Recently, we took in 3 horses who were seized from a public riding stable popular with tourists. Everyone asked us, “how customers can even pay to ride at places where animals look like these did?”
Well, truthfully, the general public doesn’t usually know any better.
(However. . . in the case of the little fella with the penis injury, we have to wonder how dark their sunglasses were during the rides, don’t we?)
The reason why public riding stables are so appealing to people is that most people look at horses as magical, and most are rarely in a position to ride. Next, they feel safe and enjoy a scenic tour with what they presume is a knowledgeable trail guide. Sadly, sometimes, trust me… trail guides are good at feeding uneducated riders a load of bologna that they fall for just about every time.
In general, if the facility is run well, we are not at all against public riding stables. There is nothing wrong with a horse in good condition (and provided with several necessary things for it to do it’s job and stay comfortable and healthy) having a job.
HOP VOLUNTEER, BLOGGER AND TRAIL GUIDE
Red flag warnings The place is absolutely filthy. There is junk and garbage and poop (some poop is inevitable but it shouldn't be over the horse's knees) everywhere. The fences are in disrepair and the benches are all broken. The horses are thin. Their necks are too skinny, their hipbones stick out, their butts are pointy, their coats are dull. Stables will try to mask this by putting double saddle pads on the horses but you can't hide what the saddle doesn't cover. Don't let them tell you working horses stay lean so they can climb hills better or blah blah blah. Horses should not be carrying the public if they look like the horse in this picture. There are a few exceptions to the double saddle pad rule. Old horses get swaybacked or maybe the horse was just swaybacked to begin with. It doesn't hurt a swaybacked horse to carry a rider unless the rider is too heavy. Double saddle pads help the saddle to fit properly on a sway backed horse. Also, public hack stables have what they call "baby saddles" for small children. These darn baby saddles are great for little kids, but they don't fit the average sized horse at all. Double saddle pads help keep these from rubbing raw places on the child's horse. Lastly, sometimes a saddle pad is ugly but "friendly" to a horse's back. So a stables will place a prettier one on top that might not be "friendly". The public can tell the difference between padding a horse for thinness or padding a horse for other reasons. You see heavier people being routinely placed on smaller horses. These facilities should be keeping draft horses for this type of customer. Drafts or draft crosses cost more so some stables try to cut corners and only use light horses. The horses are excessively sweaty, foamy or mopey. When you see this, either they are being run really hard, or they aren't being provided with salt and minerals. Of course if it is 90, a horse is going to be sweaty but they shouldn't be gasping for air, with rivers of sweat running off of them everywhere. Neither should the trail guide's horse look like this. They need to have access to salt and a mineral block during their working day. There is no water provided to them. Whether there is a tank in the saddle lot, or they take the horses to a trough by hand, there should be water. (or perhaps they are allowed to drink from a creek on the trail) The horses might not very easy to control. They run you under trees, they spin around, they dash forward. These types are either not well trained, kept penned up constantly, have poor fitting saddles, or they hate their bits. Happy, healthy trail horses are a pleasure to ride. They don't work you to death or make you feel like your neck is in jeopardy. There don't seem to be any rules. Rules on a trail exist to keep you safe and you need them. There is no paperwork for you to fill out. That means there is no insurance company on board and therefore no guidelines to help ensure your safety. The horses are filthy and crusty with snarled up manes. While tails cannot always be fixed every day, the rest of the horse is important because debris has to be removed so that equipment doesn't cause a rub. Saddle sores. These are the worst. The customer will not even have the opportunity to know they are riding a horse who has a saddle sore. This is shameful of a riding stables. Before the horse ever gets in this bad of a shape, the equipment will rub a bald spot. The problem should be addressed and corrected RIGHT THEN. They come from a few practices. Ill fitting equipment, dirty equipment, or horses not groomed properly. Once you get one raw, when it heals it leaves a white scar and this scar will be fragile from then on. The Amish told us to use white deodorant on these white scars and boy does that do the trick to keep the from being rubbed open again. Horses with this problem often are in places with red flag warnings like those listed above. If you lean forward and your horse seems really grouchy about it, it may be that you are putting weight on a saddle sore. Obviously bloody and battered horses. Do be careful though; there is a wound treatment called Scarlett Oil that is very effective, but makes the horse look bloody. A trail horse can work just fine with a scrape, but the scrape should've been treated with something that stays on fairly well. Scarlett Oil sticks for a long time. Taped together equipment. Other than taping the tops of the saddle horns, you really shouldn't see duct tape on horse equipment. Equipment shouldn't be dry and cracked and crappy looking. Absolutely disgusting water troughs. Horses drink freely out of gakky ponds so water troughs don't need to be pristine. But they shouldn't have 7 inches of green slime in them either. Do keep in mind though, that the daggone draft crosses love to stick their feet in the water troughs. I cannot tell you how many times I have cleaned one only to find it full of mud a half hour later. Places that won't answer your questions like how you house the horses when they are off, why the brown one is off by itself, do your horses get minerals, etc? should definitely be a red flag for you. REPORT Obvious Abuse and Neglect to the County Animal control, State Vet or Sheriff
