I can’t let Thanksgiving slide by without sharing my own gratitude. Of course I’m incredibly thankful for my funny dogs, lovely husband, and my awesome Half-Arabian gelding. I feel so thankful I’m in the position to own a horse and have the option to ride anytime I want. Lately though, I have been seeing a lot of memes making fun of non-horse owners wanting to ride someone else’s horse. They really irritated me. They’re snobby and exclusive. Equestrians already have that reputation, we don’t need to further the notion.
Had I not had the experiences with horses that I did, I might not be the horsewoman I am today. I might not even own a horse. I was supported throughout my life by people willing to give me a horse fix. When I was little my mom worked at a hunter-jumper stable and set me on the owner’s pony while she cleaned stalls. In middle school I cleaned stalls and helped wrangle for children’s summer camps in order to ride for free. As a teenager at my friend’s boarding facility, one of the owners let us play around with her green broke Arabian. (One of only 2 times I’ve ever come off a horse, and I’d like to keep it that way.)
All of these people were willing to share their horses with me, were willing to share some of their knowledge and their way of life with me, even though I didn’t have anything to offer in return. My payment was appreciation and some manual labor.
The horse industry constantly talks about the challenges to our passion: urban growth consuming natural land, decreasing farm and ranch operations, and an expensive hobby that can be difficult to break into as a novice. In order for our western heritage, our shared history and rapport with animals to live on, there must be people to appreciate it. If the only people participating and enjoying horses, ranching and farm life are an exclusive set of people who choose not to invite outsiders in for a look around, the future of the horse industry looks dim.
I recently invited my friends with small children for a couple hours of pony rides. I had the idea rolling around in my head for a while, but the repeated posting of the judgmental memes pissed me off and pushed me into action. The very horse I own, I own because the trainers were kind enough to share their good fortune of horse ownership with my husband and me. They let us ride their expertly trained, nationally winning horses. My husband rode an 11 time Arabian Hunter Pleasure Grand Champion (not to mention his 4 reserve championships). I wrote about their generosity with their horses and expertise here. An hour in the saddle by a beginner is not going to ruin a professional show horse. My own horse was in the top 5 of reining open at only his second show. These horses demonstrate the magic of horse ownership: that they can go from high-octane show contenders to ambassadors of their breed for beginning riders.
The pony rides were a hit. Not one child had any fear. My reining horse, who can do spins and sliding stops and lead changes, dropped his head and plodded around the arena like an old plow horse. Both toddlers were so comfortable that they kept letting go of the saddle horn. The future of the horse industry depends on our ability to share our world, our blessings, with future generations.
Of course there are challenges in incorporating newbies, maybe you don’t have a horse that likes children or is too hot for the inexperienced. I just hope we do what we can to invite beginners to share in the magic of horses. Even the Arabian Horse Association recognizes this challenge and has the Discovery Farm Program. You can find a farm or training facility in your area that welcomes newcomers to visit and learn about the breed and the industry. Learn more here
I hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving and share your own blessings. Also, go ride a horse.