Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Twilight Sparkle & Rainbow Dash

It took me well into my late twenties to get a pony, and it took until I was 30 to feel comfortable around horses. But I got there. I share this because I think a lot of my readership is as enchanted by horses as I am, but some of you think riding on a regular basis is as lofty a dream as buying a Ferrari to throttle down the sunset strip. Horses have this stigma attached to them that they are playthings of the rich. They certainly can be, but for most of the folks with saddles in America, rich is not an accurate adjective.

Like any animal in your care, you can spend as much money as possible on them. We all know pet owners who buy outfits, birthday cakes, grooming appointments, toys, doggie day care trips, behaviorist check-ins, pet psychics and run to the vet for any possibly discomfort in their animals. If we all had to spend that budget on our canines one in a hundred dog owners could afford a dog. And we all know that and many of us in the homesteading mentality chuckle at that kind of pet owner. So why do we still think horses are hay burning, expensive, toys for the affluent?

Here in Washington County it is not uncommon to see a trailer on a 1/4 acre with a horse on it. That horse has a run-in shed made from scrap lumber, a cheap electric charger on an extension cord to the house, and some used polyrope strung around on hand-dug posts. There are also people who remove stumps and trees from ten-acre fields, put up painted white fences, build barns with tack rooms and saddle stands, wrap their horse's legs in special tape, buy treats, hire groomers, enter shows, pay entry fees, buy luxury trailers and so on. But most of us are somewhere between the trailer park and the grand estate. Most of us have a horse or two held in stead by some inexpensive electric fences, simple shelters, an annual vet check. To give you an idea what Merlin costs me. His annual vet appointment was around $180 for 4 shots and a Coggin's Test. That price included the vet coming to visit the farm. Oh, and his hooves need to be trimmed every ten weeks (a $40 fee). He eats 2/3 a bale of hay a day, a cost around $2-$3 a day around these parts. The most expensive part of Merlin is what I pay to buy him every month and that is only because the previous owner let me pay over two years on a payment plan. Horses aren't expensive, not if they are something you want. Your cable bill for television is probably double what I spend on having a horse in the backyard. And his paddock, run-in shed, and fence insulators were under a $1000 for the entire set up. Because I did it with the help of friends, sawmill lumber, and rolled and stretched that fence with my own sweat equity. If you're willing to pitch it in gets really inexpensive.

But some of you don't have country homes or even backyards. Do you still want to ride? I know I did. I took lessons for a year before I owned my own saddle horse. Around here lessons cost about $30 for an hour. That includes tack, horse, and instructor. At a stable you'll learn to groom, saddle, bridle, fit, and evaluate horses. You'll learn to sit, use your legs, hands, and body. I made a commitment to a weekly lesson when I worked at Orvis because I had the money at the time to do so. But I am sure there are girls there mucking stalls, leading halters, and pushing brooms who rode for the time they put into work. And if money is tight for you, and you WANT to ride, you can make it happen to. I wrote about this before, how horses do not have to be fantasy animals if you really want them. I explained that just emailing local barns and stables that you want to help, are eager to learn, and have a strong back can get you in doors. Maybe it means canceling the cable, or turning in your smartphone for a cheaper one, or something else - but I have learned that people who want horses in their lives find a way.

One reader wrote me that she contacted a barn after reading that post. And she started working with a horse rescue/rehab center. She learned from a mentor, started riding, training, and now owns her own. It took a year from sending a random email. Sometimes, well, all times, getting something requires asking for it. She asked. Now she rides.

I know horses will always have that "richy rich" stereotype, especially in areas where the only horses are in dressage stables in the suburbs. But I think a lot of everyday people (and the majority of homesteaders with horses) are just regular folk. Merlin is my other car. I use him all the time to move across the landscape, to buy groceries, visit neighbors, deliver goods and just explore. Last week we went for an adventure to a big fire tower on my mountain. On the way up the hill we passed three horses standing in yards. Merlin and I walked past, waving. I wondered if the horses were scared of cards, or the owners too busy? Why would an animal not be ridden, not be used for what horses were trained and bred to do? I think to some people it's scary to leave the arena and to other folks time just slips away. But some are just waiting for a little inspiration. I think it's time to invite those neighbors to join us for a trail ride!


Blogger Sara said...

