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November 23, 2009 9:59 AM   Subscribe

[Possible Pipe Dream Filter] I used to ride horses competitively, and recently am longing to hang out with horses again. I'm not looking to compete, nor do I want to take lessons or go on guided trail rides, since I already know how to ride. I just want to get back into riding for the fun of it. What are my options, if any?

My mom and I used to own multiple horses and I competed in saddle seat equitation for several years. However, that was a dozen years ago (I'm now 28) and I'm out of touch with the riding community in my area. I don't know anyone who might let me ride theirs, and I don't have the means to purchase, lease, or board a horse of my own.

I know my way around stables, tack, grooming, etc. and am confident that I could ease back into it quickly, but I don't know how to make this happen. Would my best bet be to look for opportunites to work in a stable, in exchange for riding time? Other ideas?

I'm in the Twin Cities area—St. Paul, to be exact. Thanks!
posted by anderjen to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
My girlfriend has an arrangement like what you describe -- she works one morning per week in exchange for a 30-minute private lesson. Her duties mostly involve managing horses (everybody needs to get turned out for a while, fed, etc) and helping students with equipment issues. She found the stable/riding school by calling ones in the yellow-pages, and chatting with the owners. Her experience level/age is pretty similar to yours, except she never competed, so I don't imagine you'd have a problem with this. My only experience with this is as an observer, but it seems like horse people are pretty friendly on the whole, and glad to trade something they have (horse time) for something they need (person time). We're in Phoenix, AZ, but I imagine the culture isn't that different elsewhere.
posted by Alterscape at 10:08 AM on November 23, 2009

A friend of mine used to help exercise the horses at a boarding stable run by another friend's mom. She did this for several years, mostly going out on weekends I recall. It may be worthwhile to call any local stables that seem oriented toward boarding in particular, as they may have more need than those more aimed at lessons or trail rides.
posted by atavistech at 10:10 AM on November 23, 2009

I don't know what's available near you, but sometimes there are organizations who provide equine therapy for the disabled and giveu free riding time in exchange for volunteering for them (in either a hands-on-horse capacity or a more administrative capacity).

Some other creative options:

-As you suggest, stable work in exchange for riding time,
-Sometimes you can find beginner riders who have a horse but wants lessons, and perhaps you could trade lessons for riding time.
-Looks like you have a writing background, perhaps free PR work for local stables who want to advertise their summer camp or other programs? My first riding lessons ever came when my Dad did PR work for someone, who offered free riding lessons for me in exchange.
-The rare and hard to find golden egg is if you can find someone who has a horse they are too busy to exercise. Since you are an experienced rider, you might offer to exercise horses for free. I think, though, that such people are rare.

For any of these, I think Craigslist and your local tack shop might be good places to start. Also, in my recent experience, people in the horse world have long memories, and if you and your mom were well-liked, kind competitors you might reach out to some of those folks and ask for some introductions, etc.
posted by bunnycup at 10:11 AM on November 23, 2009

I used to take lessons and keep a horse (an off-track TB that I retrained) at a local boarding facility. I sold my horse a couple years ago, but have never had a shortage of horses to ride since then. Lots of people have offered me opportunities to ride just for fun. In fact, the farm owners have invited me out to ride many times, just so I can spend some time with horses.

Maybe if you went to a barn, took a few lessons, proved your skill/expertise, you could find someone with a horse, but not a lot of time. You could also run an ad in the paper. Say you're an experienced rider looking who will exercise horses for free.

I don't think what you're seeking is a pipe dream at all!
posted by MorningPerson at 10:14 AM on November 23, 2009

You sound like me! (Except that my plan to get back into riding is a bit longer-term, as there's some asthma/allergy issues I need to get in better shape first.) Also, I rode English. I am also in the Twin Cities.

As others have said, sharing a lease with someone who isn't able to ride as often as they'd like is a great way to go - or if your skills are good enough, working with a horse who needs some additional work before being able to be sold on/used for lessons reliably/etc.

Some things on my list:
- I've been told that the Equine Expo at the State Fairgrounds in the spring (April, I think) is a good place to make connections and talk with barns, etc.

- If you search online, you'll probably finde a bunch of barns.

- I'd also try searching for common breeds for the kind of riding you want (Saddle seat in your case) and seeing what barns offer lessons/etc. and starting with them. Also any local/regional branches of appropriate riding groups. (Not sure what those would be for saddle seat, but I'm sure there are some.)

