Photography by Sarah Williams

Horsemanship Doesn’t Begin or End in the Saddle

I was out at the barn the other morning, going about my daily chores and routine while my mare enjoyed some relaxation in the turn-out pen after a ride, and I got to talking with a fellow boarder. She was commenting on the fact that even though “stall cleaning” and “graining” is included in the price of our board, she sees me going over the inside and outside of my horse’s stall every day and mixing her grain myself. I began the sentence, “In my day,” and then I stopped short and cringed a little bit…am I really getting old enough to say things like this? Still, the point was that “In my day”, in order to be able to ride, I had to first perform all of the “dirty little chores” that most horse owners avoid like the plague. At the time, I was upset beyond belief that the people who I rode with made me do all of these things while some of the other kids simply got to get on the horses and ride, but looking back, I think that I was actually lucky, and here’s why…

Horsemanship does not begin or end in the saddle. I learned this from a very young age, both from my dad (who rode with me up until I was 10 years old) and then from the people who got me into showing.

I wasn’t one of those kids that just showed up to the barn and had a horse waiting for them…I cleaned stalls, cleaned tack, groomed and saddled my own horse, cooled out my own horse and then groomed again before putting my horse away.

In the beginning, I just thought this was how things were done; you checked your horse over before riding, had a look at his eyes to make sure they were bright, had a look at his legs to make sure they weren’t swollen, ran your hands down his back to make sure that it was clean and “normal”. You also cleaned your horse’s stall, and while doing so you made sure he was eating all of his food and that his manure looked good. These things kept you in tune with your horse, and thus allowed you to spot a little problem before it became a big problem.

Over the years, especially in the “horse show world”, I have come across a lot of people who don’t share my sentiments in terms of doing things on my own. Most people, both youths and amateurs who are my age, have grooms who tack their horses, trainers who warm them up, stall cleaners who take care of feeding and cleaning, and I do all of this myself (with some help from my “horse show mom and dad”). I could pay to stable with a large barn and have all of this stuff done for me at a show, but I think that defeats the purpose of real “horsemanship”. I know my horse; I know how she is supposed to be and feel in any given situation, and if she is acting differently from the “norm”, then I will be able to tell if I am hands on with every aspect of her care.

Back to the barn and my fellow boarder watching me clean the inside of my mare’s stall, even though I pay to have it done through her board… “Why do you do all of this stuff when it’s included in the board? It takes you an extra 30 minutes, at least, to do the extras every day after your ride,” she questioned. And I answered, “Because horsemanship doesn’t begin or end in the saddle.”

Story written by: Sarah Williams

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