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The Back Up Horse

Have you ever noticed that the moment you say “never”, life throws you into a situation to change your mind? The Universe sure is a funny thing.

I’ve never understood the idea of having a back up horse. A horse that isn’t your main mount, but is rideable for the times when you want to and your main mount isn’t able. I mean, I had Gem – a horse who is always sound and has the ability to work more than I ever have the time to work her. Any time I wanted to ride, it was as simple as tacking her up and going. Well, maybe not quite that simple as some days it took me 40 minutes to catch her and the rides were anything but “easy” but physically she was always there when I could ride. What would I have ever done with a back up horse besides pay to board it? I barely found the time to keep Gem in consistent work.

My Gemmie. She still has my heart even if I’m happy to not be riding her

But then Doofus entered my life and has been out of commission more than in and when I looked down and saw that missing shoe I lost it. Poor Hubby got the brunt of it with his ill timed call and by the end of my spewing rage at the Universe in general, Doofus in specific, he told me to go and buy a second riding horse, remove the shoes from Doofus, let his hooves grow out as originally planned while out in the pasture being mindfully ignored until next summer, and be done with this nonsense.

And I finally get it. I understand the need for a back up horse. Thanks Life for the lesson.

Saw this little filly up for sale for $600. She is the spitting image of my Gem.

It is tempting.  I went so far as to specifically lay out in my mind what I would want: 15 yo, been there done that, no spook/rear/bolt/kick/bite, has experience at BN xc or in the jumper ring to 2’6″, goes out on trails alone or in a group. SOUND. Barefoot. Basically what I was looking for when I decided on H’Appy only double the age because the back up horse wouldn’t need to be my main mount for the next 10-15 years as I hoped H’Appy would be (I still think if he lives to 10 I will be lucky).

This face. It is 100% Gem staring at me in itty bitty filly form. I came this close to getting my truck and trailer and buying her. She is 30 minutes from me. I could raise her my way. Send her to a good trainer. But yeah…doesn’t solve my riding problem of the moment.

I looked through sales pages again. Found a mare I really, really liked and went so far as to contact the seller and set up a test ride (she sold later that same day) and tracked down a horse Trainer recommended as a BN packer type (he requires a lot of maintenance though and that doesn’t qualify for a back up horse in my mind).

And then Sunday I shoved his barefoot hoof into the boot and went for a ride. Was it perfect? No, Doofus is still Doofus and while not exactly the horse I thought I was buying I know he is in there and can feel in my gut that he is worth sticking with. I’m excited to see where we will be in a year if he stays sound, injury free and with shoes on.

Wyatt helps with horse chores. He can lead Gem all by himself while I take Pete or H’Appy. She is so good with him. I do love this mare.

I’m not ruling out getting a back up horse though. When the Hubby gives a green light to buy a horse I’d be stupid to completely ignore it. It is so very tempting with an injury prone PITA gelding that can’t keep his crap together long enough to get 3 rides in a week. Back up horse would be there, ready and able to to go when H’Appy found himself yet again laid up with some self induced trauma or another and I could get back to my own riding goals and progress.

The thing that holds me back is what on earth I would do when H’Appy decides to turn into a real horse, stop injuring himself and get with the program and now I have two horses that need ridden and one butt to do so. I don’t have a show barn with kids lining up for any free ride they can sneak in and I have enough trouble squeezing three rides in a week myself.

Happy Halloween! Dusty cut out plywood headstones and Wyatt and I painted them. He came up with all the sayings and hand painted all the words. He has difficulty with writing and I was so proud of him!

Like I said, I’m not ruling it out, but I’m not actively seeking it either. My eyes are open and I am ready to jump on something if it looks absolutely perfect, but I won’t be making an ISO ad or spending hours on the internet scrolling through sales ads. Most horses are out of my price range (back up horse also needs to be cheap), too young, or not experienced enough for what I want. We will see. I may look into a free lease option, but damn if I’m not too type A to handle having a horse I can’t call all the shots on.

Do any of you have a back up horse waiting in the wings for when your main mount goes rogue on you?Does it ease the stress of not being able to ride or add more when you see the horse and know you don’t have time because main mount is able bodied again?

