January 23, 2020

Safety and the Untrained Horse

Being around a green or untrained horse can be dangerous in a variety of situations. The goal of owning and riding your horse is to enjoy them. A difficult or unruly horse is no fun. Here are some tips to help you and others enjoy your horses to the fullest while staying safe.

Kade Mills, a clinician at the 2012 Alaska Horse Expo, works with a horse frightened of cows during a clinic.
Kade Mills at the 2012 Alaska Horse Expo riding an unruly horse for an exhibitor

New to Riding

If you are fairly new to riding or horse ownership learning to be safe around horses is key. I always recommend starting out with lessons from a qualified instructor. Leasing a horse to begin with is sometimes a great way to break into horse ownership without the total responsibility. Depending on the agreement, you could keep the horse at a boarding stable where daily care is given or even split the lease with another rider. Don’t go out and buy a horse without supervision. My first horse, Brandie, could have easily hurt me. He was unruly, untrained and I was just a kid.

My first horse, Brandie, 1974

Buying A Horse

I grew up watching Mr. Ed and My Friend Flicka so my perception of horse ownership was slightly skewed. I just knew my horse would love me and do whatever I wanted. I sometimes think as adults we may have the same fairytale mindset if we haven’t had them most of our lives. My Dad grew up around horses, but they were work horses, not saddle horses. He had not ridden a horse in many years, so he wasn’t much help picking one out. I found my first horse and bought from an acquaintance. My parents didn’t have much money so the luxury of buying a retired show horse or a well-trained older mount wasn’t an option.

Ten things to Consider When Buying a Horse

  1. Buy a horse suited for your discipline. What are you going to do with him?
  2. Get help from your instructor or knowledgeable horse person.
  3. Try before you buy. See if you can have a few days to see if you and your new horse will be a good fit.
  4. Buy a horse suited to your skill level.
  5. If looking online be sure there is some sort of guarantee I place.
  6. Buy from reputable horse breeders or trainers.
  7. Research the marketplace to see what horses are selling for.
  8. If possible, take your instructor or trainer with you to try the horse out for you.
  9. Avoid auctions unless you’re an experienced horse person.
  10. If you haven’t ridden much or for quite a while borrow a horse or buy a seasoned horse. Don’t buy a young horse thinking you’ll grow old together.

Horse ownership is a privilege and responsibility for both you and your horse. They are expensive, require care and maintenance even when they aren’t being used. I suggest spending the money on an older, seasoned mount to start with. As your skill level improves buy something younger that needs some training if that’s where your heart is. If not, buy a well-broke saddle horse and enjoy the ride.

Choose Your Horse Friends Carefully

I was fortunate to have some help early in my horse career. I joined 4-H, which I highly recommend for kids getting into horses, found a good instructor, and learned to be responsible as a young girl, caring for my horse. My unruly, Brandy, by the way, ended up being a good horse after I had some instruction. My neighbor, Megan and I would ride for hours, soaking up our afternoons on our horses.

As an adult I enjoyed trail riding more than anything else. I would go with whomever had a free weekend. My friend, Theresa Crume, was my instructor for many years. We would ride together whenever possible as she lived relatively close. We hooked up with a seasoned cowboy, Si Kingma, who was an avid backcountry horseman. We cut our teeth on trails in Whatcom County such as Galbraith Mountain, Chuckanut Mountain, Heady Road, Blanchard and others. Most of the trails he took us on were challenging but we learned good horsemanship skills from Si. 

Si Kingma making sure this young rider is safe and ready to go.
Si Kingma helping a young rider gear up before a ride near Lost Lake in Bellingham 1997

We often encountered riders who were not so safety conscious. They would run through the trails, climb or descend banks that weren’t safe for riding and disrupt other riders when we were in large groups. These were some of the experiences that I’d rather not repeat, and I learned quickly to avoid riding in big groups. Horses tend to get more uneasy in larger groups for some reason and my motivation for riding as I matured was to relax, not deal with a jigging horse the whole ride.

Clinics and Horse Expos

One of the best places to get exposure to lots of great information is a horse clinic or horse expos. You can audit most clinics and participate with your horse, which is even better. Expos offer a wide variety of technics with different clinicians. You can get a broader experience and choose to follow the best teacher for your discipline or style. Clinicians will have information you can take home with you, sometimes DVD’s or books. Most information can be found online but I find it’s nice to meet these trainers, ask questions and get a feel for how they resonate with your style.

Raye Lochert at the Alaska Horse Expo in 2012, demonstrating skills in handling a horse from the ground.
Raye Lochert a clinician at the 2012 Alaska Horse Expo, demonstrates handling a horse from the ground
Raye Lochert shows a young girl how to handle her horse at the 2012 Alaska Horse Expo
Raye Lochert, working with a young girl on how to handle her horse

Safety on the Trail

If you’re new to horse ownership riding on trails can be an enjoyable and relaxing experience. If you’ve chosen a horse suited for your skill level and have taken lessons to feel comfortable handling your horse outside an arena, this can open many opportunities for getaways and adventures on horseback. A couple of things to remember when riding with two or more people. First of all, stay back one-horse length. It allows you to see the ground in front of you, and for your horse to put his head down if he needs to maneuver over obstacles or balance. It keeps the horse in front of you more comfortable as well. Most horses don’t like to be crowded. I also encourage helmets. Many injuries can be avoided with a riding helmet. There are several good brands such as Troxel, to choose from. Lastly, always ride with people you know are safety minded and have experience.

A Word About Joining Horse Clubs and Organizations

Over the years I have had the best of times with people who are experienced and safe. Joining organizations such as Back Country Horsemen has many benefits for those of us who enjoy trail riding. Many of the members are seasoned and generous. BCH helps keep trails passable and safe for all of us that enjoy trail riding. A membership in Back Country Horsemen ensures that our trails will be around for us to enjoy for years to come. They are politically active in protecting our trails as well as volunteering to maintain and repair the trails so we can all enjoy them.

BCH members are fun to hang out with so if you enjoy the horse camping experience these guys do it right! They are the most generous, knowledgeable group of people to be a part of if you enjoy trail riding or adventures in the high country. I'm a member of Back Country Horsemen of Washington. Even though I'm not super active, my membership helps support the good work they do.

No matter what discipline you enjoy, becoming part of a horse club of any kind provides opportunities for learning, competition, and friendship. Life is about great experiences so get involved!

Photos by Karen Pickering

Karen Pickering
Owner/Publisher Karen’s lifelong love of horses began at a very early age when she wore out a couple of rocking horses before convincing her parents to get her the real thing. That ill-tempered bay gelding, Brandy, was a challenge for the young horsewoman, but it drove her ambition to become a horse trainer. After attending Canyonview Equestrian College’s Horsemanship Program, Karen realized she needed work that was a little more lucrative than training, so she took a job with Customs Brokerage to pay the bills. There, she discovered an affinity for computers and a talent for creating informative, entertaining newsletters. The Northwest Horse Source began as such a letter in December 1995, with a distribution of 1000 copies for its 12 black and white pages. Since then, it has grown into beautiful, all-gloss magazine with the largest coverage of any free equine publication in the Northwest – a distribution of over 16,000 copies and over 600 locations monthly. Not bad for the results of one woman’s dream to work with horses! Today, Karen remains involved with every aspect of the magazine and treasures the community of thousands who share a common passion. Somewhere in the wee hours of the early mornings and late evenings, she still finds time to care for April, her gorgeous and sweet-tempered Quarter Horse.

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