Monday, March 30, 2015

Equine Laundry: Tips on how to deal with all that hair and dirt!

In a dream world, we would all have dedicated laundry machines for our horses, preferably in a separate room with a separate entrance.  Since diving in deep with horses I've begun using our garage as a pre-mudroom.  Particularly muddy boots are left in the garage.  I wish we had a horse mudroom during shedding season when our coats are covered in horse hair.  I hate dragging all that hair and dirt into my nice, clean house.

Here in the real world, my laundry machines are on the second floor with the bedrooms which seemed like a great idea at the time.  Since the horses have to share with the humans, I've come up with a few procedures which make doing the horse laundry a bit less messy and hopefully prevent horse hair from ending up all over the clothing of the non-horse lovers in the house.

At home we wash saddle pads, fleece blankets, Baker blankets, Irish knits and non-water proof sheets. I have washed AND dried waterproof sheets in the past before I knew anything and honestly it did them no harm and they were still waterproof but I wouldn't count on that working out for an extended period.

Step one is to be sure all human laundry is totally done and that you won't need clean machines again for at least 24 hours. All human laundry is put away and the laundry room has nothing on the floor. I then dump all the horse laundry on the tile floor.

I have a good sized machine so unless we brought sheets home, our things fit in one load. We usually just have saddle pads. If you need to wash girths, they can go in the same load with the saddle pads. Just use some duct tape to pad the buckles. I like to tape the two buckles on each end together and wrap several layers of tape around them. This reduces the noise as they wash and dry and also protects your machines from scratching. If you have bulky metal pieces on any of your sheets or blankets I would suggest using duct tape for those as well. You can also remove leg straps and soak those in a bucket or laundry sink if you don't want to put them through the laundry. Dryers are particularly bad for elastic so you might not want to dry them in the machine even if you machine washed them.

Check the care instructions for your items. If you are washing things that cannot go in the dryer, have a plan for where those are going to hang. The reality is that the dryer is the workhorse in removing the hair from your horse laundry. We have an alternative solution but first you need to hang the items to dry somewhere that you either won't mind having lots of horse hair (clothesline?) or in a place that is easily cleaned up with a vacuum cleaner (basement?). I put fuzzy girths and basic saddle pads in the dryer. I do not put the Back on Track saddle pads in the dryer.  I put all blankets, fleeces, Irish knits, etc. in the dryer.  I have a friend with saddle pads that need to be hand washed so think about all of this when deciding what tack to use for your horse.

My system is based on front loading machines so I'm not sure if it will work as well with a top loader but give it a try.

After taking the laundry out of the washing machine and putting it in the dryer or hanging it to dry, I leave the washing machine open to dry over night. The next day I take the horse laundry out of the dryer and put it downstairs to go to the barn.  I then use the hose on my vacuum cleaner to thoroughly clean the washing machine, dryer, lint collector, floor of the laundry room and tops of my machines.  That horse hair gets EVERYWHERE!!!!

Then I turn to my line dried items. I vacuum the saddle pads. You can do this prior to washing but I actually find it works better for me to do it after. I run the vacuum back and forth over the saddle pad probably 20 or 30 times until the bulk of the hair is gone. For sheets and blankets I tend to just shake them out outside.  I suppose you could try vacuuming but I think they need more heft so the vacuum won't just suck them up.

On occasion I have washed and dried blankets a second time through clean machines and used a dryer sheet to try and remove more hair. Of course I then had to clean the machines a second time.

For a Mattes pad or other sheepskin pad follow the manufacturer directions very carefully. Mattes pads come with special soap. They can be washed in a regular washing machine but in my experience they take forever to dry.

For medium and heave sheets and our water proof sheet if I don't feel like hanging it to dry after washing, I send them out to be cleaned. Dover Saddlery provides blanket cleaning and most barns have someone collect all the blankets for cleaning at the end of the winter. Expect it to take 4 - 8 weeks to get the blankets back from cleaning. In a pinch, you really need to just do it yourself. You can probably do a medium in your home machine and hang it to dry but a heavy would need a really  good sized machine.

The other thought I have had is to take everything to a laundromat. It's kind of obnoxious to go infest public machines with all your horse hair but you've got to do what you've go to do!

