The Horseless Rider – Part One

There’s a stigma in the equestrian community that I have been feeling for some time, as if Horseless riders are ‘less’ of an equestrian than those that own horses. That it makes me lower on the totem pole, less important to educate, less worthy of attention or effort to include. The lack of a horse makes finding the right trainer, with enough variety of horses to use for lessons, a challenge. Trainers get paid more from horses they train and riders who show consistently, so they become priority. I understand why, but it also can hurt.

I have been so lucky to ride a plethora of different horses throughout my life. Riding multiple horses has bettered me as a rider to be more adjustable and to keep an open mind in training approaches. When I ride a different horse, how I ride needs to change slightly. This was especially true when I was able to ride a few times a week when I was working in exchange for lessons back when I lived in Florida.

When we moved to Colorado, riding got pushed on the back burner. I lessoned maybe five times between 2015 and 2016, and then I was able to be more consistent for 2017-2018 which was awesome. In December 2017, at age 28, I finally signed a partial lease on a beautiful but not right for me bay Thoroughbred. I cried on my way home because I was FINALLY a step closer to my childhood dream of owning a horse. The lease ended in May 2018 because I wanted to start saving up for a down payment to purchase my own horse one day. However, fast forward to now and I am barely able to lesson once a month, and leasing or buying is well out of the question for me at this time. At age 29, I still do not own a horse.

I am guilty of feeling a pang of sadness and jealousy when friends do well in competitions or buy a new horse. I hate myself for feeling that way because I’m so incredibly happy for them, and hope to be able to do the same things one day. I need to check myself, step back, and remind myself that our paths through life are all different. To quote Mulan, “The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all”. It’s not my time.

I have found a trainer with whom I work extremely well with, and whose philosophies and approaches to horsemanship are exactly what I have been looking for in a trainer. Fortunately for me, her herd has several good horses with the disposition to teach. I feel included in barn events, and feel supported by the small group of riders at the barn. It’s a great environment that I can see myself, eventually, bringing my own horse into. That gives me hope.

I wanted to give a voice to riders, like me, who experience the frustrations and joys of being a horseless rider. I think as a community we can do better to be more inclusive and help lift each other up, no matter the circumstances of the individual. And count your blessings; there is always someone who looks up to you.

The Horseless Riders

Bri Powell @bpowell23_

Bri Powell

Tell me about your current riding situation.

Currently I’m riding lesson horses. I’m riding about once maybe twice a month.

What makes it possible for you to lease or lesson?

I’m working as much as I can so I can help pay my part in my lessons!

How does it affect your time? How do you work it into your life?

I get all my school work done during my off block so I’m free after school. It’s hard to get out to the barn since it’s about 30 minutes away so I try to go on weekends or catch rides with people!

Do you feel pressured at your barn to buy a horse?

Not at all!

How do you cope with jealousy of those who do have horses?

I tell myself I am so lucky just to be able to be around horses let alone ride them.

Do you feel like you are part of the team at your barn? How do they include you? If not, why?

Yes! Everyone really helps me out trying to help get me back into riding and it’s amazing! I help out as much as I can and can tell they appreciate it!

What is one thing you could feasibly change this year with your riding?

Hopefully if I can get helped out from my parents lease a horse!

Do you have any advice for other horseless riders?

Just keep trucking! Life has a way of figuring things out and it will all work out soon! It’s not a bad thing you don’t own or lease a horse, riding horses is an amazing thing that not many people can do. It’s a great way to develop as a rider riding all sorts of horses! Enjoy them!

Caroline Melsa @_.cm_equestrian._

Caroline Melsa

Tell me about your current riding situation.

I currently am in college, so I lesson once a week while I’m in school and I lesson once or twice a week while I am home for breaks. I recently changed barns again so I have a lot of experience in moving barns and lessons.

What makes it possible for you to lease or lesson?

I work full time in the summer, so I have been able to use my paychecks from that job to pay for my lessons during the summer and school years.

How does it affect your time? How do you work it into your life?

Riding does not really affect my time negatively. I have been truly blessed to not have college classes on Fridays this semester so I currently ride on Fridays while I’m away at school. When I am home, I ride whenever my trainer has the availability for me to take lessons.

Do you feel pressured at your barn to buy a horse?

I do not feel pressured to buy a horse at either of the barns I ride at.

How do you cope with jealousy of those who do have horses?

Jealousy is something that I have struggled with a lot at my previous barn. The girls that I rode with were not nice to me most of the time, however, I will not hold that against my fellow riders. I find my jealous mostly comes from feeling like I will never be allowed to do something, more specifically ride more horses. However, the way that I deal with being jealous is telling myself that I am fortunate enough to even get to ride. This usually helps me remind myself of how grateful I am that I get to ride these amazing animals and build relationships with them.

Do you feel like you are part of the team at your barn? How do they include you? If not, why?

At my previous barn, I did not feel like I was part of the team. This I think is because I did not have the opportunity to lease or own a horse. I mainly rode school horses that taught me so many amazing things, such as how to actually ride and how to jump correctly. At my current barn back home, I absolutely feel like I am part of team. I get included in helping out at the barn and they all talk to me which makes me feel even more included.

What is one thing you could feasibly change this year with your riding?

I want to get the chance to show over fences.

Do you have any advice for other horseless riders?

I would say to take every chance you get with a horse to cherish the fact that you get the chance to ride horses, because the lesson horses and lease horses have so much to teach the rider. I also would say, even though you may just be the “lesson kid” even when you’re almost 20, you can still prove that you can ride so many different horses all with their own attitudes and quirks. A person with a horse can’t say that which I have really learned to take gratitude in.

Abby Klawes @_a.klawes_

Abby Klawes

Tell me about your current riding situation.

