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Horseless Horse Fun

Here are some ways that you can enjoy horses without the expense of actually owning one.

You Know You are Horse-Crazy When......
If you lived and breathed horses, like I did, when you were young, I'm sure you will recognize the symptoms in others -- the infallible ability to home in on the only horses around, where ever you happen to be; heading towards the horse-related books in the bookstore; picking out every horse on every TV show or film; unable to go anywhere without assuming a strange, prancing gait and making unusual rumbling noises and occasional whinnies.

If you, or someone you know, are afflicted by these symptoms, take heart! It IS possible to live a normal life. What follows here are some of the things that my horse-crazy friend, Lorna, and I used to do in our horse-less teen years.

Riding School Fun
Now of course, we actually did ride once a week, which only served to fuel our passion for horses. We rode at a Riding School in England which, in addition to hourly or half-hourly escorted hacks out, had a "Pony Club" every Saturday afternoon (not affiliated with the British Pony Club). The stables, now swept away by a housing development, offered a varied experience.

During the course of two hours we might have a lesson on mucking out a stall, cleaning tack or grooming. This would be alternated with riding in the paddock or indoor arena. When the vet or farrier came, we all crowded around and soaked up the knowledge they passed on to us. As there were a large number of children, we were divided into groups - Bottom, Middle and Top. Each new member started in Bottom Group (which, once we had progressed, we referred to as "the babies") and had to show that they were proficient enough in their riding and horse knowledge before moving up. We had regular quizzes and games, all designed to make learning about horses fun (as if it could ever NOT be fun, we thought)

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The riding sessions might be a conventional group lesson or games on horseback, such as "Musical Rescue" (without the music) This particular game consisted of each horse having two riders, one on board, riding around the perimeter of the ring, the other standing in the center. When the whistle blew (or the horn honked, or whatever) the rider on foot ran as fast as they could towards their designated horse. The rider on board, meantime, stopped the horse and dismounted (sometimes inelegantly) and stood ready to assist the other rider on board. Of course, back in those days I was able to vault on without any assistance at all. Interestingly, when a Riding School that I went to about ten years later tried to get us to vault on our horses, not one of us could even get close and after fifteen minutes of trying we were all reduced to exhausted, giggling heaps on the ground. We practised a variety of different games and occasionally got to put our practice to use when the Riding School held shows during the summer and we were able to rent horses for the different events.

I know that those type of Riding Schools are not as commonly found here in the United States. But if you can find a good one, they are well worth it. There are places that cater to children and have lesson ponies available. Many places run Riding Camps in the summer, where you can either take your own horse, if you have one, or use one of the lesson horses and completely immerse yourself in horses for a week. The United States Pony Club and the Pony Club UK are both good places to start finding out about Pony Clubs and Riding Clubs in your area.

Games with horses can be fun

Horse-less Horse Fun
But, of course, actual riding only took up one afternoon which left the rest of the week for us to live and breathe horses without actually being near one. So Lorna and I had a variety of other activities -- we each had extensive libraries of "pony-books", we each had stables of model horses, we each made and rode "hobby horses" - I believe they are called stick horses here, and in addition, we both rigged up an arrangement in the back garden which consisted of a plank of wood resting on step ladders, with a thick covering of blankets, which we bounced on and pretended was a horse (I can't believe I am telling you this!)

The types of books we liked were the pony books by the likes of Ruby Ferguson and the Pullein-Thompson sisters. The titles, such as Jill has Two Ponies, Pony Jobs for Jill, Ribbons and Rings, still bring back fond memories (in fact, the books themselves are still tucked away in a corner of my apartment). We also collected non-fiction, eager in our quest for Horse Knowledge. A trip around the Book Store these days will turn up a lot of coffee table books full of beautiful colors photos, as well as numerous titles in the Fiction section - the Saddle Club series, for example. You can also find literally hundreds of horse-related books at online bookstores such as Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.

So, you see, there are many ways in which you can indulge a passion for horses, without the expense of actually owning one. With me, it was the start of a lifelong passion for horses and I suspect I'm not alone in that regard. Enjoy!

