Advice Sought, Kid Wants Horse

Horsekeeping

 
A friend has a child who is interesting in getting a horse. They asked my advice. I gave it. I then asked for permission to fuzz the details and post the exchange in order to see what the hive mind had to say. Do you agree with my advice? Disagree? Have anything to add? Please forward to any persons or groups who might be interested in weighing in.

To Me From Relative of Child
Child is interested in buying a horse. What advice can you give them about buying a good horse. Any advice will be helpful.

To Me From Parent of Child
A bit of background. Child is 11. They are very good at taking care of chickens, guinea pigs, and dogs. However, I told them that they can look into it but I can’t help in terms of buying and carrying food and cleaning poop etc. They are smart and understand there will be work but I’m not sure how much work.

My Advice
A horse at home is a big commitment. I was an adult, had been riding for 15+ years, and was still surprised at what I didn’t know. What to feed. When to feed. What’s normal. What’s not normal. What to do in an emergency. When to call the vet. And so on.

The good news is that there are tons of ways to explore intermediate steps. Take lessons at a barn that emphasizes horsemanship, i.e. not just showing up and riding. Lease a horse. Board at a barn that lets you work off some of the expenses. Become a working student. Try different disciplines. They may like to ride English but find a Western barn that has a good program. Or vice versa.

Start talking to your neighbors. Drive to a local barn & start asking questions. Horse people LOVE to give advice. Be warned, they also like to sell their horses, services, etc. People will offer solutions that fit you into their program rather than what might be right for you.

(Direct Address to Parent). You know exactly who is going to end up unloading a pickup truck full of hay, or hefting feed bags that I can barely lift.

We haven’t even touched on riding facilities or supervision at home. I have these problems to this day.

I hope I helped somewhat. You live in a horsey area. There are tons of ways to get involved with horses.

Oh, wear a helmet. Every ride, every time.

From Me To Blog Readers
Thank you for reading and for your advice.
Katherine Walcott

Categories: Horses

13 replies »

  1. What she said. Lease first. Actually, I think taking some lessons first – in riding and horse care – then lease before buying. There is a lot of work involved with horses, especially if you keep them at home and have no one to step in if you get sick or want to go on vacation or whatever.
    When i was a kid I took lessons at a barn that had a bus to pick up and deliver students. A new girl showed up one day. The next week she came dressed as if she was going to a show. The next week…well, week 2 had apparently been her last. There is an awful lot to consider.

  2. Honestly, the vast majority of my education around horses was earned through sweat and hard work. I was a barn rat from maybe 12 to 22. During that time, I didn’t own my own horse. I didn’t lease a horse. I did take lessons, and I did spend a lot of time at the barn. I rode whatever came my way, and I was around during vet visits, farrier visits, and other people’s lessons. I went to the little and big shows to help out. Adults and trainers were happy to have me around because I never complained, and I was a helpful extra set of hands (that got a lot more helpful once I was older).

    I rehabbed horses from injuries. I learned to wrap wounds. For a decade, I was a SPONGE, and it made me a better horse person than I would have been if I just showed up a few days a week to ride “my” horse.

    Now, I have the luxury of owning my own horse, but she definitely benefits from that solid decade of barn rat knowledge.

  3. Yes to barn-rat path. Watch, listen and learn. Take lessons before leasing, and leasing before buying. Stay underfoot and offer to help, but most importantly, watch, listen and learn.

