Winter Gloominess

Since I have not been able to ride as much as I need to (riding is physical therapy for me) I have had a lot of time to read on-line and think about horse stuff.

I think we, in North America and the rest of the Western world, have come to the end of the time in which non-wealthy people can afford to support a riding horse.

Throughout history horses reserved for just pleasure riding have, because of economic reasons, been limited to the more prosperous people in a society. Poorer people's horses had to work for a living, in agriculture, for cartage, and as pack animals. Before paved roads riding horses had their uses for transportation, but as the roads improved even middle class people were much more likely to just have horses for pulling wagons/carts/carriages etc. since a horse in harness can move a lot more people and goods around than it can if it has to carry everything on its back. Herding agricultural animals did necessitate that people ride horses, but in our culture very few people ever have to herd an animal unless they live on big stretches of land, hundreds or acres or more, not the now more normal rather limited acreage. Farmers were the main breeders of horses since farmers hand enough land for pastures and they could often raise feed for the horses they bred and raised until a useful age, and as long as there was a war armies always needed horses, for cavalrymen, for the horse artillery, for packing in supplies, and to pull the wagons that moved ammunition and picked up the wounded soldiers.

Our post-WWII prosperity changed that. “Normal” people who were not farmers and who did not own acres upon acres of land realized that they were prosperous enough to own a riding horse. The little girls and boys of America saved the American riding horse by begging, begging, begging their parents for their own horse or pony to ride. Since a larger portion of out populace had more assets in their family, these families could give their children what they wanted so badly, a horse of their own. Some people were fortunate enough to own some acreage, but others had to afford boarding their horses on land owned by someone else, land that had the necessary infrastructure of barns, fencing, trails and pastures.

It was expensive to board out, but many middle class American families could afford this since the whole country was more prosperous. There were enough horses still living, even after the fad for dog food made of horse meat, that the lower end of riding horses were affordable for middle class people. These were not highly trained riding horses, a person still had to be pretty well off to afford a high class riding horse, but they were horses that people could ride pretty safely just for fun. Luckily America had developed several breeds of riding horses so at least we did have suitable riding horse stock.

Due to this prosperity I could afford to own my own riding horses even though I was just a bank clerk. I could afford enough tack to ride, boarding my horse at a decent stable, farriers, vet care, and I could afford some lessons and some books on equitation. I owned a horse and I rode my horse.

About 30 years ago I stopped replacing my horses as they died. My diagnosis of MS was a big reason, there was no way I could guarantee I would have enough energy or be physically strong enough to take care of my horses. Another reason was that I was getting older, and I was seeing signs of deterioration in the monetary well-being of non-wealthy Americans. I knew enough about population dynamics to realize that the world's population was going to continue increasing rapidly and I figured that there would be a point where the demand for grain from billions of people would cause the price of grain to go up, and keep on going up.

When I had my sons I had dreams of introducing my grandchildren to the wonders of horses and to the pleasures of riding them. By the time my grandsons arrived I no longer was set up with suitable horses for them to ride, but I saw no reason why they could not learn to ride and have a hope of continuing riding as they got older. I got my eldest grandson up on horseback a few times and he mostly liked it but it was rapidly becoming obvious that the glory days of affordable horsemanship and riding were long gone, there was no way that my grandson's college educated parents would ever be able to afford a horse mania for their sons. Lessons cost so darn much, leasing a horse costs even more, and supporting a horse now takes true wealth, not just saving one's pocket change. So I gave up my dream of grandchildren who rode horses (luckily neither grandson “fell in love” with horses.)

The last few years have made my gloominess worse. Climate change is affecting crop and pasture growing areas, droughts are more frequent and during the wetter years the rains are getting much stronger, more likely to cause floods and environmental degradation than gently watering the soil. The plunging polar vortexes are also influencing agriculture negatively, and late spring hard freeze can destroy a year's crop and the super cold winter polar vortexes can increase the need to feed animals even more hay and grain through the winter. Combined with the increased demand from more and more people feed prices have sky-rocketed, and as food for everyone gets more expensive all the prices of services for the horses have also gone up, up, up. Many decades ago I could afford to feed 7 horses, nowadays I would find it difficult to afford feeding even just one horse, even though I own my land so I do not have to board a horse out.

I was fortunate to be born in a time when normal lower middle class people could afford to own and board a riding horse. Right now I would not feel confident that I could support a riding horse at a decent stable that fed the horses right and kept up the infrastructure, barns, paddocks and fences for the pastures unless I had several million US dollars in ready cash to pay for board, farriers, veterinarians, riding lessons and training for my horses. I just cannot afford it any more.

So I reduced my horse dreams to getting weekly lessons at a decent stable without an indoor riding ring. I feel lucky that I can still afford to do this though I do miss having my own personal riding horses. I have given up all my dreams of my grandchildren riding horses, there is no way that their parents could afford lessons at a decent stable, much less owning a riding horse and in old age there is no way I can afford to pay for them to ride.

My gloominess now comes from the realization that riding horses are now way beyond the means of most families. The wealthy have always gotten the best horses, but there were enough not as good horses for normal people. However with all the population pressures, the pressures on agriculture from our changing climate, and the darn fact that it is almost impossible to sell a riding horse for what it costs the breeder to raise it to riding age at a cost that non-wealthy people can afford, a person has to be very well off to be able to afford even a mediocre riding horse. One has to be WEALTHY to afford to buy a GOOD, well trained and sane riding horse nowadays.

Rejoice all you riders that you have been able to afford horses before the costs of horses have risen to the stratosphere. We may be the last generation of non-wealthy people who can afford to buy a decent riding animal and be able to afford to support it at a decent level. To me that is a cause for gloom.

And this winter is not helping my gloominess at all.

Have a great ride!

Jackie Cochran

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