I think the essence of responsible horse ownership is the desire to learn more.
All of the owners and riders that I really respect have one thing in common: They read. They don’t necessarily take the advice of every book, article or blog post, but they do take an active interest.
Owning horses (like raising children?) is in some ways an act of absolute futility. You can pour money into proper food, lodging, exercise, equipment and education, and still not have the outcome you expect. To some degree, they are born with talents and personalities that you can shape—but you can only go so far. There is an armature under the clay that can’t be changed. We can build and build on the surface, but the core is untouchable.
|Genius horse helps with camera.|
In many ways, a horse is like one of those old-timey supercomputers. He is covered in switches, levers, dials and buttons. Each time you adjust one, the others are almost guaranteed to shift.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I find myself looking for ways to economize, and I come up with limited possibilities. Everything that I do with Blue—his very existence, really—costs money.
What I pay for board would have been astronomical by Walla Walla standards, but is actually pretty reasonable locally.
If I moved Blue to a cheaper barn, I might lose the large stalls or daily turnout. Maybe I’d end up with a smaller arena or no arena at all. In that case, I would be able to ride one day per week. Are four rides a month worth what I pay in board? Would four rides a month give my horse a varied, pleasurable life? Would it keep him fit?
If I switched to partial care, I would have to find time to clean my own stall and arrange my own hay supply. Do I want to do that on my own time? How would that affect my free time for riding? Would I condition less because of barn chore fatigue? Would Blue's health decrease because I choose the wrong hay or do a poor job on the stall?
If I moved Blue to somewhere closer to town (to save gas on my “horse commute”), I would have to give up onsite trail access and large, interesting turnouts. That would mean hauling somewhere to ride outdoors. Would I still be saving gas if I had to tow the trailer out to the mountains to condition?
|Granted, the commute looks pretty good.|
If I change my feed regime to cut out supplemental vitamins, minerals and fats, Blue might not be physically able to perform in the way I want him to.
Ditto for cutting back on vet and farrier expenses.
If I cut back on going to rides, I decrease my own enjoyment and sense of purpose. If I am not competing, then why condition? If I’m not conditioning, then why ride at all? Would my enjoyment of Blue as “just a pet” be that much greater than my enjoyment of a dog or a mountain bike? (I’d still be nurturing an animal and hurtling through forested trails—with the added bonus that Brian could come too.)
|Why ride when you can run?|
These thoughts and feelings are complicated by the (humblebrag!) fact that I absolutely CAN afford to just keep doing what I’m doing. Having the horse is not a hardship. I mean, maybe if we wanted to buy a giant house or vacation in Europe twice a year… but it’s not like Blue is keeping me from buying groceries. (Seriously, look at me. Blue would probably prefer it if I bought fewer groceries.)
No, this isn’t about saving money as much as it is about imposing limits. I need to find a point that I can call “enough.” Because all of this reading that I do just makes me think that I could (and should) be doing more. More time riding; more turnout; more expensive, personalized diet; more chiro and massage; more holistic medicine; bigger, better truck and trailer; my own property; lessons and training… and it could go on and on.
I was talking with Sarah the other night about how having a horse felt when we were kids. My first horse, Gazab, saw a farrier a couple times a year, if that. He saw the vet even less. We gave him all of his shots ourselves and I think we floated his teeth once. The saddle was a freebie we got from a friend of the family. We did not talk about fit for horse or rider. The bit was a grazing bit that came with the $20 bridle from the local feed store. We fed 12% sweet feed and cattle-grade alfalfa.
It was fine. It was what my parents could afford. It was enough.
Sarah felt the same way about her childhood, jumping a fat, elderly arabian mare bareback over logs on the back 40. We both are experiencing a certain amount of equestrian lifestyle creep as we change our interests: me from casual trail riding to endurance, her from casual trail riding to dressage.
Now “enough” just keeps getting bigger and further away. The more I read and learn, the more advantages I want to give to this horse.
Surely everyone who reads this blog has experienced this feeling. So how do you choose how to spend your "horse money" and "horse time"? Where do you cut corners? What activities do you sit out?
Have you been in a situation recently where you've finally had to say... Enough Is Enough?