Oh, how I would love to own my own horse! My aunt and uncle wanted to ride while they lived in a small apartment in Niagara Falls. They found a way to buy and board a Quarter Horse, then they purchased a small ranch, where they bought 5 more horses and have a boarder. Now they have a larger ranch with 4 horses all their own (they sold one of their yearlings).
I would love to be able to spend more time there, but they are a few hours away and I don't have the time to visit too often.
I've looked into riding lessons here in Toronto, but every one has a 200lbs limit for each student, and I'm just over. :( It looks like my horse riding dreams need to wait until I lose 10lbs, or find a way to just work at a farm and be around the horses again. *sigh*

April 30, 2014 at 11:37 AM  
Blogger Jenna said...

It's SO WORTH it sara, i strongly suggest an older DVD that always helps me lose 10-15 pounds, it's a 20 minute a day work out called Jillian Michaels Shred. I'll do it with you!

April 30, 2014 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

OR, forget the weight loss and get a draft. I am under 200 pounds but not by much (187) and Merlin and his 1000 pounds of draft power had taken me on all -day rides and drives. Maybe you need tougher horses than the average school around you offers!

I never even heard of a weight limit.

April 30, 2014 at 1:53 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Hey Jenna,
Hilarious - I have that DVD on my shelf and haven't used it in a while. Perhaps this is my excuse, or at least until swimming weather starts up again. Although, my body has been wavering around the 200lbs mark for over 15yrs regardless of what I do. I think it's just how I'm built.

I think a draft would be the horse for me. And yes, everywhere around here has a weight limit for riders, except for some family farms further out. I can partly understand considering at these schools you would have a wide variety of riders with different skill levels, that would perhaps not know how to sit properly while riding, or not have a saddle suited for them, etc. The weight limit for rider plus tack around here is 250lbs. I haven't found a school yet that has draft horses, unfortunately :(

I'm still looking though. Most of the horses at my aunt's place are quarter horses, and I've ridden them fairly recently without any issues. I don't know. There are so many factors involved! Oh how I would love to have a horse of my own. Also lessons here are between $60-$70/hr. Either that or I could visit my aunt more often - a 3hr drive away, which I would need to rent out a vehicle for after giving up my old car (it wasn't necessary where I live and take transit everywhere).

April 30, 2014 at 4:36 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

P.S. I'll take you up on your offer about the workout. It has been accumulating far too much dust :P

April 30, 2014 at 4:44 PM  
Blogger Sara said...

Here's an article on weight limits. It says that a horse should never carry more than 20% of its body weight:

April 30, 2014 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Jenna said...

Sara, I'll start tomorrow, can you commit to 5 days a week>?!

April 30, 2014 at 8:48 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

By my calculation from your numbers, Merlin costs you $122/month in hay, vet checks and farrier work. I sure hope nobody's cable bill is twice that much!!!

April 30, 2014 at 9:28 PM  
Blogger Karen Rickers said...

There's another option part-way between riding lessons and ownership, and that's part-lease or part-board. I had an unpleasant experience at a small stable in January -- part-boarded a beautiful Hanoverian only to find the horses without water on numerous occasions! Very distressing, especially since the owner didn't react well when I brought my concerns to them. But I'm about to start another part-board with three Thoroughbreds at a beautiful barn with arena, and I think it will be great. Part-boards here in Ontario range from $150 to $250 per month, and can work out well for people who want to ride, and just have the joy of being at the barn and around horses, but can't commit to purchase and long-term responsibility for a horse at the current time. Just a thought!

May 1, 2014 at 8:07 AM  
Blogger Kira said...

Bales of hay for $2-3!!! Wow! I bought two bales of orchard grass for my goats yesterday - $16 each. Willamette Valley, OR.

May 1, 2014 at 9:51 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Jenna, I'm in! Although 5 days a week may kill me lol If I don't make it you'll have to take care of my 2 cats :P

May 1, 2014 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger doglady said...

What about Jasper? Did you sell him and I missed it?

May 2, 2014 at 7:11 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Horses aren't expensive until they are, and then they really really are.

A mystery lameness can run $1,000+ (easily) to diagnose—and that price doesn't reflect the overcautious actions of a wealthy owner, but simply the price a responsible horse person should be able to pay if they have to.

That said.....I totally agree that horses aren't nearly as expensive as a most people think they are (in some parts of the country, a horse can cost you $75/mo), however, they can also be a lot more expensive than people prepare for.

May 2, 2014 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Sara said...

Hey Karen, thanks for the suggestion! It looks pretty promising, but I would like to get some lessons first before doing a part-board/lease. Where in Ontario are you part-leasing now? Is it in the Toronto region?

May 5, 2014 at 1:09 PM  

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