Owning a pony can be a costly business. But there are ways to cut the costs and make riding an activity within the reach of us all, writes Wendy Findlay
The health benefits of keeping a pony and riding cannot be quantified. Thousands of riders up and down the country will tell you it is impossible to put a price on the feelings of satisfaction and wellbeing produced by taking part in this outdoor activity. Parents will tell you of how feeding, caring for and riding a pony teaches their children about being responsible, gets them out of doors, improves their balance and coordination skills, teaches them patience and respect, and makes them think about what they are doing.
Boys, who may initially be inclined to think of a pony as a motorbike, learn that the horse is a living, breathing animal with ideas of its own, and that it takes a bit more thought to make it do what they want. They learn patience and how to control their temper. It is no use shouting at a pony if it won’t stand while you open the gate from its back; this will only make it worse. The rider needs to stay calm and think of another approach. It is also important to have authority and be in charge, making sure the pony is given clear signals to understand. These are all valuable skills for anyone to learn, whether they are dealing with horses or people in any walk of life.
It takes perseverance and courage to learn to ride properly, and every horse or pony presents a new challenge; the rider has to work how that horse ticksand the best way to ride it. There is satisfaction in bringing hay and water, brushing a horse and tending to its needs on a daily basis. There is tremendous enjoyment and pleasure in being with horses that brings people back to riding time and time again.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that horses are not a cheap hobby, and it is very easy for the costs to soar. So, how can you be involved with horses in an affordable way?
Try these ways to indulge your passion on a budget:
Sign up for a mini series of lessons Build your skills, ride and have fun without the commitment and expense of horse ownership. A series of six or ten weekly lessons can satisfy your need to be near horses and improve your fitness. Our local riding school ran a ‘men only’ Friday afternoon class for six weeks. Busy businessmen, who could not have managed long-term lessons, turned up, had a blast and went away saying they would come back for more in six months time.
Equally, for children, attending a set of weekly lessons in the fresher weather of spring time and in the run-up to a summer camp, can give them a taste of riding and pony care without it having to be a year-long activity. My own sons learnt to ride this way. Just by riding over the spring and summer over a number of years, they learnt the basic skills and knowledge. And, of course, it kept the costs to a manageable level.
Loan or share a pony
You may be lucky to find someone who has a horse or pony that their child has outgrown, or that they no longer have time to ride. Some people, understandably, are reluctant to sell a pony that they consider a friend, but would rather see it used than left standing in the field. Often horses are advertised for loan in September, when their student riders head off to university … however, it is quite a responsibility to have someone else’s horse, and a clear contract should be drawn up clarifying who does what.
Likewise, you could team up with a friend and buy a horse between you and share the costs. This sort of arrangement can work very well with the right people, but the potential for conflict of interests is always there. What happens if you both want to ride the pony at the same time? Or if one party wants sell the pony and the other doesn’t? Again, clear terms of agreement need to be drawn up anticipating these scenarios.
The Blue Cross Charity has horses and ponies for available for adoption, subject to terms and conditions relating to the welfare of the loaned pony. This may be an affordable way to find a pony, but it may be harder to find one that is actually suited to your purpose.
Resist the temptation to buy a highly bred excitable17hh thoroughbred horse which may look impressive, but could cost the earth to feed and keep, and be difficult to ride. Native breeds are very hardy and are generally are good doers, which means you are often trying to keep the weight off rather than on, and so feeding costs are less. Good sensible cobs or half breds (native crossed with thoroughbred), and Irish draughts are all athletic, useful horses that can do a bit of everything and give their owner a lot of pleasure.
Bulk buy food The cost of hay rises each year during January and February as supply becomes limited and people realise they don’t have enough to see them through to spring. If you have the space to store the hay, it is well worth buying it during the summer straight from the field. You could save yourself up to £2 a bale on the January price. Haylage is a popular feed for horses; being plastic wrapped, it has the advantage that it does not need stored under cover like hay, but is expensive when purchased in smaller square bales. A cheaper alternative is to buy big round bales. They are handy to put in a field feeder, and, if you have number of horses to feed, they will have finished the bale before it has time to go off.
Make do and mend
Replacing rugs can become costly if you do it every year. You can purchase buckles, web, binding, and waterproof materials to repair your own rugs at www.equikits.co.uk Perhaps you want to have a go at making your own rug? If so, ask for a back copy of CS (May 2007). If you are really not feeling creative, you could send your rug away to be reproofed, stitched up and patched at a fraction of the cost of a new one. Check out your local horsenews paper/ or feed store for local advertisers.
Build your own
Have you ever looked at the cost of new jumps? You may be able to get hold of equipment to use as jumps for little or nothing. Scout round your local businesses to see if they have any barrels that they need taken away. We have a number largish blue plastic barrels from a nearby business that, once cleaned out, were excellent to use as jumps, either laid on their side or upright with poles. Perhaps you can source rustic poles or sleepers from a sawmill. Plastic pipes stacked up and fastened in place also make a good jump, and a couple of old doors can be painted into an imitation wall. Potato pallets make a useful filler for a jump or can be put on either side as ‘wings’. The trick is to use your imagination and always be on the lookout for a potential jump in the making! At the same time, you do need to be selective and discard anything that is rotting, or has nails protruding or has something a horse could get its foot stuck in.
Go bare foot
Many people assume that all horses need to be shod, but this is not the case. There are horses and ponies that have tough enough feet to do all the work required of them with no shoes on at all. If your pony can go ‘barefoot’, you will have smaller shoeing bills to pay, but you cannot dispense with the farrier altogether. Your pony’s feet will still need regular trims. You could however, go on a course, and learn to trim the pony’s feet yourself.
The BHS welfare department is always looking for knowledgeable people to represent them at district or area level. A sound knowledge of horses or practical experience is needed. Many welfare cases arise due to ignorance, and a welfare officer can provide help and advice to concerned horse owners and also be involved in organised initiatives such as the ragwort, strangles or responsible breeding campaigns. If you have less time to spare and yet still want to be of help, you could join the BHS volunteer database, and perhaps be called up to help with judging, stewarding, or managing a bridleway. Helping out with the RDA may appeal if you enjoy working with adults/ children with special needs while they ride. While volunteering may not give you actual riding, it is a great way to be part of the horsey community, and who knows where it may lead …