By THLady Meadhbh inghean ui Bhaoighill.
There are a lot of gentles who approach the Kingdom’s equestrians to tell us that they would love to be involved with the equestrian community within the SCA, but for whatever reasons, they are unable or unwilling to buy their own horse.
That’s fine – horse ownership comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility, and it is certainly not for everyone. But there are many ways in which you can get involved and potentially be offered the loan of a horse on which you can compete.
First, let’s dispel a couple of myths and explain why we are as we are:
Myth 1: Horse owners are all independently wealthy. Hah! We horsemen have heard this one for so long that we have long since given up trying to dispel it. There is a saying in the horse world that the best way to make a small fortune in horses is to start with a large one. It is a true saying. A huge number of horsefolk actually spend every spare cent they can earn on their horses, with a lot of us holding down an “extra” job to help pay for our addiction.
Myth 2: Horse owners are all ignorant ____s. (insert your favorite derogatory term here). This one is usually because we tend to say “No” a lot. Most of us have an almost constant stream of people wanting to ride our horses. In order to protect ourselves, our horses, the public, and even the wanna-be rider, frequently “No” is a necessity, and it is not because we are evil, mean-spirited people.
“My Good Gentle! May I Ride Your Horse?”
Picking up a ride on a borrowed horse is very possible – we all love to bring new riders into the wonderful world of horses.
However, it is never a good idea to go up to someone you barely know (or don’t know at all) at an event and ask to ride their horse. For most of us, our horses are our children. They are also living, breathing, prey animals, with minds and hearts of their own, and a half ton or so of weight to throw around.
We generally have spent years working on developing a partnership with this animal, and we will do everything in our power to protect him. If that includes saying “No,” that is what we wil do.
“Well, Okay, I Can Understand That – But What I Really Want To Know is ……how to be welcomed into the equestrian fold, and be around the horses, and maybe get to ride.”
The best advice I can give you here is as follows:
Get to know, and make yourself known to as many of the equestrians as you can. The more we know you, and the more we feel we can count on you, the more likely we are to offer you some saddle time.
Help out at events. The equestrians who show up at events with horses in tow generally spent a LOT of money and time to get there. Once we get there, our horses require much in the way of housing and care. We may need to set up portable corrals. We need to find water and provide food for the horses. We also have lots of heavy, bulky equipment that will often need to be manhandled to and from our trucks and trailers, and all the time we are doing this, we are babysitting our horses to make sure they stay out of trouble. Fetch a bucket of water. Help string a temporary fence. Anything that can be done to make our lives easier is very much appreciated and will likely get you in the saddle quicker than anything else. Caveat: NEVER feed, water, or even touch a horse, unless in an emergency situation, without explicit permission from the owner. Horses have personalities, some good, some not so, allergies, and other issues just like people do. Even a well-meaning handful of grass, with the wrong type of leaves mixed in, can be fatal to a horse.
Ground crew at events. We almost always need more ground crew than we have available (although I would like to add that here in Æthelmearc ground crew folks ROCK!) and our courses generally cover a fair amount of ground, which makes for a lot of running around for the crew if we are shorthanded.
Never try to make yourself out to be a better rider than you are. Actually, this one is rather self-policing, since, generally, we can pretty much see through your telling us that you’ve ridden for twenty years, and we realize, pretty much instinctively, that what you really mean to say is that you rode once, for ten minutes, twenty years ago and your behind hasn’t hit a saddle since then. But, to be on the safe side, if you are a novice, be very clear about that. We don’t want you to be hurt any more than we want you to hurt our horse.
I apologize for the plain speaking here, but understand that you may not be cut out for riding – or at least riding some horses. If you are six feet six and two hundred fifty pounds, a lot of horses are just plain not going to be able to carry you without the risk of injury. And we won’t let that happen.
Take good care of what you have been given to use. If you have been given permission to ride someone’s horse, “riding it like you stole it” is probably not a good idea. Be very clear with the owner on what they would or would not like you to do while riding the horse. That may include what gait(s) they would like you to stick to, whether they want you to stay in an enclosed area or not, and what activities they feel you are capable of handling while also handling their horse. Remember: They know their horse a lot better than you do. If they say “nothing faster than a trot” – stick to a trot. Also remember that tack (saddles, bridles, etc.) costs money. Usually lots of money. Splashing through a creek with brand new tack, letting the bridle reins drag so they can be stepped on and broken, wearing boots with buckles on the inside of the calf to scratch flaps, or rivets on jeans that dig into seats will probably be frowned upon.
Last, but certainly not least, and, in fact, the best advice I can give you, is to help out. Not only at events, but before and after events. If there is a horseman who lives near you, get to know them. Offer to help them once in a while – be honest that you would eventually like some saddle time. We put in long, hard hours taking care of our animals, and we also spend a lot of our money on them. There are innumerable ways you can help:
- Offer to help bring in, or stack, hay.
- Offer to help clean tack.
- Offer to clean stalls once in a while, and/or feed occasionally. (We all like a night out here and there.)
- Horse-sit for a vacation.
- Help with bathing and grooming before an event.
- Pitch in to cover the cost of feed, bucket of treats, or farrier visit.
All of these suggestions will be far more likely to get you in the saddle than merely showing up at the equestrian site and asking to ride a horse. There are also many other ideas for the horseless rider out there, such as leasing, part-leasing, and so forth, that I will cover in my next installment.