All about the hack horse. The hack horse generally starts their job at the age of 6 and works until they are no longer able to do the job. We know of 26-30 year old horses who are still working; although they only work 2-3 days a week, carry teeny tiny children, and usually go out no more than 3 hours per day. Usually a horse that is still working there at this age has been there practically all of its life, and gets depressed if they don't at least get to work some. They have probably started as either a double horse (a horse that carries a parent and a small child) or as an adult horse and been downsized to a lighter and lighter rider as the years go by. The hack horse almost always has to wear shoes, because of the shear amount of time that is put onto those hooves. Additionally, areas where the public likes to do this activity are often rocky and hilly. Shoes typically get redone every 4 weeks or when one is lost in "mud season". A reputable barn will take the time to find equipment that fits both the type of customer the horse should be carrying (woman, man, double, child or the horse is indifferent) AND that fits the individual horse. This is perhaps the most challenging part of a hack barn's job. Many just do not take the time or effort to do it. This lack of attention to detail is what cause the new intake, Dorian's, horrific saddle sore. Hopefully, they will also work to ensure that the horse is content in the bit that it is wearing. If a horse is flopping its head up and down continually on a trail ride, either it is not happy with its bit, or flies are all over its face and it is trying to dislodge them. Flies are a problem at these facilities because as the season wears on, fly spray becomes less and less effective. A conscientious barn owner will have a professional in to float their string's teeth at least once per year. They will also hopefully have a good worming protocol and a staff that looks for injuries in the morning as the horse is being readied for work. The typical hack horse often works 8 hours a day in the peak season. Fortunately when most barns open in the late winter/early spring there are usually only 2-3 rides per day and as the weeks pass these gradually increase. This is an ideal situation for a working horse because they build stamina at a slow and steady pace. If the hack horse is properly taken care of, they are actually in much better shape than your backyard pet horse as their muscles and heart get plenty of exercise, just like an active human is in better shape than the sedentary one. On the off season a horse usually works a day and then has the next day off. During the busy season, a horse takes out a trail and then hopefully has the next trail off. During exceptionally busy times, this just isn't possible and a horse will likely be used every time. Remember that in most cases they have worked u p to this and are in shape to handle this fine. A good barn will hopefully schedule 15 minutes between each trail so that a horse can choose to drink if it wants to. Some horses will drink every single time and some will not. Additionally, free choice salt and at the minimum a red block should be made available to the horses so that they can replenish their needs as their natural instincts demand. It would be nice if they had a good quality loose mineral, but typically these facilities carry a string upwards of 35 horses and loose mineral wouldn't be very cost effective. Some stables keep their horses saddled in a small lot until it is time for them to work. Some keep them tied to an individual station, with all of their equipment on. A few call ahead only stables will not catch and saddle a horse unless they have a specific trail scheduled. For the good of the horse (and actually also the public) you want a stables that turns their horses loose in a fairly big area with grass or hay at night or on off times. This makes the horse be in a much more pleasant frame of mind when it has to work. It has been able to exhibit typical horse herd behavior with horse to horse interaction, rolling in the dust, grazing off and on, and dozing. Some stables don't like to do this and keep their horses in small pens or stalls all night. These horses are usually more fractious with the public and not as content with their jobs. Additionally, it is harder to put together a string of quiet horses on the trail, because they haven't established their pecking order when they were loose, so they try to do it on the line. With you on their back. It takes a special horse to be a public riding horse. They have to be very tolerant and not very spooky. They are picked up for a string from just about everywhere. They come from auction, from private people wanting to make a little money, from being bred personally by the barn staff, from the Amish, and sometimes even from being gifted because an owner can no longer afford to care for them. Typically they come into a facility and are the guide's horse for a while, then they may go to being ridden in the line by the guide, then used judicially for customers that are fairly capable and finally put reliably into the string. Often a horse will let you know which type of customer it prefers, and things will go much better if the staff running the place take the horse's wishes into consideration. If you are visiting a western style trail riding facility, the horses should be able to go along quietly on a bit of a loose rein. These horses will typically walk with their heads down; it is usually characteristic of a western trail horse to walk in a relaxed position like that. Customers frequently ask if they are tired when they observe this behavior. English trail horses may be accustomed to more contact on the reins, but you still shouldn't feel as if you are holding back a freight train. They may also travel more up-headed than their western counterparts. They should be accustomed to a routine and therefore do their job honestly. If the horses all don't seem to know the routine, this would be a red flag for you the customer. Remember that their may be one or two who have not been their long and are learning the ropes. In general, however; it should seem as if the horses could do this with a deaf and blind person on their backs.`
