Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pass it on

I was not raised around horses. Then, I did not know anyone who was. Even fewer have that opportunity today.

Just as this did not deter me from finding and creating a life with horses, it also need not be the demise of the horse industry. Perhaps it is just time to readjust our way of looking at the horse world.

If the numbers are fewer for those of us who live and work with horses, perhaps our responsibility for sharing our knowledge and experience is now greater. We can reach more people, teach more people, and share our life – and horses – with more, especially the younger generation who just might get the same “horse crazy” bug that many of us found ourselves with.

In fact, the sharing of our horse understanding, passions and skills need not be limited to the young. There are plenty of excellent and dedicated horsepersons – both professionals and enthusiasts – that were not “exposed” to horses until later in life. But they would never have turned to the world of horses if they never had the opportunity, the simple introduction.

That’s our job. It should be the job of all us horsemen and women to be not only ambassadors of the sport, but representatives for the horse. All we need to do is open the window to this world a little bit and let the fresh breeze flow through.

It is no longer easy. For most, horses are not readily accessible, just down the road, and part of the extended family. Demographics show our society as a whole is now further removed from the rural lifestyle – and the ensuing knowledge and experience with horses that this could allow. Horses are no longer a way of life, or even a part of life, for most families. Two generations ago, many folks still had or knew families living and working on farms with horses. With each generation, these numbers dwindle. Thus the opportunities for even the extended family and friends to “get to know” horses – say, the young suburban family coming for the weekend to visit the grandfolks who are still managing the old farm – are fewer and fewer.

But not gone. The opportunities are still there. We may just have to work a little harder to find them. And for those of us with horses, working with horses, we may just have to work a little harder to share them.

Now, I don’t want to share my horses, per say. They are not only my business and my work partners, but they are a part of my family. But what I can do is share my knowledge, share my experiences, and help pass on the passion I have for my horses, even if it means taking a friend out to the pasture to just walk by and talk to the horses, or a child out to groom and learn to pick a hoof.

It is up to those of us who still do live and work with horses to share our knowledge and pass it on. Our responsibility to teach, to share, to pass on the skills, the traditions, the ethics, manners, dedication and hard work. As an outfitter, horses have also been a part of my job. At times I am as awkward charging for my services and lesson as I often feel charging for cabin rentals when I feel like folks are here as my guests. But horses aren’t free, and they sure aren’t cheap. Feed, supplements, vet bills, shoeing expenses, transportation, insurance, tack and tools, etc., etc., etc. So yes, like it or not, sometime we do have to charge… it is a practicality we can not avoid. But it is not one that should limit us in our ability to reach others, just a minor detail.

The largest burden here seems to fall on the grandparents. And for grandfolks with horses, I’ve been told, it is not such a tough part of the job! Probably more like of the best. Sharing horses with grandkids.

Well, I don’t have grandkids yet, but I do have a bunch of young nieces and nephews. These are my surrogate grandkids for now, and the focus of my “passing it on.”

We share and show what we can, when we can. Sometimes, here, with us, will be the child’s only opportunity to glimpse into another world and take a bite, and hopefully, as is with a small but important percentage, taste enough to be hooked, to get the horse fever.

It’s not just horses; it’s the whole rural lifestyle. Camping, campfires, baking bread, gathering eggs, shoveling manure. It’s a package deal, and few kids don’t enjoy at least parts of it. They may not choose to live it, but they can love it. They will always remember this, and for those lucky enough to have had the chance to be exposed to our lifestyle and our horses, the memories and skills and understanding will remain with them forever.

Take a kid riding. Take a friend riding. Have someone share in the chores, the care, the companionship. Bring a friend to a horse show, on a trail ride, to a lesson. It can no longer be about “me and my horse.” Perhaps it’s time we began to consider it is more about “us and our horses.” All of us. So, let’s share our passion and enthusiasm for horses and riding. Let’s pass it on.