Finding the right ranch horse on your riding vacations.
Finding the right ranch horse on your riding vacations.

Horses are different all over the world. In my travels, I’ve been excited about venturing off into the sunset on my new equine friend, until I realize that we just don’t get along.

Horses have different personalities, skills, likes, dislikes and attitudes, just like people.

Getting matched with the appropriate horse is like getting matched up with a dance partner or good friend. You’ll want to think about yourself in a physical and mental sense, as you try to get matched up with a good horse to ride. Most guest ranches have well-trained horses which are accustomed to different riders, but this doesn’t mean that every one of those horses is the right horse for you.

I know enough about myself as a rider to know what to ask and what to share with other horse owners, so that they can help me pair up with the right horse when I go riding. Owners understand the intimate details of their horses and the peculiarities of their personalities.

A good guide should pair you up with a horse to suit both your riding abilities and your personality. At the same time, though, be prepared to take things as they come. Change is good, and changing mounts can help you become a more confident, versatile and safer rider in the long-run.

I’m going to share with you how you can best prepare yourself for meeting strange horses on your ranch vacations, so you can enjoy the “first date,” and hopefully have a few more.

Be Truthful & Ask Lots of Questions

Relay your skill level, height and weight to the wrangler before you arrive to the ranch. Please be truthful. Claiming to ride like John Wayne, when you can’t, can be dangerous. Experienced riders know how important relaying the correct information is when matching rider with horse.

Before you ride, make sure to once again exchange information. A good host will consider your experience, fitness level and take into account what you are hoping to gain from the trip. Then your host should tell you a little bit about your horse and how to handle him.

Don’t be shy about asking questions. You intimately know your own horse’s quirky qualities. Find out if your new friend has any particular idiosyncrasies, habits, likes, dislikes or physical limitations. This can save you from encountering too many surprises.

Take a Test Spin

When you buy a new car, you go out for a test drive. Your week- or day-long ride may not be a long-term commitment, but you should take a test ride on your vacation horse before packing off for your longer ride. This will give you and your horse a few minutes to get to know each other before you hit the trails.

Before mounting, always check the tack to make sure it’s in good condition: check the girth/cinch and make sure that the saddle fits properly. When you do mount, do so gently, so as not to startle the horse and also to save his back.

As you take your test ride, check to see if the horse is responsive to your commands, and ask the owner how to communicate accordingly.

Some ranch vacations start out with instruction before taking off on the trails. If you are a beginning rider, you may want to look for a vacation that provides instruction during the trip. This will help you adjust to a new way of riding and allow you to learn as you ride.

Know When to Dismount

Sometimes all of the research in the world can’t stop you from pairing with a difficult horse or one you just can’t handle. Coping with this situation can be tricky.

More experienced riders will have an easier time dealing with a hard-to-handle horse. But if things seem beyond your control, trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to dismount. Ask your guide to switch horses with you for a while or ask for another horse.

If you are ever paired up with a horse that seems ill or lame, do not attempt to ride him. Either ask to change horses or make the decision not to ride.

Keep a Positive Attitude

Hey, you’re on vacation and unexpected challenges are bound to pop up while you’re traveling. Don’t let the small stuff get you down. Horses have keen senses and can pick up on your fears, stress and confidence level.

Face each new challenge with a positive attitude and remember just how much you are learning and how much fun you are having riding free as a cowboy!

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