It was during our first spring shedding season that Elizabeth and I became big fans of clipping our horse. When you clip in the winter it means you need to blanket your horse more heavily through the cold weather and of course if you clip on your own you make a huge mess. I usually wear a coat that is then sent immediately to the dry cleaner.  I know other people who get full body plastic suits from Home Depot to wear while clipping. But the upside is that you don't have two months of horrendous shedding in the spring. We leave a decent amount of hair on our horse so even though she's trace clipped, she is shedding. But much less so than if we hadn't clipped her at all.

As for your winter coat (I have a brown one I call my medium and a black one I call my heavy, both fully dedicated to the barn and too filthy and smelly to go anywhere else) it's off to the dry cleaner. I've accumulated barn and non-barn versions of most outerwear at this point and footwear for that matter. I wait until May and off the coats go to be freshened up for the next winter which is never far enough away.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Horses Vacationing in Florida for the Winter: Why the horses go south even if the humans can't.

As I sit by the fire while snow is falling yet again, and on the second day of spring no less, I am again kicking myself for not sending our horse south this winter. Realistically with all we've been going through it wouldn't have worked out this year but a winter like this one really helps me wrap my head around the idea of sending the horses even if the humans can't go.

Many people on the East Coast, and elsewhere in the country for that matter, send their horses south for the winter. The big attraction for people across the country is the amount and quality of competition available in Wellington, Florida during the winter. Wellington is the most upscale version of going south and takes a pretty serious budget but if you can afford it there is quite an equestrian scene there. WEF (Winter Equestrian Festival) runs all winter long and offers weeks of showing in the warm weather in the Hunter, Jumper, Equitation and Dressage disciplines. If you are a rider who is hunting points for the pony division or working toward a dressage medal or some other particular honorific, going to Florida expands the opportunities. Most of the professionals where we live in Massachusetts go south for some period of time so if you don't go you end up a bit on your own.

Eventers tend to go to Ocala, Florida or Aiken, South Carolina. Board in these places is very reasonable and there is a ton of land and open space. There are plenty of schooling shows and some horse trials so if the snow ever melts up north your horses are ready to go out and compete in the spring.

As to the why, well, all you have to do is sit in a freezing cold indoor watching 4 horses going in circles while someone is trying to give a lesson and another person is waiting to lunge and you understand that staying home is frustrating. The bottom line is riding is an outdoor sport and when you bring it inside for 6 months it begins to lose some of its appeal. The barn we ride at has 4 outdoor sand rings, a round pen and a XC course so it's an extreme change for us from summer to winter and the horses feel it as well.

If you stay behind in the winter there is only so much you can do. The horses hardly move in their paddocks so they start every day stiff and cold. There isn't much room and you are always fighting the crowds. If your trainer went south then you may not have any professional support.

I did the math and going south actually wasn't going to be all that expensive for us. Our trainer didn't end up going but, if she had, the fees she would charge for training board in Florida, which would include her riding our horse 4 times a week, was actually less than our current board with two lessons and one training ride a week we pay for here in Massachusetts. Our farrier and vet both go down south so none of that would have to change. We would then have to pay shipping both ways and half board to hold a stall at Course Brook but all in it wasn't a bad deal. Of course my assessment was meant to encourage my husband to go along with the plan and didn't include the several trips south my daughter and I would be making - airfare, car rental, hotel.

Having a horse down south does give the humans a great excuse to escape the winter. In the hunter/jumper scene the kids tend to get into more of a routine, going down on Thursday nights and flying back on Sundays. For them, the 12 weeks of WEF mean an opportunity to ride against all the best kids in the country and gain ground accumulating ever important points to qualify for the year end national shows. As more kids opt to take this route, it makes it harder for the kids that stay up north to catch up during the regular season. The kids we know who event and send their horses south either stay down for 3 months (each has worked out something different with their schools) or they go down a couple of weekends and for a week over break. Most winters there are many people who send their horses down for 6 - 8 weeks during February and March to start their conditioning for the spring season. This winter the people who had that intention have decided to just leave the horses down there until May. The ground up here is still frozen and covered in snow. There's nothing to do here!

