If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride…
I know this may sound obvious, but one of the first things that’s required to make a start on your Horsey Life is… a horse! You don’t need to own one or to go to any great expense in the initial stages, but starting off on the right boot-wearing foot is absolutely vital.
With a laundry list of factors to sort out, let’s start with the most important – safety. This is vital while learning a new skill in which your partner weighs +/- 1,000 pounds. You want to feel comfortable in your learning situation. If the horse you have access to is difficult to handle, or the person you’re dealing with is anything other than patient and kind (both to you and the horse), you’d be well-advised to turn around and head right back out the gate. There’s too much at stake here – not just for your Horsey Life, but for all the other parts of your life as well.
#1 It’s all about who you know
The easiest way for most women to start their Horsey Life is to find a backyard that has horses.
Obviously (at least I hope it’s obvious), don’t touch anyone’s horse without their permission. Horse owners get pretty cross when someone stuffs their fingers into their horse’s mouth and then complains (or sues) when they get bitten.
OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s break this down a bit.
If you have a friend (or a friend of a friend) who has a horse or rides regularly, ask if you could come by and pet/groom/clean up after their horse. Plan on doing something nice for this horse owner like baking them brownies or giving them a $5 gift card to Tractor Supply. Ask in advance if there’s anything you should know/bring/wear, set a time and then DON’T BE LATE. (Don’t you hate it when someone types in all caps? Got your attention though, didn’t I 😉
Equally important as your arrival time is your departure time. Know up front if the person providing the portal to your Horsey Life has an hour to spend with you or just 20 minutes. It’s just minding your manners (your Mom would be so proud!)
This is often the best way to dip your toe into the water trough and see if you suddenly realize that horses on the other side of a fence are amazing, but when you don’t have that handy-dandy barrier, they’re downright terrifying! (Again with the whole looking-like-an-idiot thing – better to have a moment in someone’s back yard than at a public barn with half a dozen 10-year-olds in attendance. Just sayin’).
#2 Ask a pro
The next place on the list is a lesson barn – one that teaches riding lessons, or has pony camp, or something of the sort. The advantage of going public is that many lesson barns are set up to deal with curious Horsey Life newbies. Ask them if you could book a lesson to get a bit of hands-on with a horse. Remember, these folks are professionals, and while they enjoy teaching, they still have to pay the feed bill at the end of the month, so again, be punctual and prepared.
If after a lesson or two of Horsey Life 101, you’re ready to begin riding lessons, you’ll have the advantage of already knowing the instructor and possibly the horse you’ll be riding for your lessons.
Caveat – make sure the barn you visit is reputable (and don’t rely on Yelp reviews to help you decide). Since it can be hard to “know what you don’t know”, ask someone at the local tack shop or feed store, or contact leaders of local horse clubs like 4H or Pony Club for suggestions. These folks are invested in keeping people safe, so they’re likely to be a good source of info.
#3 Happy Trails to You
My next suggestion is to check out a local (and again, reputable) trail ride/dude ranch facility. The horses used at well-run facilities are generally safe, well trained, and used to dealing with novice riders.
It’s a good idea to visit the facility before your ride. Have a look around at the horses, the staff, and the overall condition of the place. If the horses look cranky or not well-cared for, or there are customers riding in shorts and flip-flops, fences are broken and things are messy and disorganized – proceed directly to the nearest exit and ask your friendly 4H or riding club leader to give you another suggestion. If the care of the horses and facility aren’t up to par, standard safety precautions could be ignored as well.
When you find a place that looks well-managed, speak with a member of the staff, be very honest about the fact that you’re a beginner, and see if you can spend 10 or 15 minutes with a quick overview of horse handling 101 before you hit the trail.
#4 Pay it forward
An often overlooked option to get some horse time in is to volunteer at a local rescue or therapeutic riding center. Because these barns generally require a good number of volunteers, you may find that you can get some basic horse handling instruction.
One thing to remember is that not all the jobs you’ll be assigned will give you actual hands-on time with a horse. You might be cleaning stalls, painting fences, or cleaning tack. Do every chore efficiently (and cheerfully), and the people in charge will notice you (trust me on this), and you’ll stand a better chance of moving up the ranks and becoming a side-walker in a therapeutic riding program, or a grooming horses at a rescue.
So whether you start this journey in a small back yard barn or at a large commercial facility, I hope this is a useful resource to starting your Horsey Life.