Experiences of a beginning rider

A journal of the continuing experiences of a new horsewoman and beginning rider ... sharing my experiences, hoping to educate, encourage, and help others who are considering undertaking the same path.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Overcoming Fears

It "don't come natural" to everyone ... horseback riding, that is. And just because it takes some effort, time, and work doesn't mean you won't end up being a good rider.

As adults, we're used to being "in control". We turn our steering wheel to the right, Mr. Car goes right. We press the brake pedal, Mr. Car stops. We're strapped securely in our seats, protected by a reinforced metal frame with the added security of air bags. Mr. Car doesn't have a brain. He goes where we want, when want, and how fast we tell him to.

Not always so with Mr. Horse.

Where the hell is the brake pedal on this horse? Why does he go straight when I'm asking him to go right? Why does he go "up " when I'm asking him to back? And who asked him to do that fancy little hop/lope/stumble Cha-Cha-Cha dance step to the left when he saw that silly little butterfly flutter past his face?

Geez, I'm awfull high up, further than I expected. I'm nervous and this is a little bit scary. He's an AWFUL BIG animal and it looks like it would be an AWFUL BIG fall to the ground below.

I can't find the seatbelt - closest thing I've got is the saddle horn to hang onto for dear life. Hmm, don't seem to be any airbags up here either. And reinforced metal frame? Ha, how about air and gritty sandy arena floor instead?

Is it any wonder many adults have a love of horses but a fear of riding? As an inexperienced rider you have very little experience and control over the horse, and believe me, that horse knows it and will use it to his full advantage!!

But don't give up. It may take time, but be patient. You can overcome that fear and anxiety and grow into a good rider and horseman. Here are a few things that helped me along...

You need someone who recognizes your fears, is patient helping you through them, but is perceptive enough to know when to push you to advance further.

This includes grooming, longing, leading, backing, desensitizing, and worming your horse. All things that can be done from the safety of the ground. Becoming familiar and comfortable with your horse (and yourself) from the safety of the ground is essential!! You'll be establishing a relationship with and learn control over your horse. If you haven't learned to control your horse from the ground, how can you expect to control him under saddle? YOU are his herd leader - teach him this before you get into the saddle. Have your instructor help you with this and incorporate it into your lessons. It's a confidence booster.

Your instructor will be able to control the horses speed and some of those "naughty" outbursts that they are prone to have. Do "circle" and "scissors" with your arms to develop a feel for being in the saddle and to develop balance. Progress to riding with your feet out of the stirrups while on the longe line. When you are ready to advance to another gait, again go back to doing your initial lesson on the longe line. YOU'LL feel safer. And don't worry, it won't be long before you won't need it anymore. It's a good tool to go back to periodically as your instructor sees fit.

There are plenty of things you and your horse can learn at the walk. So what if your sister-in-law is loping across open fields? Progress your gaits at a pace that YOU feel comfortable and in control with. Why risk a catastrophe and increased anxiety trying to keep up with others?

Great way to become comfortable with your horse in general. And it gives you a sense of security knowing if something were to go wrong (and it eventually will), you will be prepared to safely and quickly dismount if needed. Have your instructor "coach" you through this. Start each lesson with 6-8 of these, until you feel real secure. Periodically go back and practice them again.

When appropriate, have your instructor teach you the "one rein stop". It is the "emergency brake" to use when your horse is out of control or "spooking" on you. It is a safe, secure way to regain the horses attention and your control over her. Again, it will help YOU feel safer and better prepared to handle emergencies that arise.

7. WHOA.
If your horse is "sloppy" with his stops, immediately go back and work on this. Your instructor or trainer can help you. You will relax if you feel confident that when you tell your horse "whoa", he does just that. It makes you feel secure and confident to know that if you are feeling "out of control" or "uncomfortable" with a drill, your horse will listen when you ask him to change gaits or to stop.

These are just a few tips to try to help overcome your fears. Hang in there, take it slow and comfortable, seek the guidance of a good, patient riding instructor. Instead of giving up and running away, you WILL overcome your fears and "keep on riding"!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

There's Got to Be a Better Way ...

