20 Ways to Become a Better Horseman on a Budget

by Robyn Duplisea

Are you feeling the pain of inflation? Gas prices have skyrocketed and so has nearly everything else.

We have all been there – You want to learn more and expand your skills, but the budget is tight and just owning your horse has you stretching your paycheck from week to week. Don’t be discouraged, we have compiled a list of 20 Ways to Become a Better Horseman on a Budget.

  1. GO TO A LOCAL SHOW OR EVENT.  Watch those who you admire, these people may not necessarily be the ones winning every class but perhaps are those like yourself and your horse. Watch how they warm up, organize their time and ride.  You may not be able to make your horse go exactly like the person you admire, but you can learn from their warm up, work ethic and exercises a bit of what it took for them to get to where they are.
  2. ASK QUESTIONS. When you find this person that you admire don`t be afraid to ask them questions. Respect their process and don`t approach them as they head into the show pen, but absolutely find a time to connect and ask them to explain what their program entails. Did you see him or her do an exercise to warm up that you don’t understand, ask them about it.
    In all my years of showing I have never encountered a person who was not willing to share their knowledge – and some of the most generous with their time and knowledge are the big names you may be scared to even speak to.
  3. ATTEND A HORSE EXPO. Expo’s provide the opportunity to watch and learn from many different clinicians all in one place, usually for on low entrance fee. If you are unsure of the direction you want to take with your horses, this can help you discover a passion. Expo’s also offer a great opportunity to expand your knowledge of products through trade shows and presentations.
  4. TAKE A CLINIC. Even if you are a dedicated western pleasure enthusiast taking in a clinic with a dressage expert may give you tools to add to your training program that you have never thought of. Love showing in Trail – taking in a clinic with a hunter jumper trainer may give you insight on how to see and find your strides and a reining clinic may help improve your horsemanship spins.  
  5. INTERN. If you have the opportunity interning with a top professional that you respect can teachyou more in a short time than you can learn on your own in years. These horsemen and women have so much knowledge in their program that to be able to intern offers the opportunity to be truly immersed in their greatness.
  6. STUDY HORSEMANSHIP – NOT JUST RIDING. Becoming a truly better horseman means understanding the whole horse. Take time to learn about nutrition, farrier, dental and veterinary care.
  7. BUY A BOOK. Many great horsemen have written books over the years.  Books whether in print or e-edition offer affordable instruction that you can return to time and time again.
  8. READ AND SUBSCRIBE TO A FREE MAGAZINE. Magazines such as Show Horse Today offer instructional articles from many of the top trainers, breeders and horse people in the World. The magazine does the leg work for you and each month you will receive articles to increase your knowledge base – have extra time? Check out the archives for past months. Many magazines including Show Horse Today will have dozens if not hundreds of past issues filled with these articles.
  9. SPEND TIME ON OR WITH YOUR HORSE.  Many horsemen will tell you that the most they have learned about training they have learned from the horse itself. If you spend time with your horse, you will see how he reacts to certain cues. Watch him in his pasture and see how horses work in a herd environment. Does he push back to the lead horse – this may tell you he will be inclined to push into pressure and that will require more work. You can learn a lot about horses by simply observing them.
  10. BUY ( OR BORROW) AN INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO.  If you need help in a certain area, consider purchasing a video to watch and absorb the knowledge of a professional you trust.many of todays top trainers even offer subscription services like Dana Hokana’s Team Hokana Video Club. 
  11. TAKE LESSONS.  If your budget is tight, having your horse in training full time may be out of the question, but taking lessons is a great chance to have professional and knowledgeable eyes on you. If you can afford regular lessons that will help you make progress under a watchful eye. Even monthly lessons can help you identify weak spots in your program or to encourage positive trends. 
    During the past few years video lessons have become incredibly popular as well. If you can’t haul in to the trainer of your dreams, perhaps they offer video lessons where you submit a video and do a phone lesson after they review your ride. 
  12. TRY SOMETHING NEW. If you only ride hunter under saddle try a horsemanship pattern. When we stretch ourselves to expand our “comfort box” we can learn new ways to accomplish similar goals. Take your western pleasure horse to the trail warm up – to navigate the twists and turns you will find yourself focusing on body position organically. These changes can help us to get out of a training rut.
  13. RIDE A TRULY BROKE HORSE.  A great horse trained by excellent horsemen can teach a rider so much in just a few minutes. A finished horse will let you feel what is correct and how things should be. When you are learning or teaching your own horse you may not know what the end goal feels like. Taking even one lesson on a truly finished horse will give you the chance to feel what you are working towards.  Finished horses will also teach you a lot about your own shortcomings. They may “tell on you” for sharp cues or off-balance riding that your own horse has become dull to.
  14. LET A PROFESSIONAL RIDE YOUR HORSE. Again, full-time training may be out of the question but if you know a professional you trust having them ride your horse can diagnose issues that you may have indivertibly created. Maybe your horse is dropping a shoulder or popping his ribcage out and you do not understand why. When the professional rides your horse you may be able to see what he is capable of when your own issues are out of his way.
  15. STUDY EQUINE CONFORMATION.  When you understand how a horse is built, and how this conformation Is the base for movement you will better understand your horse. If your horses neck comes out high and he has high hocks and a long back it may be harder for him to carry his neck low and achieve a slow collected gait. Understand how the horse works, so you can work with what you have.
  16. ATTEND VETERINARY SYMPOSIUMS. Many vet clinics will do a yearly free (or nominal donation) education event. One of the best uses of your budget and time will be in knowledge to prevent illness and injury. It is far less expensive to keep your horse safe and sound that to rehab him from lack of knowledge.
  17. KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS.  Just because a famous trainer or rider does something a certain way it does not mean that is the only way. If you are uncomfortable with an exercise or training technique do not attempt it. Many exercises are dependent on decades of feel and timing and when attempted by a novice can lead to a wreck. If you are not confident you can do something correctly don’t do it alone. This is the time to take a lesson, ask questions and use those more knowledgeable professionals.
  18. SET AN IDEAL AND WORK TOWARD IT. Have a vision of your perfect ride – develop this vision from watching those you admire and keep this at the forefront of your mind at all times. Work towards this vision aiming for some improvement in any area with each ride.
  19. VOLUNTEER WITH YOUR LOCAL ASSOCIATION.  You can gain invaluable insight into show ring etiquette, judges philosophies, class rules and event details by volunteering. Help with the gate and you will have a first-hand view of the last-minute training tips provided to clients by their trainers. Ring Steward or Scribe and learn from the judges as they share their comments and scores. Not only will this help you to meet people, but your association and its members will greatly appreciate the help.
  20. EXPAND YOUR COMMUNITY. Whether volunteering at local shows or joining online communities, social media pages and forums like PleasureHorse.com.  expanding your equine community is a great way to gain knowledge.  Get to know more people who share your interests and love and you will have people to bounce ideas with and share your triumphs and losses. A strong community can be the most valuable asset in your quest for knowledge.

When you work to become a better horseman not only do you benefit but so does your horse. In no time you just may be the person being approached for advice by a new comer. Try to remember your journey and appreciate every step as you utilize these 20 Ways to Become a Better Horseman on a Budget.

“When you think you know it all, there’s not much that you’ll learn.”

  ~ Ralph Marston