This year I decided that to do such an extravagant thing for the horse of a 12 year old girl set an undesirable precedent. I believe riding through the cold is character building and part of earning the privilege of having a horse. Sadly, I had to build my character right along side my daughter and I'm heartily sick of the cold. I have a friend who keeps horses at home and has a couple of boarders.  She sent her two horses south this winter with her trainer  and will never keep them home again. It completely changed her stress level.

Theoretically, spring is right around the corner. Hopefully this will be the end of lamenting the choice to stay home this winter.

Update: We are now heading into winter 2016/2017 and we thought seriously about going south for a month. My daughter has some early season goals that will be hard to achieve without heading south but in the end, we aren't going. We will hope for an early spring and shoot for an early season event in Virginia to get things started.

It is also worth noting that for young riders eventing in Area I, Florida does come into play at some point. To be chosen for the Area I NAJYRC team kids have to ride in a couple of competitions in Florida the winter prior to the championship. I don't think we will ever be on that path but never say never!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What is that?: The things I now own that are still a mystery to me.

Elizabeth's tack trunk which she built with her father.
As a new horse mom you hear about all sorts of gadgets that someone assumes you have but that honestly you've never heard of and you wouldn't know what it was if it fell in your lap. So I thought I'd try to make a list of some of the things we've bought, what they are intended to do and whether or not we got very much use from them. I'll mention some things you vaguely recognize like saddles but tell you the tidbits that somewhat surprised me.

1) Saddles are sold without stirrups and girths. After you buy a saddle you need to get stirrup leathers which are the leather loops which hang from the saddle and hold the stirrup. Buy good leathers. These take the bulk of the wear and tear from daily use and need to be in good shape. You need stirrups. There are lots of options on the market. We didn't get too gimmicky. We bought basic stirrups for dressage and safety stirrups for jumping. The safety stirrups have a thick rubber band called a peacock that attaches to the outside of the stirrup with little leather end pieces. The point of safety stirrups is that the peacock will break before the rider's leg in case of emergency whereas a basic stirrup has steel on the outside.

2) Bridles come in many forms. Some are sold with reins though pretty much every time we have bought one with reins we have bought a separate set of rubber reins which my daughter prefers to ride with. Bridles do not come with bits. Your trainer will be helpful in determining which type of bridle and bit to choose. Bridles are sized by small pony, pony, cob, horse or large horse. These sizes are not always consistent from one brand to another so tack shops are very good about letting you try things on your horse and return them if they don't fit. The basic bridle is called a caveson. Dressage bridles have a flash noseband which is a second loop of leather that goes around the horse's nose below the bit. Figure 8's are often used by eventers and have a lower nose band and another one higher up than that of a caveson. The newer Micklem bridles have a more fitted strap around the jaw rather than a throat latch, a nose band below the bit and are designed to work with a horse's anatomy. Bit's come in inch sizes. The size corresponds to the measurement across the bit inside the cheek pieces. Our pony was a 4 1/2 and our horse is a 5 1/2 or 5 1/4, depending on the bit. There are literally hundreds of bits out there. You need to work with a trainer to determine which type is best for the horse you ride and the sport you pursue. We use a different bit for jumping than we do for dressage.

