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When I got my first horse at age 12, I knew a lot more about horses than my parents did… which is kind of scary, now that I think about it.
As a horse professional, I’ve seen families work hard together to make sure that their decision to get their child a horse was a good situation for everyone – including the horse. I’ve also seen families who have just kind of wandered into horse ownership – fortunately proving more often than not, that God really does protect fools and the innocent… (more…)
In my last post, (which was waay too long ago), I gave you a bit of an overview of what to expect in the coming posts. I’ll be covering 10 main topics –
1. First things first – why do the kids want a horse? From My Little Pony to the United States Pony Club covers a pretty wide spectrum. I’ll give you some pointers on deciding where your child’s desires fit.
2. Can your kids handle a horse, (and can you)? Concerns to be addressed if the horse is to be kept at home or a boarding barn.
3. If you get it, you will pay – there’s no such thing as a free horse. The necessities and the optional extras.
4. Support – Get your essential team assembled – vet, blacksmith, knowledgeable owners, trainer, 4-H, Pony Club, Local horse organizations, Extension Service, feed store, hay supplier, horse council, instructor… the list goes on. It really does take a village to care for a horse.
5. Keeping your horse at home – Sure it’s the kids’ horse, but who’s actually going to feed and muck? Zoning, Insurance concerns, addressing the needs of the horse, addressing the needs of your family, addressing the needs of your neighborhood. Manure management, fly/ pest management.
6. Boarding facilities: full board, DIY board, share board, field board – what to look for in a boarding facility
7. Now that you’ve got it, what do you do with it? (Hint – answer these questions first)!
8. Alternatives to horse ownership – lessons, lease, share, volunteer, summer camp horses for the winter, college horses for the summer
9. Where to find your horse: Classified ads, word of mouth, bulletin boards, tack shops, vets and farriers, trainers,purchase from dealer, purchase from private individual, adoption, free horses
10. Begin with the end in mind: How long will your family own this horse – until the child becomes tired of it? Until the child goes to college or gets married? Forever? What do you do with a horse you no longer want? Dealing with the end of a horse’s life.
So today we start with: Why does your kid want a horse?
This is a critical question – but one many parents fail to analyze thoroughly. Chances are your son or daughter doesn’t keep asking for a horse simply to annoy you (although some days, it likely seems that way) – they have a real and pressing desire to have a horse. Horses are beautiful, magical creatures that speak to something in a girl’s soul (there are more girls than boys afflicted with the horse bug, but boys are certainly not immune!).
As a parent, it’s your job to figure out the answer to this first question before you proceed further with the whole horsey process. Gauging the level of desire will help you chart an appropriate course. I’ll help you out with a few guidelines below.
Level 1 – Usually a very young child – Adores horses, often in the form of My Little Ponies and similar fantasy toys – hours can be spent combing the pink and purple manes and tails. This child will likely be thrilled with an occasional pony ride at a fair or birthday party. Child will demonstrate need to be categorized as a level 2 if she begins to ask for riding lessons instead of pony rides, wants to help care for the pony after the ride or wants to own a horse hours, days, weeks and months after a pony ride. For the moment, you’re reasonably safe.
Level 2 – Usually older – shows interest in learning about horses, devours horse books and magazines, has graduated from My Little Ponies to Breyer Model Horses. If she has a friend who has a horse, she will want to visit there frequently, although the favorite activity may still be combing the mane and tail, at least it is no longer purple or pink. Serious horse involvement can safely be postponed for a while, but it’s becoming more likely at some point in the future.
Level 3 – Asks for extra chores to make more pocket money which she is either saving for a horse or for riding lessons. Bedroom wall is adorned with posters of the rock stars of her world – show jumpers, reiners, event and dressage riders – Olympic Equestrians and their mounts are her heroes. An even more avid visitor to any horse-owning friend’s house now, she’ll want to ride, groom, muck, and clean tack; and will hide any clothing smelling remotely of horses in the back of her closet so she can revisit the magic at will. She’s gaining knowledge to back up the passion. You’re now officially on horse-alert watch.
Level 4 – Her wish lists now consist solely of a horse and/or money for lessons. The fashions featured in her favorite magazines are rated on their stylishness in the saddle, and the rock starts of her world often have 4 hooves. She has long since exhausted the horsey-how-to books in the local library, has a shelf full of her own (memorized) and can uncannily imitate Clinton Anderson’s Australian accent from watching RFD TV. Dinner table discussions may range from the breeding and trainer’s statistics for the Kentucky Derby favorite to the World Cup rankings to how bad the bot flies are this season. Want to learn about navicular? Probably not, but you may just hear about the latest research. Take advantage of this stage to encourage reading and science skills. You’ve moved from horse alert watch to a warning.
