My First Horse: The Grown Up’s Guide to Keeping Horses and Managing Horse Fever
Posted by Veronica Looney
My dad had been listening to my not-so-subtle hints that I wanted horseback riding lessons for several months. Eventually, I had him convinced that I wasn’t just going through a phase. On my eighth birthday, my whole family drove out to a barn about an hour outside of Austin, Texas. The barn was huge, echoing with the sounds of clip clopping hooves and hay munching. The smell of the horses brought on a calm, warm feeling in my belly.
I met a man who was to be my instructor. He was older, in his seventies, with deep wrinkles and calloused hands, but twinkly blue eyes. He patiently showed me how to groom and tack an enormous bay Thoroughbred. When we unclipped his cross ties, I remember the horse following along as we walked down the aisle, and my instructor pointed out with a smile that I had forgotten to hold the reins.
My daddy didn’t buy me my first pony. I grew up, got a job, worked my ass off, and still can’t afford a horse of my own. However, finding opportunities to ride and work with horses came to me easily enough that I’ve been riding regularly since my first lesson. I took cheap weekly lessons (thanks Mom and Dad) from age 8-12 with a very nice woman and former barrel racer, leased a trail riding horse with babysitting money, and took ranch volunteer gigs over the summers. At 16, I got my first job as an exercise rider.
The benefit of having to work hard to get ride time was that I rode a lot of horses that nobody else wanted to ride. I didn’t care, and even grew to enjoy riding “problem” horses. More dangerous than riding lesson horses in circles in an arena? Yes. But the skills and instincts I learned from making every mistake in the book have taught me how to anticipate and prevent accidents as an adult rider, now that I’m not as bouncy.
Maverick Valley Farms owner and trainer Joan Marie MacCoy has a similar riding story. She too found a way to fuel her horse fever without being financially irresponsible. Horseback riding is one of the most expensive hobbies you can find, and parents of young riders should know that. Adult riders who come to horsemanship later in life should pay considerable attention to safety, and be sure to school with a trainer that can help you anticipate wrecks and accidents.
At 26, having finished my graduate degree and taking a position as a working student at Maverick, I am finally getting the chance to keep a horse of my own. Templar retired from his hunter-jumper career several years ago. Still spry at 20 years old, he is a blood bay warmblood with kind eyes and a silly sense of humor. He is the fanciest and most athletic horse I’ve ever sat on. Gulp.
I do not own Templar, nor do I plan on any time soon. Templar is one of the (very) few horses who is lucky enough to have been with his owner for fifteen years. He is much loved, but needs to find a job that will keep him healthy and mentally engaged as his mom is in full time training with her Grand Prix dressage horse.
As a school master, Templar will help me improve my riding exponentially, developing my feel for smooth transitions, proper collection, and good riding form. His owner and I have what is called a “free lease,” which is an agreement that in exchange for boarding, exercise riding, and management, the owner allows a new person to ride and care for the horse. This is a mutually beneficial agreement and an excellent option for first-time horse buyers.
Horse fever is a powerful thing, and anyone who has it knows what I’m talking about (I’m convinced that this phenomenon is genetic). It takes restraint not to bring home ALL the horses. Ultimately though, most people who buy horses are not prepared for the responsibility. Consider these options, and don’t forget to remember that if you’re lucky enough to be riding a horse, you are lucky indeed.
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