Quizz donning 5 point breast plate, Dalmar XC boots, safety stirrups,
Micklem bridle, Wonderbit and Mattes pad over an all purpose pad
3) There are lots of specialty reins, martingales and other specialty items out there. Here are the basics.
  • Standing Martingale - this piece of tack has a loop of leather that goes around the horse's chest and has straps connecting it to the girth and the noseband. It basically prevents the horse from lifting it's nose way up in the air.  We used these on the ponies at the hunter barn my daughter used to ride at and they are used in jumping classes but not in flat classes. I think. Don't quote me as an authority on that. I can tell you they are not allowed in dressage or eventing.
  • Running Martingale - this piece of tack is similar to a standing martingale but rather than attaching to the noseband, there are two straps at the front which attach to the reins. It is also used to keep the horse from throwing his head too high. These are often used by eventers when jumping.
  • Breastplate - this is a piece of tack used primarily to hold a saddle in place when jumping.  It shouldn't be necessary if a saddle is well fitted but it looks cool and if you are taking huge jumps it's probably a reasonable piece of tack to use. They come in 3 points and 5 points. 5 points look cooler. Just Sayin'.
  • German Reins or German Martingale - similar to other martingales this is a loop of leather which goes around the horse's chest, has a strap connecting it to the girth on one end and two straps at the front. Different than a running martingale, the two straps on the German martingale loop through the bit and connect to metal rings on the special reins. These are a training tool and help encourage the horse to work with his head down, raising his back and bringing his hind legs under him. They are considered less severe than side reins (see lunging equipment) and are not used in show situations.
4) There is a whole world of boots for horses and apparently we need all of them. I'm resisting but we have already bought quite a few. The equine brands do a great job of marketing so you think you need more than you really do. Here are a few types that come to mind:
  • Bell Boots - these are short little boots, usually made of rubber, which cover the hoof. Horses generally wear them on their front feet though I have seen them on the hind as well. The purpose is to protect the front hooves and especially the shoes of the front hooves when the horse is "tracking up" during movement. Tracking up refers to the hind leg coming forward toward the front leg and sometimes horses over track. If they over track (or overreach) you have some issues to work on but the bell boot falls over the heel just enough so that the hind hoof connects with the boot instead of pulling off the front shoe. We put them on our pony but we actually only put them on our horse during Cross Country.
  • Polo Wraps - these are long, narrow lengths of fleece with velcro at one end. They are wrapped around a horse's legs to provide a bit of warmth and protection during flat work. Honestly, they really aren't used all that much these days. You would never want to use them while jumping or out galloping in case they came undone and tripped the horse. They come in fun colors and patterns and it is easy to make your own. The real value in using polos is in getting practice with wrapping. Wrapping a horse's legs is a delicate process. Pony Club introduces polo wrapping early on as a means of teaching wrapping with something simple the kids can handle before tackling stable bandages.
  • Brushing Boots - these are protective boots used during any type of work. We use the neoprene Woof Boots which come in lots of fun colors and are reasonably priced. We use them on the front legs when lunging and on all 4 when jumping.
  • Open Front Boots - open fronts tend to be more expensive and are popular with jumpers. They have a hard core and are very protective of the sensitive parts of a horse's lower leg but they leave the front portion open. The theory is that you want your horse to feel the pole or the jump as they go over if they aren't tucking up enough. If you put too much protection on their leg some people think they won't really care about brushing and dropping a pole on a jump course.
  • Cross Country Boots - these are super protective. Cross Country obstacles are solid so if your horse's legs hit them, it will hurt. We bought a pair of Dalmar boots for our horse which is a bit over the top but I was so very very glad we did. At my daughter's first show with Quizz they had trouble at the 4th or 5th fence which was a table. I was in the next field but I could hear the hard plastic of her boots hit the jump. The horse was totally fine. The boots did their job. Once Elizabeth was certain Quizz was OK they continued on course and finished a solid round. This is a pair of boots I would buy again. I had thought we didn't really need such fancy stuff at the lower levels but if it protects the horse while she and my daughter are making mistakes together then it is well worth it.
  • Shipping Boots - these are tall, padded boots that protect your horse during transport. They are super awkward for the horses to move in. Our pony hated them. We don't always use them but if the horse is going to be in the trailer for more than an hour we like to do what we can to protect her from herself. The trailer is safe but if she kicks or if we have another horse in the trailer, anything could happen.  
  • Hoof Boots - there are actually many different names for these boots but none really distinguish them sufficiently from other types of boots. We call them sneakers or Quizz's tennis shoes. Most often these shoes are worn by barefoot horses when they go out on a trail ride to protect their hooves from rocks and sticks. We recently bought a pair when Quizz had a hoof bruise. Our vet pulled her shoe so she wore one of these boots for a week during turnout so that she wouldn't have to stay in her stall all day.
  • Soaking Boot - this is just what it sounds like. You buy a size that will fit on the horse with a bit of space left over for the water or whatever it is you are using to soak the hoof. We used one to soak Quizz's hoof and try to tease out an abscess.  I've seen taller versions which people use to soak or ice a horse's legs after hard work such as a big cross country run.
Quizz modeling the 1/4 sheet I made for her from a blanket
called a Chappy Wrap
5) I wrote an entire post on blanketing but I think it is worth mentioning a few of the blanket types you might consider buying.
  • Sheet - a sheet could be anything but there are basically two kinds. First is the stable sheet which is just a thin layer to be worn inside or in the trailer. They can be cotton or wool or anything really. Then there are rain sheets which are, in theory, waterproof. There are also dress sheets which just implies you keep it relatively clean and only use it when going somewhere and trying to look good, sort of like a cocktail dress or pretty high heeled shoes.
  • Stable Blanket - really the same thing as a stable sheet but this one is soft cotton or wool and makes you think blanket. Baker blankets are very popular items in the equine wardrobe.
  • Medium or Heavy - these are insulated like your North Face winter coat. They can be waterproof or not. Heavy or Medium refers to the weight of the fill inside. If you plan to use it for turnout be sure to find one that is waterproof. They can come with high necks or you can buy neck covers to attach to them.  
  • Irish Knit - this is a cotton netting blanket that is great for a wet horse. You put it on a sweaty horse after heavy work or a wet horse after a bath on a cool day to keep the horse a bit warmer during drying. It also absorbs some of the water.
  • Fleece - just like the human version, a fleece is just another layer. Every brand is different but most of the fleece layers are pretty thin. They're great because they don't cause as much blanket rub (the hair on a horse's shoulders and chest can get rubbed off from the pressure of blankets).
  • Surcingle - this is the name of the weird hooky things on the side of most blankets that connects the webbing around the belly to the hook on the side of the blanket.
6) Rope Halters and nylon ropes with "poppers" on the end are tools used in natural horsemanship. The rope halters have knots on them that use natural pressure points to encourage the horse to work with you rather than against you. The popper end of the lead rope can be "twirled" to encourage the horse to move in the direction you determine. We have found the use of natural horsemanship and these tools to be very valuable.

