Best thing I never had

There are only eight Saturdays left until Christmas.  Top of my wish list – as ever – is a horse.  Although this is sort of a joke: realistically, now is not the time to get the pony I have been longing for.  The dream will come true one day, when the time is right.  Tragic as it may be, the equestrian fairytale that is International Velvet had a profound effect on me.  Though my dreams do not extend to an Olympic medal (I, of course, would like two – a team and an individual one… kidding), I definitely fantasise about following in Sarah Brown’s footsteps by owning a foal and bringing it up to become a fine working horse.  But before that dream can be realised, I have to be standing on my own two feet.

For my parents have always refused to buy me a horse.  As a child, I found this highly unreasonable, but as an adult, I see that it was the best thing they could ever have done for me.  And I wasn’t without opportunities: I was lucky in that my parents supported me as far as allowing me to loan a pony, as well as funding my activities.  But owning a horse was a step they refused to take, not just due to the cost – although this can, of course, be prohibitive for many – but also the fact that their ability to help me has always been limited.

I’m an anomaly: neither of my parents ride (Dad doesn’t even like animals).  I suspect that many parents hold off from purchasing a horse due to a doubt in the commitment of their offspring to the sport, and I hope that this wasn’t the case with me.  Riding has been my passion from the moment I first sat on a pony, through good times and very bad ones, there has rarely been a day when I haven’t wanted to get on a horse (for parents wishing to encourage their children, feel free to use my Mum’s tactic: if we wanted to go to our riding lesson, we couldn’t be off school sick that day – if we were well enough to ride, we were well enough to go to school.  On more than one occasion, I dragged myself to school when feeling less than spectacular on riding lesson day…).  So part of the logic my parents used to justify not purchasing a horse was that, if anything happened to me – be it a short term or long term problem – they wouldn’t be able to look after the horse.  And, as most horse people know, selling a horse can be a difficult process, just like selling a house.  Whereas with loaning – like renting a house – you can usually walk away by giving a month’s notice.  Easy.

There can, of course, be pitfalls to loaning: we were very lucky and, as far as I’m aware, no contracts were ever signed and it was a simple arrangement.  But I would urge anyone who is considering this kind of thing to ensure that they protect themselves – especially if loaning a horse or pony from an existing friend.  Loaning can also be a great way to have an extended trial of a horse you may later buy – make the most of this opportunity.

My post today has been inspired by this link appearing on my Twitter feed, courtesy of Horse and Rider.  My response to their question of would there be anything I’d add was that I agree with the author’s points, but would advocate loaning over purchasing, for the reasons stated above.  Whatever you do for your child, make sure that you do not go beyond the limits of which you are able to support them – be those financial or otherwise.  If you feel the need to learn how to physically help them out from time to time, let them be the one to show you – it will consolidate their learning too!  Allow them to take responsibility, help them to grow up to be organised and confident people.  But make sure there is a backup plan.  Keep everyone safe.

Equally, my suggestion may not work for everyone.  All children are different, and all families have different capabilities.  Perhaps some non-horsey parents find a new hobby of their own by getting involved when a horse joins the family.  But whether you’re an adult or a child, I would still advocate the benefits of loaning first, even if you are certain you wish to buy a specific horse.  A horse can be a long-term responsibility – consider for example whether you think your child may wish to go to university: what would happen to the horse then?  When would you start preparing for this?  Is it all feasible and how would everyone feel when the time comes to sell the horse or send it out on long-term loan?  In addition, riders learn a great deal from riding as many different ponies and horses as possible – purchasing a horse and therefore putting yourself purely in one saddle cuts off this opportunity for most people.

Whether it’s in five years or fifty years, I know that I’ll be a better horse owner for having waited.  And I hope that I have the restraint to follow my own advice when the day comes.

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