It seems to me that everybody I meet has always dreamed of having a horse. Often, when they find out that I do in fact own a horse, they immediately begin quizzing me. They’re not typically seeking actual answers to any questions of substance, but rather reassurance that surely, by now, their childhood pony-dream could become a reality.
(First lesson for the prospective horse owner: Don’t treat every horse-owning yahoo you meet as an expert. They usually aren’t. And you probably haven’t learned yet to distinguish knowledgeable advice from complete nonsense.)
Don’t get me wrong: I get it. I can’t say I ever had a particular attachment to dreams of horse ownership, only because I never imagined myself being able to afford a new pair of jeans, much less an equine. Instead I sort of woke up one day and had one in my possession. It wasn’t the ideal situation: I was young and stupid, she was still half-wild, and I’d only recently decided to quit my job and go back to college. It’s not really a combination that leads to a great deal of financial security. We made it through some very lean times, and there were days when I spent my last dime on a bale of hay and ate pancakes with mustard because it’s all the food I had.
It’s not a lifestyle choice I’d generally recommend.
But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’re rich enough to maintain a horse, but not quite rich enough to hire a full-time staff to take care of it for you. You’ve wanted a horse since you were just a tiny wee person, and though you’ve never really learned much about horses, you want to buy one. You spend all your free time fantasizing about cantering down the beach with your hair streaming behind you, and your horse running to meet you in the field Shadowfax-style, and all of the marvelous adventures and exploits you’ll get up to when you finally, at long last, have a pony of your own. So, are you ready to own a horse? I have some helpful questions for you which may help you come to that decision.
Are you ready to pluck embedded ticks from your animal’s body with your fingers? Are you ready to clean smegma from your horse’s teats (or his sheath, if your horse is a male)? Are you ready to scrub water buckets, even when they’re thick with algae, drowned insects and horse slobber? Are you ready to spend a good chunk of your time smeared with horse snot, covered in a fine layer of dust and horsehair, with manure on your boots? Are you ready to haul water into the field, bucket by bucket from the kitchen sink, because the barn pipes are frozen? Are you ready to stay up all night trying to nurse him through a colic? Are you ready to take rectal temperatures, shovel manure, engage in all-out warfare against flies, and get up in the middle of the night just because you heard a strange sound and you want to make sure the horses are okay? Are you ready to funnel all of your money into feed bills and vet bills and equipment and trailers and trucks and boarding and supplements and farriers and trainers and transporters and more vet bills? Are you ready to be frustrated, kicked, bitten, ignored, bucked off, or otherwise defeated?
Are you ready to challenge yourself, to learn new things, to discover exactly how emotionally fit — or unfit — you are? Are you ready to put your own ego aside and ask for help? Are you ready to always push to better yourself for your horse? Are you ready to throw yourself into becoming a better rider, a better horseman and a better human being?
If you can answer yes to all of those questions, congratulations! I still wouldn’t recommend getting a horse. Not yet, not if this would be your first real horse experience. Here’s what I would recommend, first.