Quizz being lunged with Pessoa and Surcingle
7) Lunging is another area filled with gear. You can lunge a horse with a bridle, lunge line and whip. But there are other tools out there as well.
  • Lunge Line - a lunge line is a long, flat line made of cotton or nylon with a clip on one end which attaches to the horse's head via a rope halter or a lunging caveson. It is sort of like a leash and keeps the horse connected to the person lunging.
  • Lunging Caveson - this is a leather halter that fits like a bridle and has metal rings on the noseband for connecting the lunge line and training tools.
  • Surcingle - not to be confused with the connecting mechanism used on many horse blankets, this surcingle goes around the horse's belly and can be used to connect other tools to the horse for training.
  • Side Reins - these are leather straps designed to connect from a saddle or lunging surcingle to the Caveson or bit. I personally don't know how to use them so have no better explanation. The purpose is to encourage a horse to keep his head down, use his core and bring his hind end under him.  They can also be used under saddle but the saying goes that anyone who is actually qualified to use side reins doesn't need them. Still, they can be a useful training tool.
  • Pessoa - in addition to being a brand of saddle, this is a rope contraption that resembles a torture device. It connects to the bit and surcingle and has a soft tube that sits at the back of the horse's hind end. We use this on our horse and it has been great for her rehabilitation. It encourages her to stretch her head and neck down and to bring her hind end forward under her body. With this device her canter transitions engage her hind end much more. It has helped us build up her strength and the muscles on her top line. This is all good.
  • Lunge Whip - these are much longer than even a dressage whip with a string on the end and are used to drive the horse on the lunge circle.
  • Carrot Stick - this is a shorter whip than the lunge whip with a longer string on the end. Carrot sticks are often used in natural horsemanship. My daughter prefers this to a lunge whip because it is much easier for her to manage.
8) Then we have all the grooming tools.  
  • Curry - plastic, used to loosen dirt and hair
  • Pulling Comb - metal, best with a long, wooden handle, used to pull a horse's mane (rather than cutting the mane to the desired length, you can actually pull the longer hairs from areas where the hair is too thick)
  • Flick - long bristle brush that flicks the dirt up from below the surface
  • Hard and Soft Brush - pretty much what they sound like!
  • Hoof Pick - metal hook with a handle used to pick dirt, ice, sand, etc. out of the horse's hoof. I like the kind with a brush on the other side so you can brush and pick at one time.
  • Cowboy Magic - fabulous conditioning gel that makes it possible to brush a horse's tail
9) Saddle pads are all about personal preference. Size, thickness and materials used in construction are the important factors.
  • All Purpose Saddle Pad - this is the rectangular pad most people use under their saddles. We like the kind with moisture wicking fabric on the underside. The pad should be big enough that the saddle doesn't sit on the horse anywhere there isn't a pad and small enough so that it isn't in the way of the girth.
  • Dressage Saddle Pad - these are much larger since dressage saddles have longer flaps.
  • Hunter Saddle Pad - these are sheepskin pads shaped like the saddle.
  • Shim Pad - these pads have pockets for shims which can be added to adjust the fit of the saddle.
  • Mattes Pad - one brand of sheepskin pad. They come with or without shim pockets and in full or half pad.  A full pad would go underneath the entire seat of the saddle.
  • Thinline Pad - a thin gel pad that comes with or without shim pockets and in full or half pad. You can also buy them built into the rectangular saddle pad.
  • Back on Track - this is a company that makes products using ceramic technology in its fabrics. The ceramic retains the horse's heat and reflects it back to the horse helping to increase blood flow. We like to use a Back on Track saddle pad to help warm up tight muscles in the winter.
10) Stable bandages are leg wraps used either after heavy work to prevent swelling in the legs or after injury to protect the legs.  As the name implies, they are worn in the barn or trailer or while tied after a cross country run. They consist of a quilted pillow like wrap held in place with a firm but stretchy ace bandage type wrap called simply stable bandage. They are also called standing wraps or standing bandages. They can be done with flannel or cotton batting. Everyone has their preference and in the case of injury a vet may have a reason for choosing one type over another.