A (model) Horse of Your Own
I'll never forget that Christmas morning when I opened my eyes to see the model riding stables, complete with barn, paddocks, horses and riders spread out on the floor of my bedroom. The rest of my presents that year recieved only a cursory glance and my whole attention was given to my new stables. Each horse was immediately given a name such as Jupiter , Duchess and Fantasy -- they were mostly named after the horses and ponies I rode at the Riding School.

A selection of Breyer model horses

Nowadays there is a much larger selection of model horses than there were in my day (now - does that make me sound old, or what?) The model horses Lorna and I had (yes, Lorna got some for Christmas too - our parents must have collaborated that year) were from Britain's, who also make a large assortment of farm and zoo animals. They were approximately three inches tall and some came with riders and tack. The stable I had, as large as it was, only had four stalls in it and as Lorna and I brought a new horse with our pocket money every other week, our stables were quickly full to overcrowding and in need of new accomodations. Britain's made stables, but our allowance didn't stretch that far and so we improvised.

You will understand that our new, home-made stables were far from sophisticated, but we were twelve years old and to us, they were perfect.

Build Your Own Model Stables
If you have a collection of model horses, be they Breyer Model Horses or Julip (a collection of model horses in England, similar to the Breyer models) , or some other make, you may want to make your own stables. I have included these simple instructions so that anyone can have a go, although your parents may have to help you out while you are marking your walls and doors etc. You can make the stables as basic or as complicated as you like. As we were just kids, we made ours out of cardboard boxes.

To make our basic stables, you will need the following items:

  • One cardboard box large enough to hold the required number of horses. You can use grocery boxes for larger models, shoe boxes for smaller models.
  • Sharp scissors with pointed ends - good for cutting holes for windows and doors.
  • All-purpose glue.
  • Pencil and ruler (for marking doors, windows etc.)
  • Acrylic paints from a hobby shop, with different sized brushes.
  • If wanted, you can purchase paper with brickwork, wood or tile patterns for added realism.

To start out, decide how many stalls you want in your stable and, using your ruler and pencil, mark out the doors and windows (don't forget a tack room and a feed storage area if you want them). Also using your ruler and pencil, mark how high you want the stables to be. In order to make the roof slant in a realistic way, make the wall at the front higher than the wall at the back and slant the side walls down between them. Using your scissors, cut carefully around the box where you have marked your roof height.

You can use the lid of the box, or an extra piece of cardboard if the lid is not suitable, for the roof. As the roof will be off most of the time you are actually playing with your stables, it usually just sits in place on the walls when the stables are not in use.

The traditional dutch doors - the type where the top half opens to allow the horse to look out - are the easiest to make. All you have to do is cut along your markings at the top and bottom of the door and along the right-hand side. Carefully score the cardboard (using your ruler and scissors, mark but don't cut) along the left hand side of the door so that it opens and closes easily. Don't forget to cut it across the middle so that each door has a top half and a bottom half. Leave the tack room door as one piece.

Jayne Pedigo
A rather basic illustration, but hopefully you get the idea.
Jayne Pedigo

You can use the extra pieces of cardboard that you trimmed off of the walls (or any other cardboard) as partitions within the stable. Measure the size carefully and add little tabs that you can fold over and use to glue the partition to the outer walls. The partitions between the individual stalls need not be full height, but the one for the tack room should be the same size and height as the side wall.

Once you have glued the partitions and walls in place, you can decorate your stables any way you wish. If you are going to use brick or some other patterned paper, cut it to size before glueing it in place. The roof can be painted or papered. Once you have done your papering you can paint the doors.

The finished stable is now ready for its occupants! You can improvize with accessories. For example, thimbles, or even the tops of tubes of toothpaste, make perfect buckets. Depending on the scale of your stable you will be able to find all sorts of things around the house that can be painted and put to use in your new stable.

I found that I got more daring as I went on and eventually Lorna and I both had elaborate barns, built on a quadrangle around a central gravel square (a piece of rough sandpaper glued on to the base) with gutters and downspouts made from drinking straws. The possibilties are endless.... happy model making.

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