The first rule of horses for the person who has done much with them – learn from a professional. Horses are NOT a subject you can pick up a book and learn about without some hands-on help from someone who knows equines. I’ve taught riding for a number of years (don’t any longer) and have owned and even bred horses, and I don’t necessarily have all the knowledge I’d need in a SHTF situation. If you’ve never interacted with horses before, you won’t pick the knowledge up easily and safely post-SHTF without a great deal of luck. And don’t assume that just because a person has had horses for years that they can teach you well. Teaching is a skill that not everyone has, and the ability to break down skills you just “know” into easily taught and communicated lessons is hard to acquire!
The second most important point of horsemanship … horses are herd animals. And they are prey animals. This makes them fundamentally different than most common pets, such as cats or dogs. Although dogs are pack animals, they are predators, and behave radically different than horses do. (And the less said about cat behavior/training, the better.) Horses do have a herd hierarchy, and it is important, but they aren’t nearly as “alpha” oriented as dogs. Dogs take humans as their alpha and are prone to fawning on us. No horse behaves like that; there is no fawning in the herd. There usually is a herd mare, and in the wild, a herd stallion, but unlike wolves, the roles are very different for horses. Humans don’t really “fit” into the herd structure nearly as well as they do into a dog’s pack mentality.
Along with that, it’s also important to remember that horses ARE prey. They can and will be scared of people, even though we’re much smaller than they are. Remember, they are preyed on in the wild by things that don’t mass much more than we do. So sudden movements, loud noises, or the like by humans can trigger a horse’s “flight or fight” response. This can lead to dangerous situations, especially if the person triggering the response has penned a horse into a spot where they can’t flee and feel they must “fight”.
Horses, even though they are prey animals, will fight at need. Usually, this is between animals in the herd, but they will also fight back at humans if pressed hard enough. Stallions, and by extension geldings, will usually rear up, bite, and strike out with the front feet. Mares, however, usually kick out with their back feet. Keeping these differences in mind can help a bunch when dealing with horses. The easiest thing to remember is to watch those back feet on mares!
No beginner should handle a stallion without supervision. Period. This does not mean stallions are mean or vicious, just that they have special considerations and they are definitely not for the beginner. All that testosterone really does make them somewhat different!
Because horses are herd animals, they feel safest in a group. Trying to take one horse away from its herd can be difficult and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. Likewise, getting into the middle of a herd of loose horses can be dangerous if you are a beginner – you can’t read the body language and tell when things might happen that you’d be caught in the middle of. Getting between two mares who are ticked off at each other is not a good place to be!
Now that I’ve scared everyone out of their minds, let me point out the many good points of horses in a SHTF situation. They are an important source of power in a grid down situation, not to mention transportation. It is a good idea to acquire at least the modicum of horse knowledge if you can, just so you can be ahead of the game. Most well trained horses will deal with an owner of “intermediate knowledge” reasonably well, and it doesn’t take long to acquire the basic knowledge needed to ride, control, and take care of a well-behaved horse. This level of knowledge isn’t enough to train horses or breed them, but it would be good knowledge to know prior to any sort of long term SHTF situation. Luckily, most areas have someone who is teaching riding lessons, and any competent and ethical teacher will insist on teaching horse care and handling as well as riding. If your prospective teacher doesn’t want you to learn how to saddle, handle, or take care of a horse, then they are not worth paying for the lessons.
Personally, I’d consider that everyone should be comfortable with controlling a horse both on the ground and on horseback. You should be able to pick a horse’s hooves clean, saddle, bridle, groom, catch, release, and move horses on the ground. You should be comfortable with riding a horse at all three gaits (speeds, for non-horse-people – they are walk, trot, canter/lope in increasing speed. Gallop is just a fast canter) both alone and in a group. (It’s significantly more difficult to ride a horse alone or away from a group due to their herd nature). You should have the basic ideas of what to feed a horse, and what NOT to feed a horse, as well as when it’s safe to water them. Basic health care is a plus, as well as a basic idea of how to trim feet. Shoeing is something that is better left to the professionals.
Saddle basics Western
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Some more horse basics
Cleaning and Protecting the leather
Cleaning & Protecting your Leather:
Each time you use your leather equipment, wipe it down with a soft cloth when you are done. This will remove any dirt or dust accumulated during it's use, which will decrease the possibility of mold growth and rotting.
Once per week or so, do a thorough cleaning of all your leather items. Start by applying saddle soap. Use a sponge to rub the saddle soap into the leather well. Then, use a damp wash cloth to wipe off the excess saddle soap from the leather. Use another sponge or wash cloth to immediately rub into the leather a good quality leather oil to help preserve the leather's natural oils.
Always store your leather items in a dry, non-humid area to prevent mold and mildew growth. When possible, use a saddle cover or bridle bag to keep your clean leather items in, so that dust and dirt cannot settle on them and grow mold. If you do not have a saddle cover or bridle bag, or cannot afford them, you can make them yourself fairly easily. Use an old sheet or pillowcase for a bridle bag. Just place the pillowcase over your bridles/halters the same way you would with a pillow. Then, hang it on your bridle rack. To cover your saddle drape a clean sheet, pillowcase, or saddle pad over your saddle when it is not in use.
Reviving Soaked or Moldy Leather:
So, what do you do in the event of an accidental drenching or mold growing? The very first thing, is to bring the leather indoors and into an area that is dry and non-humid. Then, use a damp cloth to wipe away any mold or excess water from the leather. When wiping away mold, be sure to rinse the cloth often so you do not spread any bacteria from one area of the leather to another.
Then, use an extra amount of saddle soap while you scrub the leather with a sponge. There should be enough saddle soap that it gets all sudsed-up or "frothy". Rub the saddle soap into the leather very well. Then, use a clean, damp cloth to remove excess saddle soap from the leather. Finally, apply a good coat of quality leather oil to preserve the natural oils in the leather.
If you have taken very good care of your leather equipment, it should bounce back from an accidental drenching or mold growing nicely. However, if you have neglected to take proper care of your leather equipment, it may not bounce back so easily. Extra care will need to be in place.