By Kim Schmittendorf

- Having come to horseback riding and horse ownership late in life I have learned a great deal about both horses and the industry surrounding them. My only experience with horses, until four years ago, was a few trail rides, one buck off a very rank pony, several bites and kicks and reading endlessly all of the horse books I could get my hands on. I had always dreamed of owning my very own "Black Stallion" and having that special relationship with such a majestic and regal animal!

Well… step one was getting on board! I spent the first three years taking lessons and leasing a school horse, and I cannot stress enough how invaluable that was. That 20 some year old little quarter horse gelding taught me that all of the romantic notions I had could just be thrown out the window!

Riding was work -- especially at my age! I had thought myself fairly fit, bike riding one hundred miles a week, strength training, stretching…not so much for riding. The first few rides were awful! I was sore in muscles I never knew I had. And I had to cope with the unexpected fear. Fear of falling off, fear of such a LARGE animal. I had to learn to deal with a thousand pound animal that had a mind of its own and was only going to do what I asked IF I asked correctly.

And that's where the trainer came in. I have had trainers before, not horseback riding, but for other things. High school track and field, personal trainers, corporate trainers but this was a totally different relationship. I had to put all of my trust for my welfare and physical well being into someone I barely knew. And that is not easy. There were communication issues as simple as me not understanding the trainer’s interpretation of a body position. When she said "square your shoulders" she meant to drop them, not move into a military like position. When she wanted me to "lean back" it felt like I was falling off backwards, not sitting straight up and down. And posting?? I thought I would never learn to do that!

Those first years were thrilling, scary, frustrating and often felt dangerous to me. I fell and injured my back significantly but surprised myself by not thinking twice about getting back on and riding. I was warned that I may not be able to ride again and the thought of that was unbearable! I experienced the most incredible high when I won grand champion at a local schooling show. I was walking on clouds! It may not have been a rated show on an expensive well bred warmblood but it was the result of hours and hours in the saddle, working hard with my old schooler.

The time came when the decision was made that I wanted my own horse. And again there were unexpected outcomes of this decision. My husband’s anxiety and push back on this. The reality check of what the cost would be for a “decent” horse. All of the incidentals: new tack to fit the new horse, increased fees for board, farrier, vet… I had researched all of this but was still not truly prepared. And going out to test ride and shop… now that was priceless!

I really had my bubble burst and learned firsthand that above all, this is an industry and everyone is out to make a buck! Buyer beware and BE AWARE! The horse doping, bad care, and lack of training was just rampant!

I became so frustrated and disillusioned that I quit looking… and that is when my horse dropped into my lap. A more perfect match I don’t think could have been found! And in the little over a year that we have been together I have learned so much more! Leasing a horse is one thing but to have your own and care for them on a daily basis is altogether a different level of relationship. There is so much information out there on horse care and training. From websites to magazines to blogs… it goes on and on! And not to mention the unsolicited advice from anyone that finds out you have a horse!

So…what have I learned? To trust myself and my judgment. To be patient and not think less of my horse or myself if we cannot jump four feet or canter pirouette. To live in the moment with him and give him treats when and if I want. To appreciate the beauty of watching him gallop across the field just because he wants to or the feel of his soft muzzle on my arm. To put aside all of the noise of the industry and just be content I have the opportunity to share in the life of such a wonderful animal and that my life permits it.

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