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02 August 2011

Frequently Asked Questions

On my job there are some very common questions the client asks me. Now I’m not talking about the questions they ask about price, times and availability when they are booking for a horse ride on the beach with us. No, rather what I am talking about is when I’m out on the trail with them and they are curious about the beautiful animals they are riding, curious about the area we are in, curious about the us (the guides and people who are working with them), and so on.
And I do not discourage these question and answer sessions, as not only does it make the whole ride more interesting for all, but I also strongly believe you cannot learn a thing without asking questions.

I was contemplating this on yet another ride I took yesterday, and realized that yes, the average client I am dealing with has had little or no experience with horses in their lives, so it’s understandable that they have all these questions. Then I realized that hey, those few people who actually do read my blog have probably wondered such questions as these too. And I figured you might find it a tad entertaining as well. So here are just a few those infamous FAQs. Today I’m just sticking with a couple of horse facts; I’ll get to the other usual questions soon.

How old do horses get?
This normally follows the question they ask of how old is their specific horse, which when we work with 23 horses, I’m not going to go into that detail here. However, I will stick with the main question here. Basically horses can reach about 30 years. Obviously this is a give and take kind of thing, for example humans live to around 80, many live into their hundreds and some tragically die very young. The oldest thoroughbred racehorse (he did not race all his life) got to a record 42 years old.
How do we know how old a horse is when we meet him for the first time? Well I’m sure you have heard the expression “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”, that expression comes from telling the age of a horse. Horses have special tooth tendencies and markings that change with age.
Dogs are 7yrs (?) to 1 human year, but if my horse is 12yrs old, how many horse years does that put him at? Well, this is a little more complicated, you see its not all the same as dog years, because dog years you can give a blanket that each year is seven years our time, but with horses it differs. Their 1st year is equivalent to 8 human years. Their 2nd year to 5 human years (thus when they are 2yrs old, they are matured to 13yrs), their 3rd year is 4 human years (puts them at 17), their 4th year equal to 3 human years (so at 4 they are20yrs old and start proper work) and from 5 to 30 years of age, each year is equal to 2.5 human years. Confused? So am I. So let’s hit the next major question.

What is the cost of buying and looking after a horse?
Well, before I answer, first tell me what is the cost of buying a car? It really depends hey? That rust heap on the side of the road might cost you a couple of thousand (I’m in South Africa so will be talking RSA currency) and then probably wont work, or of course that larney Ferrari might cost you a couple of million. Same sort of thing goes with buying a horse, you might pay R2,000 for an old horse that should be retired, or you could pay up to R200,000+ for the winning racehorses.
As for the upkeep of a horse? On average just the cost of board and lodging (stabling and feed) it’s going to cost you R3,000 + to keep your horse. That is excluding any extras.
What extras you may ask? Well, vets bills (and yes horses do get sick), farrier’s bills, tack (the stuff you put on a horse to be able to comfortably ride it and control it), lessons and so on. Oh, and a lot of hard work because you don’t always have someone looking after the horse for you, often you have to muck out stables yourself. So horse riding might be for everyone, but owning a horse is not for all. And just a note about the generalization that horse owners are rich, in actual fact they might have had money when they bought their horse, but then the money disappeared.

What kind of weight can horses handle and how do you know?
This question normally stems from the fact that our establishment has a maximum weight limit of 80kgs. Unfortunately this means that about 40% of our possible clientele does not end up riding with us.
But what weight can horses really take? Lets answer it this way, how much weight can the average human being pick up? Ok, now, can the average human being carry that weight at speed? On soft beach sand? And for a distance of 12 or more kilometers? What about the non-average human being, maybe a 60 year old woman? You see it largely depends on the situation and the individual. Factors such as the breed (much like dogs have various breeds with traits that they are good at and traits they are bad at, so do horses), the health, age, and fitness levels of the specific horse all come into play. Now that really doesn’t tell you very much at all. Some stronger breeds of horses can take 150-200kgs. But not your average horse, I would say it’s not really safe to put more than about 100kgs on your average horse, then again, it all depends on that horse itself. Some people do a percentage of the horse’s weight and that is how much that horse can carry, I personally disagree with this theory as if your horse weighs 500kgs, but is 20yrs old and has not been ridden in a year, and that would be severely unkind to put someone 100kgs in weight onto that horse.
So then you may ask “how do we figure out how much weight a horse can handle safely and comfortably?” We let the horse tell us that! Sound strange? Well, we put light weight on the horse at first, and work our way up each ride till we think that the horse is at a suitable limit, if the horse however looks uncomfortable or in pain during or very shortly after a heavy rider (or any rider for that matter), we immediately lower the weight limit on that horse by about 15-20kgs.
Please keep in mind however that not only is it unkind and unsafe for a horse to carry an overweight person, but also according to medical practitioners, it is physically unsafe for the overweight person because if they fall, they will be falling harder and do more damage ultimately to themselves.

Well folks, that’s all I have time for at this present time. However, as I said, more soon. Should you have any questions you would like to know more about, feel free to email your question to me at