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Submitted By: Tootsie

Learning to ride a horse and owning a horse can be wonderful experiences. Learning to ride a horse can be accomplished simply by contacting stables in the area where you live and finding out what kind of riding lesson programs they offer and the price. Stables that offer riding lessons almost always provide horses for you, or your child, to ride during the lessons. If it is your child learning to ride, most likely, the stable will provide a horse of exceptionally gentle temperament. Taking riding lessons is an excellent way to find out if riding is something you or your child really would like to pursue.

The next step is deciding if owning a horse is something you should consider. Owning a horse is expensive and it requires time. Its a far larger undertaking, not just literally, then deciding to own a cat or dog. If you have the facilities to keep a horse on your own property, it is much less expensive, of course. If you don't have the facilities, however, you must find a place where you can rent facilities for your horse. This is called "boarding" your horse. The facilities can range from the inexpensive, providing only an outdoor pasture and a lean-to, offering little protection against the luxurious stables which offer heating and air conditioning. Most people who are boarding a horse, look for a stable somewhere in the middle, a stable which offers a fairly large indoor horse "stall", or area where your horse will live, regular feeding times, an indoor and outdoor riding "corral", or fenced in area where you may ride your horse. The barn should be clean, and well-kept. Ideally, the person who owns the stable, lives on the grounds, or provides a caretaker for the stable, in case of an emergency situation regarding the horses. Many stables will offer to "turn your horse out", meaning they will take your horse from the stall, to a pasture for exercise and fresh air. Many times with other horses from the stable who have similar temperaments, offering your horse an opportunity for socialization. Many stables will offer lower board rates in exchange for you doing all the work your horse will require, including feedings, and even lower rates if you agree to help the owners with various chores in the barn.

Ahh..did someone say chores? Yes, owning a horse means there are chores to consider. You must be able to clean the horses stall, if your stable does not offer this service, or if you will be keeping the horse on your own property. There are two ways you can decide to keep your stall. You can keep a lighter layer of bedding, consisting of straw, or more commonly, wood shavings, and clean the stall daily, of both feces and urine or, you can pack a deep layer of bedding, cleaning only the feces throughout the week, and "stripping" the stall, or removing all the urine-soaked shavings, once a week. I personally recommend keeping a lighter layer of shavings and stripping the stall daily, if you have the time. It keeps the odor to a minimum and provides a consistently clean stall for your horse.

The next chore involving your horse is feeding. Horses eat grass in the warmer months, but also must be provided with hay and grain. Grain is a mixture of various grains and usually molasses. Grain is somewhat sweet, and is normally a favorite treat for your horse, as well as providing necessary nutrients. You can offer your horse other treats, including apples, carrots, and stale crusts of bread.

On to grooming. Yes, you will have to consistently groom your horse. You will need a box, commonly called a "tack", or equipment, box. You need: a stiff brush, a softer brush to create shine, a curry comb to remove dried mud, a mane comb, a hoof pick to clean mud and feces out of the horses hooves, hoof ointment, fly spray...and the list goes on. Horses are like children, they seem to be attracted to dirt and dust. You will also have to bathe your horse regularly, with a hose. Some stables offer a stall just for this purpose, with a hose and concrete floor with a drain.

You will also need to purchase riding equipment, or "tack". You will need a halter, usually at least one casual halter, and one for special occasions. You will need a lead, or leash-type object, to lead your horse from place to place. You will need a bridle, which is a special halter for riding your horse, usually with a "bit", or cylinder made of metal which lays in your horses mouth behind his teeth, allowing you to have better control of your mount. You also will need to decide what style of riding suits you, English or Western, and buy tack accordingly, and there are many specialized forms of riding you may be interested in, like jumping, or dressage, for example. You will need to purchase a saddle, the equipment to hold the saddle on, commonly called a "cinch", and a saddle blanket. Many items of equipment may be purchased from other riders who have bought themselves newer equipment. A lovingly cared for second-hand saddle can be just as good, even better, than a new one, so formerly used equipment is something to consider. Most stables offer a room, called the "tack room", to keep your tack in.

Lastly, you must consider the need to "shoe" your horse and veterinary care. A blacksmith will measure and trim your horses hooves and make shoes specially designed to fit your horses hooves. They are also an excellent source of information about how to care for your horses hooves properly. Veterinary care is needed on a regular basis, and also, you must be prepared to be able to provide emergency veterinary care for your horse. Horses, like children again, do tend to collect their scrapes and bruises, some more serious than others. Most stables have a vet to whom they can refer you.

So, you still want a horse, do you? Great! Now, what kind of horse will you purchase? How much do you have to spend, and what kind of riding do you plan to do? Do you love the thought of long, all-day trail rides? Consider an Arabian horse, their endurance is legendary. Do you like the idea of a strong, stocky breed that can give you bursts of speed, possibly for roping or barrel-racing? Consider a Quarter Horse. Do you want a tall, sleek jumper, elegant and quick? Consider a Thoroughbred, or Thoroughbred mixture. Many people purchase retired Thoroughbreds from racing tracks, for this purpose. Choosing a breed is important, as is choosing a horse whose temperament suits you. Are you nervous at the thought of a high-strung mount? Purchase one with a calm, gentle manner. Do you want a horse who is spirited? Do you want the horse to be trained, or do you want to purchase a foal, or young horse recently weaned, and train the horse yourself? Do you want to consider purchasing a horse who is "green-broke", trained only in the basics of riding, in which case you will train the horse in the finer points of riding. If the horse is for your child, consider purchasing a mount an older child has outgrown. The horse will be older, however, it will be comfortable around children, and will be able to provide your young child with a sound mount for many years.

Good luck in your new pursuit! Horseback riding is exhilarating and a wonderful form of exercise. It is an activity that you can do as a family. Horses are usually affectionate animals, providing a source of nurturing for you and your family. The benefits to horseback riding, and ownership, are too many to count. Enjoy!

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