand and watch my horse go around in circles before I get on him and then ride around in circles, I am going to snap.

So I figured I’d give the ol’ no stirrups gig a go. How hard could riding without stirrups be?

If you’ve ever ridden without stirrups you should be laughing at me right now. And calling me a rube.

News flash: It’s not easy!

I don’t ride in any kind of non-western saddle. No dressage, hunt seat or jumping saddles for me. I like a big western cantle for my big western ass. And a well curved pommel and a narrow twist to keep me nicely seated in my western saddle. So I had absolutely no idea what I should be doing when it came to riding without sitrrups.

I called my friend who was raised in a hunt-seat saddle and trained more without stirrups than with. I could feel her mocking me through the phone, “No stirrups November, huh? You know we used to ride without stirrups all the time? Not just for a month.”

“Well I was just going to try it. For entertainment’s sake.”

If you’ve never tried riding without stirrups, I highly recommend it. It’s another way to build up muscles you didn’t know you had. And if you’re an out-of-shape dolt like me, you might even remind yourself of muscles you knew you had but forgot about. Abs? What are Abs? Cue coughing and then flinching because coughing hurts my sore abs.

no-stirrup-november-jello-legs
Work those muscles!

I started out my no-stirrups training at a walk. I worked at keeping my heals down and my pelvis rolled under. Keep in mind, I ride in a western saddle and my whole riding existence is based on keeping my ass back (See my post on Four Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid for more on this). If you ride in a discipline that is more forward, then still keep your heels down, but keep your pelvis in whatever position you would hold if your feet were in those little metal circles we take for granted (stirrups).

I started thinking “This isn’t so bad. No sweat. Why do people give themselves such accolades for riding without stirrups? Pfft. Self important pansies.”

Do you know what’s always a bad idea? To mock other people and think about how superior you are. Oh, you already knew that? It was just me? Okay. Well, whatever.

Then I had Gangster pick up the jog. I think the hunt-seat riders just go right to the posting trot. I don’t know. The jog was a little more difficult. I couldn’t rely on the stirrups to help hold myself together and soften his stride. Not to mention Gangster was doing a little speed variation just to make it more interesting. Alright, so then I got the hang of the jog, I kept myself back, and kept my heels down. Time for the posting trot.

Sweet mother of god. What have I done? No Gangster, slow down! I can’t keep up with that pace! How do I even raise myself up? Squeeze! Push! Back straight! Heels! Heels! What are my heels doing? Down. Keep. Them. Down.

And you know what? All of that bitching and cajoling and general abuse-of-self was only going around the arena ONE TIME. Because my flabby cowgirl abs and thighs couldn’t manage any more than one lap. Shameful.

I’m so sorry for what I said earlier when I thought riding without stirrups was “no sweat.” I knew not the error of my ways.

Ultimately we made our way into a lope. The lope is so much easier than the posting trot without stirrups. I had someone video both my posting trot and my lope, and I realized that my lope without stirrups actually looks better than when I have my feet in the stirrups. Working on equitation, even if I feel silly and out of shape and generally stunted, is definitely helping my seat. And it can help your seat too.

no-stirrup-november-equitation-stills
Have someone video you so you can see where your posture falls short. The top photo is at the lope. Bottom left is the down position and bottom right is the up position of the posting trot. I didn’t share video of myself because I’m trying to maintain a few shreds of dignity here. But it was very helpful for me to review.

Just start out slow. Work with your horse when you know he or she is in a good mood and not flinching and spooking at every leaf on the breeze. The idea is to work on body position, not staying on in case of emergency. Work at a walk until you feel comfortable, using your body to hold your proper riding position, whatever that is for your discipline. Then build up to the jog and trot, especially if you don’t know if your horse has had a rider work without stirrups before. Some sensitive horses may be wary of the different feeling of you posting without stirrups. And I highly suggest practicing your posting trot when no one is around the first time or two. Because if you’re like me, you’re going to feel really silly and like it’s the ugliest posting trot, (is it even a posting trot? Does rising up a mere inch count?). But the point is you have to start somewhere. And everyone is goofy looking and uncoordinated when starting something new. Well, most everyone. There are probably those golden few who have horse riding in their DNA and make the rest of us look like flapping chickens in the saddle. But I digress. The point is you are trying something new! You are building your skills and that takes time and patience with yourself. You’re still far better off for trying.

feeling-awkward-when-trying-something-new
A little inspiration to get you over the fear of feeling awkward.

