Twilight Sparkle & Rainbow Dash
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!