  4. My experience: Knew parents from my day job. When said child wanted a horse, money was not really the issue (even though they would have to go to considerable expense to convert their non-horsey property into a small farm), but experience for both parent and child was completely non-existent. My advice was to start the child with weekly lessons at a boarding barn. That would give them an idea of what that world was about. Then I suggested they try to do an “internship” (for parents AND child) at a backyard barn. That would give them an idea of what home ownership of a horse is like. Since they lived about five minutes away, they offered to come help me on my farm. (Yeah, I know. Sounds like I cohered them into providing free help, but trust me, teaching rookies is a lot more work than you’d think.) The deal: one parent would come with the child a minimum of twice a week (at feeding time) for one year. (They set the one-year timeline, not me. They wanted to experience horse care in all four seasons. Smart, actually.) Meanwhile, the child would continue with riding lessons locally. This arrangement would give them an idea of what backyard horse ownership is really like while the child could start making progress riding elsewhere. Because riding of my horses was NOT included. (Grooming was, though.) No money was exchanged, because …. nobody pays you to do chores on your own farm. Parents learned: how time-consuming, expensive and even scary (AKA: Vet emergencies) owning a horse can be. Child learned: how fun, interesting, monotonous owning a horse can be. Chores included everything from actual feeding, grooming, rock-picking, fence repair, routine vet observation, putting up hay, snow clearing, etc. In other words, a serious reality check. How did things shake out? Well, after a year of being very faithful to the arrangement both parents and child decided they’d rather continue taking lessons at the local barn than actually owning their own horse. Kind of a no-brainer if you ask me: Easy in, easy out. Oh, and while the child was busy grooming and/or doing chores there was always time for conversation with the parent about things like, you DO realize your kid has about 7 years before she heads off to college, possibly leaving you with said horse, all the work and all the horsey paraphernalia, right? Huge reality check. These parents were not and never will be “horsey people,” they were in it strictly for the kid. Years later, when the child went off to college the parents thanked me profusely for saving their ass. FWIW, some time around her senior year their daughter decided to give up riding for boys and other interests. To my knowledge she hasn’t ridden since. (This was during the early 90’s)

  5. My advice would be the barn rat, riding lessons route. However, my own experience. I knew a young lady who really wanted a horse, she had the pasture, loafing shed, and parents willing to oversee her and to help. I had a retired mare who would benefit from light exercise and extra grooming and snacks. I loaned her my mare for the summer and 3 weeks into the school year so they would see how school and horse care would work. It worked great. They loved my mare, loved taking care of her, even thru a colic scare. Paid for her shoes and feed and grooming supplies. I supplied the tack. After the time was up and I brought my mare home, they purchased their own gelding and still have him, even though daughter is now in college.

  6. Thanks to everyone for the advice & for sharing your stories.

    I would add that “barn rat” is a term of affection, a term that one earns over time by hanging out & being useful. You don’t walk into a barn and announce that you want to become one. You can, however, walk into a barn and announce that you wish to learn everything. Then walk the walk.

    Also, it’s not just about money, although money opens up opportunities. Many/most barns will work with someone who demonstrates willingness to learn. If they don’t? Well, watching is free and, and as these folks have said, educational.

    I realize I never addressed the original question of buying a good horse. That is a whole industrial-sized can of worms right there. All of the above advice about gaining experience in horse care will help with eventual horse buying.

  7. I get the part about being a barn rat. In the right situation it can help expand the knowledge. However, unless the parents are horse savvy, they won’t begin to be in the loop. So being a barn rat is great experience for the kid, but what about the other half of the equation?

    • About horse buying: I used to think buying a horse was an option for just about anyone. Seriously. You want a horse? Great! There are plenty available. That said, today I’m finding too many things are too easily discarded. Children, in particular, seldom have the wherewithal or desire to stick with something they “want” for very long. Some of this is upbringing, but some of it is our culture now. And then there’s the little fact that the window of opportunity for a kid to have the time to focus on riding is oh, so very short and comes with so much competition to do other, sometimes necessary extra-curricular things. Yes, some kids go on to ride in college, but I’d have to say that for every 100 kids that start out major horse crazy, about 1% go on and continue riding after they leave home. So that being said, I vote lease. Especially if the parents are non-horsey folks. Leasing leaves you with ample opportunity to experience lots of good horsey things, but it doesn’t lock you into a long-term situation that can go sideways in so many different ways. But that’s an old lady looking back and ruminating. I was that horse-crazy kid who had a pony, then a horse. I left home at 19 and couldn’t get back into horses until I was in my early 30’s. My parents got stuck with 4 horses (one for each kid, though I was the only kid who actually rode) and an aged pony. They were NOT horsey people and it was not fair that they had to find homes for them and deal with the fallout when all they wanted to do was give us the chance to experience horses. I am the only person in my family who still rides. My siblings barely rode as kids and they definitely don’t do it now. Heck, sometimes I even regret buying my third and forth horse. I probably should have leased. Duh. Hindsight is always 20/20.

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