So good luck with your No Stirrup November, and December, and January. . . . Probably we should just make it a part of our regular training routine. And if you’re a professional no-stirupper, throw us a bone and give us some tips. Also, I’m not responsible for any change in gate due to muscle soreness. Yours, not your horse’s. Eat some bananas and drink lots of water.

Do you follow me on Facebook? Come follow me. I promise it hurts less than the day after riding without stirrups!

no-stirrup-november-to-improve-your-riding
No Stirrup November isn’t just for the hunt seat equestrians. And it can improve your riding and equitation.

5 Tips For Finding Horseback Riding Lessons For Your Child

My brother and his family recently relocated to a new state and my sister-in-law found an equestrian center close to their new home. She wanted to sign my niece up for lessons and asked me what she should look for when seeking out a barn where her daughter could take lessons. I realized this is a topic I get asked about frequently, so wouldn’t you know, I wrote a blog post about it. Go figure. Below are 5 things to consider when looking for horseback riding lessons for your child. Some of the concepts can be applied to seeking lessons for yourself as well, if you’re new to the horse world or just easing back in after some time away (welcome back!).

Finding Horseback Riding Lessons For Children

  1. Figure out what are you looking to accomplish with the lessons. Think about what the goal of this activity is. Is your child relatively inexperienced with horses and just a horse-crazy grade-schooler looking to spend time with horses? Or did your son or daughter see National Velvet and decide he or she wanted to become an Olympic level jumper and has been jumping their stick horse over every downed log they see? Anyone entering lessons should start with the confidence building, when the horses are easy going and reliable and the riding is nothing but fun. However, a trainer who doesn’t venture further than local shows isn’t necessarily going to be the trainer who can help your little rider progress to their Olympic level aspirations (if that’s the case). That’s okay, as long as you are comfortable making the switch in trainers later when your child’s skills have reached the maximum of what the trainer can instill.
  2. Ask the trainer if he or she has worked with kids before, and down to what age and for how long. Children are not just miniature versions of adult equestrians. They are still developing their prefrontal cortex, they have short attention spans and sometimes make terrible decisions. It’s not their fault, they are still learning about the world around them, even into their teen years. A trainer who hasn’t worked much with kids or generally isn’t comfortable with children, is not going to be a good fit as a trainer of your child. They are going to try to apply their training methods that work on adults to children and that is not necessarily an effective teaching strategy. Learning to ride horses is not just about learning the buttons to push on the horse and how to hold one’s body. It’s also about making good decisions when there are other horses and obstacles to consider. A trainer who works well with children has a heightened awareness for the safety horses and riders. An unseasoned trainer may forget to advise the peewee riders about not cutting off other horses or tailgating fellow riders.
  3. Ask the trainer how much they have trained in dressage or jumping or western pleasure or whatever discipline you think you (or your child) are interested in. While there are definitely some basic horsemanship skills that any trainer should be able to impart on their pupils, as you go further and further down the rabbit hole of a specific discipline, there becomes greater and greater minutiae to learn. A trainer who specializes in a particular discipline is going to be able to offer more coaching around all the minutiae of that specific discipline. The hope is that you find a trainer you can stick with for several years. Finding a trainer you can stick with for several years will lend itself to building your riders confidence as well, students become more comfortable with their trainers, to the point of really having an extended barn family. That extended barn family takes time to cultivate, time that can’t be made up if you switch trainers every year or every other year. This ABSOLUTELY applies to adult learners as well!
  4. Once you’ve established where to take lessons, show up to the facility early so you can see lessons being given to other students. There is a trainer I used to see come and go who shouted at her students. I thought she was rude. I believe she thought she was firm and impactful. Either way, what matters is what teaching style you are comfortable with. If you think your child will excel under pressure, then the shouter might be just the right fit. For me, riding and learning new skills atop a 1000 pound animal is already a stressful endeavor, I don’t see the point in making it more stressful with someone shouting directions and criticism at me. (Of course my current trainer’s occasional “Sit your ass back,” admonishment notwithstanding, which I talked about here.)
  5. Accept that horse trainers are not your typical business owners. Their hours do not fall between 9am to 5pm Monday through Friday. Regardless of when your lessons may be scheduled, they work a number of hours outside of giving lessons. They work to train new horses up, they manage websites and show entries and farm equipment and tasks related to horse care like vet visits, farrier visits, hauling hay, barn repair…. I can keep going, but I think you get the picture. The rigidity or fluidity of scheduled lessons will depend on the trainer, but don’t be surprised if the lesson starts a little late or runs a little long. Or even runs a little short. There may be days in which the trainer knows they are pushing the limits of what your rider (or you) can achieve. On those days, it’s better to relieve horse and rider on a high note rather than drilling a maneuver just to get to the 60 minute mark of the lesson. Conversely, there have been days where I’ve had a two hour lesson. I know that flexibility can sometimes be difficult to manage as a parent running from one activity to another, but that’s why I’m giving you the heads up. Everyone will be a lot happier if you can be flexible with the timing of lessons.

