We bought our hobby farm in May of 2013 and brought my horse, Jack, home to it in July of that year after we had fences up. Since that time he has been the only horse on the property. He gets a little company from the goats but honestly he ignores their presence and barely tolerates them most days. He can be a bit grouchy and not just because he is now 22. He has always been a bit cranky and set in his ways. I do believe stubbornness is an Appaloosa trait.
We finally decided it was time for Jack to have company. For the last year we have been keeping our ears and eyes open for a good fit for our hobby farm and last week we finally found one.
Her name is Melody and she is a 15 year old Haflinger. We picked her up from Bridget the neighbor girl who has done chores for us while we were on vacation. She is going to be going to college this week and of the kids in her family she was the only one interested in keeping the horses. So her family made the decision to rehome their three horses. Of the three Melody was the healthiest and the most rideable.
It may sound a little hard-hearted of me but even if all the horses were free I really only wanted the one that I could ride and that wouldn’t need a large vet bill to maintain. I honestly cannot afford an animal I can’t use in some way. Many people believe horses are just hay burners but I enjoy going out on long rides with Jack so he is worth every penny I spend on hay. We picked her up Wednesday evening and started introducing her to Jack.
A few things to keep in mind when introducing a new animal:
- First, keep the new animal in a separate pen so they can see, hear, and smell each other without being able to touch. This allows the animals to become accustomed to the sight, sound, and scent of the other animal without fighting.
- Secondly, they are going to fight. Even after letting the animals become accustomed to each other from afar they will fight when put together. There is no getting around this fact. Dominance needs to be established, personalities need to be discovered, and boundaries need to be set but if they are put together right away they will fight more than if they become accustomed to each other from a distance.
- Lastly, remember that new animals do not know where the fences are so it is a good idea to walk them around the perimeter or remark the fence lines with fencing tape so the wires are clearly visible.
I have been present for horse introductions many times and I will say that introducing Melody to Jack was very easy. They didn’t fight very much and they seemed interested in each other in a good way and were willing to make friends. On Jack’s side of things Melody is a girl so of course he wants to be friends.
Melody is a Haflinger which is a smaller horse but not quite classified as a pony. She is small and stocky with big feet but because of her size she is not suitable for Trenton to ride. We decided when we were still thinking of getting her that she would be a family kid’s horse which means all the kids are welcome to be part of riding her, feeding her, and generally taking care of her if they wish to enjoy going out for rides. My niece, Aurora, is super excited about it and Fiona wants to ride her so bad. I have not gotten a chance to take her out yet to see how she does so the kids are not allowed on her until then. We did tie both horses to the hitching post to brush them, clean feet, and fit Melody to a saddle. She did well considering we had extra kids around that day so the session also worked to desensitizing Melody to having kids run around. Jack looked as if he could fall asleep while Melody watched everything intently but kept herself calm.
I think it will work nicely having another horse to keep Jack company and for the kids to ride out with me. The only reservation I have is that it may be difficult to ride out with only one horse. I believe the other will throw a fit, well, Jack will anyway. He is a notorious fit thrower.
Last year I started horse lessons with my niece, Aurora who was 7 at the time. By the end of the summer she was wielding the lunge whip, building muscles, cleaning hooves herself, and improving her balance while riding bareback while I led Jack around.
This year we started a little later, because of weather and schedules but now lessons are back on. It’s funny how much you forget over the course of winter.
Our first lesson was mostly getting re-acquainted with how to behave around a horse and to not be shy.
A few items we worked on:
- Don’t be timid. A horse is a thousand pound animal who likes to be scratched hard to make it feel good. If you’re not putting a little muscle behind a scratch it feels ticklish, like a fly landing on them. Horses don’t appreciate that.
- How to pick up a horse hoof. Run a hand all the way down his leg, grasp his ankle, and lean into him. Be ready when he takes the weight of his foot and be fast to pick it up. Put some muscle into the lift! Some horses will do it for you but Jack makes you work for everything.
- Behavior while lunging. While lunging a horse your job is to watch him and his job is to watch you. This is an exercise in maintaining pace, establishing dominance, and honing skills in observation. Horses are experts in body language and you need to be too.
- How to lead a horse. Aurora has short arms so I fed a piece of rope through a 2 1/2 foot length of PVC pipe so she can keep him off her heels. Jack has a bad habit of walking close to you and has been known to heel step if you’re not paying attention to him. We reviewed where he should be and how to keep him in his space and out of hers.
