How do we learn about horses? One sure way—for better and sometimes for worse—is by owning them.
I’ve owned 21 horses so far in my life. When I look back over the decades, it seems certain horses came to me with lessons just right for certain points in my life. Funny how that happens.
Has it happened to you?
Here are my key lessons, by the decade.
My 1960s: Horses Give You Moxie
As a horse-crazy teen, I was thrilled to acquire my first horse. Tigress was a green-broke Thoroughbred. I was a kid who had read a lot of horse books and had a few riding lessons.
It was that green-on-green combination you want to avoid, but the mare’s calm, forgiving nature helped to make it doable.
Plus, I was mentored by one of the savviest horsewomen I’ve ever known, Teresa Larson (mother of reining superstar Jordan Larson). With her help, and with Tigress’ willing spirit, I discovered how a good horse can enable a nerdy teen with braces and glasses to feel like the most popular kid in class (something I definitely wasn’t).
That horse gave me self-confidence and the inkling that I just might be able to do whatever I set my mind to.
My 1970s: Some Goals Must Be Tempered
Now married and in my 20s, I bought another horse. Liberty Belle Reb was a lovely, Rebel Cause-bred Quarter Horse, 3 years old and well started. With plans to show her, I put her in training with Gary Baumer, then a young northern California trainer I knew from our 4-H days together (he’d go on to win the World Championship Snaffle Bit Futurity in 1984).
I quickly learned, though, that I’d bitten off more than I could chew, given the constraints of my full-time job and family life at the time. A young show prospect needs a lot of seasoning.
I wound up selling Reb and going back to relying on Tigress for those times when I could manage to indulge my horse habit. Now in her teens, she was still a splendid ride—and easy to maintain on my limited schedule.
My 1980s: Careful What You Buy!
In this decade, I bought two horses that taught me important lessons. Strider was an 11-year-old former racehorse. Charmed by his good looks and quiet manner, I didn’t check into his background as thoroughly as I should have. His then-owners were experienced horsemen who, I suspect, had reconditioned him out of some balky behavior.
Agreeable enough when I first brought him home, Strider soon began testing me. I’ve written about this gelding before, and how he came to bully me. It wasn’t pretty. I soon sold him to a trainer who could deal with him.
Toward the end of the decade, I used a smarter approach to acquire a new horse. I bought a Mr. Gunsmoke-bred Quarter Horse gelding from his original owner. Coming 4 and already showing in Western pleasure, Gunner had the easy, relaxed lope I was hungering for.
In fact, I loped him a lot during my trial rides, and even talked his owner into letting me take him to my riding instructor’s barn for a short trial, just to be sure.
She agreed, it worked out, and Gunner became one of my favorite horses ever. He couldn’t quite match Tigress’ place in my heart (she’d died a few years before), but he was a wonderful, reliable ride.
My 1990s: Seniors Are Superb, Full Stop
When my daughter finally came along (I was 41 by then), I set horses aside for a while. Later in the decade, when Sophie was 4, I bought the perfect horse for this stage of my life.
Jake was a Quarter Horse gelding already in his teens, with lots of miles under his original owner and a disposition that helped me get back in the saddle with confidence. A well-known quantity, he stayed reliably sane on a riding schedule worked around Sophie’s preschool hours.
Jake was an oldie-but-wonderful-goodie.
My 2000s: Leases Can Be Lovely
By the time Sophie had a pony of her own, I was looking for a way to get mounted again without buying another horse. Boogie to the rescue! A registered, tri-colored Pinto gelding, he had personality-plus and was an accomplished show horse. His owner needed someone to take him while she finished her education at U.C. Davis.
I had a memorable year with him, plus made a friend for life of his owner. (Read here about her experience at a clinic, getting Boogie over his one failing—a fear of plastic bags.)
Those are just some of the lessons I’ve learned by owning horses over the years. I’d love to hear about your lessons…back at Horse&Rider’s Facebook page. See you there!