I am leasing a horse and training a horse (both english). I also have a few places where I ride once in a while and do multiple disciplines there.  I work for my trainer at my main barn.

What makes it possible for you to lease or lesson?

I saved up a lot of money over the summer from babysitting. I pay for all my riding and horse stuff on my own. I also work off some of my lessons.

How does it affect your time? How do you work it into your life?

With school, I am usually at the barn 2-3 times a week though I wish I could be there more. I don’t think that it is very hard to work into my life but I have to take into consideration if my parents can get me there because I am not yet old enough to drive myself.

Do you feel pressured at your barn to buy a horse?

No, I feel that everyone is very welcoming of everything.

How do you cope with jealousy of those who do have horses?

I am not really jealous of people who have horses. I love the situation I am in and I don’t know if I would be able to know and love all the horses that I do if I had my own horse.

Do you feel like you are part of the team at your barn? How do they include you? If not, why?

Yes, I feel like I am part of the team. I regularly talk to almost everyone that rides there and sometimes will go for rides with people.

What is one thing you could feasibly change this year with your riding?

I would love to be able to ride more. The horse that I am training is moving closer to my house so I think that I may be able to make it happen.

Do you have any advice for other horseless riders?

Be glad for what you are able to do. If an opportunity presents itself, take it because it can lead you to many new experiences.

Kayla Haynes @kaylahaynes_

Kayla Haynes

Tell me about your current riding situation.

I currently lesson three times a week on my favorite lesson horse, after having to step down from a half lease on him for financial reasons.

What makes it possible for you to lease or lesson?

Mine and my husband’s income, and my budgeting. There are certain things we’ve given up. I used to be an avid shopper with an expensive specialty gym membership, but have since sacrificed that for riding dollars. My husband’s car could be replaced, but he opts to keep it because we own it outright and there’s no sense in adding another expense when we are attempting to pay down other debt like student loans.

How does it affect your time? How do you work it into your life?

Riding takes up a lot of my time, but that’s the way I like it! Every weekend morning is time devoted to the barn. I work a semi-classic work week, 7:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. I usually have one lesson mid-week and that usually consists of me rushing from work to the barn so the trainers don’t have to stay too late to supervise my time there. I suppose if I owned that wouldn’t be necessary, and I could get my full “horse-addiction hit” ride in complete with a deep groom session afterwards. I’d probably ride more than once during the work week if I owned.

Do you feel pressured at your barn to buy a horse?

I used to get pressured by my old trainer A LOT. Pretty much everyone at my barn knows just how in love I am with this lesson horse, and would absolutely buy him the second I can reasonably afford to. There was a trainer that has since left my barn that would constantly pressure me, hinting that the horse was being tried, buyers were interested, he was going to be vet-checked, and he would probably be sold if I didn’t purchase him right away. I left the barn in tears a few times. I’m not sure if those stories were ever true, but that type of sales tactic is infuriating. Thankfully that doesn’t happen anymore.

How do you cope with jealousy of those who do have horses?

I don’t think it’s that hard. I see young girls with their fancy horses, and know that I would be just as excited and happy to have a horse as they are. If I was in their parent’s position, I would be doing the exact same for my children. The hardest thing is not getting upset at people not appreciating their horse(s). But I remind myself that many people have different reasons for riding and different relationships with their horse, as long as the horses are cared for, I can’t be mad at the owners. And It’s not a zero-sum game, they can have a nice horse and it doesn’t take away from me and my relationship with horses. I’ll get mine eventually!

Do you feel like you are part of the team at your barn? How do they include you? If not, why?

I think I’m a part of the team as much as I can be. I go out of my way to be friendly with everyone and in return, everyone is friendly to me! I’m not part of the ‘team’ that travels to big shows weeks at a time, but I don’t perceive a difference in personal treatment. Just like there are people who travel to the big shows, there are people who only travel to the local ‘A’ shows. And just like there are people who want to travel to the local ‘A’ shows, there are people who only get to travel to the schooling shows. And then there are people who want to do the schooling shows, but aren’t lucky enough to do that. But what does everyone have in common? They are all there for the love of the horse. I think barns can feel hierarchical especially when one segment of the population is avidly showing but the barn also teaches beginners or non-competing adult amateurs. As long as you’re friendly and nice, no one can fault you for being part of one segment or the other. So yes, I think my barn is very inclusive, and if yours doesn’t feel that way, maybe the change starts with you and your perception.

What is one thing you could feasibly change this year with your riding?

I’m still very hopeful that I’ll be able to buy said lesson horse, but if not, another half lease may be in my future! Who knows? I may end up saying goodbye altogether and purchasing an OTTB, under the guidance of an experienced trainer, or another type of compatible rescue horse. At this point I’ve realized that I love the challenge of riding and jumping, but I’m also just soothed by being in the presence of horses.

Do you have any advice for other horseless riders?

Your time will come! Outline your goals: Do you want to own? Show? Lesson? Have a barn family? Then create a plan to achieve those goals. Mine has always been to own, so after I graduated college, I took a chance and applied to a few positions outside of my comfort zone and outside of my expertise – but the increased income would allow me to ride again. From there, the confidence gained from returning to the saddle gave me both the confidence and the necessity to advance in my career. So far, the relationship between my job and riding has been co-dependent. I need riding to do my job well, and I need to do my job well to afford riding.

Other than relying on income to support buying a horse or riding, I’ve found that there is an immense amount of education surrounding horses available via the internet or books. You can volunteer at a rescue, become a barn rat, exchange work for lessons, provide care for a horse whose owner lacks time, or work with horses full-time. There are always ways to get your horse time in, but my advice is super cliché and would be to just do it.


Thank you so much to Kayla, Abby, Caroline, and Bri who were featured in part one! Stay tuned for part 2 coming soon.

Love from a borrowed pony, Connie

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