Having regular lessons within a riding school environment really is the best way to get a start with horses, and the value of your formal riding lessons within a controlled environment cannot be overstated. Many riders who go on to owning their own horses still recognise the benefit of regular lessons within a riding school environment, either on their own horse or on one of the establishment’s own horses.
Nevertheless, if you have been taking riding lessons for some time and are starting to think about maybe buying a horse of your own at some point in the future, it’s a great idea to try and get some extra riding and stable management experience outside of your normal riding school lessons.
This can help you to decide if owning your own horse is for you, and potentially give you a much better idea of the kind of work and time commitment that is involved in owning a horse of your own. Read on to find out more, as well as some ideas on how you can make this happen.
It really cannot be overstated how valuable learning within a riding school environment is for novice riders, and even for much more experienced riders further down the line. Well schooled horses and ponies, well thought out care protocols and learning the correct techniques for both riding and stable management are all essential to your future career as a safe and conscientious rider and horse owner.
However, the nature of riding schools means that while you ride at just one establishment, you will only ever be able to ride a limited number of different horses, all of which will have been schooled in the same way and chosen for their suitability for novice riders- something which most privately owned horses have not. You will also learn only one way of caring for horses, and have a limited range of reference for how to handle the day to day tasks and duties that caring for a horse entails. There are often many different ways of doing things and no one right way- the key, of course, is finding the one that works for you. Broadening your range of experience by learning about other stable management techniques, how other owners care for their horses, and riding a range of different horses and learning what that entails is a great idea to help to widen your range of experience and as an interim stage between riding lessons and buying your own horse.
There are many possible options for the keen and relatively competent riding school rider to be able to gain some more experience with horses- if you know where to look! Here are a few suggestions.
If you have been attending regular riding lessons for some time and wish you could get more involved with the stable management side of riding instead of just turning up, riding and going home, talk to your riding instructor about the possibility of being able to volunteer on the yard. Most riding schools have a core set of keen volunteers of all ages, from children under ten right through to adult riders. These volunteers can provide invaluable help to the riding school at busy times such as weekends, by means of taking on some of the yard duties, preparing horses and ponies for lessons, and helping novice riders. As part of the process, you gain more hands-on experience with horses, and learn about stable management and the whole process of caring for horses. Some establishments will even allow you to earn free rides and lessons in return for your help, and you may get the opportunity to ride horses that are not usually used in riding lessons.
Sometimes, horse owners who keep their horses at private livery yards don’t have the time to ride as often as they would like to, and may have to limit the range of activities they can perform with their horse accordingly. It may be worth asking around, putting up adverts on livery yards and in tack shops and asking other riders if they know anyone who needs a bit of help with their horse, either short term or on a regular basis. If you are willing to help out for a couple of hours in return for a ride, and are open to learning about the way that other people care for their horses and are willing to follow their directions in terms of how they wish their horse to be cared for and ridden, you may well find that you have more offers of rides than you can handle!
Horse sharing is a system by which the owner of a horse or pony allows another rider to ride and help out with their horse on a regular basis, in return for a contribution to the costs involved in keeping the horse. This may mean anything from a ride once or twice a week, to taking on half of the work (and half of the riding) of the horse involved and contributing financially accordingly. Again, livery yards and word of mouth recommendation is the way to go.
Horse and pony owners very rarely get the chance to go on holiday, often for the want of having someone who is able to care for and exercise their horse while they are away. Consider putting up an advert offering to help out over holidays and in emergencies, and you might find that you can build up a good relationship within the local riding community and have a range of opportunities to ride and work around horses of many types.
Taking a horse on loan is a big step- in practice it is almost the same as owning your own horse, but without the initial financial outlay. When you take a horse on loan, you become responsible for all of the care, riding and funding required for the horse in question, while the horse is still legally owned by the original carer and as such cannot be sold or passed on to another owner by you. Loan arrangements can range from short fixed-term solutions for a set period of time, right up to long term or permanent loan. Permanent loan is to all intents and purposes the same as owning your own horse, and while opportunities like this don’t come along very often, nevertheless they do exist.
Horse shows, competitions and riding club events all provide great experience for riders of all kinds, both those with their own horses and those without. Going to horse shows as a spectator and talking to horse owners is a great way to get involved in the wider riding community, and if you are practical, useful and reasonably experienced, can offer a wide range of opportunities for spending time with other people’s horses. Showing events are often hectic and intense, so it is of course important not to get in the way or bother a competitor with questions when they are busy preparing for a class. However, if you can, get talking to the riders there and make yourself useful in some small way such as holding a horse for someone for a minute or watching their horse while they pop to the loo. You might find that you can open up a channel of communication that can result in your being welcomed to help on a regular basis and even perhaps get the chance to ride.