51 thoughts on “The Back Up Horse”

  1. I mean…you have the pasture for more! 😉 Nab a packer and the filly! lol I am no help.

    For me, two horses in work is perfect. Each is a back up for the other and helps guarantee that neither is over-worked. Q and Grif were the perfect combo! But, enter: Stan. Unexpected so early, but definitely wasn’t going to turn him away! So now I have two back up rides at all times. It definitely helps on the days things aren’t quite to plan, but it does also stress me out that I can’t keep 3 horses in work the way I’d like to. Fortunately, Stan has nothing to prove and can sit for inordinate amounts of time with no issue. He’s perfect for friends or, if he ever deigns to ride, my husband. At 17.5 years old, it’s a good setup for the Stanimal and he’s pretty okay with being a mount for so many of my friends.

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    1. I want that filly. Badly. I hesitate because I know that look like the back of my hand and I’m not sure I want another 30 years of it.

      Hmmm…I may start looking a little harder. It has to be perfect though if it is going to work. A lot of horses are up right now so owners don’t have to feed them through the winter and older horses are cheaper typically. It may work.

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  2. Aw I love that picture of Gem and Wyatt! And how good it sounds like she is with 🙂
    I’m not much help either – when my pony foundered I didn’t have a backup of my own, but I was in a situation where I rode with an amazingly gracious trainer who didn’t have time for all of his horses. I know you mentioned free lease, but in my area leasing tends to fall more under ‘you take my horse for at least this time and you are responsible for all costs and decisions unless we agree otherwise.’ Obviously could totally be different where you’re at, but I hope regardless you can get more rides on H’Appy!

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  3. I am a proud owner of a back up horse because I have an off track thoroughbred that likes to injure himself in the pasture in freaky ways. My back up horse is actually a mule, and she has become my main riding horse because she is so good. She was given to me because she had a ligament injury, so I rehabbed her for seven months and then started riding her and she is perfect. She was a pack mule in Colorado and has been a trail horse for years and she packs me around like a champ. I’m definitely in favor of the back up horse because between the two of them something should always be sound to ride.

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  4. Oof yeah. With the way horses work, the second that you get a back up horse, H’Appy will be 100% sound and ready to go. I only have one because I can only afford one. I do know people who have successfully have one, greener horse and one older packer. The packer was expected to be their confidence booster for 2 – 3 years, where the greenie was expected to become the packer in 2 – 3 year… But I definitely couldnt muster up the time for two. I havent even been able to really keep one in full work!

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      1. Yes! I have seen that happen too. I knew one woman who had THREE horses, and all three broke at the same time… in the middle of competition season. >.<

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  5. Jet was supposed to be my backup horse (that and I just had to get her back anyway) and all around second horse (had a few friends ride her and when one of my barn mates had her granddaughter come visit, I offered to let her ride). Thing was, Mitch was never off so I actually had to make time to ride Jet and ended up doing a lot of ponying as a result. And then came the point when the main horse became the backup horse for the backup horse because of soundness issues.

    Which is where we are today, with her DSLD. I thought for a while my friend’s older Arab who I’ve been taking care of since she had her stroke, might transition into the backup horse, but alas he will never be riding sound due to his bowed tendon. So Mitch gets stuck with the daily riding (which is actually good for him) because with my schedule during the week, he isn’t ridden hard at all (I’d also venture to say hardly at all)

    At some point, the DSLD will become too much of a problem for Jet and I will have to say goodbye. Plans are being made to do something about my friend’s Arab because I cannot do free long term self care for him without getting burnout (and it isn’t a viable solution anyway as she really needs to make decisions about his future.) When all that happens, I’ll only have Mitch and can look at backup horses, although at this point, he is almost 20 and while I feel confident that Mitch can last another 10-15+ years (not ridden hard at all) with light work for at least half that time, any future goals I might have are going to become too demanding on him in the future. So I’d really like to get a youngster to transition into the backup/eventual replacement.

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      1. Yeah, decisions are tough. I know what needs to be done, at least as far as my mare, but it doesn’t make it easier. I’ve already come to terms with my choice for the Arab, and I hope his owner can continue to afford him, but it can’t be at my expense of free labor.

        I trust in Mitch though. He’s been rock solid this entire time, and I’m looking forward to more great times with him. (Which is why I’d want a younger horse … one that really shouldn’t be ridden much until like 5 or 6 which should be right about the point Mitch can gear down). But it’s hard to really imagine riding a horse other than Mitch. He’s been my go-to for so long.

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  6. Oof this is a tough one! A part of me says do it and then the adult part of me is like “what if new horse has issues?” But, you could also sell one horse if it gets to be too much… but who wants to sell a horse? Tough dilemma!