Child Horseback Riding Lesson

Do you have any tips as a trainer you wish people would consider when looking for a trainer? Or perhaps live and learn experiences you had as a parent finding lessons for your child, or even for yourself? Whoever you find, whatever the discipline, best of luck, and I hope it continues to be a source of joy. Horseback riding has been one of my longest and most rewarding loves.

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Finding Horseback Riding Lessons For Your Child

How To Tell If A Horse Sale Ad Is Actually Full Of Horse Shit

I like looking at horses for sale, I like to see what’s out there and I like to see the differences in prices and breeds by the different regions. After a while of looking at so many ads, I have to tell you, I feel like someone should write a Horse Buying For Dummies book, because you almost need an advanced degree in wading through horse shit to correctly interpret the advertisements. This is not to say that everyone lies when selling a horse, or that every ad is a misrepresentation. However, people with a horse for sale have a singular goal: selling the horse*. For that reason, the horses are represented in the shiniest and most perfect light possible, no matter that the photo may be 2 years old. Allow me to put a little more realistic spin on some of the things you might see in horse ads, saving you some time, and saving you some heartache from falling for the “perfect” horse, only to discover in person he’s a total train wreck.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Not Drugged
(He was heavily drugged this day, it was teeth and sheath day!)

First off, every horse, in practically every single ad is a bomb proof/kid safe/husband horse. How dead-broke a horse is lies on a spectrum and relies heavily on a person’s experience and perception. Some hell-bent-for-leather cow hand may consider a horse bomb-proof and husband safe because the horse will go all day and only gives the occasional crow-up to let you know he’s tired of working. But unless your husband has the same level of grit and laissez-faire attitude, a horse with an occasional crow hop during every ride is not going to work for him. And that kid safe horse? Take a long hard look at the photos, is the kid just sitting there? Is an adult leading the horse around? Is the child a passive passenger as the adult commands the horse? If the answer is yes to any of the above questions, that’s not really a kids horse. That’s a horse that doesn’t mind kids. A horse that packs around a 40 pound passenger without complaint while an adult leads, does not a kids horse make. You need to see photos and videos of an actual tiny human directing the horse’s actions, walking, trotting, turning, with zero assistance from a regular sized human. That’s a kids horse.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Witchy

Oh yes, and there is the occasional ad in which the owner admits that the horse does have a little spook, a little trouble with running (but of course he can be stopped really quickly and comes right back to you). Please interpret those admissions as a downplaying of the full-on one mile bolt the that rivaled Exaggerator’s win at the Preakness. I hope if you’re exploring such a horse you have your jockey skills polished up and have a big saddle horn to hold on to. And wear a helmet. And an eventing vest. And have good health insurance. Or just keep looking.

Some ads boast about how the horse bathes/Loads/Clips and has no bite/buck/bolt. Unless they are talking about a green horse, or an un-broke horse, these things should be a given on a broke horse. And if the ad really only lists those things and not much else, just. Keep. Scrolling. It likely means the horse doesn’t have much else going for it. Okay, let me say that with a caveat. If you are looking for a project horse, a horse to train yourself, a horse that hasn’t had the miles and time put into it, then definitely look for the well-priced sweet horse that has these basic tenants of respect down. But if you actually are looking for the bomb proof/kid safe/husband horse, this is not that horse. It’s just not. The ad would be telling you all about the rodeos the horse has been to, the mountains they’ve camped, and a moose the horse fended off. Not just that it can be bathed and clipped and won’t immediately toss your ass off.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Play Dead

If there are all kinds of stipulations on the ad, if it says just putting feelers out there, not sure… steer clear. Buying a horse can be a long drawn out exercise in patience. Don’t make it harder on yourself by engaging with sellers who may not be ready to sell. These people can be identified by their high priced but average horse. They can also be sussed out by the stipulations they put on getting to see the horse, how to manage its care, what you can do with it.  If I sold my horse tomorrow, I sure as heck wouldn’t want him to be barrel raced on, I think it would fry his little anxious mind. But the fact is, I would have zero control over what the would-be next owners, or the owners after that, choose to do with him after the check has cleared.

