Ask 25 Horse People One Question….
… and you get 25 different answers!
This phenomenon is a well-known fact in the horse industry. Over the years, I’ve been approached time and again by people new to the horse world, in a mixed-up state of frustration and confusion. Who do they listen to? How can EVERYONE have a different way of doing something? Isn’t there a ‘standard’ method in the industry?
New horse owners go to look for a boarding barn and discover that every barn has a different feed program, turnout routine, barn rules, and so much more. Or, they take lessons from one instructor and then watch a clinic and discover that there are more ways than just one to train one movement. Turn the horses out 24/7 or leave them in most of the day? Ride with contact or go ‘on the buckle’? There are so many extremes to horse keeping and riding, and then there are all the gray areas in-between. Where is a newbie to start?
For example, look at the variety of disciplines found in the horse world. Although every horse has four legs, a head and a tail, you find such a huge variety of activities from riding (so many sub-classifications in just riding) to driving (almost as many possibilities as riding), vaulting, ski joring (look that one up!), line/breeding classes, trick training, and so much more.
And you can’t stop there. Feeding horses can be as varied and emotionally-laden as the discipline you choose. With the huge variety of ‘complete feeds’ as well as the old ‘tried-and-true’ grains, it can be hard to make a decision – especially when even in one barn, there may be as many different types of feed as there are horses!
After you get past the information overload, you will realize that the various points-of-view are in fact, often helpful and inspiring. However, you may not agree with everything everyone says, and you may find that you are attracted to certain ‘types’ of horse keeping and riding over others. Part of the appeal of the horse world can be in fact that you might find your own niche among a variety of options that matches your wants and needs.
The trick is to find a mentor, or instructor, who is willing to take you under their wing for your first few years of horse ownership. You should find this person to be knowledgeable, competent, honest, and most of all, interested in seeing you progress into becoming a self-sufficient horse owner. This person should be willing to explain his or her reasoning and teach you how to make an informed decision among the various options. S/he should be willing to listen to other opinions and then capably explain why they either accept or reject that opinion. Finally, your mentor should be interested in seeing you grow and meet your own goals.
Try to stay with that person for some time. Switching from coach to coach will only serve to confuse you and cause a disservice to your horse. Learn all you can before heading off to “greener pastures” because although it may be tempting to jump on the next (band)wagon, too many differing opinions too early in your understanding of the horse world will cause another well known syndrome: “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. Beware of thinking that because you learned the tip of the iceberg of some aspect, you understand the topic with any depth. Be sure that you stay with the person long enough to have a complete understanding, at least from their perspective.
There is another part that you must play too – you must read (books and magazines), watch videos, attend clinics and seminars, take courses, and find a good boarding barn and lesson situation that helps you develop the skill you need to be a responsible, educated horse owner. In essence, you need to ‘study’. No one else can do that for you.
And finally, we go back to the original question: what about the multitude of answers to that one (seemingly simple) question you asked? You have two points of reference to weigh the answer against. First, how does the answer balance with what you have learned to date (and ask your mentor for his or her opinion if you don’t know!). Second, just listen to your horse! He will always be honest!
What do you think?