- Brushing etiquette. Most children love to brush horses so we mostly went over how to walk behind a horse and his ticklish spots.
- Opening and closing gates. It’s hard to work with an animal if you’re afraid of the fence to take him in or out. I had Aurora opening the electric fence to get used to it. When she is more adept at leading I will have her practice leading him in and out.
Overall it was a great first lesson and soon she will remember all of these items from last year.
The three main skills to remember around a horse or any animal are:
- Be Bold!
- Pay Attention!
- Put Some Muscle Into It!
I’m going to start a few lessons with Fiona, my daughter, who is 2. She needs to remember that he is bigger than her. She loves Jack and has even ridden him bareback without support while I led him around. She clings to him like a tick and loves every second of it! The girl has a lot of attitude and forgets that she is only pint-sized.
For the last three weeks I have been giving my niece, Aurora, lessons in horsemanship. It is fun for the both of us to see where each lesson will go. The first lesson I had fairly planned out but each lesson after that has depended on what skills I believe need reinforcing.
Lesson 1: Groundwork
When working with horses groundwork is more important than the actual riding so she did not ride on her first lesson. She was a bit bummed but she understood how important it is to know the groundwork first.
- Haltering – She has to be able to catch the horse before she can do anything with it.
- Leading – Aurora has to be able to lead him from place to place safely without him stepping on her feet because she is only 7 and has short arms I ran a lead rope through a 1 1/2 section of plastic pipe so she can hold it at the bottom of the pipe to give her room to maneuver him without him walking on her.
- Brushing – This is fun for the both of them!
- Hooves – I have been teaching her to pick up his feet and clean them to be sure he has no rocks in his hooves. She has a hard time with this because Jack does not always pick his feet up nicely and it can be an awkward position until you get used to it.
- Lunging – She has been learning how to lunge Jack on a lunge line. This is an important skill because it teachers Jack that he needs to listen to her and it teaches her how to get his attention. They learn to listen to each other.
Lesson 2: Balance
During our second session she completed all the skills she learned in the first lesson while I gave her a little more responsibility of them.
- Bridling – The bridle is what you put on the horse when you ride. The bit gives you control over direction and speed. Aurora learned how to put the bridle on over a small rope halter so I could lead him while she learned how to work the reins.
- Bareback riding – Riding bareback can be a little trickier than riding with a saddle because you need to have better balance and there is nothing to hang onto but the horse itself so I started with this. She could feel how Jack moved better and learned how to sit up to keep herself centered.
Lesson 3: Saddling
We went through all the groundwork from lesson 1 before we moved onto new skills.
- Saddling – The saddle gives you more stability while riding. I taught her how to put the saddle on although she is not tall enough to put it onto his back. I may find a stool for next time so she can do it all on her own. 🙂
- Reining – After Jack was saddled and bridled I hooked the lunge line to a small rope halter that fits under the bridle. Arora worked on keeping him in the circle space and away from me (he kept wanting to see me and complain of his troubles). She had a bit of a hard time with this. I think I am going to try different reins that are tied together so she doesn’t have to keep adjusting length. It’s second nature to me so I didn’t think about it before.
- Pace – She also worked at keeping him at a walk. Jack’s a bit lazy and would rather stand there and eat grass so she had to keep him moving.
- Unsaddling – What goes on must come off.
When he was unsaddled she wanted to ride bareback again so we finished with that.
We’ve been having a great time and I’m glad she’s sticking with it.
I thought I’d add a tiny story.
My son is three and he has been riding, with help, our Appaloosa for the last two years. This spring he started riding him without a supporting hand to hold him steady while I led Jack around between pastures. I never put a saddle on him during these little excursions, it takes too much time.
The first time I put Lucian on his back this spring without his dad to support him I was a bit nervous. I was afraid he would slide right off the side if Jack turned a bit or stopped a little abruptly but he rode like a champ. He hung on to a fistful of mane and held on with his legs like he should and he had a blast. He likes to do things by himself.
One night while his cousins were over my husband and I decided to saddle Jack and take the kids for a little walk about in the yard. The were each very excited and a bit nervous because they had not had many opportunities to ride a horse before. I’m not sure how they felt about it but I think overall they had fun. Lucian was excited too because he had never rode Jack by himself with a saddle on before but he swung his leg over him without any hesitation and was ready to go.
He didn’t care that it was dark out he was ready to go! I’m so glad I can raise him on our little farm and give him experiences many children don’t get to have.