But owners who request the first option to buy back should be regarded with respect. This is a sign that the owners know the horse has value and want to make sure he or she has a safe retirement and doesn’t make a mysterious descent into the auction world and head south on a meat truck for a Mexican slaughterhouse. Sorry, that got dark quick. But it is a real possibility.

Like I said, the horses in the ads always sound like a dream but are a little less sparkly in person. If you’re new to horses, I highly suggest you work with someone who isn’t. Work with someone who doesn’t benefit by you purchasing a horse. The same way a saleswoman is going to tell you every single piece of clothing you put on in the store looks “Amazing, brilliant, simply ravishing” because she wants to make a sale, anyone who is benefitting from you buying a horse can’t be trusted. This includes any horse-crazy children you may have who might tug on your sleeve while looking at said dream-horse and whisper sweet nothings in your ear about how he or she will clean the stall and groom the horse and make sure it’s always cared for. Every. Single. Day. Let me give you a spoiler alert that you probably should have seen coming, at some point you’re going to clean that stall, have to call the vet, or arrange other types of care.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Self Aware

If you really are looking for a non-fancy, unflappable trail friend, a good horse for your kids to play on and build their confidence, I think you should look for an ugly old plug that’s been with its people for a while. People will keep a pretty looking palomino that’s a jerk to ride whereas they won’t hold onto a jug-headed long-back that’s ugly as sin and is hell to ride. Well how the hell do you know if you’re getting the sweet jug-head or the jerk? That’s where you find out how long the owners have had the horse. If they’ve had it for several years (longer than three) that’s a good sign. Look for people who are selling because of a change in lifestyle (divorce, selling property, kid went off to college) instead of just because they need to focus on their other horses. If they’re focusing on their other horses, it means the one they have up for sale is the least talented and shows the least potential of the pack. That’s not a good sign for you. Again, unless you’re looking for a project horse, otherwise, keep moving.

Horse Sale Ad Lies Non Mareish

Oh, and one last thing, a mare is a mare is a mare. At some point, she’s going to have an off day. Maybe several off-days in a row. She’s a mare. She’s going to act mare-ish at some point. It’s statistically improbable that the number of ads that claim a horse is non-mare-ish are actually accurate. They’re biologically engineered to have an attitude. It’s just gives them personality!

*Except for those people I mentioned who aren’t ready to sell yet and have all sorts of requirements for the sale of their horse and ongoing care.

Good luck horse hunting! Please share your horror stories, and follow me on Facebook so you never miss a mediocre post or the occasional gem!

How to decipher horse sale ads

Three Ways To Help You Ride Through Fear

I’ve been thinking a lot about fear lately. I read a post by Lauren Mauldin who writes a blog called She Moved To Texas and she was talking about the trust bank, a term I’d never heard before, and it resonated with me. The idea behind the trust bank is that for every positive ride you have with your equine partner, you make a deposit in the bank. But every ride that goes awry, gets a little hinky (or a lot hinky) erodes your trust in yourself and your mount. If you have too many of these rides you deplete the trust bank. You can read more about her thoughts on it here.

I think fear is an intriguing emotion. I know that the chemicals released during fear are cortisol and adrenaline for a flight or fight response. The chemical release is caused by our brains, but it seems like in this age, our brains should have advanced in what actually triggers a fear response. At one time someone told me that fear and excitement are the same thing just with different names. I get the sentiment, but excitement has an element of positive anticipation and subsequently the associated positive hormones like dopamine and endorphins.

When I Googled “how to get over fear when riding” a website came up that was about phobia of horses. Horse people do not have a phobia of horses. The horse people I know who struggle with fear (myself included) struggle with little bubbles of fear that float up here and there. There isn’t a constant pumping of terror from the entire experience. My little bubbles of fear typically float to the top when I am working at speed, not necessarily just at a lope, but when I’m pushing for a faster lope and into a gallop. Anytime the wind is pushing my hair back my mind starts thinking about all the things that could go wrong. That’s not exactly the most productive thing to do with my brain.

