Owning a horse is a dream of mine, and has been since my first horse camp about 20 years ago. Every Christmas since that fateful day I begged my parents for a horse even into my teens. Unfortunately their answer was always no. I grew up in a non-horse family and my love for horses somehow manifested in me alone. Once I got a slightly different answer out of them - "You can have a horse, or you can have a car". Well, I needed a car, but I'll be dammed if I didn't convince them for a truck instead, if only to haul my future horse.
I am sure some of you can relate.
In hindsight, they were probably right to say no. If you’ve read my past blog entries, you’ll know that through college, military life and other factors, it would not have been a good fit for me to jump into horse ownership.
I am here to tell you that although it is a dream that I hope to achieve one day (and a journey I once started on, but had to cut short, which I'll talk about in a future post), all is not lost! I am sure that some of you reading this right now have the same frustration of being within reach of ownership and not quite being able to grab hold of the reins (pun intended). Let me share with you all of the ways that I have still been able to be an active equestrian - continuing to grow and learn even without a horse of my own.
Lesson, lesson, lesson!
Probably one of the most obvious and beneficial ways that I have kept active is by taking riding lessons wherever I go. Lessons are not just for beginners and kids! I started out my riding addiction through western lessons when I was 10, but even through adulthood I have taken lessons at each location the Army moved us. Through this, I have had the great benefit of working with several different instructors (all who have had their own strengths to share) and expanding my knowledge through different disciplines. Doing so made me realize how little I initially knew about riding in the first place, and how much room I have to grow. I have lessoned in western pleasure, reining, dressage and hunter/jumper thus far.
My choice of discipline has partially depended on my own interest, but has also on the areas I have lived in. When we lived in Pennsylvania, hunter/jumper was the prominent discipline. Hesitant at first having never jumped before, I ended up saying “why not?” and signed up for lessons at a barn with great reviews. I felt very awkward at first, but I remember the first time I jumped a simple cavaletti. I was hooked!
Having the courage to take on a new discipline continued to further my knowledge of riding and equestrian sport. It showed me how physically strong I needed to be, how much concentration was required as well as the thrill of flying over obstacles with a 1,000 pound animal. I cannot recommend investing regular lessons enough!
Go one further – Lease!
If you’re looking to further immerse yourself in some of the duties of ownership without all of the massive financial responsibilities, lease! Many lesson barns have horses available for lease (whether they are owned by the barn or by a boarder). Your riding instructor can help you decide if the horse you are wanting to lease is a good fit for you. Leases can vary in responsibility level, but in my experience the most common version is essentially a ride share where you groom, ride and care for the tack. Leases provide you with a little more freedom in your riding, as you generally will be able to ride more often than if just lessoning alone. Sometimes, leases also give you showing rights if you wish to dip your toes in the horse show water.
Work for it!
In college I would work summers at Grand Teton National Park as a corral wrangler. This was an amazing opportunity! Wranglers lead trail rides through the beautiful national park and educate the tourists on the area. We were also responsible for the care of the corral horses. While this was a lot of physical work, it was so rewarding. Getting to live in such a beautiful place for the summer and ride horses multiple times daily was wonderful. Bonus: you get paid to do it! I’ve also worked for horse riding camps, boarding facilities and currently a therapeutic riding nonprofit. Working in the field is a great way to immerse yourself in horse culture without owning a horse of your own and if you're lucky, you'll get extra ride time when your work is finished!
Be an intern!
I took on an internship at a horse rescue a few years ago. Talk about being immersed in the horse world! As an intern you do end up taking on a lot of the tougher, less desirable jobs but that is all a part of learning. Trainers, rescues, breeders, veterinarians and many more businesses and organizations offer internships to those willing to learn and put in the work. As an intern you will gain a lot of hands on experience that you may not get elsewhere. These are not often paid in money, but in experience!
Lend a hand as a volunteer!
Horse rescues always need a helping hand! Volunteer at a local horse rescue, therapeutic riding center or other equine nonprofit. Volunteer positions can vary greatly depending on the organization. I have done anything from email marketing to exercising horses. Some nonprofits are even willing to teach you about horse care or riding in exchange for volunteer hours.
Join a club!
When I was in college I joined the American Collegiate Horseman’s Association. This was a wonderful way to not only meet other horse enthusiasts, but to learn about a variety of careers in the equine industry. A national convention was held each year in a different city where we would tour the area’s leading equine businesses and organizations. We would also have guest speakers from different aspects of the industry visit the university to present lectures. Colleges and universities also often have riding clubs where as a member, you can borrow a school horse instead of needing to buy your own. If you are less interested in riding, there are also organizations that have horse judging teams where you will learn about horse confirmation and how to judge a horse in motion.
The bottom line:
Horse ownership is a HUGE responsibility! A lot of time, money and hard work go into it. Not only that, but responsible horse ownership means making a commitment to your horse for the rest of their life through thick and thin (which can be up to 30 years). Taking on horse ownership should be looked at like taking on a 1,000 pound (or more) child. But don’t fret – if you are not able to take on that new family member and partner just yet, there are many other ways to stay active in the horse world! All of the above methods are things I have done while still on the road to horse ownership myself. I know that one of these days I’ll have an equine partner of my own, but until then I will continue to remain stubborn and do what I can to immerse myself in the equine world even further!