FMS-CL-MR-1-Horse Tales funor those who like horses, spending time with them is enjoyable, no matter what the activity may be. Anyone who has had their own horse, or was fortunate enough to spend time with a horse as a youngster, can probably come up with many fond memories of long hours together with their favorite four-footed friend.
After learning some of ‘the basics’ of horsemanship through the local 4-H club during my childhood years, the dream of someday owning a horse finally came true. On my 14th birthday, my Dad took me up to a farm that bought, sold and leased horses to summer camps, where I found a red sorrel gelding that we named Squire, who quickly became my teacher, best friend and confidante. Squire was time-tested and patient, a perfect match for an eager but somewhat ‘green’ youngster. I learned many lessons from my first horse that helped to carry me levelheaded into young-adulthood — perhaps the most important was responsibility. As a young teenager, my involvement with 4-H and my horse kept me focused — and away from the temptations most teenagers are faced with. It took a lot of time and patience to care for a horse — chores always came before leisure, but the amount of fun we had far outweighed the hard work and sacrifices that had to be made.
My favorite time of year for riding has always been late summer/early fall, probably because my ‘birthday horse’ arrived in late August, when we purchased him. Squire and I would ride all around the countryside — up and down hills, across fields and streams, making our own way where there were no trails, marking the best places by bending branchlets — something I still do today. Sometimes we rode through town, to meet up with a couple of friends who had horses and lived a few miles away. On hot summer afternoons we would ride down to the stream and on a number of occasions, ride bareback into the water to cool off. The horses seemed to enjoy those impromptu swims as much as we did.
The fairgrounds were at the other end of town, and often we’d meet there to ride in the arena and ‘practice’ for the county fair and 4-H shows. None of us had ever taken riding lessons, but we learned from day-to-day practice and hard work, alternating between who was the ‘judge’ and who was the contestant. Often we’d play games on horseback — using sticks or buckets or whatever we could come up with. Sometimes I would ride ‘double’ with a friend that did not have a horse so she could share in the fun. And what a treat it was to ride by an apple tree on a crisp autumn day and pick apples from the saddle — some for the rider, and some for the horse!
Once September arrived, our leisure time was limited to after school and weekends, and often involved riding up the hill and through the meadows to the school grounds, where we could sit on our horses and watch football or cross-country practices. It was great fun and a good experience for the horses, which learned to tolerate all sorts of noises and new experiences. We rode in the local parades through town, and by the next summer, I was able to ride my horse to work at my first real job — as groom at a small horse farm. Too young to drive, I figured out that it was an easy 60-minute ride along the back country roads to the farm, where my horse would be turned out to graze while I did my work, until it was time to ride back home.
As the years passed, horses still remained an important part of my life. I introduced my husband to the joys of pleasure riding, and we purchased two horses that carried us up and over hills and valleys, across streams and through forests and fields — enjoying many rides similar to those spent in the happy days of my childhood.
It’s been many years since we bought our first ‘pair’ of horses, and today we still have two — a nice number for company, both for the horses, and the riders.  I often ride with a friend who does not have her own horse, but uses one of ours. Through the years we have trailered the horses to different locations, but most often we enjoy riding close to home on our mountain trails or down along the river.
On days when I am riding alone, I’ll sometimes leave the gate open when heading up the mountain, and our older mare enjoys her freedom in following us ‘at liberty’, never wandering far, at times loping to catch up, after lagging behind to nibble at some choice grasses.
Even when not riding, you can have fun playing games with your horse. Feed buckets and barrels, fence posts or large sticks can become “obstacles” to go around, across, or jump over. Horses enjoy play time with their peers — and why not with their keepers? Whether astride or on the ground with a lunge line, you can set up ‘stations’ in the pasture or riding area as an obstacle course for your horse to enjoy. While he is having fun, he is also learning to accept the unexpected, and it will improve his overall demeanor and ‘trail sense’ when riding.
Even more challenging and fun is ‘at liberty’ training — where, after starting out on a short, then longer lead, you work with your horse to respond to your commands, and perform many different tasks, whether attempting obstacles, or everyday activities, such as loading and unloading from a horse trailer.
You’ll probably find that your horse enjoys these sessions as much as you do. This upcoming season of late-summer/early autumn is a great time of the year to be having fun with with your horse — don’t miss out on it!