Chronicles of a Stable Owner are real-life stories about caring for horses and their people
Written by Dr. Gwen Donohoe, Owner/Manager at Sagehill Stables
This past weekend, our rescue pony Rocky, who has now been with us for 8 years, finally did his first birthday party! Thanks to a skilled and determined staff member who made the effort to lead him, he did great. Not only was it heart warming to see, but a huge relief. I probably should have, and could have, sold or given away this pony many times, but I just couldn't seem to bring myself to give up on him... It made me reflect on how hard horse ownership can really be...
For most horse-struck girls, owning their own horse is a life goal. The idea of having a horse of their own to ride and care for, and have a special bond with, seems like a fairy tale. And for parents who have seen the amazing positive life changes horses and riding lessons have brought to their daughters lives so far, they are obliged to aid in their daughters dream and take the next step to own a horse.
After doing research on the costs of owning a horse, and finding a qualified coach to aid in the purchase, I've seen many parents go ahead and make the plunge into ownership. And time and time again I've also seen the challenges that arise, that no amount of research can prepare the parents and horse-loving daughter for.
Horses are horses. They are living, breathing animals, and they are not perfect (just like us!). Even what seems like the most perfect horse can get hurt, develop a chronic illness or long-term injury, may turn out to be not be able to be on pasture or not compatible with your chosen barn or home facilities. Sometimes they require special care and additional training. And the worst, sometimes they may not develop that special bond with the horse struck, dreamy eyed girl... These problems can still happen after you've diligently researched, trialed and vet checked and done everything possible to try to make the right purchase.
When these issues inevitably come up, there can be months with no riding, or not riding in the desired discipline, or at the appropriate skillset for the new owner. On top of these emotional and physical challenges, all these problems come with their own unforeseen costs that were never accounted for when deciding to purchase the horse. Individual turnout, a different barn or special fencing, special feeds, special farrier work, special vet work, extra training, and the list goes on and on...
I see it happen every year and it is hard to watch the experience unfold time and time again. No matter how you describe the risks of horse ownership to a parent and student, the emotional and financial rollercoaster is something that you don't understand until you have made the leap into horse ownership. In a lesson program, our horses constantly go through the same issues, but they have back-ups that can fill in so students can continue to progress their personal skills while the horse heals or finds a new program they are suited for. We are lucky that we have options for horses to remain useful to other students when something prevents them from continuing on their current path.
So, is it worth it to purchase your own horse?
I do think this experience is valuable, no matter the outcome. The learning experience of going through this rollercoaster is definitely something that will make the student (and parents) develop life skills that will help them cope with the inevitable challenges life will throw at us. Whether the student will decide that the equestrian world is something they want to continue in and their level of participation after going though this rollercoaster is something that will depend on the student's and parent's ability to handle the stress and disappointment when problems arise. Is the student able to put their goals and dreams aside and work on what the horse needs instead? Or do you quickly realize that the horse is not for you and sell and move back to a lesson or lease program, or look to buy a new horse (only to risk repeating the rollercoaster again)?
These are some of the life skills and benefits of horses that are not often talked about. The development of empathy at a whole new level compared to what a student will develop in a lesson program, and the ability to deal with the financial stress and decision making. These are skills that are required of us outside of the horse world too. I believe it does help students understand more fully their wants and desires, their strengths and weaknesses, and helps set them on their life path.
I have several horses that I continue to hold on to that, from a business perspective, I know I shouldn't. But I feel like I must be able to find the right place for them, either here or with someone else, and I continue to learn more about myself and improve my skillset from these great creatures and the rollercoaster of the horse world... Luckily for Rocky, he has finally found a place and he will only continue to get better the more experience he gains. Now onto the next project horse...
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