May 2015 | Looking for Trouble
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Looking for Trouble
Mal advises a reader who just can’t get comfortable on a horse.

May 2015 - Malorie de la Mare

Dear Mal…

I am not the most confident rider, and always feel as if my connection to my horse is tenuous at best. When I think about riding, my mind is full of negative possibilities, not necessarily the really wonderful psychic rewards of riding. I know this is not the best attitude to take to the barn, but I can’t figure out how to stop my imagination from conjuring up bad scenarios. What do you think?

Nervous Nellie

Dear Nellie…

Hmmm. You certainly seem to be on the road to concluding that riding a horse is not for you…but doubt lingers. So let’s probe the problems and remove enough doubt to get you into the saddle, shall we?

I’ve made a list of the things that might be frightening you—beginning with the most benign and working up to the worst case scenario. Do you fear:  Looking like a doofus? Falling? Hurting your horse or yourself? Getting attacked by wild animals? I’ve left out several other possibilities like falling into a pile of horse poop face first (euwww!). To begin, everyone looks like a doofus at one time or another. But I’ve always thought that nothing makes a person look more elegant than sitting on a horse. So, unless you’re going out with some totally uncool outfit, or without a helmet, you will look just fine.

Okay, falling could be problematic, especially if you want to get back up after you come off the horse in an unplanned dismount. Couple this with the possibility of hurting yourself and/or your horse, and these are things that all riders think about. Think, not obsess. Your best defense against falling is to pay attention, and to be prepared for what’s on the trail. Horses do silly things and sometimes their silliness makes it hard to stay in the saddle. Trails are sometimes dangerously icy and horses can trip and fall. But as a rider, you can look ahead, and more importantly, you can get enough riding under your belt to gain more confidence.

While there are some wild animals roaming around in Pennsylvania, they’re usually more intent on avoiding you than attacking you. And you probably shouldn’t be riding in places where there’s lots of bear activity—especially if you’re a nervous rider. Talk about jumping into the fire! If you really want to ride, and overcome your fears, take some riding lessons, and practice riding. Remember that your confidence will inspire your horse. When you’re skittish and fearful, you’re sending signals to your horse that the person in charge (that would be you!) is afraid. Horses are always looking for leadership, and when the leader is afraid, the horse becomes afraid. Everyone is nervous sometimes. Driving a car is sometimes dangerous. Swimming in the ocean is sometimes dangerous. But people do it all the time, because they are confident and they believe that everything will be fine. Most of the time, it is. So saddle up, Nellie, and enjoy the ride!

Dear Mal…

I’m wondering about horses’ eating habits. A friend of mine says that she strictly limits the amount of treats she gives her horse, because she’s worried about, as she says “killing him with kindness.” She also claims that apple seeds contain a deadly poison, and if I insist on giving my horse apples, the least I could do to protect him is remove the seeds. She says that when I give my horse a few carrots and an apple after we ride, I’m contributing to his early death. After riding her horse, she rewards him with a handful of grain (she has very small hands!). To be honest, I don’t really care whether her horse gets carrots or not, but I would appreciate it if she would stop pestering me about my horse, who is 23 and very fit and healthy. Is there some diplomatic way I can tell this person to let me take care of my own horse?

Fed Up

Dear Fed Up…

Sounds like you are dealing with a worry-wart. Your friend is right that too many treats can contribute to a host of health problems for horses. But moderation is your friend in this. If your horse is getting enough turnout on good pasture, and if his grazing is supplemented with a little grain, he’s not going to get sick because you give him a couple of carrots. Horses are grazers. They need forage to ensure their guts work the way they’re supposed to work. But there are emotional bonds between humans and the horses in their lives, and feeding our horses a couple of carrots is part of that bond. It’s a way of reinforcing a personal connection to the horse. And nothing says “I love you” as eloquently as a helping of lethal poison. Or not.

Your friend’s contention that apple seeds contain deadly poisons is on the road to being correct. Apple seeds do contain microscopic amounts of something that can turn into cyanide when exposed to digestive acids. But your horse would have to consume more than a few bags of apples to actually get sick from the seeds. The best course, as always, is to make sure your horse is at a healthy weight, and that he has enough energy to do what you want him to do. At 23, he still has many years of good rides ahead. He deserves your affection, attention and your carrots—as long as you don’t overdo them.

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