Maybe you live in an apartment and can't afford to board a horse. Or perhaps your life circumstances - your job, your children, and your livelihood- preclude owning a horse. It doesn't matter. You love horses and you love horseback riding more than anything else in the world. But you're a horseless rider. You can't afford a horse, you don't have a horse, and you don't have the means to own a horse. What's a horse-crazy person to do?
I've struggled with this very question for the past 20 years. Twenty years ago, I ended the last lease I've had on horse, and I've been horseless since then. Is it ideal? No, but it is practical. For over 10 of those 20 years, I worked in Manhattan, commuting from Long Island each day by train and subway, leaving my house around 7 a.m. and not returning home until at least 7 p.m. My career kept me from owning a horse, and while I suppose I could have bought a horse after I moved to a rural location many years ago, the time and yes, monetary commitment have made me shy away from saying "yes" to the next beautiful equine who crosses my path.
But that doesn't mean I don't ride, or enjoy horses. If you, like me, find yourself temporarily horseless, or horseless by choice, but still yearning to ride, here are ways to keep horses and your love of riding in your life even when you are a horseless rider.
1. Continue to take lessons.
You may think you're too old for lessons or too good for them, but a true horse person is always learning. Group lessons off the camaraderie of barn fellowship as well as a less expensive alternative to private lessons. Arrive early for your lesson and offer to groom and tack up the horses; it will give you another chance to hug a horse and enjoy time in the stable.
2. Seek opportunities to "catch ride."
Once you're part of a barn family or lesson group, if you're any good at riding, you may find opportunities to catch ride. Catching riding is a term used for exceptionally good riders who show horses for their owners, but it can also refer to riders who school horses for people who are on vacation or who can't get down to the barn every day. You should be a strong intermediate to advanced rider and comfortable riding a variety of horses, since many of the horses available will be green or in need of exercise.
3. Volunteer with a therapeutic riding organization.
If time isn't the issue but money is, then volunteering with your local therapeutic riding program may be a great way to get more horse-time in without the expense. As a side walker, groom or volunteer, you'll not only be helping horses, you'll be helping the people participating in the riding program. In my book, that's a win all around.
4. Ask around to see if anyone needs a rider or groom.
I've answered ads, posted ads on Facebook, and learned through the grapevine when horses were available. In one case, the horse's owner had gone back to graduate school, and her riding time was limited; she just wanted her horse to get exercise, and it was a great opportunity for all of us. Her horse got exercise, I had a nice horse to ride for several months, and the horse's owner could relax knowing that her horse wasn't just sitting around his stall. In another situation, a friend found out about a 20-something pasture mate for a competitive show jumper's horse who needed exercise. I was able to borrow the 20-something gelding for weekend trail rides, which made his owner happy that he was getting exercise. You can find out through the local boarding grapevine, through friends or at your local tack store about opportunities.
5. Trail ride as much as you can.
If you have a stable nearby that rents horses by the hour for trail rides, take advantage of it! Although not as fun as owning your own horse or developing a relationship with a special horse that you lease or lesson with each week, trail riding will at least get you out and riding.
Although it may be a while until the stars align and you can own your own horse, or at least half-board or lease a horse, you don't have to give up riding or time at the barn until that magic day arrives. Being a horseless rider isn't ideal, but it is manageable, and with some creativity, luck and perseverance, you can make the situation work to your advantage.
IMAGE SOURCE: Jade, Morguefile.com