Looking back, the way I became a horse owner was just plain stupid. Stupid and risky. Yes, it did work out for me, but I'm willing to bet that for 75% of the people who purchases their first horse the same way, it just doesn't work out. There's got to be a better way ... and here are a few suggestions to help you make your decisions about entering the world of horses in a "smarter" manner than I did.
Take lessons first - minimum of 6 months to a year. Be sure this is what you really want. And realize owning a horse takes a lot more commitment (in time and money) than just taking a weekly riding lesson. Choose an instructor that insists on teaching you horsemanship from the ground up - and not just riding. You should start with grooming and groundwork. Don't be surprised if you don't even sit in the saddle for the first week or two. And when you do finally get to "ride" it wouldn't be unheard of for your instructor spends a lesson or two with the horse (and you) on the longe line doing "scissors" and "airplanes" and just developing a sense of balance. Congratulations if this is the case! For you have probably found a riding instructor who sees the whole picture and wants you to as well.
If you are taking weekly lessons and want more of a "feel" as to the time and commitment entailed in horse ownership, speak to your instructor or barn manager and volunteer for a few hours of barn help each week. Offer to clean and exercise the lesson horses prior to others lessons. Commit yourself to muck some stalls. Be there at meal times when the most placid horse begins to act like a starving, raving lunatic. But if you make a commitment to help out - stick to it.
So you really do want a horse of your own. Look for reference from the "horse save" friends you've made. You may find the diamond in the rough at a local barn, being ignored and unridden because their owner is just too busy or their kids have lost interest. Take your riding instructor or other trusted horse person along to get their input. Have a vet check the horse out or ask permission contact the vet who has been caring for the animal. Visit the horse a minimum of twice before purchasing her. Would the owner consider leasing you the horse for 6 months? The owner might be eager to have the "idle" horse earn it's keep. Although leasing may cost you a little bit more in the long run, some owners are willing to apply part of the lease amount towards the purchase price if you decide to buy. By leasing, it gives you a chance to get to know the horse and to get to know yourself as well. You'll see if the horse has the personality and abilities that you are looking for, and you'll see if you really want to make this huge commitment.

Friday, February 17, 2006

It Doesn't Have to Cost a Fortune ...

It doesn't have to cost a fortune ... your first horse that is. Now I'm strictly speaking of a starter horse, one you want to learn on, one you'll use primarily as a riding companion, perhaps participate in some amateur competitions. In my part of the state they have weekly and monthly horse auctions. Not all the horses found there are broken down, unruly animals with behavioral problems. There are some fine horses that come through there. And you can get a good animal in the $1,000 - $2,000 range. The problem is, if you're new to horses like I am, you won't be able to tell which ones those are. You'll have a chance to examine and ride the horse before you bid on them. But what you don't get is a feel for the horses disposition. While my horse was purchased by her previous owner at one of these auctions, she was boarded at The Windy Brush for 8 months before I purchased her.
You'll find many of these horses are less expensive because they are "green" ... broke, with just basic training. They've been through "kindergarten" and have finished the 1st and 2nd grade. If you are lucky enough to find someone who will work with your horse as well as you, this could turn out to be a bargain.
I began and continue with hour long weekly lessons, while most other riders at The Windy Brush take half hour lessons. It's worked out well. It's given us time to work with me and my horse. For the first 8 months, what training Dusty had when I bought her was adequate for a new rider like myself. When I progressed beyond the point of the horses knowledge and training, I took a "month off" of riding, and my instructor worked with my horse only. It was her "boot camp". One hour a day, five days a week, four weeks of intensive training. I was present at 90% of those training sessions even though it meant a 4a.m. wake up call to travel to the barn in time to beat the summer heat - and my instructor expected me to be there. It was, afterall, a chance for me to learn as well as the horse. Yes, this training session for my horse cost me $240.00 above what my normal monthly cost of lessons would have been - but boy, did it produce results.
There are advantages and disadvantages to a new rider purchasing a "green" horse. I find the biggest advantage is I've learned more about horses than I ever would have with a "turn key" horse. It hasn't been an easy road and I've had the help of my instructor/trainer - we'd "fix" one problem and Dusty would "develop" another. Like a child, she challenged me every step of the way. But the experience gained has been invaluable! I don't think there is a problem she can develop, a trick she can pull, that we couldn't resolve. It's made me a better all-around horsewoman.
The biggest disadvantage is that you can easily get discouraged. Many people would get frustrated and just give up and then - yup- the horse goes up for sale. As a rider you will be eons behind the person who bought the "turn key horse", but as a horseowner you'll be miles ahead. So, if you aren't very patient and very determined, if you arn't willing to rely upon your instructor/trainers judgement and advice, this isn't the route for you.
Remember your first car? Chance are it didn't cost you a fortune. And you probably sunk some bucks into it just to get and keep it running. But boy, did you have fun with it. Has any car you've owned since been as much fun? Probably not. And so it will be with your first horse.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Oh Happy Day...