The customer's responsibility You want to have a safe, fun ride, through nature, often to make memories with your family. Trail employees want that for you too. Please tell the guides if you are deaf or you cannot see out of one eye or your child is autistic. Often customers will not speak up about these issues until they are actually out on the trail. We can accommodate all of these things, but we may have wanted to chose a different horse for your situation. Please do not exaggerate your experience or capabilities. You may find that you have bitten off more than you can chew and you won't be happy with your experience. You should not come dressed in your bikini. Yes it happens-sigh. We have the right not to take you if you do. Why on earth people show up to ride in flip flops we cannot fathom, but it happens all the time. You can do that but you aren't as safe, and if they fall off, we don't have to retrieve them for you. You can't feed the horses because they get in fights with each other because you can't feed 20 all at the same time. Also, public horses get very very pushy if they think they get treats. If you leave us a bag of baby carrots, we will give them to them with their next feeding and we think it is great of you to do that. You have to be there on time and ready to go. NOT down at the barn but changing your shoes, putting on sunscreen, loading your camera. We are able to tell you you have to wait for the next ride if you are delaying us too long. Your main responsibility is to not ride at that place if things are not right. In this post we will tell you how to recognize when a place is not being run well. If you get to a facility, and you see these red flags, than it is up to you to help get things changed by not giving them your money. If you politely state your reason why you are choosing to ask for a refund, and enough people do it, they will change things because they are losing money. If you know when something is wrong, but you choose to have your ride anyway, you are effectively abusing the horse. Education and putting it into practice is the key to stopping animal abuse. Make a report with proper authorities if you see abuse and neglect!
The trail guide. The trail guide should be an interesting character. They should be someone who is very knowledgeable about horses and likes people. The conundrum to the the trail guide is that it is not a high paying job at all. There are days where your guide may only make $5.00 per hour. The trail guide's income is mainly dependent on tips, and many days the customer is a stingy fellow. Therefore public hack places often wind up with college kids as their guides, and these types are often not as knowledgeable or conscientious as we would like them to be. A good barn boss is a must in these situations, because in the absence of good leadership, chaos will reign and this is not the place for that to happen. A good barn boss will have a wide knowledge base in all aspects of equine husbandry and should be very detail oriented. Additionally, one would hope a good barn boss will be willing to jump in and do anything he/she asks the trail guides to do. Sometimes the trail guides are retired people who are basically looking for something to do all day. Usually these guides come from a horse background and are very well versed in horsemanship. Trail guides have to be talented in the gift of blarney because the public expects to be somewhat entertained while they are out on the trail. The trail guide usually has their own horse or a horse specifically assigned to them. As you are on the trail, you want to notice a partnership between that horse and your guide. The trail guide has to have a good enough rapport with their horse that they can mostly abandon the reins and correct a problem that one of the riders is having. Often they even have to dismount and leave their own horse temporarily to its own devices. The guide horse should be a steady individual who doesn't spook dramatically or foam at the mouth and prance impatiently. That horse is there to help hold the public string of horses together. A good guide will work with their guide horse to develop a partnership that will make all aspects of the job easier. A trail guide will often perform little tricks along the way, such as jumping a log or riding backwards in the saddle. These are designed for the entertainment of the public and can make a trip more memorable. A good guide won't perform too taxing of a trick or a trick that requires his/her horse to become a sweaty mess, because they are aware that their horse has to work all day. Callous trail guides will often trick rear their horses repeatedly, or run pell mell up and down a line until their horse looks like it needs a good, long nap. This is unfair to the working horse, but the public often isn't savvy enough to recognize the ramifications of such a neat show. The number one goal of a good trail guide is to get the public and the horses back to the barn safely. Their day starts at