A day in the saddle: A conversation in honor of National Horse Day

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In honor of National Horse Day, I had the opportunity to sit down with Tina Krieger, former manager of Country Folks Mane Stream (the equine-focused sister publication of Country Folks, our flagship and agriculturally-focused trade paper), life-long horse owner and our resident expert on anything with a mane and tail. I wanted her to share her experience with horses and to share any advice she might have for a first-time horse owner or rider.

She and her husband live locally to our Country Culture offices in Upstate New York – a lovely farm of 52 acres. She is the proud owner of four Quarter horses: Prides Foolish Joker (Joker), Targets Luxury Bar (Little Anthony), Shesa Dunnit McCue (Pumpkin) and Bully Be Shining (Pockets).

When did you receive or purchase your first horse? Did you grow up around horses? I’ve been competing since 1978. I got my first horse at 16, but I’ve been riding as long as I can remember; I was riding other people’s horses before that.

How long have you been involved with the competition circuit? You’re a big barrel racing competitor – have you been involved in other competitions throughout the years? Yes, I’ve done a lot throughout the years. Barrel racing (competing to ride through a pattern of barrels, without tipping them, and receiving the lowest time); Gymkhana (a series of timed speed events); Eastern & Western Pleasure/equitation (in which the horse’s performance and “quality of movement” are judged); “Hunter Over Fences” (a specific type of jumping while riding English-style); Trail riding; Pleasure Driving Horse; and Draft.

Do you have a favorite memory or anecdote from your time competing? Nothing specifically comes to mind – I love all of it. I used to live and breathe this stuff. The stories I could tell! If you’re going to step into competition, just have fun – but remember you get out of it what you put into it. Many hours of quality time spent in the saddle trail riding and training are in your future, but if you put in the time, it’ll pay off. If you’re meant to be doing this, it won’t feel like work at all.

Most of Country Culture’s readers are just going to be starting out and while they may have some large animal experience, it’s probably going to be minimal. They may not have much prior experience with horses. What are some basic products that anyone should have on hand if they’re boarding/taking on the care of a horse for the first time? Basic horse care is a seven day a week, 365 days a year type of thing. If you can, try to find an experienced horseperson local to you that can help, because the scope of what you need to know as a horse owner is extensive. The internet is super helpful, but it’s always nice to have someone like that as a resource. One of the biggest things is to be able to gauge when your horse is getting sick so you don’t get stuck in a bad situation. You have worming/vaccinations that are needed and you’ll want to be aware of.

You can look online for a basic vet kit to keep on hand at home – anything beyond that and you will need to consult your vet. Your basic brushes include a mane comb; curry, stiff and soft brushes; and a shedding blade for spring. That will cover most of your immediate grooming needs. Blanketing is an entirely different subject and differs by horse and owner. Most healthy horses with adequate feeding and shelter will do just fine without a blanket.

Do you have a preference when it comes to hay and feed? What should the uninitiated look out for? I feed the first cutting of my hay every year; if you’re feeding second cutting, you really need to look at the grain of it – there are varying levels of nutrients in second cutting hay, so you may need to adjust their diet accordingly. Hay must be mold-free and as dust-free as possible – otherwise, you run the risk of respiratory and possible colic issues. Horse’s stomachs and respiratory systems are delicate. I go to my local feed representative to get the correct grain for use with my horses according to their age and use. He will help me go over my hay and pasture to help get a better idea of what feed I might need.

Most importantly, you need to be watching your horse’s body condition and adjust their diet according to that if necessary. There are a lot of resources available online that can help you with body scoring (“The body condition of horses based on the degree of fat cover is a good indicator of a horse’s general health,” according to Iowa State University Cooperative Extension, Body Condition Score…)

How does one go about initiating a relationship with a large animal vet? Personally, I look for equine vets who have more experience with horses and their issues. I highly recommend that you get recommendations from other horse owners on who they use. Also, certain vets only serve certain geographical areas, so it’s important to know if they can service your farm and whether they’ll visit your home. I would ask the vet in question what a basic call charge would be, what the cost of basic vaccinations would be and what kind of worming program they would recommend. Do your research, and use that information to gauge moving forward or looking elsewhere.

What about looking for a farrier for the first time? Are there specific things to look for? Farriers are very important because hoof care will depend on the soundness of your horse. Again, as far as choosing a farrier – as you’re starting out, recommendations from others who have been doing this for a while are instrumental to you as a resource. You can also consult the internet for proper hoof angles and trimming diagrams to better help you gauge when it’s time for a visit from the farrier. Normally it is a six- to eight-week schedule depending on how your horse’s feet grow. Barefoot is always better for them, but some horses have a softer foot and may need shoes. It doesn’t always need to be all four feet – sometimes the front feet are adequate. This needs to be a discussion between you and the farrier to decide what’s best for your animal. A lot of it also depends on how much riding you will do on soft or hard surfaces, like along the road.

Is there any advice you would give to a beginning trail rider or cart rider and horse owner? If you’re just starting out, ride with a friend first to build your confidence. If your horse is a trail-safe horse there should not be any issues, but you never know what you’ll encounter along the way. It’s always nice to have backup as you learn the process and get to know your animal.

Driving is a much more involved process because the harness and cart should be fitted correctly to your horse and you really need to know what to do in certain situations. This learning process is best guided by an experienced driving person. Things can go wrong really fast – if you jump into it too quickly and things aren’t handled correctly, you can easily find yourself in a wreck. I can speak to experience there – I’ve been in many a wreck in my time and they usually end badly. Caution and good practice are key.

Are there any additional resources you’d like to share – or some parting words for the first-time horse owner? The most important thing is to learn all you can. Soak it up like a sponge. Learn all you can about horses and their care from a variety of different resources – and take care to connect with someone else in real life who has done this for a while. When selecting your animal, lean on a horseperson who has experience matching people with their horses – they’ll know what to look for. This way, you’ll get the right horse for your ability and skill level.

When purchasing your horse, try to get a vet check so they’re healthy. Try the horse out in its natural surroundings if possible before you buy – a few visits before making that big decision aren’t a bad idea at all. Some will even let you have a trial period at home to see if you and the horse pair well together. This can be great. There’s nothing worse than trying a horse out, getting them back to your farm and finding out they’re a bad fit. New surroundings can change a horse’s attitude – if they adjust, that’s great. But at the end of the day, they need to be comfortable and you need to be comfortable with each other.

Above all, just have fun! I have a lot of love for these animals and they give so much back to you. I jokingly call my horses my therapists. There’s just nothing better than hitting the trail on a nice sunny day. Enjoy every second!

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