Flash ahead 40 years, 2 college degrees, 1 husband (I pick 'em right), and 5 children later. I'm lucky to have 2 great sons-in-law - Larry and Joe. Larry has a barn on his property and boards a few horses, as well as one of his own. Joe helps out down there often. Both have ridden, and ridden well, in their past. "Dusty might be for sale" Joe casually mentioned to me one day. Oh, this wasn't just a passing comment, and I know darned well what he meant by it. It was more of a suggestion. "She's a real sweetheart" he said - and Joey would know. He led her out to pasture every morning and in to feed her at night. If anyone knew this horses disposition, he would. Dusty is a Sorrel Tobiano Paint mare that was boarded down at The Windy Brush. Now hold on, don't be so impressed - at that time all I knew is she was a "spotted female horse". A spark went off inside - a long forgotten feeling that was lying dormant for decades. Could it be possible? Nawww, I could never afford it, kids getting ready to start college and all. Still....

After seeking Larrys advice, I realized it just might be feasible. Maybe.

Afterall, my 24th wedding anniversary was only a few days away, and my 45th birthday a few after that, I reasoned. My husband went to sleep one night to find a plastic horse on his pillow. I spent a lot of time staring off into the distance occasionally letting out a sorrowful sigh. Now all this show was probably unnecessary, my husband being as good natured as he is. But why not let him think this horse thing was his idea?

And so she was mine.

One week owning a horse was something I dared not even dream about, the next week she's mine. Not the smartest way to make such a major purchase and commitment, grant you. But it's worked out.
It would be a few weeks until Deanna, my instructor, would be available to start lessons. I spent that time learning about horses - reading, reading, and reading. And with the help of my son in laws, I learned horse safety and how to groom them. I spent that time becoming "familiar" with Dusty.
Many hours were spent just watching her out at pasture - marveling at her beauty, observing herd behavior between her and her pasture mate. They were wonderful, hot, enchanting summer days - days like I hadn't experienced since my childhood.

Looking back, I call those first few weeks of horse ownership the "honeymoon". My advice to new horseowners - enjoy the "honeymoon" - it will soon be over.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Things I've Learned...

1. There is no scent on Earth so pleasant, so comforting, as that of a barn. The blending of aromas of hay, tack, and horse
is unbeatable.

2. Always wear a bra when jogging.

3. A horse who bucks and farts, bucks and farts, then bucks and farts some more, has got to be one of the funniest things I
ever saw - even after seeing it for the hundredth time. And they don't have a clue why you are standing there laughing
at them.

4. Horse poop in the winter is the consistancy of iron ore. When propelled from a large sling shot, it could kill.

5. Given the choice, a horse would rather be your boss than your friend. Don't let him.

6. God created us people with different personalities, and different abilities, for different reasons. He did the same for
horses. That stallion down there, he won't make the best trail riding companion for a new horse owner, but he'll produce
spectacular offspring. That Paint mare over there, the one with poor confirmation, she won't win any prizes in the show
ring, but she'll make a heck of project horse for some kid in 4H. And that Quarterhorse down the barn aisle, the one in
the last stall, he ain't winning no Kentucky Derby, but boy will he do well in Western Pleasure. Remember that the next
time you're ready to criticize another persons horse.

7. Don't give 'em treats. This just turns them into pushy, obnoxious, nipping beasts. Kinda like a 1000 pound dog who's
used to being fed from the dinner table. Not a pleasant thought. And if you're going to give 'em treats anyway, leave
them in their feed buckets - don't let them know it's from you. Let them think the barn fairy left it for them.

In The Beginning ...

I think it all began long before I have any clear memory of my childhood. That "horse" thing. I read in a baby book my mother kept that somewhere around the age of 3 or 4 "she loves Mr. Ed, the talking horse on the t.v show. He is her favorite". While other neighborhood girls were busy taking tap dance and ballet lessons, I was busy prancing my plastic horses around on the floor, on the table, across the stereo - anywhere I could. A walk to the cemetary with my grandmother, meant a chance to feed that pony pastured next to it a sugar cube. And I couldn't wait for a special occasion to add to my collection of glass display horses - you see, back in the early 1960's if you were a little girl and you loved horses, that's what you collected.
But it never progressed beyond that. We lived in the "city" and had no land or money to keep a horse or even take riding lessons. I guess by today's standards we would be considered "poor", but I didn't think so back then, nor do I now. We always had food on the table, a roof over our heads, clothing on our back, and a gaggle of kids in the neighborhood to raise a ruckus with. Summers seemed longer and hotter than they do now, our mothers were always home to mend a scraped knee, we walked to the supermarket, and most of us were one car families. And as I grew older, thoughts of horses faded from my mind.

Oh, by the way, remember those girls from the neighborhood? The ones who took the tap and ballet lessons? Today, 40 years later, they aren't dancing in Ballets or Broadway shows .... but I've got my horse .... and I'm riding. Hmm, funny how things turn out.