Five Horsemanship Blunders to Avoid – From the Rider’s Mouth

It doesn’t matter if you’ve been riding for ten months or ten years, you’re going to make mistakes.  This is just a part of life – whether you’re an equestrian or not.  Sometimes it’s difficult to admit when we’ve made a mistake, and sometimes these mistakes are humorous, and other times disastrous.  Five avid equestrians were kind enough to share their own “blunders” in hopes that they might help you avoid doing something similar on one of your own horsey-adventures.

“Have A Back-up Plan”

– Maryanne Shliegle, Hunter/Jumper Competitor

“My mare tends to be a little picky when it comes to who works on her feet, and I’m talking physically and mentally.  Well, last June I was going through some things in my life – it was chaotic at best – and I realized a week before a show that my mare’s regularly scheduled farrier appointment was going to be right in the middle of my show.  She was long, and she needed to be done, but, sadly, my regular farrier was out of town.  I was left with little choice but to call a different farrier.  I figured, ‘he’s a professional and he works on show horses, so what could be the harm?’.  Big mistake.  My mare ended up moving around too much for his taste, so he whacked her on the rump with his file, which caused her to kick out and then lunge forward in the cross-ties.  I was mortified, but didn’t feel like I could say anything to the guy.  He finished, and I paid him – begrudgingly – and then I noticed the missing hair where the halter had burned my mare’s skin when she jumped forward.  On top of that, she threw a shoe the day before I was scheduled to leave for the show, and came up completely lame for a week.  It was awful.”

I’m sure we can all relate to the “last minute” farrier or vet change.  As equestrians, we get very attached to our “equine professionals”, and sometimes we forget to create a “back-up plan”.  You don’t think it’s ever going to happen, but there may be a time when you need your farrier or vet and they simply aren’t available.  It’s always a good idea to have at least one back-up professional that is both recommended by your normal professional, and who you have seen work with and around other horses.  Don’t get “stuck” and then end up with a bigger problem than you had before.

“Horses Are Not Human”

– John Davis, Pleasure Rider

“My wife and I spend a lot of time with our horses, and it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that they might actually be human.  Well, I can remember one time when we were loading up for a weekend camping trip.  Everything was loaded except for the horses.  My wife said she’d ‘get the boys’ – our two geldings who live together.  I wasn’t paying a lot of attention, and didn’t think about her ‘getting them both at the same time’.  Normally, they wouldn’t bat an eye, but I watched as she led them both around the side of the house with both lead ropes in one hand and her cell phone in the other.  You can probably guess what happened – my gelding, who was on the outside, nipped her gelding, who then kicked out, causing my gelding to pull back.  My wife wasn’t paying attention.  The lead rope got ripped through her hand, her cell phone went flying, the horses both got loose and tore up our front yard grass – it could have been worse, but it was a good lesson to learn; even the best horses can have bad days, so you have to always be paying attention.”

When you’re around your horses on a daily basis, and it feels like you know their personalities inside and out, it’s easy to become complacent.  “Oh, my horse would never do that”, is a phrase that starts running like a tickertape inside of your head.  The truth is that even the most well behaved, seasoned, easy going horse in the world can make a bad move, and if you aren’t paying attention, you’ve put yourself and your horse in danger.  So, always be mindful of every situation.

“Don’t Buy Sight Unseen”

– Beverly Durst, Endurance Rider

“This is tough, but only because I did something embarrassingly stupid.  I’m the lady that all my friends come to for advice, and telling this story makes me feel a little like an idiot, but it’s important.  I’ve been riding for most of my life, and I’ve been competing for years.  It’s gotten to the point where I can usually look at a horse and tell if he’s going to make a good competitor or not.  Well, a few years back, I guess I got a little over-confident when I was looking for a second horse to bring up and eventually replace my aging mare.  I answered tons of ads, looked at tons of videos, and went out to see tons of horses. 

