I once owned an orange kitten who liked to bite my hand. He would be lying in my lap, purring as I petted him, and then—for no reason at all—he’d turn his head and bite me. I’ve owned cats off and on most of my life, but Gibson was the only one that bit me. He was also the only male I’d ever known. Were they love bites—a blend of affection, enthusiasm, and testosterone? Maybe, but I’d been to urgent care once from an infected cat bite, so I flicked my finger against his nose. He stopped and drew back, ears flattened. This small, supercharged kitten taught me that physically reprimanding an animal can backfire.
In some parts of the country it’s still below freezing. But here in the high desert, in a single week we went from snow to 90 degree weather. While that’s not exactly summer (summer is 110 degrees), it’s definitely trail riding weather.
There’s been a lot in the news recently about trail safety, and I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because so many backyard horse owners have taken up riding as a hobby in their later years. Maybe it’s because so much of the empty land we could ride in has turned into housing developments, and the only trails available to us are now designated “mixed use,” which means we have to share them—usually with hikers and bicyclists, but all too often with arrogant off-road bikers or quad drivers who don’t care if they spook your horse or not. Maybe it’s all of those things. But the bottom line is the same: it’s harder to stay safe on a trail ride than it used to be.
In general, ride in clothes you feel comfortable in. In an earlier post I included a photo of me riding Prim on the trail. I think it was taken for the paperback edition of The Beginning Dressage Book (published by Lyons Press in 2003), and I was supposed to look neatly turned-out, as though I were competing in a schooling show. But except for the white button-down shirt, the rest of what I’m wearing would not be out of place on a trail ride, since I use my old Passier dressage saddle and often wear my tall boots. (Have I mentioned I’m a leather boot fanatic?)
Many backyard owners rode throughout their childhood, and kept their horse at home with them. For others, horse ownership was a dream deferred—most had little opportunity to ride when they were children, and didn’t take it up until they were adults. This may be your situation right now. You took some lessons and then bought a horse, and you’ve kept him at a boarding stable ever since. Is moving your horse in behind your house the next step? Or maybe you already have him in your backyard, but you wonder if you’re spending too much time taking care of him, or too little time? Or if you’re spending too much money or not enough money? In other words: is backyard horsekeeping in your future?
I’ve kept horses in my backyard for almost 40 years, but I still I hate days like this. If I were a normal person I’d be inside, along with all the other sane people, doing sane-people things. But I have two backyard horses, and they need to be fed twice a day and cleaned up after twice a day too, even though it’s cold as a witch’s curse outside, with a wind blowing down the canyon so hard all our neighbor’s trash is now on our property.