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Horse people
The equine community has a culture all its own

06/26/14



 In 2005, New Hampshire was home to about 14,681 horses — that’s 1.6 per square mile — according to a demographic examination of America’s equine population. With all those horses, the culture surrounding them is strong. So what’s all the hype about?

 
Starting young
Not everyone who rides or owns horses starts out at a young age, said Gail Straw, president of N Bar H Riding Club, which offers show series, trail rides and other activities. Most of the time, though, equine super-fans get a solid dose of early immersion. 
Mary Davis, equine program assistant for 4-H, fell in love with horses when she was only a child (she owned one when she was young) and, as an adult, passed it down to her two kids.  
“I think my daughter, my oldest, was interested from a young age, but I’m sure I consciously or subconsciously helped,” Davis said. “I read her books about horses. We had friends with a horse farm, she had the horse models … and was horse-crazy at a young age. She hung out with other horse-crazy kids and started taking riding lessons at age 6.” 
The parents of Abby Dubois, New Hampshire Quarter Horse Association’s recreation director, might have thought it was just a phase when, at 7 years old, she started begging her parents for riding lessons,  but clearly, it wasn’t. She says horses are a romantic idea for kids. 
“I remember growing up, watching movies and every girl in the movies has a pony and it’s just this friendship going on forever,” she said. “ Then you grow up and start to realize it’s this living, breathing animal that is compassionate and can connect with you like a person. The level of commitment it takes can be daunting, but it’s also really motivating for kids who want to prove something.”
 
It’s a girl thing (mostly)
If you’re really into horses, chances are you’re female, local enthusiasts say. For whatever reason, girls and women are more likely to catch the horse-loving bug — especially on the East Coast. One potential reason is the east has a significantly smaller ranching culture, so that rugged cowboy image isn’t luring guys in, Straw said. 
That’s the case most of the way up the showing and competing scale, but it changes at the the highest levels and in the Olympics, where males are better represented, said Davis. 
But even though there’s just something about girls and hoses,  guys shouldn’t feed discouraged from getting into the scene. Davis’ son met his wife through riding. 
“My son would tell you the boys that stick with it are lucky because they have a lot of horse girls to choose from,” Davis said. 
 
Get equine acquainted 
After the spark is ignited, getting acquainted with the real-life animal is the inevitable next step. Straw and others strongly suggest going on trail rides, finding a stable and enrolling the child in horseback riding lessons, and/or getting him involved with a local club before making the massive commitment of buying a horse. 4-H’s primary mission is education, and there’s much to learn. 
“We hope that most people, before they get a horse, have learned a lot about feeding, how to care for a horse and riding,” she said.  “I really feel strongly about this because so many times parents will go out and buy a horse and then a year later, kids have no interest anymore. It was just a fad.” 
Figuring out a level of commitment is not something to take lightly — owning a horse can be an expensive investment that isn’t easy to get out of. Usually, when people want to sell their horses, they aren’t worth nearly as much as they expected. 
“The problem becomes when a person wants to get rid of a horse. There are huge problems in this country right now with unwanted horses,” Davis said. “People have changes in their financial circumstances, or they lose interest … The other thing is horses live a long time. They can live 30 or more years, so that’s great when you want to keep your horse, but if you can’t, or don’t want to keep it, it’s not worth a lot.”
 
A horse in the family 
Once it’s clear that love for horses isn’t just a phase, many members of New Hampshire’s horse community take the plunge and decide to buy their own. From there, the question becomes whether to board at a stable or keep the animal at home — an option more viable for people who live in rural communities. Each option comes with its own perks and responsibilities. 
Davis, whose family built a barn and now keeps its horse at home, said it becomes a major part of the culture of the family. 
“We do talk about it a lot,” she said. “And getting down to the nitty-gritty, they have to be cared for a couple times a day and you can’t just go off without making arrangements. Finding someone to take care of horses is a little harder than taking care of a cat.”
Caring for a horse at home is a family affair at the Davis residence. She made sure her kids knew that she wouldn’t be the one doing all the work and wanted them to understand the full commitment of horse ownership. Of course, with the horses close by there may be more opportunities to ride and enjoy their company. 
While an at-home horse means more equine dinner-table talk, some people like boarding their animals for the larger social community it provides.
“There is definitely a large number of barns in the Concord area where girls have had horses there for 10 or 15 years, and everyone grew up there and are still friends,” Dubois said.
 
Go to the shows
Nothing spells horse culture like horse shows, and in the summer equine lovers flock to them to compete and learn. 
There’s a huge variety of events for every style of riding. N Bar H has a host of categories. Children and older folks like to compete in the miniature pony division, because the smaller breeds are easier to ride and care for. 
“Within our club we have pleasure shows where people are judged on fitness and showmanship. Another thing is the trail class. It’s an obstacle course and they are judged on how the horse and rider prepare themselves for different obstacles,” Straw said.
And then there’s jumping, and Gymkhana — timed events where the faster the horse, the better it places. Barrel racing is popular too. Some competitors stick to a single event while others like to tackle them all. 
The shows tend to be friendly, rather than competitive, Straw said. 
“[Riders] all have the same interests,”  she said. “They compare notes and help each other out.” 
Showing varies widely within the culture, and 4-H tries to create division-appropriate competitions for skill and age levels, Davis said. 4-H, like N Bar H, likes to keep them friendly, welcoming and helpful, but “at bigger shows with money at stake it gets possibly a little more cutthroat,” Davis said. 
 
As seen in the June 26, 2014 issue of the Hippo.





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