Are y’all ready to read a novel? Well go to the bathroom, get a drink, and then settle in – this is going to be a LONG one!
So it’s been a number of years since I’ve ridden. My last “big” horse died a few years ago, and I haven’t had many opportunities since then. I’ve had some mounting-related falls in my past, but the big clincher was witnessing my old trainer be badly hurt by a mare I’d bought from a local summer camp. I’ve tried to get back to riding since then, but the fear is definitely very strong and something that will take me a long time to work through, as well as a super-gentle and patient mount that I trust. I miss being with equines so much, nothing breathes air into my lungs or light into my soul like they do.
So now I’m at a crossroads, for several reasons, and have had some ideas bouncing around in my head that I’d like some feedback on. I would really like to get back to owning again, but I’ve got several concerns that could send me in one of several directions.
To start, I’m a big girl. 5 foot 8, and over the 300 lb mark at this point (that’s what years of an unhappy marriage and eating your feelings gets you). I’m working on this, making progress and have lost quite a bit of weight already. It will be some time before I reach my ideal weight, though- it could be two more years at the rate I am progressing. My goal this year is simply to get fitter, and get under the 300 lb mark. I also have those fear & confidence issues to contend with. I don’t think it’s fair to ask a horse of ANY size to handle an unfit re-rider with no muscle tone at my weight.
I do want to ride again, but I’m realizing it may be years before I get to do so comfortably and safely, for both myself and the horse. Horses, donkeys, and mules are my passion in life. Nothing else breathes air into my lungs and light into my soul like they do. I would be completely OK with spending time with an animal on the ground, but I know my heart aches to ride again and also I’d like to compete in ACTHA and some Limited Distance events someday when I am at a better level of fitness and weight.
Here are my ideas so far: 1.
1. Buy a young adult mammoth donkey of a decent size to train for both riding and driving. Mammoths are amazing and I adore their personalities, as they are nowhere NEAR as reactive or flight-driven as horses are. Use the next 2 years of weight loss to work with him/her extensively on the ground, including hand-walking on trails as a “hiking buddy” of sorts, as well as getting a light packsaddle to get it used to bearing weight. This would provide fitness for both of us, a great deal of exposure to many of the different sights, sounds, smells, and situations we’d run into on the trail, and I’ve found a local place to board that has a lot of experience training donkeys and mules. Donkeys mature much slower than horses, but with some guidance I could potentially have a very safe trail mount who’d be able to carry me for the next 20 years. 2. 2.
Get a gentle draft mule that is already trained for riding, do ground work and trail walking until I’ve reached a more acceptable weight, then have a private trainer help me with lessons to get over my mounting fears. The key here would be finding an animal that is not ENORMOUS- Anything over about 15.2 makes me feel like I’m trying to scale a mountain, and honestly I feel extremely freaked out trying to mount huge horses. 3. 3.
Get a miniature horse or donkey for the same trail walking ideas, and also use it for driving and some in-hand showing with the local miniature horse clubs. The mini would be more “portable” and also cheaper to board than a full-size animal. I would potentially worry about a mini with regard to dogs on the trails around here, and also that its’ small size would invite passerby to bum-rush the poor thing to pet it (especially mini donkeys- they look like cuddly stuffed animals!). I’d want an animal that I could trust around non-horse-savvy passerby. Also, I worry that once I reach my weight goals it’s just not going to be feasible financially to keep both a mini and a regular-sized animal, so I’m putting an animal out into the wind again. Then again, it might be possible- I’ve got no way to predict what my financial situation will allow in 2-3 years.
Whew! If you got through that novel, congrats! I look forward to any ideas or feedback you all have :)