I would say 95% of my riding anxiety is centered around loping. I avoid loping horses unfamiliar to me. But I don’t feel that I dislike loping, or that I’m afraid of loping, per se. It’s that I’m afraid of not being able to stop the lope, that my horse will spook or buck at the lope and separate me from the saddle in an aerial dismount. Some people might shake their heads at this and call me a weenie or say I should just get over it. That’s fine if that’s their opinion, but I think there are a lot more people out there who struggle with pockets of fear in their riding than we realize. Quite possibly because they are afraid if they admit their fear they’d be called a weenie.

quote on getting hurt in horseback riding

To me, having little flashes of caution seems like a reasonable emotion to pop up every now and then. We ride animals that are around 1000 pounds with minds of their own and agendas of their own. Occasionally things are going to go wrong. And you hope they don’t go so wrong that you get hurt. I recently wrote an article for Northwest Horse Source which you can find here about traumatic brain injuries in equestrians and trialed a new western helmet. In looking at the research around equestrians and the prevalence of traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), there shouldn’t be any doubt as to why we have occasional fear. We engage in an activity that accounts for 45.2% of TBIs among adults. (ABCnews.com article reviewing study of TBIs published by the journal Neurological Focus)

The idea of the trust bank really put into words something that I had come to know inherently: when I have several good rides with my horse, I feel more confident in my abilities as well as in his willingness to mind me. But the trust bank is a concept that allows for the idea that if you’re writing a trust-bank check that’s about to bounce, you should back off and work on tasks that build the trust back up. Previously when I had a bad ride or when Gangster was being squirrely, I would feel guilty if I didn’t lope him. But that’s part of the idea of the trust bank: if you’re feeling less than confident, build the bank balance back up with things you know you can do well, and leave the harder stuff for another day. A day perhaps when you and your horse are in a better place. Just make sure that day isn’t 6 months down the road. You shouldn’t avoid the hard stuff long term.

What’s the other 5% of my riding anxiety? That other 5% is when G and I are navigating trail obstacles. Gangster is a little insecure when it comes to trail work and he tends to have dramatic reactions to silly little things on the trail (or the trail facsimile if we are working at a mountain trail show). The little spooks and startles and snorts jack up my anxiety, which causes a negative feedback loop for the two of us: He spooks, I get more stiff and anxious, he feels my anxiety and gets more stiff and reactive himself. My job during trail riding is to breathe deeply and work at being confident enough for the both of us, to be the leader.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jenifer De Vault, a licensed professional counselor, about fear as it pertains to riding. Before we got started talking about how to work through the fear, she mused about the fact that possibly part of the challenge in riding is the reconciliation that must happen of a strong-willed and commanding person to allow themselves to be a little vulnerable and trust in their horse. I thought that was a pretty interesting observation, I mean truthfully, I can’t say that I know any meek horse women.

So what can we do to help ourselves ride through the bubbles of fear and continue to grow, in both our trust and abilities?

I combined Jennifer’s counseling recommendations with my equine knowledge and came up with the below three tips.

Tips For Riding Through Fear

Accept that you are not in absolute control. I think Jennifer’s thought about riders allowing themselves to be vulnerable is an important point to recognize and consider. There is vulnerability in what we do, we slip a leg over the saddle and give our horse’s their head and put ourselves in the way of both a beautiful and potentially injurious experience. Not to say we don’t have some control and influence over what’s happening, we are not helpless, but we do have to accept that there is a lack of total control.

Acknowledge the fear. Jennifer advises to really acknowledge the feelings of anxiety rather than trying to ignore that stress in the body. Note the way it makes you feel physically and why. Using my loping as an example, stopping my lope, and thinking about the way I’m feeling (stomach ache, intrusive negative thoughts about what could go wrong). I can acknowledge those feelings and sensations, and then get back to work, knowing that the feelings won’t necessarily go away but that they can be part of our work and not derail our riding.

Shut down the ticker tape of negativity. Sometimes our anxiety and fear is all in our head. Or rather, it starts in our head and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Horses do not anticipate spooking at a wheelbarrow parked in a new spot, a tractor or even a pile of garbage. But people do. And when you start thinking that your horse might spook at that wheelbarrow, you make subtle but distinctive changes in your riding position, stiff, more forward, your breathing may get shallower, you may be looking directly at what you’re anticipating your horse is going to spook at. So let’s take stock: You stiffened your body, your breathing got shallow, you’re eyeing this piece of equipment that’s in a new spot. You’re all but telling your horse he should be alarmed by this new item. So, go back to the beginning, stop the negative internal dialog about the wheelbarrow/tractor/pile of garbage and if you need a mantra to chat rather than repeatedly thinking “he’s going to spook at that, he’s going to spook at that.” Think “we are safe and I trust my horse.” Because you are safe. Nothing has happened, a wheelbarrow is just in a new spot. Take a deep breath, roll your shoulders back, sit on your pockets, and relax your legs. Make an audible sigh, tell your horse what a good boy he is. The same cues that gear your horse up for a spook, can also tell your horse you feel safe and relaxed and happy and he should too.

