Thursday, February 28, 2008

Giving Up the Fantasy (update)

I got a lot of positive responses on my post about giving up the fantasy of being thin, and all the procrastination of pleasure that comes with it. Sure, I got some hate mail as well, including one person who actually followed the link to my Craig's list ad so that he could toss bile from several directions at once. But overall I received a lot of encouragement from family, friends and readers.

My main dream was/is to find a place to go horseback riding that had a saddle-trained draft horse. I contacted one stable who's (very nice) owner regretfully didn't have any of her Irish Drafts ready for anything but an expert rider. Since I haven't ridden in 10 years, I have to consider myself back near beginner status. She did offer to let me come out and do ground work around the horses (walk-outs, lunging, assisting the trainer, etc.) until I "lost enough weight" to ride one of the other breeds, at which point I had to (politely) adjust her notions of my intentions. She really was very sweet, despite the misunderstanding, and tried hard to find one of her owners who would let me ride. Nevertheless, the setback did discourage me for a while and I stopped calling stables.

Then, out of the blue and after a long stressful weekend vending at Convocation, I got an e-mail response to my Craig's List post from a woman who ran a horse rescue about a 1/2 hour away, and was looking to lease her Belgian mare. I'd never heard of leasing a horse, but the arrangement sounds perfect. She'd board the horse, take care of all the bills, provide Western and English tack, cart and harness in case I want to learn to drive, provide a few lessons, invite me along with her group on camping trips and trail rides, etc. I would, with exception of a weekend each month when she camps and a few days when she's needed for lessons, be able to come out and ride.

How perfect is that, and just when I'd started to consider giving up? Better yet, after some Googling I found that the woman takes in rescued horses whenever there's room from boarding. The Belgian mare I want to lease is a rescue from the kill pen at the Shipshewana horse auction (bid out from under the nose of the meat buyers and re-trained to saddle and harness). So not only have I maybe found a place to ride, but I might be able to talk her into letting me help work with the rescues when they come in.

I'll have more definite details on Sunday after I go to meet the horse and family, so until then I'm not counting this as a done deal. She still has to approve my leasing her favorite horse! She seems really nice from her posts in horse forums though, so I hope the deal works out. Even if I have to give up on some other projects to afford it. For this dream, I'd give up quite a bit!


Margaret said...

That's fantastic. I really hope you get the mare; there's nothing like a good hack out to make you feel better about the world. Please keep us updated.

beck said...

OMG. You literally have me in tears! This is so cool. I'm so glad you're following this dream!

Good for you (in every way!)

Shinobi said...

I hope everything works out for you and for the mare. This sounds like an ideal arrangement.

I'm SOOOO jealous. I wouldn't have the money or time to ride anyway. But yeah, jealous. If it works out you'll have to do some posts on riding draft horses. I've only ever ridden saddle bred horses, I wonder how it will differ.

Corinna Makris said...

I love this! I rode for many years when I was a kid and just two weeks ago I mentioned to my husband that I wanted to start riding again. Thank you for sharing this. I'm gonna call the stable near my house and start riding.

Fillyjonk said...

Yay! I know it's a bad idea to count your colts before the deal is done, but this is really encouraging. At the very least, it shows that your fantasy isn't just fantasy!

kate said...

If you lease a horse, make sure you have a good lease agreement signed by both you and the owner. That will protect you, the owner, and most importantly the horse. You have no idea how many things can go horribly wrong if both human parties don't have a clear understanding of their rights and responsibilities beforehand. I recommend going to The Chronicle of the Horse forums and searching for [lease agreement terms] (remove the brackets) to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

At your level, where the horse is not a competitive prospect or likely to earn you any money, a "free lease", where you pay the horse's expenses but don't pay the owner a fee, is the most common. If it's an on-farm lease (that is, it sounds like the horse stays in his home and you go there, to the owner's property, to ride him), you will probably just pay "board" to the owner as if it were someone else's horse she was boarding. If it's a partial lease--she expects to use the horse at certain times--you may pay less than full board, or you may pay only board but not vet or farrier bills. You MUST get all that clear beforehand.

For a beginner, it is probably good to ride a draft horse or draft cross if you are heavy. I have to tell you, though, horses are tougher than some people will have you believe; while I, as a size-24-ish person, wouldn't ride an average Arabian or pony (or even some small Thoroughbreds, as they can be pretty dainty and delicate), I can ride a wide variety of horses without causing them any distress. I'm an experienced and (IMNSHO) fairly balanced rider, so I am a lighter burden than a beginner would be (I have been riding with basically no interruption for 22 years, with some really good instruction along the way). All this is just to say, don't let anyone tell you that you can't ride a 15.3hh, 1100-lb Quarterhorse because you weigh over 200 lbs.

Generally, a horse can carry 25-30% of its weight of moderately-well-balanced rider, and certainly you see plenty of big men (especially western riders) on small horses. It's just that, don't you know, a 250-lb woman weighs more than a 250-lb be prepared for people to be aghast that you are crushing the poor dear horsie, but if the horse doesn't appear fatigued by the work you are doing, and is seen by an experienced person (trainer, leased horse's owner, etc) to be sound and comfortable in its work, don't let them get you down.

Riding a draft or draft cross is basically like riding anything else, except wider. :) Be prepared for your hip joints to hurt like hell when you are done riding, at least for the first few weeks. They will feel like they've been relocated several inches out. That's okay (unless you have joint issues).

Drafts are also usually pretty mellow, so good for beginners, although they are also big and strong, and if they decide they *reallyneedtobeelsewhererightnow* you can be quite out of luck. :) That said, all horses are bigger and stronger than us, so smart and careful horsemanship (and an understanding that if you ride long enough, you'll get hurt someday) is key no matter what size or breed the horse.

As for how they differ from Saddlebreds: The Saddlebred is a breed (unless you're just talking about "saddle horses" as in "riding horses"). They are supposedly quite comfortable to ride as some of them do special gaits other than walk, trot, and canter. They can also be quite energetic and spooky, though of course not all are; in showing, it is desired for them to be as "hot" and energetic as possible, so some of them have that natural "hotness" enhanced through various means. They naturally carry their heads very high and tend not to have as long a "topline" (the line along the top, over the back and hindquarters) as your average draft cross, which has advantages and disadvantages depending on what you want to do.

As a general thing, you can find great information about a lot of things at the Chronicle forums link I put in the first paragraph.

JoGeek said...

Great info Kate! I'll definitely look into the Chronicle forums you mentioned for more information. I've heard that a horse can more easily carry a heavy but well-balanced rider than a lightweight neophyte, but after not riding for 10 years I have no idea how long it'll take me to get my "seat" back. Luckily I'm tall enough to have a balanced center of gravity, and I've been doing enough Yoga to give me an edge.

kate said...

Actually, tall is a hindrance, usually, in my experience, unless it's all in your legs. I personally have a hard time riding small horses not because of my weight but because I have short legs and therefore a proportionally longer torso, so if I tip forward the balance gets all F'ed up. I'm short, but proportionally my legs are the short part and my torso is about normal. On a horse with a longer overall frame, and a long neck, it isn't as big of an issue.

Yoga is great. Pilates is perhaps even better, but core strength is the key no matter how you got there. Being able to *lower* your center of gravity is what makes you feel secure and balanced (to yourself as well as to the horse).

Take the Chronicle forums with a grain of salt if you choose to talk about your weight, though--there are a lot of reasonable folks, but also a fair number who will rip you a new asshole for "horse abuse". Then again, we also have a whole thread that's usually not depressing on where to find riding clothes for folks our size. It's called the "Womanly-sized riders thread" or something like that, and it's in the "Off Course" forum.