We were exposed to horses as children with our western movies and TV shows. There weren't many kids I knew who didn't want a horse like Trigger or Silver. Horses were close in proximity, whether they were on your place, your Grandparent's farm, or just down the road.
Topology has dramatically changed from rolling pastures to housing developments. Suburbia is spreading, reducing exposure to horses and eliminating the fields that once grew their feed.
We currently face some of the highest numbers we've ever seen in unemployment. Many are working more hours and/or more then one job to try to make ends meet. From groceries to Christmas presents, people are cutting back. Owning a horse has never been such a luxury as it is today.
Youth membership in Breed and 4H Horse programs are at a record low. Pony rides at the fair (if your county still hosts a fair and offers pony rides) sit idle and ignored as children pass by. To me, this says a lot about tomorrow's generation and it's a red warning light for the future of the horse industry.
Our local auction barn is packed the first Sunday of each month for the Horse Sale. But the majority attending are dropping off, not picking up. Older, healthy, well seasoned horses are going to slaughter. Horses that could be a perfect fit for today's youth or a reliable, confidence builder for tentative riders. Credible stories regarding the abandonment of horses abound.
Ugh! I'm sure I'm not telling you anything you don't already know. But there must be something we who grew up with the love of horses and have that gotta ride/love of horses in our core, can do to help get people back to horses and horses back to people. Here's some thoughts on what I came up with:
a. Mentoring those interested in horses. They're out there but don't have the resources, ability, or even know where to go to be near horses. I've mentored friends, their children and even my own family. I've gone to lengths to drive them out to our place so they could have some hands-on with our horses, hoping I could entice them to get further involved.
b. Knowing Your Resources. This is one of the first lessons I learned when I bought my first horse. Knowing reputable resources, like local barns, vets, farriers, and various types of trainers, as well as who might be considering half-leasing a suitable horse is not only helpful to you but helpful to someone interested in horses.
I'm picky about the resources I refer people to. My credibility is part of their adventure and I want them to come away with a positive experience that will bring them further into the world of horses. Knowing who to go to and where to turn helps all involved.
c. Half-leasing or Sharing Your Horse. This is a debatable subject with lots of pros and cons. I experienced this last year, half-leasing to a 4H'er and I surely experienced many pros and cons. But overall, it helped me out fiscally and allowed someone without a horse a chance to ride and participate in the 4H horse program. They eventually went onto purchase their own horse and since that is what I want to endorse, I consider it a success.
d. Proudly Market Your Interest. Most of us with the love of horses are easy to spot. We have pictures on our desks and computer screens. Our weekly updates on horse life are notorious in the office on Monday mornings. Friends and family members just can't understand what we're doing outside with our horses on a Saturday morning in 15 degree weather when we could spend the day shopping at the Mall.
Sure I've encountered those who aren't interested in my horse life, yet those same individuals have approached me because they knew of someone who was interested. So ignore those who 'don't get it' and proudly market the wonderful life style you've chosen.
e. Support an Equine Program. Whether it's money or time, they'll welcome you with open arms. They need all the help they can get these days and you'll get to interact with those who have your same interests. You'll also be able to unleash some of your creative skills and maybe if you're lucky, pull family members in. You'd be amazed at how much fun it can be when your whole family is part of an initiative such as this.
Well, that's what I came up with but I'd sure welcome your thoughts on this subject. There has got to be some way that we who grew up with Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger, fell in love with horses and the life style surrounding them and went on to have them in our lives, can pass the torch onto tomorrow's generation.