When you produce a horse for a leisure rider, an amateur as opposed to a professional, you want to ensure they are a jack of all trades (hopefully mastering one trade!) and have a wide range of experiences. Some may be obvious and occur every day, but others you might need to specifically aim to achieve.
How many of these things can your horse do?
Here’s a little list I put together. Of course it’s not complete, but they are the main points I would expect a leisure horse to be experienced in.
- Be led from the ground with another horse. It sounds silly, but if you only catch one at a time, they may never experience this.
- Be led from both the right and left sides. When walking along the road you should walk between the horse and the traffic, therefore for safety’s sake they should be confident being led from the off side.
- Load well and travel with or without company. Ideally, you’d introduce a horse to a trailer, a small lorry, and a large lorry, using both rear and side loading, but this isn’t always viable.
- Hack alone and in company. Go lead file, or backstop. Leave the company sensibly and return just as sensibly.
- Open gates. It’s so easy to mount and dismount in the arena that we fall out of practice opening and closing gates, but equally it’s a simple task to add into your daily routine which is of paramount importance out hacking.
- Stand still to mount from either side, to mount from the floor, to have a leg up. Oh and to stand still while you climb up a fence and clamber on at the edge of a canter field. With our awareness of the damage done to horse’s backs by mounting from the ground even the lithest of riders can’t do it. Yes, using a block is best but it’s good to have a fall back in case you have to dismount in the middle of a bowling green.
- Pass all manner of traffic calmly; cars, vans, lorries, motorbikes, cyclists, tractors, diggers. A lot of horses have a phobia of one type of traffic, usually due to a bad experience, but it’s good to work towards desensitising them if possible.
- Be ridden bareback. Perhaps you don’t intend on entering the bareback puissance, but you may have booked a photo shoot and photographers like to get you on board! That was why, to Phoenix’s surprise, she found herself being ridden saddleless on the weekend.
- Be ridden in groups. For example, a group lesson or clinic, or worked in in a busy warm up arena.
- Be led from a ridden horse, or lead a horse whilst being ridden. This is useful in an emergency, but you don’t want to learn how to do it then! Otis was very good at ride and lead, and hopefully Phoenix is for when I have a little pony to escort. I’m yet to test her out though.
- Experience mirrors in an arena.
- Stand with you, and be led round the arena while you poo pick, adjust jumps or pole distances without spooking, shying, or planting themselves right where you’re going to walk to measure the distance.
- Experience a gymkhana. You don’t have to get competitive, but being able to lean down to pick things up or put them down can be useful. We have a cavalry team practice at the yard on a monthly basis, which we’re always invited to join in. The loud shouting, gung ho riding is too much for my instructor mind though!
- Stand still while you go Round The World, or execute half or full scissors. Let you lie back onto their rump. Otis was very tolerant of this because when I was backing him I used to join in the “baby” lessons (in order to tick the riding in a group box) and being the big kid that I am, I used to get involved with these end of lesson exercises.
- Behave for their various treatments: teeth, feet, massages, saddle fits, vaccinations, worming and clipping.
- Let you put jackets on or take them off whilst on board.
Then of course there are some quirky ones, which remind you how very tolerant and kind natured your horse is.
- Lead from a bike. One of my clients cycles and leads her daughter’s pony to exercise it.
- Lead from a car. Not recommended. I did it a couple of weeks ago when I was very late and the field was at the end of the drive. You need good clutch control and a very well behaved horse!
- Push a pushchair or wheelbarrow whilst leading. No one wants to take two trips to the field, so combine taking hay down or bringing poo back with catching and turning out. Pushing with a pushchair is an obvious necessity of mine.
- Let your unhorsey other half catch/lead/rug up/anything else that you trust them to do, with the patience of a saint. Yes, we’ve all seen those memes on social media of rugs on inside out, and headcollars on upside down!
- Visit your house, graze the back lawn, and not poo right by said unhorsey other half’s car driver’s door, or trample through their immaculate flowerbeds.
- Let strangers and non horsey fans (usually friends and relatives) swarm over them, patting, shrieking, and generally acting in a non horsey manner, without snorting like a fire breathing dragon at them!
- Permit you to buy and eat an ice cream from an ice cream van on their backs.
- Worn fancy dress. As kids we used to have fancy dress competitions, but as adults our horses sometimes take us to weddings or proms.
- Allow you and a friend to swap horses without dismounting.
- Stand patiently whilst a small person sits on their back, tugs their mane, strokes their cheek, sticks fingers up their nostrils, and generally oversteps the personal space mark.
Over to you; what’s the weirdest or most unusual thing your horse has experienced? Or perhaps what is the oddest thing that they put up with? I want to see pictures too!