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    1. I think the biggest draw back for me is all the tack. I need a new saddle for H’Appy and if I did get a second horse if either the Thorowgood or new saddle didn’t fit I would have no money to buy anything else. The cost of the animal is always the least expensive part of the ordeal

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  7. I’ll be honest, having multiple horses is great when you have the time to ride, or when one is lame and you want to ride. But, for me, the reality is that most of the time, I don’t have the time to ride more than 1 horse and most of the time I am stretched to ride one horse. At this point in my life, I can’t keep 2 horses in work. A back up is great, but what happens when 2 horses need to be kept in work? Can a backup sit and just be pulled out ever 2-3 months? Batty can. But not all horses can. So for me, I love the idea of a backup horse, but in reality, at this point in my life, I can’t keep 2 horses in work.

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    1. I definitely can’t keep two in work. That’s why I was thinking of getting an older horse. One ready to step down and do light work. I don’t know though. It’d have to be the perfect horse to make it work

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  8. when charlie was recovering from surgery, i honestly began shopping in earnest for a second horse. i rationalized my budget, with possibly a not-so-insignificant degree of self deception haha, and convinced myself that i could jusssst barely swing it. so i started looking, found a couple nice prospects, talked them over with my trainer, started looking at times to go see them etc etc.

    eventually tho, i came to my senses. for me, time is my biggest limiting factor. charlie fills every single moment in my life that could possibly be dedicated to horses. i routinely spend 30min grooming him. sure, if i cut down on that kind of time suck, maybe i could fit two horses into the same amount of space…. but realistically that would mean a complete change in how i interact with my horse, and ultimately i decided that i didn’t really want that.

    it makes it crappy during times like these, when my main guy is down. at least right now this is temporary and only bc of my own choice to rest him, vs any sort of vet-mandated time off. and if i really needed saddle time i could hustle it up (like how i picked up the ride on velvet during charlie’s surgery recovery). mostly tho, i just want charlie. no other horse quite fills that brontosaurus-shaped space haha.

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    1. Part of my issue is that I’m not sold on the fact that Doofus is the horse I want to be honest. I’m pretty sure he is but I can’t work him consistently enough to know for sure. If it was during my Gem days I’d have said no way. Gem is my ride. But I’m not there with PITA

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  9. i think it is very tempting to get a back up but as everyone has said it is hard to ride one horse let alone 2. But if you find the right one (DO NOT BUY THE BABY LOL) go for it….

    It is tempting when you have the space you have and the barn you have 😉

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  10. I don’t think I know anyone with a backup horse but then again I don’t really know anyone with land either lol. I think it would be foolish to think he’ll always stay sound and injury free in my experience that never ever ever happens (Ramone who stayed sound while I owned him still managed to get into some weird scraps) how you let it effect you though is totally within your wheel house.

    Best of luck in this whole endeavor!

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    1. I guess I lucked out with Gem. In 9 years of active competition and training she only had one incident with a fence at a boarding barn. Not even a single scratch before that. Never a lameness even with the injury. It’s a big change for me to have to deal with all this because Gem never had a single vet call, abscess, or cur

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  11. Yours is the only blog that comes into my inbox as an email each time you post, and I get really excited when I get an “email” from you: )

    If you can only ride once a week or less, at least you don’t have to worry that your horse is pining for more work – you offer them a great lifestyle.

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  12. I’m very much a one person horse but I also board so it’s tough to even imagine being able to have more than one. At some point I do want to get another project/up and coming youngster and then hopefully Katai will be my back up but that’s still likely a few years away at this point 🙂

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  13. Don’t get the filly. Just internet stalk her lol. My few friends that have been lucky enough to have property end up collecting horses. I could see getting a backup horse, but mine would need to pack kids and hubby/ friends too. I agree with the free lease, issues, its rarely without the stress of owner vs leaser conflict.

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  14. I board, yet know many friends with barns that fill every stall with horses of all ages but never seem to find time to ride. I have had up to 3 horses at a time (despite the crazy cost of boarding) and I never want to do it again. The guilt of not giving sufficient time and attention to one of them was too much. And parting with them is always difficult, even impossible.

    Now Im back to being a one-horse person and I love it. While I spent extra $$$ getting better conformation and reducing my lameness risk, I definitely dont worry about needing a backup. Ive found that when my horse needs rest, its an opportunity to do something else (groundwork, travel, trail walking, learning golf).