Well, there was this one horse in Washington (I’m in the California Bay Area), that looked like an absolute dream.  I went back and forth with his owners, who just raved about how amazing he was physically and mentally; I probably had them send me 50 pictures and 10 videos of him in various positions and doing various things.  Because they weren’t asking a ton of money, I think I figured ‘wow, they don’t really know what they have’, and it turns out that they knew exactly what they had.  I bought the horse sight unseen, and from the day he got to my place he had issues.  He was head shy, he didn’t get along well with other horses, he didn’t load like he did in the videos, and, worst of all, even though I had him vetted (by their veterinarian – big mistake) he had a hip issue that basically rendered him unable to compete.  Doing the right thing, I worked with him, got him medical treatment, and eventually found him a home with a local couple, and as it turns out he’s perfect for their needs.  Sadly, my ‘great deal’ turned into my most expensive mistake.”

Whether it’s over confidence, or just lack of knowledge, buying a horse “sight unseen” never seems to work out as planned.  I know a few people who have horses they have purchased this way, who are now happily showing or riding the trails, but their journeys weren’t without issues.  It’s a sad truth, but people lie…and people trying to sell a horse they can’t (or don’t) want to keep anymore will often have the most elaborate lies.  On top of that, just like people, sometimes certain horses and certain riders just don’t get along with one another – they just don’t “fit”.  So, it’s always a good idea to ride (multiple times if possible) and vet (with your own veterinarian) every horse that you’re going to purchase, because we all know that the purchase price is the least expensive thing you’re going to spend on any horse you own.

“Always Use The Halter”

– Emma North, Barrel Racer

“I’ve been riding forever, or at least it seems like I have.  I can’t remember not having a horse.  I’ve been into barrel racing for about five years.  Anyway, one thing I can remember that stands out as a big mistake happened when I was about 23 years old.  I had been partying with friends the night before for my best friend’s birthday, so the next morning when it was time to go to the barn I wasn’t feeling so well.  I had a rodeo to get to that weekend, and so I had to at least get my boy out and let him run – because I knew I couldn’t ride that day.  For some reason his halter wasn’t where it normally was, and I didn’t feel like going to look for it, so I just grabbed him under the neck by a piece of his mane and led him to the arena, which I admit I have done before.  About half way there, something happened and he spooked and completely pulled me over and took off across the property.  There wasn’t a perimeter fence at the place I boarded, so he ended up in a huge tract of undeveloped land running like a maniac.  It literally took me an hour to catch him, and this is a horse I’d had for years.  I will never do that again.” 

I have to admit that I’ve done the whole “leading by the mane” trick myself on occasion, and it’s always been successful for me, but the truth is that it’s not safe.  Things get crazy in our lives, but we’re so dedicated to our horses that we often end up out at the barn when we aren’t in peak physical condition – whether we’re sick, tired, injured, or just emotionally drained.  This is when bad things can happen, because we start to cut corners.  It’s important to always stay on the top of your game, and if you can’t be completely present, it might be a good idea not to get your horse out of his stall or paddock that day.

“Don’t Cut Corners”

– Kylee Baker, Hunter Pleasure

“Geez, this is a little embarrassing, but actually funny.  During show season, one of the things I hate most is pulling my horse’s mane.  He hates it, and it ruins my hands and shoulders.  I have tried every gadget and gizmo out there to make things easier, and I’ve also tried about every technique you can think of.  Well, last year before a show, I was pulling his mane and he was getting pretty snotty.  I was tired and I remembered this technique I had seen on Youtube where you can actually cut the mane and then use a blade to clean it up and it’s supposed to save time.  So, I thought ‘what the heck’ and chopped his mane…well, it was horrible even after I tried to fix it.  The next day my trainer about had a heart attack; she tried to fix it too, but I ended up showing him with this terrible pulled mane, and I have the pictures to prove it!”

Mane pulling…it’s never fun.  Actually, there are a lot of things that we do as competitors that aren’t a lot of fun – body clipping, hoof painting, face clipping, etc.  There also always seems to be a “newer and better” way to do the things that we hate to do, but a lot of us find out the hard way that the tried and true methods are tried and true for a reason.  Cutting corners for the sake of saving time, saving money, or even saving some sanity, often ends up getting us in trouble in the end.  So, do yourself a favor, and if you’re going to try out a new technique, don’t do it before a show!

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I have been an equestrian most of my life, having gotten my first pony at the age of 5, and 30 years later, I competitively exhibit my Half Arabian Reining horse on both the Arabian and NRHA circuits. There are three passions in my life, riding, photography and writing. Being able to combine all three of these things is a dream come true.

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