Level 5 – This is the final stage of the progression. Your daughter or son has been taking lessons for a while. Their trainer has said that they’re progressing very well. Parent teacher conferences usually involve discussions about the love and knowledge of horses displayed by your offspring. Your child is now likely to be well armed with rebuttals to the usual parental arguments. No room? She’ll have photos (and possibly hand drawn designs) of garage-to-barn conversions, and it would save Dad from having to mow the lawn on the weekend. Too expensive? She’s found a barn where she can work off part of the board, or she’ll get a job on the weekends to pay for feed. Not enough time? She’ll give up soccer/get up an hour earlier/forgo hanging out with friends after school.
By the time your family reaches this stage, it’s best to be well prepared. Let your child know of your concerns, but keep this an open discussion, rather than a rigid denial of requests. There are plenty of options to actually going out and buying a horse. Many of them fit the needs of today’s families better than traditional ownership, and can still fulfill the desire for “owning” a horse that your son or daughter has. The time you spend truly researching this subject and gaining knowledge can be great “quality time” with your child. Take it as a gift.
Next post, we’ll do a basic assessment of the readiness of your child (and your family) for horse ownership.
Until next time.
“Can I have a horse?”
That plaintive plea has probably been pestering parents since Paleolithic times when horses were painted on the walls at Lascaux. It seems to be a rite of passage, especially for young girls, to long for a horse of one’s own. It’s also been traditional for parents to “just say no” and hope the equine jonesing (horse lust)passes sometime before their offspring heads off to college. In many cases, this might just work.
If you can keep the child distracted with horse books, My Little Ponies, puzzles, games, pony rides and (for the uber-serious) riding lessons; and the begging slacks off in a year or so – you’re in the clear. But what happens if your offspring has more of a passion than a passing fancy? Hints to this condition will include all trips to the library resulting in horse books being checked out (until the library’s collection has been exhausted and you’re pestered with requests to go to the New York Public Library for a better selection), and all birthday or Christmas wish lists starting with 1. My own horse, 2. A saddle, etc.
If this scenario is still playing out a year or two (or three for the parent who refuses to read the writing on the barn wall) from the original request – it’s time to face the fact that your child is serious about this whole horse thing, and you may just have to try to find a way to help make it happen.
Now before you panic, notice I didn’t say you might just have to run out and buy the first horse which meets with the approval of your offspring – hint: they’ll all meet with approval if the possibility arises of them being brought home.
There are plenty of ways to bring a horse into your family’s life without actually purchasing one – the pony pictured at left was a “hand-me-down” – a lesson pony we gave to friends when we moved to Virginia who went on to another family when their girls outgrew him. There are also plenty of things to consider if you do decide that horse ownership is for you. Over the next several posts, I’ll give you an overview of the things you need to consider. I’ll even include reading suggestions (for both you and your offspring) as we go along.
To give you a bit of background on why I’m qualified to help you with this subject: I’ve been an equine professional for over 30 years and during that time have helped dozens of families make the equine-related decisions that best suit their needs. I’ve taught workshops and classes in horse care as well being a horse trainer, therapeutic riding instructor, and an internationally certified riding instructor. I have bought many horses, sold a few and adopted several others. I’ve kept horses in my backyard and owned and operated a large boarding and training barn. I’ve taught 4H and Pony Club (both in the US and the UK).
Please note that while I have a great deal of expertise, my advice should not take the place of consultation with local professionals and officials regarding your own insurance coverage, zoning regulations, etc.
So, with your child begging in the background – let’s get to it – and maybe the pleading will stop – at least until the next major gift-giving holiday when you may hear “Can we get a horse trailer?” Let the fun begin!
It’s that time of year – when little girls’ fancies turn to owning a horse…. mind you, for the truly horse-crazy little girls (and boys) of every age, no season is immune to this desire.
If you’re considering joining the ranks of the 2 million plus horse owners in the US (according to a 2005 study by the American Horse Council), there are lots of places to acquire your new friend. If you’ve shown any interest in things equine on Facebook, ads are likely to appear in your sidebar, there are classified ads at the back of most local and regional equine publications, photos and descriptions fill the billboards at tack and feed stores – it can be a bit overwhelming to even know where to begin.