Riding is such a freeing activity that I hate to see anyone encumbered by doubts or worry or fear. If even one person can take the pieces I’ve come to learn, and the advice that Jennifer De Vault shared, and make it work to their advantage, I’d be happy to help. I’d be happy to be called a weenie by admitting I have pockets of fear, if that means someone else feels a little less embarrassed by their own bubbles of fear.

What are some of the fears you have worked through, and what helped you through them?

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Ways To Ride Through Fear

To Improve in Horseback Riding, Take Progress Over Perfection

Remember that post I wrote in March discussing the value of showing and that my satisfaction must come from progress not ribbons?

Yeah, that advice is crap. A big steaming pile of horse manure. Not because it isn’t true, but because it’s damn hard to recall and abide by in the stress of the moment. I was a little distracted going into the breed show a few weekends ago because of the death of my sweet German Shepherd. Connor’s death had taken over my brain and heart I wasn’t in show mode whatsoever. But going into the show I was happy with the progress Gangster and I had already made in training. Our lead changes were smoother than ever, I was riding faster in my circles and comfortable with the speed. We were starting to get the anatomy of a slide down and I was feeling good about how far we’d come since the same time last year. But we had to take those improving skills and put them to the test in the show ring.

The first night of the show we just had one go, and while it wasn’t a spectacular display, it was pretty good for my first go of the show, and really only my second go of the year showing in reining. I scored a 65 for my reining pattern and was thrilled I didn’t get a zero or majorly mess up any part of the pattern.

Then came Saturday.

My first go of the day, at the very start of the pattern, I turned too many times in my spins and got a zero. And then my run downs weren’t very good. At least on Friday they were okay. Saturday morning they were looking like a lazy trot down to a halt because I couldn’t get out of grandma gear. If you aren’t approaching a stop with any acceleration, there’s no way you’re going to get your horse to drag his ass. I was disappointed.

My eternally optimistic trainer said it was okay, that I’d get another chance to do better that night. So I went back out there Saturday night just hoping to do better than a zero. For this pattern the spins were at the end, so I was feeling pretty good about the pattern, though my stops still sucked. I knew they sucked. I could feel how sucky they were. I was the one in the saddle feeling that jabby-stabby jolting of his front legs hitting the ground. And then came the last component of the pattern, the spins. My amazing horse planted his rear hoof, dug a hole and off we went into our spins. Going into the second to last spin, I felt the terrible and unstoppable sensation of my upper body tilting outward due to the centrifugal force of the spin. I couldn’t keep going. I put my left hand out on his neck and pushed myself back at the same time pausing him mid-spin. I got myself back and spurred him back into our last spin. Like an optimistic idiot I hoped maybe the judge hadn’t seen my hand on Gangster’s neck, and that maybe I kept his feet moving enough that it wouldn’t count as a stop. (Both things you cannot do in a pattern and will get you a score of zero.) I nodded to the judge signaling the end of our go and walked out of the arena, listening for my score. Score of zero. He did see. Of course he saw. I’m the only rider in the arena, not like he got distracted for a moment by a really naughty horse. I was so disappointed, and then pissed and then sad. My trainer talked to me for a few minutes about what I did well.

“I can’t believe I had to grab his neck.”

“Yeah, but that’s because your spins were so fast. You’ve never gone that fast.”

Me looking sad and dejected.

My trainer undeterred, “And you did the right thing by stopping him and getting yourself back. We could be brushing dirt off your hat right now if you didn’t stop and you ended up coming off.”

He talked to me more about my stops, and that I need to go faster. Nothing I don’t know. I just don’t know how to make that happen, other than TO GO FASTER. I have a mental hang-up with accelerating in our run downs. Well, actually I have like 1000 mental hang ups, but I’m just talking about this one right here.

My trainer wandered away and my husband and I stood around and talked about my go for a bit. And then I cried a little. I hate crying. I especially hate crying in public where people might see me expressing an emotion other than sarcasm or irritation.

In that moment, I could not reward myself for doing my best, for pushing myself to do faster spins than we’ve ever done. I couldn’t appreciate all that I had done right. I couldn’t appreciate the progress we were making. I could only think of what I had done wrong and how bad I felt for doing those things wrong.

Arabian Reining Horse Spin with cross over
How could I not feel proud of our efforts? This is by far my favorite photo from the weekend, look at that cross-over in his spin. Photo courtesy of Chris T. Sloan. (Don’t mind my cluck face, ha ha)

I’m working on a blog post focused on riding through fear. For help with that piece I talked with Jennifer De Vault, a licensed professional counselor. During our conversation about fear we touched on some other topics. She mentioned that competitors should determine what their expectations are for the experience are before they enter the ring.

