Are you interested in learning to ride? Great! You’re about to embark on a wonderful new adventure. However, I want to issue one word of wisdom. Do not even think about buying a horse right away. All too often, people think they need to own a horse to learn to ride, but you’re much better off putting your money into the learning process and spending it on the horse when you are good and ready. Also note that the cost of horse ownership is considerably more then one will ever expect. You need to factor the cost of a farrier, vet bills, board, feed, emergency expenses and potentially a trailer if you want to be mobile.
All too often, people buy a horse without knowing anything about horses. They buy a saddle (which may or may not fit), hop on and think that they will be able to ride off into the sunset. When they fall off, they begin to believe that they got a lemon of a horse, and take little responsibility for their own actions.
My advice is to take at least 1 year of lessons. Before buying a horse, your minimum skill set should include Walk, trot, canter, back, riding alone, and catching a horse alone. You need to be comfortable picking up the feet of a resistant horse, as well as bridling. I would try out several disciplines because different personality types and body types excel at different disciplines. Lease several different horses for a few months at a time. Ride alone. Learn what you like and dislike about each horse. You may even be able to lease/purchase a horse, but if not make sure you take a more experienced person with you when you look at the horse. If you find something you like, be sure to have a vet look him over. Sick horses can be very expensive. The vet will not “pass” or “fail” a horse. That decision is still up to you, but he will tell you if the horse has any type of debilitating disease or problem that you as an inexperienced person would not know to look for.
I suggest boarding at a public boarding facility as you transition into horse ownership. This means that you will have help along the way and people to ask if you have any kind of trouble. If you plan on taking your horse home, only do so once you are comfortable with the horses’ basic needs and make sue you keep a knowledgable horse person’s number on speed dial.
When it comes to calling the vet, always err on the side of caution. If my horse stops eating, I will always call the vet right away. Horses can’t throw up and when they experience intense abdominal pain will begin to kick at themselves. They can kick hard enough to break open their GI track and spill out the contents, leading rapidly to sepsis and death. They call this colic… and it’s nothing to mess with. The other thing I always watch are eye problems. Be sure you treat any problem asap, because prey animals can become very skittish if eyesight is lost.
Good luck on your new equestrian endeavor. Be smart about your decisions, learn everything you can, and have fun!
Aurora and I have begun preparing for dressage competition. We are hoping that this project will also improve her condition results in our upcoming Endurance races. Hypothetically, a stronger back, a straighter ride, and better use of the hidquarters should produce an improved ride. We have started about 6 weeks ago, with 15 minutes of longing in side reins followed by dressage rides during the weekday evenings. We cannot do distance during the week because of the lack of daylight once I have completed work.
On the weekends, we have begun our conditioning rides and try to ride around 20 miles each day at a good clip. She enjoys these very much. We have been doing conditioning rides building her up over the course of the past year. Our first true endurance ride (50 miles) will take place in Arkansas next month.
Casey is working with an instructor too on improving his hip flexibility. That’s something I needed someone else to teach him, sometimes its best to let others’ do the teaching with your loved ones. I am hoping that he improves quickly so that he can better enjoy riding with me.
Devices used along with bridles:
There are a number of devices that can be added to the tack setup to be used as training tools.
Tie Downs and Standing Martingales
One such device is called a tie-down (Western) or standing martingale (English). This device is essentially a headstall and noseband with a strap that extends from the base of the noseband to a D-ring on the girth. English girths generally do not have d-rings and therefore have a strap over the girth. They may also run the strap behind a breast collar to prevent it from catching on other objects. Tie-downs have a contravecial reputation, because when used incorrectly, they are used to tie a horse’s head to a certain height. However, tie-downs (worn loosely) can be used to break bad habits such as head tossing (which depending on the sport can be dangerous to the rider). A horse that tosses his head while the rider is in jumping position may injure the rider. Tie-downs are also used in barrel racing at a medium length. Many famous barrel racers believe that the tie-down is useful in helping a horse maintain his balance at full speed.
Running martingales are also known as training forks. They are Y-shaped; ending in two rings. The reins are run through these reins. The base of the “Y” is connected to either the breastcollar or to the girth depending on he discipline. The idea is that if the horse’s head is at the correct height, there should be a straight line from the bit to the rider’s hands. If the horse raises his head beyond the desired height, there is some increased tension. This type of martingale is generally considered less severe as a rider can let go and allow the horse to move as necessary.
Primarily a lunging tool, side reins are used to help the horse get used to the idea of having reins restrictring their head. They often have a rubber doughnut that has “give” in it to simulate the rider’s hands.
One word of caution with each of these devices. They can easily be used incorrectly. Incorrect use can cause pain to the horse or even damage his mouth. Do not use these devices to cover unsteady hands. If the horse is tossing his head, there may be a reason. Check for mouth lesions, teeth issues and any other source of pain.