Elizabeth jumping on Sabrina who is wearing a Quiet Ride
11) Ear bonnets and face masks are items used to protect horses from flies and bugs in the summer. The face masks are made of heavy mesh and stay on all day. They go over their heads and have mesh ear covers. Face masks make a big difference in keeping horses comfortable during summer turnout. Ear bonnets are worn during work. They are usually knit or crocheted and have ear pockets made of breathable fabric. Covering the horse's ears during buggy times can really help them pay attention during work. Ear bonnets are available in fun colors and you can have custom ones made as well. There are also face masks called quiet rides which are lighter weight than the ones we use for turnout. We use them for trail riding in the woods so that the horse doesn't spend the whole ride annoyed by a bug in his eye.

If you take a look at the Dover Saddlery catalog or the SmartPak website you will see there are plenty of items I haven't mentioned. However, this list should help you get a grasp on the basics. There is an endless supply of fun items for the horse obsessed. Equine pursuits are a great choice for gear lovers!

Friday, March 6, 2015

No Middle Ground With Horses: Why there are so few in between opportunities for kids who want to ride.

I frequently meet parents of horse crazy kids who want to provide more equestrian opportunity but don't have the bandwidth to dive in head first.  I've often lamented the fact that this sport doesn't accommodate incremental increases in commitment.  However, I'm seeing things differently lately and want to share why I've changed my mind.

You can't be an in between horse person.  The people who have been the most successful in any equine sport have done so on the backs of horses they knew intimately.  They start these horses themselves rather than buying made horses.  They spend so much time with their horses and see them everyday in every situation so that they know immediately if something isn't right.  It's akin to our relationships with our kids or our partners.  I can tell when not to ask a favor from my husband or if my oldest isn't feeling well but is gutting out a race nonetheless.  If you go in halfway you lose that connection and barometer.

There is no middle ground because you either own a horse or you don't own a horse.  Of course, there are people who half lease or share horses.  Horses are very expensive so it is unrealistic to think everyone who wants to ride can simply buy and maintain a horse.  Sometimes the perfect half leasing opportunity comes up and those are fortunate circumstances.  With a 2 - 3 day a week commitment, the child is able to learn more than if she had just been taking lessons but without giving up everything else in life.  That's great.  And for some people they simply can't afford more and I get that.

