Monday, June 9, 2014

Caveat Emptor

*Due to a lovely opportunity to have my writing published in the local newspaper, I have badly neglected my little blog.  However, like a fickle girlfriend, now that the more glamorous option seems to have run its course I have returned to "Ole Reliable".   Please continue to follow, I will continue to write (if a little sporadically) and feel free to share.  Thank you for your loyalty, it was greater than mine.*

 Although my livelihood depends on horses; teaching people to ride them, training them and boarding them, when people me if they should buy a horse I nearly always answer, “No.”.  Horse ownership is not for the faint of heart, small of bank account or possessor of little knowledge.

Should someone take riding lessons?  Definitely.  Should an experienced rider consider leasing a horse?  Probably.  It’s my personal opinion that buying a horse should be akin to obtaining a driver's license.  There should be classes, a required number of hours of practice and a test with the possible addition of a background check and mental capacity testing.

These restrictions would reduce the number of horses resold when they didn’t work out or the owner lost interest.  There are adoption facilities filled to the rafters with horses that people could no longer afford and horses that were mistreated or neglected by ignorant owners.  I suspect that most of those horses would not be there if the previous owners had done more research before buying a horse.

The relationship you can develop with a horse of your own is like no other.  The horse is completely dependant on you for survival but at the same time, can take you out if it feels you are not fulfilling that obligation.  Meaning, a horse needs a leader that it trusts and respects and if it doesn’t have that trust and respect it will set about saving its own skin.  That’s when people get hurt and horses are labeled “bad”.

Not only can a horse’s compliance deteriorate but it’s health will rapidly decline due to mishandling.  The declaration “healthy as a horse” is a precarious one at best.  Horses have delicate digestive systems and a propensity for finding something to poke in their eyes, twist a leg on or get caught in.  There is a horse I know who has a big ugly scar on one leg from getting tangled in a boat trailer.  First of all, horses should not have access to boat trailers, and second, despite having many other choices of places it could be, the horse ended up with a leg caught in a boat trailer.  How or why is of no consequence.  It is a horse.  There was an opportunity.  

The worst mistake, by a landslide, is buying a young horse for a young person so they can “grow and learn together.”  If ever existed a recipe for disaster, that one is top of the list.  Sometimes the pairing works out - but rarely.  If it does work, it’s usually due to the assistance of professionals and miracles.  

Somebody in the relationship needs to know what to do, so a young horse with an experienced owner or an inexperienced owner with an aged been there, done that horse generally work out fine.  Regardless of horse or rider education levels, there should be a professional trainer or instructor involved.  Even riders who compete in the Olympic games have coaches.  No one is immune from needing help.

My plan is not to (entirely) discourage everyone from ever owning a horse, but to forewarn and educate those who are ready to make the commitment.  If you do  decide to buy a horse, take a professional along during trials, take lessons, read books, watch videos, ask questions, consult veterinarians and farriers.  

Horse ownership can be fulfilling and rewarding if you decide to make the commitment.  Your relationship with your horse can enrich your life as you learn to be aware of your body language, stay calm in intense situations and exhibit leadership.  Buck Brannaman, a world-renowned horseman and author, says that your horse is a mirror to your soul, and to what is going on in your life.  Which means you may not always like what you see, but that doesn’t mean you throw away the mirror and go out and get a new one.  A horse can teach you to be a better person.

Maybe my first reaction is hasty.  Maybe instead of saying, “No.”, when people ask me if they should get  a horse, I should say “Not yet.”     I would say, take some time to educate yourself and then examine your motives.  If, after some lessons and studying, your reason for owning a horse has gone beyond “Because they’re so pretty!”, then certainly you can prepare for that life-altering experience.