April 23, 2018
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Grooming, tacking up are important parts of the riding experience

Photo courtesy of Katie Bears
Photo courtesy of Katie Bears
A student at Wild Ivy Farm in Bangor tacks up Jolly for a lesson. Learning and performing the grooming process is an important part of riding.
By Cassie Elia, Special to the BDN

Any good horse person will tell you, this is not the time of year to wear polar fleece to the barn. Horses are shedding like crazy and if you groom a horse wearing anything made of this particular material, the grooming process will merely be a way of transferring the horse’s hair directly to your clothing. It’s like Velcro. The horse hair clings to polar fleece and weaves its way through the fabric, until the two become one. A nylon outer layer is the way to go when dressing for the barn in the spring.

There’s no way to avoid the grooming process. It is integral to riding. Riding is not a sport such as tennis or golf, where you can just pick up your equipment and go. Students who come to my barn for lessons are taught the grooming process, how to put on the saddle and bridle and then they learn riding. Each student at each lesson is required to care for his or her own horse before and after the riding lesson. Even wee little children who weigh less than a saddle are required to work. They get help, of course, with tasks that are beyond their capabilities, but if a student wants to ride, they have to do the work first.

Most riders don’t even consider it work, it’s just part of riding. Any responsible horse person knows how to correctly groom and tack up as well as how to ride the horse. Riding isn’t like eating at a restaurant. You can’t just come in to the barn, order a horse to ride and then sit back and enjoy the experience. You have to earn the experience.

Sometimes, children will ask their mothers to pick the horse’s hooves or put on the saddle. Anytime I overhear such a request, I remind them that whoever does the work gets to ride the horse. There are exceptions of course. Some riders have physical limitations and a bit of assistance will make it possible for them to do the prep work for riding. Little ones with tall horses may need some help hefting the saddle up onto the horse’s back. As much as possible, independence is encouraged, so if a student can use a step stool or an overturned muck tub as a tool to be able to gain enough altitude for saddling, then that is the way to go. Not only does the rider reap the reward of his or her success in accomplishing a task, but it prepares them for creative problem solving for when there isn’t anyone around to help.

There is a big difference between helping someone and doing the work for someone. It’s the old, but true, “give a man a fish…” idea. Not only that, but all riders should have compassion for, and an understanding of, the horse and its needs. In dealing with such a large animal, it only benefits the rider to have knowledge of the horse and equipment used to ride. If I were to go skydiving (not that I would not ever willingly jump out of a perfectly good airplane), I would want to know beforehand how the parachute works, whether it is packed correctly, whether the straps and harness have been inspected and how to put all the equipment on. I don’t think I could completely trust someone else to do all of that for me. Maybe that’s just me being a control freak, but I like to think that it is me being a smart, responsible person that wants to stay alive as long as possible. If someone is going to willingly climb onto the back of a 1,200-pound horse that has the ability to leap six feet in the air, shouldn’t they want to have knowledge about how to fasten the girth properly, or how to make sure the bit is sitting comfortably in the horse’s mouth? You would think so.

It’s not often that I can write an article that includes both horse hair and skydiving as topics, but I hope that my point was made clear. Some of you may be thinking right now, “There’s a point?” The point is, that grooming and tacking up are as much a part of riding as being on a horse’s back. The time spent with your horse will only benefit your being able to ride well and safely.

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