Packers Are Priceless—Here’s Why

I’m not what you’d call a math whiz. But there’s one equation I do know well, and that’s green+green=black-’n-blue. In other words, pairing a novice rider with a green horse is just plain asking for trouble.

Credit: Debbie Haskin The best way to learn to ride, whether you’re a kid or a novice adult, is on a well-broke, experienced horse–like one of these two.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course. You probably know of one, or perhaps you and your horse are one. And though people sometimes do get away with it, I like to think of it the way I think of buckling up in a car. Yes, you can spurn seat belts and live to tell about it–until the crash, that is.

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So if you want to put the odds of staying safe in your favor, you buckle up. And if you want to put the odds of staying safe around horses in your favor, you stick with experienced mounts while you’re learning and save the greenies until you’re ready for them.

Or, as clinician Clinton Anderson puts it, “Horses teach people, then people teach horses.” Learn from a packer. Once your horsemanship is solid and you have some years of experience under your belt, then you’ll be in a position to bring along a colt.

A perfect example of the ideal equine veteran is Jacks Vaquero Cowboy, the gelding on the left in the photo above. Now 35, he’s been introducing newbies to riding and barrel-racing competition for years. I wrote about Cowboy in an April 2006 feature, telling how at age 25 he carried then 6-year-old Scout Yochum on a winning run at the Washington State Junior Rodeo Finals. He’s still a great teacher, as is Roanie, the 25-year-old gelding on the right, a retired rope horse.

These types of horses are perfect for young riders and for novice adults, too. Think you can’t find or afford a broke veteran? Look harder. Ask around. Someone may have a semi-retired veteran you can buy, lease, or borrow if the owner trusts you and your intentions. Many well-broke horses are also available at equine rescues—if you do your due diligence to make sure the match is right. (Here are some good examples of rescues that worked.)

If you’ve already made your decision and find yourself, as a rookie rider, working with an inexperienced horse, be sure to read “Surviving Green + Green” in the August 2016 Horse&Rider, out now. The article explains why we’re often drawn to green horses when we shouldn’t be. More important, it sets forth the critical factors that can make a green-on-green pairing work, in spite of the odds. The article’s six-point plan includes—as you’d expect—the need to seek the guidance of an experienced horseman to oversee your progress and keep you on the right (and safest possible) track.

And, as it turns out, that’s exactly how Cowboy’s story began, back in the early 1980s. Bred and raised on a ranch owned by experienced horse people, he became the show mount of Jami, Scout Yochum’s mother, when he was 4 and Jami was 8. Jami began riding the well-started but still green gelding under her parents’ expert supervision—while also continuing to show the Shetland she’d been learning on for years.

Fast-forward to today, and Cowboy is the experienced veteran teaching rookies how to ride.

Which is exactly as it should be.

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