However, and this is where I may lose some of you, you don't become a horse person by doing it part time.  If you want to be a horse person, know the ups and downs and be a true steward of a wonderful living being, it's a full time job.  It is a choice that eliminates other choices from your life.  Riding horses should never be like playing soccer or tennis.  It should never be something you show up to do for an hour and then off you go to do all your other things in life.  Such an approach is disrespectful to the incredible gift the horses give us by letting us get on their backs and train them, learn from them, work with them, pour our secrets into their ears and dry our tears on their coats.

Our world today approaches everything as a disposable commodity.  We are accustomed to instant gratification and tossing aside things that don't work.  Horses defy that evolution.  It takes forever to learn how to ride and care for a horse properly.  And I mean forever!!!  And when a horse isn't doing well he's more similar to your child than a piece of equipment.  You might dump a $3,000.00 saddle if the horse doesn't like it but you never just dump a horse.  You care for it, you do everything you can, consult everyone you know and you hope that when it is time to give up the people around you will tell you because it is unlikely you would be willing to give up without a crazy fight.  And giving up can take many different forms.  For some that means retirement to a field to live out his days in relaxed bliss.  For others it means rehoming to a therapeutic riding program or as a trail horse.  And for those beyond help, it means ending their suffering.  None of this is easy.

My point is that the real value of embracing a horse sport for your child is that it isn't simple.  You don't just sign up.  This is a commitment that will teach your child the true meaning of commitment.  When it's 11 degrees someone has to break the ice in the water bucket.  When it's 20 degrees but the horse has an abscess, someone needs to go soak it and get their hands wet.  Someone needs to take their gloves off to poultice the hoof after soaking.  And when it's 95 degrees and humid at the end of a long horse show, someone, has to muck out the stall and reload the trailer.  That my daughter has never once complained about being the one to do all of this and much more indicates her preparedness for the world and anything it can throw at her.

The better a rider knows a horse, the more prepared the rider can be if something goes wrong.  A rider who truly knows his horse will not go out cross country if something is wrong but first you have to know the horse to know that something is wrong.  At this point, as a parent of a kid who likes to ride, you will rely on a trainer to know if the horse is off or if the child shouldn't be going out.  But if you rely on that trainer forever and for everything, you and your child will not develop your own gut instincts about what not to do or when something is wrong and developing those instincts is what will make your child a horse person rather than a kid who takes riding lessons.  You need the trainer but you also need to develop your own knowledge.  You are responsible for the child so ultimately you are responsible for the horse.  Pony Club is a great resource for parents and kids to learn the things they need to know to be responsible horse stewards.

As parents of horse kids we are not raising horses so we do buy horses, ostensibly with experience in the sport our child is pursuing.  It takes at least a year to get to know the horse.  Anything that you do in that year is a bit of guesswork.  Some horses take longer to know but a year can give you a good idea of how things are going.  But that's ok.  That is how we create a learning opportunity for our kids.  If they continue in the sport there will come a time when they need to build a horse from the ground up, put in the years of work and build the long term relationship but first they need to become horse people.

And one final thing parents of equestrians really need to understand.  This is a lifetime sport.  Most kids won't play soccer or football past high school and even fewer past college.  Gymnasts and skaters peak in their teens.  Equestrians peak in their 40's and can still be at the top of their game in their 50's.  It takes that long to learn enough to develop your own horse.  A horse takes at least 10 years to develop to the top levels of eventing and often more.  So if you are a parent who has a lot tied up in your kids' athletic achievements, equine sports might not be all that fulfilling for you.  The hunter and equitation world does provide classes for kids and there is hefty competition and a huge amount of money being spent so kids can win medals.  But all of that misses the point of horses and raising horse people.

Life with horses, especially for kids, shouldn't be about ribbons.  It should be about connection, love, hard work, barn life (which is usually a boy free zone and a great place for teenaged girls) and learning about horses.  If your child truly wants to be a horse person, find a way to help her.  I can't think of anything better for a kid than hard work with a healthy, happy equine friend as the reward.