By Kathy Edstrom
In Part One I shared with you how I found my riding instructor, Traci Gralton. (See photo on the left) I featured Traci in the first part, as I wanted to introduce you to Traci’s style as a rider, as well as a teacher. In Part Two Traci and I are providing tips on finding the right instructor; when you should consider leasing a horse versus buying one and we’re discussing the financial responsibilities of good horsemanship.
Finding the Right Instructor
It is well worth the effort put forth in researching riding instructors. Attend local horse shows, visit area tack shops and stables, and talk with large animal veterinarians. These are excellent places to start when seeking a qualified riding instructor.
Be sure you enjoy the work the instructor puts you through. If your lessons aren’t enjoyable, it’s time to look for another teacher. You will know when you have found the right instructor, as that person will help you get in touch with the “feel” of communicating with your horse, not just the mechanics of riding. Experienced riders know firsthand that there is a great deal of communication between horse and rider, and most of it is on a non-verbal level. Knowing the “feel” of the horse and the aids you use are of utmost importance for being a good rider.
Traci stresses the value of relying on your instincts. If you find your instructor is too harsh, criticizes too much, or expects too much from you or your horse, avoid going to that person. When starting out, it is best to work with a trainer who relates to a novice trainer and understands the importance of patience and explaining the basics of good horsemanship.
Ask a lot of questions. Visit the instructor on different occasions to see how she interacts with her students and the horses she is working with. If you don’t have your own horse, find an instructor who has a safe school horse. Most importantly, explain your limitations and personal goals as a rider to the instructor. You’re not only working on communication skills with the horse you are riding, but also with the instructor. Be honest and forthright. It is better to find out before you start your lessons that you and the instructor aren’t compatible rather than getting into lessons and then being dissatisfied.
Traci has been instructing students for nine years. A lot of her work is problem-solving other horses’ behavioral issues. Traci will often ride the horse and as she calls it, “puts the feel into the horse” so when the owner rides, the horse will be trained well enough so the owner can feel what the proper riding position should be.
Buy or Lease
So what do you do if you want a horse but don’t know if you should buy one? There is the option of leasing a horse. The benefit of leasing a horse is that you spend very little money so you can find out if this is something you really want to do. When you lease a horse, typically everything comes with the horse, tack, boarding, feed, etc. It is important to go to stables and check around. Responsibilities vary depending on the stable and horse owner. You can do a full lease which means you pay for the shoeing, shots, and upkeep of the horse, but you don’t pay for the horse outright. You pay for the feed and boarding.
A half-lease is a very nice option if you just want to get your feet wet as an equine owner. Traci says this is the best way to go. You pay for half of the expenses. The owner will also ride and train the horse, so the horse continues to get worked even if you can’t spend as much time with the horse as you’d like. According to Traci, this is important for beginning riders, as the horse “falls to the level of the rider”. In other words, if an inexperienced rider is the only one riding the horse, the horse will not be able to reach his own potential. If a more advanced rider rides the horse on a frequent basis, this will help the horse become a better-trained horse and will also make things easier for the novice rider.
There is a downside to leasing. You don’t have the ability to bond with the horse like you would if the horse was totally yours. Also, restrictions can apply such as no trailering the horse outside of the stable where the horse is boarded. Traci advises that a beginner should lease rather than buy. If the person really wants to have a horse of her own, then she should purchase an older, trained horse.
What if you want to ride, but you don’t want to lease or buy a horse? This is the position I’m currently in. Taking lessons is a really good idea. If you don’t have the funds for taking lessons, sometimes you can work out a system with the horse owner. Cleaning stalls in exchange for lessons can be a viable possibility. Consider becoming a part of a stable. Various job responsibilities may come up that you can provide services for in exchange for riding lessons. If you want it bad enough, there is always a way to achieve your goals.
Money, Money, Money
I’ve saved the financial aspects of having a horse for the last topic of this article. There are many expenses with having a horse. Traci and I broke down the basic categories of what it would cost to own a horse. These numbers are only estimates and vary from stable to stable as well as geographic areas.
Purchasing a horse, the breed, age and amount of training the horse has makes a big difference in the cost of the horse. Horses typically start around $1000 and go up in price from there.
Boarding – This will vary from stable to stable, but typically it is between $200 and $400 per month.
Veterinary care – Basic veterinary care such as shots are estimated to be around $150 annually. Insurance is now available for equines that sometimes cover the basic care of the horse. Trimming and shoeing of the horses can run around $250 to $300 per year depending on the ferrier.
Proper nutrition, just considering hay and grain – $50 to $70 per month
Riding equipment – Traci recommends buying used tack. You can find a decent saddle for $500; $50 for a used bridle; $100 for a nice used blanket, $40 for a riding helmet (which is an essential safety measure) and of course there are extra pieces if you want to use a saddle pad and foam cushion to be used underneath the saddle. Estimated cost for used basic riding equipment, approximately $800.
Horsemanship lessons generally start at $15 per hour and go up from there according to the instructor’s level of experience.
If you want to compete, shows average $200.
A horse trailer might also be necessary if you are considering taking the horse off of your property. Figure an additional $1000 for a small, used trailer.
The initial investment of buying a horse starts around $2000. The estimated annual cost of proper upkeep of having a horse starts at $1600 and goes up from there. If you add lessons to that amount, you can easily tack on another $800 or more.
The bottom line, Traci says it’s not so much about the money as it is about the want and desire to have a horse. You also have to be realistic. There are many factors to consider when taking into account equine ownership, as we covered in this article.
As much as I appreciate and adore horses, I know that my lifestyle does not permit me to buy or lease a horse at this time, however I am quite fortunate that I found an instructor who fulfills my needs. I can ride every week without having the responsibility of owning a horse. Being responsible is so important. If you realize that you don’t have the time to have a horse personally, taking riding lessons is a great option. It’s just plain, good horse sense.
Photos taken during Kathy’s riding lesson were taken by Art Edstrom.