I had set my expectations long before the competition. I said I would be happy with progress. I even pinned several really chic and inspiring quotes about progress being more important than perfection on my Pinterest board. But then right before my second go of the day, I said I was just trying not to get a zero. I uttered my own self-defeating thought immediately before I was supposed to go out and succeed. When Jennifer pointed this out it made me think back to an article written by Carey Cathey in which he discusses creating positive mental images of what you want to achieve, focusing on what you want to happen instead of what you don’t want to happen. I didn’t follow his advice when I said I was trying just not to get a zero. I did exactly what he said we shouldn’t do, and I got exactly the results he said I would.

I’m better than I have been when it comes to riding and showing and not beating myself up, but there is a lifetime left of learning. Really, trainers wouldn’t be able to have a career out of what they do if we all listened and put into practice what they told us the first time they gave us their advice. And while I’m sure there’s a spectrum of learners, I suspect I’m one of those bull headed clients who they have to beat about the head to get me to internalize their teachings.

Arabian Reining Horse end of show
I am always thankful for Gangster’s efforts and patience. Photo courtesy of Chris T. Sloan.

So my advice still stands. Push yourself, push your riding. Use showing to push your riding to the next level. Expect progress but not perfection from yourself and your horse. Congratulate yourself for what you did well. Allow your challenges to be the guide light for where you need to devote time and training. Don’t harp on yourself about where you are challenged. Of course I’m telling you this knowing that it takes deliberate and repeated reminders to get it to stick. Especially if you have a thick, stubborn soul like me. So feel free to remind me, and come back and read these words as many times as you need to remind yourself that your progress, however gradual, is still far more important than any score, ribbon or adoration.

Oh, and I supposed I should mention that on Sunday, when I was exhausted and sad about the day before and just wanted to go out and ride my pattern well, do what I knew we could do well, we scored our highest reining score yet (a 68) and won a reserve champion ribbon in one class and a third place ribbon in the other. I was thrilled to end the show on such a positive note and have to believe that my mindset of wanting to do what I knew we could do well, positively influenced our runs.

Best of luck to you in all of your riding goals, and if there are things that have helped you internalize this lesson, by all means, help a cowgirl out!

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A good friend of mine filmed our Friday night go… you can watch it here. The music is not original to the show, just a little extra flair.

 

 

Improve Horseback Riding By Focusing On Progress
Improve Horseback Riding By Focusing On Progress

Five Things No One Tells You About The Cost of Owning a Horse

For some reason society believes that people who have horses are wealthy. I can assure you, for the majority of us, owning a horse is exactly the reason we have no money. You could argue that equestrians must have more disposable income than the average person and that’s how they afford such a hobby. But then I would count off for you the number of people I know who have complicated arrangements exchanging manual labor, or horse rides or expertise of some kind, for board or feed or care. I believe I mapped out a horse-owning budget before diving headlong into horse ownership, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it looked like. Whatever it was, there’s no way it really prepared me for the road ahead. And I definitely don’t remember being advised about the below five costs associated with owning a horse.

Five things no one tells you about the cost of owning a horse and hidden costs

I wouldn’t trade my pony in for greater financial stability, and I’ve done pretty well to make it work. Only had a few times where my credit card had to make it work. But here are some thoughts I have about owning a horse and the cost. There are plenty of articles on all of the things to consider and budget for, these are the thoughts you can’t find in such an article, or at least I never did. Plus I’m pretty sure I never read any articles about financially preparing to own a horse, because I was going to do it come hell or high water. Don’t be like me.