The purpose of this article isn’t to help you establish your criteria for a new horse, prepare your yard for a new occupant or find a safe boarding facility – that would require a book (but stay tuned for info on said book – it’s in the works). The purpose of this article is to offer you a few reasons to consider horse adoption and to give some pointers on locating your perfect equine partner – and literally saving his life.
First, a few statistics: in the study cited above, it was estimated that 46% of horses were owned by households with incomes of between $25,000 and $75,000 per year. This study was completed 6 years ago, and we all know which way the economy has trended over that time. A CBS Evening News story from May 2009 outlined the growing number of horses being abandoned throughout the country and the fact that many rescue facilities are at or over capacity. I could list instances from every state of owners being forced to give up their animals, but you get the idea – there are a lot of horses out there looking for a home.
Now you may well be thinking “Great – I’m all for saving animals, but I don’t want some starved wreck of a horse who’s on death’s doorstep – I want something I can ride/show/put my kids on/not be embarrassed to have the neighbors see in my backyard. Well, you’re in luck. Rescue organizations across the country have an amazing selection of horses and ponies available for adoption – from young Thoroughbreds who just aren’t fast enough to be profitable (by the way – I wouldn’t recommend a young off the track Thoroughbred, or OTTB, to a novice horse owner) to seasoned show horses whose owners want to find them a less stressful 2nd career.
Two of my 7 horses were adopted from rescue organizations. Harley is an OTTB whom I adopted from ReRun in Kentucky. He was 4 when I drove to Kentucky to see him and in the 8 years since his adoption he has been trail riding, competed in Dressage, done some lessons with a few of my advanced students and enjoyed a bit of jumping. He had raced only a few times and sustained a fractured sesamoid, which was completely healed when he came to live with us.
Atlas is my other adoptee – he’s an 11 year old, 18.2 hand Belgian Warmblood with a history of competitive dressage. A change in his previous owner’s circumstances led her to send him to Brook Hill Farm in Forest, Virginia. I had the great good fortune of being invited to Brook Hill to teach a clinic for their 4-H club a couple of years ago (I’m now their regular instructor), and I met Atlas shortly after arriving. While I was interested in getting a new competition horse, it was really Atlas who made the decision. When I was in the pasture being shown the two dressage horses available for adoption, Atlas grew somewhat indignant that I even wanted to look at the other horse. He gently nudged me toward the gate and then proceeded to stand gazing at me over the fence for the next 3 hours while I taught. I assured him that he wouldn’t fit in the back of my Blazer but that I’d be back, and went home to break the news to my husband that we might be getting a really big addition to the family…..
Many people hear the word “adoption” and wonder if the horses from rescue farms are free. This varies by the program – some are free (such as Brook Hill), while other programs require an adoption fee of a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Some important things to remember: first – the purchase price or adoption fee is likely the smallest percentage of money you’ll invest in horse ownership. Upkeep costs far outweigh the initial outlay. Lack of awareness of this equation is the reason many horses end up at a rescue in the first place. The second thing to consider regarding adoption fees is that these facilities usually have tremendous overheads – everything from mortgages costs to feed, veterinary and blacksmith expenses; and many non-profit rescues are seeing a decline in their donations at a time when the demand for their services is skyrocketing.
Don’t be surprised if you’re required to complete a detailed application which may ask for references from a vet and a knowledgeable equine owner. Most adoption contracts will actually be leases, with ownership of the horse being retained by the rescue. Typically, adoption contracts also prohibit breeding of mares. These measures are in place to help ensure the horses sent out to a new home are going into a good (and hopefully permanent) situation. Generally, if the new owner is unable to keep the horse at any time in the future, the horse must be returned to the rescue. A return fee may be written into the contract to help defray expenses for the farm.
A Google search for “horse rescue” brings over 900,000 results, so you’re likely to find at least one organization within driving distance of your home. Be sure to check out the facility thoroughly before signing any paperwork. Seeing thin horses on the property wouldn’t necessarily be a reason to avoid the rescue (horses may arrive ill, injured or severely malnourished); but the farm should appear neat and well run, with adequate water and hay or grazing for the horses. Obvious injuries should be treated, and the general atmosphere should be of well cared for horses. Although some traumatized horses may be fearful of humans, most equines are curious and friendly – so you should see heads turn to watch you approach in an interested manner.
With all of the horses available for adoption at the moment, your dream horse may just be at a nearby rescue facility waiting for you to appear. Hopefully, the information in this article will encourage you to consider opening your barn doors to a rescued horse the next time you’re looking to add to your four-legged family. It’s a great way to add even more satisfaction to your horsey life.