    I want to give every available moment to my one-and-only horse, even if its just grooming and playing games.

    If you are really desperate to ride, find a nearby riding school and go take some lessons on school horses. You might be surprised at how cost effective it is and what those horses could teach you.

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    1. Lessons would be great. Trust me I’d love to ride a school horse. It’s next to impossible around me though. Everyone is a trainer that requires you to bring in your own horse or the few that have lesson horses only have day time hours available and I work.

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  15. I have three horses, none are a back up but I keep them all in work regularly. It is nice though, when one is out for something to always have another two to keep going forward with.

    I am always pro more horses lol

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  16. Don’t get the filly.

    I own a back-up horse. I currently ONLY own the back-up horse and am THRILLED about it. I wrote about that here: http://waitingforthejump.blogspot.com/2018/09/thank-you.html?m=1

    The worst that can happen is the backup horse needing more maintenance than the main horse. I thought Gracie would be my 100-miler horse until she was diagnosed with high ringbone 2 months into owning her. But I didn’t care: I had too much fun with her and was fine redirecting her into being my true all-arounder, which is what I REALLY wanted in a horse. I rode her in endurance but it was very expensive to maintain her competition sound. But again, I didn’t care because I genuinely adore her and had so much fun with her no matter what we were doing.

    Which leads me to H’Appy and the one thing no one else has said…and I’m going to be not-PC or not Blogland-approved or whatever and say it, in the gentlest way possible, and of course you can take it or leave it: but… if you don’t like the horse and he keeps coming up with issues, why keep him? Why get a back-up horse instead of just selling H’Appy and starting over with what you *really* want? There is nowhere that says you *have* to stick with a horse for the rest of his life if you buy him, especially if you don’t genuinely like him. Being in love with his potential is not the same as genuinely liking the horse right here, right now. There is no promise or guarantee that a horse will live up to the potential we see in them, especially when they are so injury prone.

    That’s just my 2 cents as the black sheep of Equestrian Blogland. I am mentioning it because I care; if I didn’t, I wouldn’t say anything. And like I said, take it or leave it, but I figured it can’t hurt to hear that this is a reasonable choice too. ❤

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    1. It is and is definitely something on my mind. It took me a year to like Gem and even though she hated the new direction my riding life took I wouldn’t trade her for the world. I threatened to sell her dozens of times in the first year of having her and I am so glad I never did. I’m a bit slow to warm up to a new animal in my life. Selling him isn’t off the table, but I want to give our relationship time before I do that.

      I’m not getting the filly. I have zero baby horse experience and zero money to sink into paying a good trainer to do it right. But she is cute.

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      1. It sucks you haven’t really had time to really evaluate your relationship with H’Appy. I know many bloggers tend to play up the snarky or happy go lucky side of owning horses, so I hesitate to judge their real feelings based on what they say. I know since I had kids, my feeling for animals has changed, more murky and less obvious. But there is that point. He could prob sell as a trail horse and you could find something else able to hold up to 3day.

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      2. I could sell him but if I do I’d like to know him better so I can give an accurate description of him to anyone interested.

        I’m not convinced that I want to yet so hopefully we can get in track together and figure this out

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  17. Chimi was my backup horse and now the only one I ride! My main girl (or who I originally wanted to be my main horse) is enjoying the life of retirement bc I can never keep her comfortable enough to be ridden sooooo yeah…

    I’d definitely talk to Janna and see if she has any ideas? She’s such a great resource and you never know what’ll show up on her radar!

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    1. The sad part is that in the 6 months I have had him, Janna has only seen him go twice when not lame. Ugh. Hopefully we can get together here soon and she can give me an honest opinion on our fit together.

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  18. We have had a back up horse for years. Non horse people would always ask why we owned 3 horses when there were only 2 of us and it’s exactly for this reason. Horse people know why though. Because 1 of them is always broken. I love having a backup. My husband was able to use Levi in a clinic last year when Eugene was injured. I used Levi all last year after Nilla got injured. We actually got Levi because Nilla really prefers to be ridden about 3 days a week while Eugene is 5-7. If you can find a back up horse that only wants/needs riding a few days a week, I say go for it. This is a hard time of year to buy/sell horses though. The best time is right after summer camps end. Have fun with the horse shopping.

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    1. Around here horse shopping is just picking up as fall hits and people want the horses gone before hay feeding starts for the winter. The other great time is February and March as those who wintered in Aiken are packing up to go back home and don’t want to take the horse back with them.

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