Before moving to a farm in Pennsylvania and keeping my horses in my backyard, I had been at the same show and lesson barn in Connecticut for over 14 years. Needless to say I was pretty familiar with the place, the people, and the horse care.
So when I started riding western in college and decided to bring home one of my university’s reining horses for a free lease over the summer, I knew I exactly where I would board him. What I did not know was what it would truly be like to be the only western rider at a hunter/jumper barn.
Here are some of the funniest, most annoying, and most heartwarming comments I heard that summer, and what you should be prepared for before signing on to be the token western rider at a hunter/jumper barn.
His mane is either renowned for its superior length and thickness, or the big eq rider pats him and says, “Somebody needs their mane pulled!”
Every western horse is a barrel racer to those who aren’t familiar with the discipline, so make sure you just laugh it off when lesson kids ask if you can still practice barrels with all the jumps in the ring. When you explain your horse isn’t a barrel horse and their response is: “So what can he actually do?” Just lie and say he is a roping horse and hope they never ask you to show them how it’s done.
Your clover rowels spurs will be seen as instruments of torture. Even though they are no sharper or different than English spurs when used properly, try not be offended when the resident trainer might even say in passing, “Look at those meat cleavers!”
Practice holding your saddle on your hip for extended periods of time. Hunter and eq riders with monogramed helmets will be enthralled with the leather tooling.
His gaits are confused as lack of impulsion and no matter how much you explain that the lope is the same three-beat gait as the canter just slower, there will always be an adult amateur who insists you are wrong.
People will try to convert your horse. Be ready to defend his discipline. The girl you used to ride against in the children’s eq will try to be nice and say, “He would be the cutest pony hunter!” Make sure you laugh and thank her before breaking the news that he is 15 hands. A lesson kid’s parent will hear this and — not knowing any better — ask if he could be her child’s short stirrup horse. Be polite when you tell her he doesn’t jump and is terrified of flower boxes.
Be prepared for those who have a basic understanding of reining maneuvers to ask you to show them a sliding stop. They will think you are a chicken when you explain that the footing needs to be looser and deeper than it is for jumping to safely demonstrate a stop. Do a slow set of spins for them instead. Even slow, it will still be exciting to watch.
No matter how much you explain that the lope is the same three-beat gait as the canter just slower, there will always be an adult amateur who insists you are wrong.
Practice your best square dance moves for when you walk down the barn aisle with spurs on and someone calls out: “Ride ‘em, cowgirl!” (If you are not familiar with the art of square dancing, the “Cotton-Eye Joe” will have the same effect.)
When new potential lesson kids and their families come to the barn while you are riding, you are sure to be a topic of conversation for your “cowboy saddle.” A good lope departure partnered with a “YEE HAW!” always gets a laugh if you are feeling bold.
You will constantly be asked how you can ride with your stirrups “so long.” When you get tired of explaining the mechanical differences between the disciplines, “magic” and “luck” are two adequate responses.
Your horse’s response to you saying “whoa” will be fascinating. You will be commended on how well he listens. Even though you didn’t train him, smile and say thanks anyway. You might even catch a school horse leaser trying to get the two-foot schoolmaster to stop by kicking her legs out in front of her and shouting a guttural “whoa,” which of course he does, despite the foreign leg cues.
Most importantly, be prepared to answer all of the honest questions from those curious about the different discipline. And make sure you watch your horse’s weight, because a little Quarter Horse, with a long mane, sweet disposition, and comic book character name is sure to get extra cookies from those who pass by his stall.