Tuesday, November 13, 2007

At least this one admits it!

"Nate is a must see. Has beautiful markings and color. Will make a horse person a nice horse. I have absolutly no horse training ability and am not a horse person at all. Didn't realize horses were different than dogs so he needs somebody that knows what to do with horses. I want him to have a good home."

This is a yearling paint colt whose only advertised skill is "stallion prospect." I'm pretty sure I know who is wearing the pants in your family from your ad, and it's this colt. Even as a non-horseperson, you would have had way fewer issues had you removed 2 non essential parts of his anatomy right off! As it is, I shudder to think what his manners are like. I'm guessing his barn name is "Jaws."

Unfortunately, I do not think this is a rare scenario. I think a lot of people get a horse and do not understand that they are higher maintenance and harder to train and way more expensive to feed and that their health is more precarious than that old yellow lab who's been living behind the house for 10 years. Now, dog people, don't get all over me. I know the yellow lab would like some vet care too but the fact remains that you can get away with a lot more careless care with a dog or cat than you can with a horse. Horses colic. They panic. They run through fence. They can be harder to keep weight on. Their feet have a multitude of issues. They are much more complicated to keep than a small pet animal, but people often don't realize it until they've made the purchase and had a rude awakening that involves a painful founder episode for the horse, multiple stitches, or worse.
So here's my question: How should someone prepare to own their first horse? How can they stay out of trouble and enjoy horse ownership if they weren't raised with horses and/or they're a youth whose parents are not "horsey?"

My recommendations would be:
1. Lessons for at least 2 years with a decent trainer. My definition of a decent trainer is: An adult who has trained riders who are successful in their discipline. I know shows aren't everything, but if you have 5 riders out there winning ribbons, it's at least some kind of proof that you can, actually, teach someone to ride to a commonly accepted standard of performance. However, riding isn't all of it. Also pick a trainer who teaches horse care, grooming, etc. - or get involved in Pony Club or 4-H or another group that will teach you those skills.

2. READ! There are a ton of horse books out there. As with books on anything else, for example politics, you will have to read everything and evaluate what makes sense and what does not. However, reading 20 horse books will give you a base of knowledge that will prove invaluable to you. Read books on care and books on training and horse owner's veterinary guides. You will never regret doing this!

3. Your first horse should not be home kept if boarding is an option, even if you have land. It is invaluable to have a trainer or barn manager there to ask if something just doesn't seem right with your horse. Think about it: As a first time horse owner, do you know what good hay looks like? Would you recognize the first signs of colic? How will you know if your new saddle fits your horse? A good boarding barn can really ease your transition into horse ownership. It can also be very hard to get a farrier to come to your house and do one horse, particularly if you don't have an indoor place for them to work, another fact that I don't think most people think about. And if you work traditional hours, a barn that will handle your horse for vet and farrier can be a godsend.

4. I absolutely love it when a horse gets rescued BUT...a rescue is probably not right for your first horse unless it's already been in the care of a rescue that actually rides them and evaluates them. I cannot tell you how many sad tales I am hearing of first time horse owners who gleefully sent off money to get a horse from one of the "feedlot rescues" and quickly found themselves discouraged and overwhelmed with a horse that had massive behavioral or soundness issues (not to mention the horse was overpriced in the first place). Rescuing "unknown" horses is for experienced riders and trainers who can afford to take a total loss on the horse.

All right, those are my tips. What are yours? I got my first horse at 17 and while I was a decent rider at that point, there was so much more that I needed to learn about care, which fortunately I did learn thanks to working in the industry and learning from some really top people. Still, looking back, I wouldn't have sold a horse to me at 17! I'm sure I'm not the only one here who thinks that about their younger self.