Do you have a horse-crazy niece? An uncle who secretly wished he could be a cowboy? Parents who remember your first rides on your toy bouncy horse, and the look on your face when you sat in the saddle of a real pony for the first time?
It’s not unusual for a holiday gathering to include an expedition out to see the horses. And it’s also not unusual for each family and friend in the group to have a different set of assumptions and expectations for what “visiting the horses” actually means. You’ll have one person who wants to get on and gallop around a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, another person who prefers to admire equine beauty from 10 feet away, and another person – usually a small one — who is content simply to be among horses, whether they are brushing a mane or sitting on a warm furry back.
- Show Off On-line and at Liberty
Captive relatives make a perfect audience for you to demo some of the things you and your horse can do together. It can be inspiring for the family to see the relationship between you and your horse, and to realize that riding is not the only way to have fun with horses.
- Allow Your Horse to Invite People to Pet Him
Demonstrate the “horseman’s handshake” and explain why and how to stroke, not slap, the horse’s neck.
- Be Smart About Treats
Most people love feeding treats to animals. Have your horse do something to earn the treat, and make sure he is in a respectful state — soft eyes, forward ears — before you allow your niece to give him that carrot. Otherwise, your boon companion could turn into a pickpocket as soon as he realizes that all of the kids are loaded with cookies. If your horse can’t be respectful about treats, consider having the kids make a pattern of treats on the ground and then letting your horse go “connect the dots.” (And then add “respectful about treats” to your horsemanship program for next year!)
Typically, our equine partners are not experienced dude string horses, accustomed to carrying tourists on hours-long trail rides. They aren’t schoolmasters either. You horse will thank you for not putting a novice relative on board and handing them the reins while you pop inside for egg nog.Before you suggest riding or say yes to a request to ride your horse, think about your relative: can they put their ego aside long enough to take a passenger lesson? Or do they expect to ride like a cowboy in a 1960s Western movie? Are they afraid? Are they in the habit of kick to go, pull to stop?
Think about your horse, too. Is he tolerant of novices with poor balance and emotional excitement? Will your horse follow your lead as you walk around with your relative on his back, and stay calm and connected and responsive to you?
- Safety Equipment
Your relatives need to bring or borrow sturdy shoes and cold weather gear so that they can be safe and comfortable at the barn. If they’re going to ride, they need to bring, buy, or borrow helmets. Bicycle helmets are generally not considered appropriate for horseback riding.
- Listen to Your Horse
Your horse is your partner; relatives are just visitors. Your horse’s needs still take precedence over any plans you might have for the day. If you would not ignore your horse’s signals of unhappiness or discomfort or disrespect on a normal day, don’t ignore it on Visiting Day, either. It’s disappointing not to be able to show off your perfect partner and give everyone the wonderful experience of natural horsemanship, but don’t let your dream of giving all 27 nieces pony rides cause you to dismiss your horse’s opinion.