- I know a number of people over the years who've swapped lessons or riding time for other tasks (either horse-based stuff, or other skills - managing a website, bookkeeping, whatever the owner needs that seems like a reasonable split.)

Advice I've gotten in general:
- Have a good idea what your goals are. (Riding regularly? Competing? Learning new skills? Perfecting old ones?)

- And what your limits are. (Could you ride most days of the week? Are you limited to only some days? Only once or twice a week? That's going to make a difference in what to look for.)

- Also financial and time limits - how far away could you drive for these things? How much in the way of incidental expenses (gas, clothing, buying food on the way home because it's late and you need dinner) can you handle, even if the riding itself is handled through barter.
posted by modernhypatia at 11:29 AM on November 23, 2009

I'm not horse-oriented enough to know whether this would suit your needs, but a friend of mine who wanted more horse time got a part-time job exercising polo horses. She worked for a guy who played polo and owned six or eight horses. She'd go to the stable, tack up each horse, gallop it to one end of a field, then gallop it back to the stable.

It looks like there's a polo club in your area, so there must be polo horses around.
posted by Orinda at 12:01 PM on November 23, 2009

This question kind of depends on what type of riding you're planning on doing. If you used to do Saddleseat Eq. classes and want to continue doing that, there aren't many places that you can do that without having to take lessons. On the other hand, if you're looking to start a new sport (Hunters, Eventing, Dressage, what have you), you're also going to have to take lessons.

If you just want a horse to trail ride, try a partial lease, they are usually cheaper.

You could help out around a barn, such as stated above, but I doubt that anyone is going to want you to teach lessons, even to beginners, since you have been away from it for so long.

It's pretty hard to find someone that will just let you ride their horse for free (especially in the Saddleseat world). Busy riders will usually just offer their horse for lease, or partial lease, or sell it if they get that busy. Also, again, since you've been away for so long, I would think that many owners would be wary of just handing their horse over to you without you taking some lessons first to brush up. Although you may remember how to ride, rebuilding the muscles and correct position can take time.

Good luck!
posted by Breo at 12:23 PM on November 23, 2009

What about volunteering with a local horse rescue?
posted by onhazier at 1:50 PM on November 23, 2009

Seconding the suggestion that you try Craigslist. I have advertised as willing to ride/exercise horses for pay and have been surprised at the number of responses. If you are willing to do it for free or give beginners some help I'm sure you will get at least a few people contacting you. It may not lead directly to getting on a horse but it might get you in touch with someone who knows someone who needs a rider. It will also help just generally get your name out there among people with horses.
posted by stubborn at 3:09 PM on November 23, 2009

Check out the discussion forums at the Chronicle of the Horse. There is an on-going thread for matching Riderless Horses and Horseless Riders.

The current thread there is only four pages but there is a link to the previous thread that was 34 pages long. I haven't searched it, but it's extremely likely that someone from your area has already posted.

When I moved to a new city I found a wonderful barn from that site so I can personally vouch for it as a great connection to the horse community. Even if you don't have any luck with finding riderless horses that have already been posted, I am sure that you could use the site just to connect with some outgoing, internet-friendly horse people in your area.
posted by horses, of courses at 5:08 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would agree that checking out local barns and seeing if you can get rides as a working student, or as an exercise rider, is not a bad idea. My trainer has a couple of girls who ride horses for her, and they both get paid -- but I've also ridden with trainers who exchange work around the barn for lessons. Once you've proven yourself as a working student, you could probably offer yourself as an exercise rider and skip the lesson part of the equation.
posted by OolooKitty at 5:30 PM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Wow. So many great suggestions here. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who responded; you've made my day.

Now that I'm thinking about it more, I probably am due for a refresher course, at least to get reacquainted with the care and feeding of horses, make sure my form is good, and that I'm remembering everything correctly. I think I'll start by trying to find some work I can do in exchange for lessons, build some cred and recent experience, and then look for an exercise rider match (which sounds exactly like what I'm hoping to do).

Now I have lots of research to do and phone calls to make! This will give me something fun to work on over Thanksgiving weekend. If you think of any other web resources that might help, please feel free to post 'em here or MeMail me.

Thank you again, all.
posted by anderjen at 9:34 PM on November 23, 2009

Congrats on returning to riding - I just did after a 10+ year break and it is the best decision I have made in recent years. It takes a bit of time to get back into the swing of it, but you'll find yourself remembering things in no time. Just be sure to be safe, have people who are current in their knowledge check your tack before you mount, etc. But, enjoy!!!
posted by bunnycup at 8:13 AM on November 24, 2009

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