I first fell in love on August 11, 2001, one month before my 16th birthday. His name was Noah and he was in that awkward “still-growing” teenage phase, a little gangly and uneven. His hair was a brilliant red-gold, and he had the deepest brown eyes a girl could ever lose herself in. All I needed was my mom’s consent for us to be together… and four thousand dollars.
Whoever says you can’t buy happiness has never bought her first horse.
Of course I promised I’d ride him every day. And I did that, pretty much. I also said I’d take care of him.
Right. I’d just gotten my driver’s license, had four honors classes and AP Spanish at school, and I ran cross country. I cleaned stalls after school–you think it’s a chore picking up after a dog?! Try 50 pounds of poop. Per day. I also fed him whenever I could, but it wasn’t nearly enough. And you can guess who was picking up the slack. My poor mother was out there every day that I wasn’t, feeding and mucking (a glamorous horsy term for picking up horse manure).
Here’s the bottom line. Horses are a lot of work and cost a lot of money. If he’s your horse and no one else’s, there’s no one else to ride him if you don’t. And if you don’t have the time to care for your horse, you’ll need the money to pay someone else to.
My uncle, who’s a family doctor, calls horses “women’s motorcycles.” But luckily, you can follow a few simple guidelines that minimize the risk inherent to trying to boss around an animal that outweighs you by a factor of ten and thinks plastic bags, squirrels and fallen branches are deadly enemies.
Here are ten things you can do to keep yourself and your horse safe.
1. Wear appropriate riding gear. This includes a proper riding helmet, riding boots, riding pants, a belt, a sleeved shirt, and a protective vest for cross country and other higher risk sports. Just don’t ride if you don’t have these things–it’s not worth it!
2. Don’t panic. No matter what happens, the most important thing you can do is stay calm. The moment you lose your cool, you lose the ability to think clearly. Plus, if you panic, your horse will figure whatever has you spooked is worth him worrying about too!
3. Practice emergency situations. This is one of the best ways not to panic. Learn and practice emergency dismounts and how to stop a runaway horse. Practice riding without stirrups in case you accidentally lose one. Practice, practice, practice riding with a deep, balanced seat! When these things have become second nature, you’ll be able to respond without thinking, no matter what happens.
If you share an arena with other riders, knowing what to do can help avoid accidents.
Here are ten simple rules to follow whenever there are other riders around:
1. Call out, “Door!” before you open a door to an arena, and wait for a response before you enter. This will let anyone inside know you are there and they will be able to let you know when it is safe to enter.
2. Mount and adjust tack in the center of the arena, where you are out of the way of other riders. Stopping along the rail blocks the way for anyone else who is riding.
3. Leave at least one horse-length between your horse and another horse. Riding too closely can scare horses or result in a horse or rider getting kicked.
4. Often at big gatherings, riders tie a red ribbon onto the tail of any horse that kicks. Make sure to give plenty of room to any horse with a red ribbon in its tail. And if your horse is a kicker, make sure you tie on a red ribbon!
Fear… It happens to everyone. Your horse spooks at a trash can, you miss the spacing on a jump, you lose your balance in the canter or maybe you even fall–and suddenly the thought of throwing your leg back over the saddle makes your stomach flip.
At some point, something will scare you about riding. Maybe you started out scared or maybe something spooked you after you got started. I’d never been afraid of anything until my horse and I completely crashed through a 3’ 9” jump before a competition–and I mean we took out all eight poles and both standards–and suddenly even warmup fences seemed insurmountable. It doesn’t matter where the fear snuck in. The trick is to first recognize the feeling, next control it, then plan out your actions and finally just go for it!
There is nothing wrong with being afraid. The more you try to pretend you aren’t or the more you punish yourself for feeling that fear, the harder it will be to honestly address the issue. Or worse, you’ll do something you’re not ready to do just to “prove” you’re not scared. My infamous crash happened right before I was supposed to compete. I’d been training Noah for four years and although every warmup fence after that crash was terrible, because we were both so shaken, I thought it would be “chickening out” to forfeit the competition. So we tried anyway. Noah refused to jump the fourth fence and we narrowly avoided getting seriously hurt. I should have recognized that we were not ready to take on that course after our accident, but I was too embarrassed to admit my fear. You don’t have to make this mistake–be brave enough to listen to yourself and your horse. Be brave enough to know you’re not ready! Read more on Conquer Fear — 4 easy steps to getting “back on the horse”…