least 2 hours before the first trail goes out because the prep work is so time consuming. All of the horses have to be fed, then thoroughly groomed, then tacked. Then the tacking area has to be cleaned up, the water troughs filled, the guide's cooler or refrigerator stocked, and the waiting area tidied up. Add to that cockleburr season, where all of those annoying prickly things have to be removed from the horses hair, injuries that have to be doctored, pieces of equipment that need repaired or adjusted and horse shoe inspections and the guide has already worked hard before the first trail goes out. During peak season, it becomes hard for your guide to find time to grab lunch or visit the restroom facilities. Throughout the day your trail guide has to answer the same questions over and over again. "You are putting my child on a very safe horse right?" "Does that horse have a hurt leg? He is standing there with 3 on the ground and one tipped funny." "If I get tired, can I quit the trail?" "Why can't I have the black horse?" (tall horse, short horse, girl horse... you name it) Or the absolute favorite thing the guides hear all day long is "I am an excellent rider!" But then they want you to help them get their foot into the boot holding thingie. 98% of people who come to these places are nowhere near excellent rider status and it is nerve wracking to get them back to the barn safely. Additionally, most people tell the guide they can't keep the horse from eating grass because they don't want to pull and hurt its mouth. Incidentally, all trail horses don't try to eat the grass because they are starved to death. It is just in a horse's nature to be a grazing animal. It is about equivalent to walking nine 3 year olds through a long row of candy and not having one or two snatch a piece. Your trail guide has to take you out when it is raining, or spitting snow, or hotter than hades or dustier than Kansas or muddier than a swamp. Just as long as there is no lightening, if you want to go, they go. They take out complete trails of non english speaking people. Trails where the 3 year old cries the whole time. Trails where not one single person will talk to you. Ones where the group is mad because they can't gallop their horses. Trails with bratty children whose parents have sent them alone with the guide just to have an hour of peace. Trails where the "expert" tells the guide how to fix a problem (that is entirely a customer behavior problem) the whole entire time or says, "This stupid horse is stubborn." Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of enjoyable trails that go out, but the public doesn't realize what a trail guide goes through or has to bite their tongue on. When the last trail goes out, the trail guide still isn't finished. He has at least another hour or more of work. Refilling feed troughs for the next day, unsaddling and treating any minor injuries that occurred during work. Cleaning up trash that the public left laying around. Filling the water troughs again. There is a lot of work to this type of facility. What your trail guide wants you to know....... In most cases we pick your horse because that is the one that will fit both your ability and body size, and because that is the one that will fit the peaceful pecking order in the line up. We don't trot and canter most of the time because your horse has to work another 7 hours and because going faster is when you are most likely to fall off. Insurance regulations also specifically exclude horse activities faster than a walk. Also, you may be a good rider, but the next person on your horse's back may not be, and that horse has to be accustomed to a routine that will keep greenhorns safe. We cannot control the wildlife. Snakes, bears and even sometimes deer will stop the trail and they are called wildlife for a reason. Stay calm and don't argue with what your trail guide tells you to do. We are not discriminatory against overweight people. The reality is a horse can only carry so much weight and overweight people often aren't good at balancing. Going up and down hills it is very likely that these types of people will fall off. No matter how much we tighten a saddle, if you get that kind of weight unbalanced, it Will spin. Additionally, your horse has to work 7 other hours after carrying this type of person. AND we shouldn't have to support that type of weight and drag it off of a horse, therefore damaging our backs or shoulders. If there is a weight limit, it is unkind of the public to fudge their weight and go anyway. I have actually witnessed a horse collapse under a woman who fudged her weight, and he broke her leg. The horses have been put into the line in this order because this is how they get along. We try as hard as we can to accommodate your wish to be in front of your sister, but sometimes we just can't make the lineup come out safely that way. If we tell you some specific instructions regarding your horse or your placement, or how to hold your reins, we aren't being butt cheeks on a stick because we are bored. We are doing our best to keep everyone safe. It is your responsibility to ask when you sign the paperwork, where you may pick up your helmet if you requested one. When you have been told to be at the barn by a specific time, we mean it. It takes a bit to fit the riders to the horses, adjust stirrups, and line everyone up. If we don't depart on time, we don't come in on time. And then we face the next group of very aggravated people who will be leaving late. You also are cutting into your horse's time to get a drink in between trails. We like it when you talk to us. We get bored doing the same loop all day long. Your conversations often make our day. We work hard for very little pay and our job is stressful. Please try hard not to take your bad vacation out on us.
HOP VOLUNTEER, BLOGGER AND TRAIL GUIDE