  1. Don’t ask don’t tell is the best policy when it comes to the cost of purchasing a horse. If you’re not a horse person, the price is always going to seem way too high. If you are a horse person, you’re going to be thinking many things. Possibly evil things, like: that was too much for that old cow; that was a steal, she must be lying; or she can’t afford another one! That last one may have been from the husband. If you are new to horses and asking because you want to know what you should plan to pay, a better question to ask would be “what should I budget for a similar prospect?” And if you are new to the horse buying experience, remember to negotiate the price, it is negotiable. Everything is negotiable. Well, except vet bills. Those are as sure as death and taxes. If you need some insider advice on wading through all of the ads for magical-unicorns (they can’t all be that great of horses) check out my blog post on how to tell if a horse sale ad is actually full of horse shit!
  2. Buying the horse is the slash to the wallet, but the rest of horse ownership is a slow bleed that you never quite get a handle on. God help you if you (or your child, or your spouse, or all of you) want to show. I’m a big believer in showing, at whatever level you’re comfortable, because of how it pushes your boundaries and pushes you to become a better rider. (I talk about that here). But the cost to show seems to increase at an alarming rate and doesn’t have an end. When I bought my horse my trainer said, “Yeah, there’s always something to buy.” I thought he was joking and I’d get to a place where I didn’t need anything else. I was wrong. He was right. There is no end. There is always a new blanket, a new saddle pad, a new show shirt, show fees, training fees, hauling fees. If you are new to horse showing, I recommend starting at small open shows. The show fees are less, you can work out your nerves, and you can generally show without chaps and fancy show shirts.
  3. You own a horse! Yay you! Now, unless your horse is one of those blessed 20 year old nags that does exactly as she’s told every time and is less flappable than Eeyore, you should consider taking lessons. “But I know how to ride!” I’m sure you’re thinking. I know because I felt similarly. But does your horse understand everything you’re asking of him? Are you having behavioral issues with your horse? Lessons aren’t just for jodhpur-wearing, velvet helmet-donning hunt seat riders looking to be in the ribbons. Lessons from an accomplished trainer can help you foster a better relationship with your horse. They can give you skills to cope with those bad days when your horse is acting like, well, an asshole. They can help you become a better horsewoman (or horseman). But they cost money. The good ones aren’t cheap and the cheap ones aren’t good. I know lessons are another expense, one that seems like you might not need, but what really is the point of having an incredibly talented/beautiful/athletic horse if you aren’t able to work together as a team? If you’re not able to feel comfortable riding? To tide you over until you can really swing the cost of lessons, check out Four Rookie Riding Mistakes To Avoid.
  4. Whatever you budgeted for horse ownership, throw in another couple thousand per year, it always costs more than you planned. Horses are not inanimate objects which can be enjoyed and then left alone. They are like devil-toddlers who entertain themselves in ways that prove to be dangerous. Entertainment that can lead to a vet bill. Vet bills that range from “No new show clothes or boots for a while,” all the way up to “Sorry honey, we need to mortgage the house.” Even the planned maintenance costs can throw in a twist every now and then. Take for example, horse shoes. You anticipate a farrier visit and new shoes every 6 to 8 weeks. Then one day you come out and your stupid horse threw its stupid shoe and now you have to pay for an extra visit by the farrier to fix the dang thing. Hopefully you found the shoe, or you’re paying for a new shoe as well. And please, for the love of sound horses, don’t ride the horse with only three shoes thinking “How big of a difference could a couple centimeters make in unevenness between legs?” Horses are like the Princess & the Pea. They’ll know the difference, and they will come up lame a couple days later, and then you’ll be venturing down a road of expenses dedicated to lameness. Which is just lame.

    Arabian Horseplay
    I tried to explain that such horseplay is what causes the loss of a shoe. He remained unmoved by my pleading to stop.
  5. You’ve recovered from the financial upheaval of purchasing a horse and now you’re ready to go on a vacation. Away from the barn. Maybe even outside of the state. If you’ve never had pets, or had a low maintenance pet like a fish, or a cat, you might not have thought about finding someone to take care of your horse or horses while you’re gone. If you’re at a boarding facility this is so much easier, you can pay the boarding facility for the extra care (feeding, cleaning the stall, exercising or turning out your horse). I prefer to employ the industrious teenager of the barn who is looking for some extra cash. If you live on property, hopefully you have a trusted friend or family member to look after the homestead in your absence. If not, see if you can find the industrious teen I speak of. Either way you go, you’re paying for someone to take care of your equine buddy. One more cost I’m sure wasn’t in my unrealistic budget.

Regardless of the cost, horse lovers will defend the expense of horse ownership until the death. Being lucky enough to own a horse, I can tell you that I’ve never found a more fulfilling or rewarding hobby that made me happy and lowered my stress. (Aside from the days where my horse was being a jerk and I needed the lessons I spoke of in #3). It’s worth the cost, and there are ways to make it more or less expensive for yourself (skip the shows if you’re strapped for cash).

If you really are considering making the plunge, you might think about leasing a horse first. Leasing is more like easing into the shallow end of the pool and working with water wings on as opposed to diving head first into the deep end. Although I’m not one to talk, as I dove all in from the start. The Horse magazine online has a good article on the cost of owning a horse and links to a helpful worksheet on planning for the cost of owning a horse here. Though you should do your own local investigating on the cost of hay and boarding, etc. as these costs can vary greatly between different regions.

Good luck and ride on!

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5 hidden costs of horse ownership