In the past three years, I’ve gone from zero horses, to one horse, to two horses, to one horse, and then back down to zero. It’s been the longest stretch of my amateur existence that I’ve had consistent access to the saddle (sometimes more access than I could handle), and I can’t wait to get back onto Team Horse Ownership.
That said, not owning a horse doesn’t mean you’re relegated to a life of Instagram Envy as you scroll through everyone else’s equine adventures. There are ways to both stay in the saddle and keep learning out of the saddle. As someone who went without horses for about 10 years, I know it’s possible to keep them in your life in one way or another.
Here are my favorite tricks for getting a horse fix sans horse, in order of most actual saddle time to least:
1. Find a half-lease
This one is a pretty good place to start if you’re in between horses, and you already know you have the time and money for your own, but for whatever reason, it’s just not the best timing to pull the trigger. There are a lot of people who just don’t have time to ride their horse enough and don’t necessarily train with anyone else. Just be careful the horse you’re riding is both sound and safe, and you’re not fixing/training someone else’s problem horse for free (or worse, paying someone else for you to fix their horse).
2. Call a trainer for a lesson
Many trainers out there, if you call and say you’re interested in learning some new skills, will have something for you to ride and a place for you in their schedule. This is a great way to transition into or find a half lease, but even if that’s not in the cards for you, sometimes you click with a trainer and can just keep taking weekly lessons with them on one of their horses. Sometimes they may ask to see a riding video of you if you’re a completely new person to them just so they know what to put you on, or if they have anything suitable for you. The worst that can happen is they politely say they can’t accommodate you at this time, and you make a new horse contact for the future.
3. Take a virtual lesson
During the pandemic, I sent out videos and riding clips through several different services, all with a slightly different aim, and received great feedback on my riding. Here are some of my favorite places for virtual learning:
• Anne Kursinski Virtual Lesson: Did you know that for $50, you can send up to 15 minutes (15 minutes!) of video to Anne Kursinski, and she will sit down and watch all of it, telling you what she likes and what could be better along the way? Well, you can! So do!
• Judge my Round with Tom Brennan: Not horse showing? That’s OK! Take some of your old trips and send them into Tom Brennan, top “R” hunter and equitation judge and frequent commentator, to see how he would place you in a class. Tom’s feedback is judging specific, but he also always has you submit a specific question you want answered (this can be related to anything in the round or in your riding that’s reflected in the round), and he will address it at the end. The introductory cost is $95 per video analysis.
• Ringside Pro – Yet another great way to take some old lessons and learn new tricks, or get more mileage out of video footage. Ringside Pro allows you to send clips from show trips or lessons to a variety of trainers and ask for specific feedback. Send the same clip with the same question to four different trainers and get four different takes on the challenge! Once you set up your profile, mark your role as “rider,” and you’ll be able to create new submissions as often as you please. Prices start at $40.
4. Virtual masterclasses
We are living in the Golden Age of virtual masterclasses. Get a monthly Horse & Country TV membership (plans start at $9.99/month) to a variety of masterclasses for all disciplines. I’m also a member of the Equestrian Masterclasses from Noelle Floyd series (plans start at $19.99/month). I’m sure there are others I’m missing, but just those two resources alone have enough interesting content to mine through for months, if not years, with new content available all the time.
5. Just watch
While livestreaming the Capital Challenge, I saw Scott Stewart come into the ring on a huge, lovely gray animal (not Catch Me). The horse seemed a bit tense over the first and second jumps, and then jumping out of a line, he suddenly gunned the last two strides, catching Scott a bit off guard. Coming around to a diagonal line that included a two-stride in-and-out, I saw him jump in with that same bit of tension. Then, before the in-and-out, Scott felt his horse’s instinct to run and smoothly pulled him up out of the line. He gave him a pat and a chance to breathe, then did a nice big circle and put him back over an inviting single oxer that the horse had already successfully jumped once. They left the ring without a win, but Scott masterfully prevented a situation that could have been negative for both him and his horse, and once again proved that good horsemanship is always more important than a ribbon.
This is a long anecdote to simply point out that there are so many live-streamed events, many which are free to watch with a USEF membership, that allow you to observe the greats in their element. Watching the amateur or junior events is also a great learning opportunity—sometimes even more so—as I often see the same mistakes that I make from a third-person point of view (“Oh, that’s what it looks like when I gun for a distance out of the turn…huh”).
6. Read a book
This is a pretty old-school option, but nonetheless, it works. Many of the treasured books we read growing up have new editions out with updated information. If there’s a particular subject you want to dive into (bits, horse physiology, equine massage, etc.) then use the lack of actual saddle time to grab a book on just that thing and geek out. To be honest, this is not an option that I turn to most often; however, if you have a few minutes, I highly recommend reading Tik Maynard’s excellent “In The Middle Are The Horsemen.” I literally couldn’t put it down, and it opened up the whole rich world of groundwork.
This is not to say that you can’t also do all of these things even if you do own a horse. Even after I purchase my next, I still plan to soak up knowledge in every other way I can to make myself a better riding partner and just a better horseman.
Have other tips or tricks for being horseless? Please share in the comments!
Sophie Coffey grew up riding by the seat of her pants in Virginia hunt country, and she took a flying leap into the top levels of the sport through sheer will and luck after a cold call landed her a job at Hunterdon, Inc. She continued freelancing as a jack-of-all-trades through her 20s for some of the top names in the industry, getting the best education possible in horsemanship and larger life lessons. After leaving the sport to pursue a career in marketing, she returned in 2018 as an adult amateur, and has since owned several lovely horses who have helped her along the way. She currently lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her fully indoctrinated horsey husband and two cats. Follow her adventures between posts on Instagram @coffeyinthesaddle.