Updated: Apr 17, 2020
When I was a kid...long before the worries of liability insurance and non-pro eligibility...there was a breed of kid called The Barn Rats. Barn Rats were youth who had an overwhelming desire to learn, but limited funds to pay for lessons, horses and tack. They were willing to work hard for a trainer to earn lessons, rides on horses and the privilege to possibly show. The hours were long and the work was hard, but these rare souls showed up every day to do it just so they could ride.
Lessons Learned On The Ranch
I consider myself fortunate to have grown up on a ranch. From the time I can remember, I've known the hard work of caring for animals and the satisfaction of a good day's work. I never received an "allowance" growing up. My sister, Shannon, and I were expected to work along with everyone else to get things done. When money was tight, we all "buckled down" and worked for a positive outcome. We irrigated pastures and hay crops, put up that hay, built fence, took turns night checking during calving and lambing season, mucked out barns by hand, worked cattle, trained horses and every other task that needed doing. We didn't do it for money, we did it because it needed doing. We took pride in our work and when it came time to sell calves and lambs in the Fall, we were always excited to see how much they would bring. A successful crop of young livestock meant success for our family.
Our family wasn't wealthy by any means, but my sister and I were mounted on some really nice horses. We were each given a foal from my Dad's good rodeo mare, Delomy. After that, we were responsible to buy our own. We felt so honored to own those horses. We learned to give them the very best care and conditioning. We trained them ourselves(after a short start by our Dad) and I ended up making a career in the horse industry. My sister and I both learned the joys and heartbreak, successes and failures of raising and training up our own horses. No one handed us made horses, we had to earn it. We wouldn't have had it any other way.
Left to Right: Tammy(6 years old) grooming sale colts before the Gauger Quarter Horses Production Sale, Tammy (4 years old) heading out to gather heifers to corral for the night riding home-raised gelding Roni Pony(2 years old), Tammy(7 years old-photo caption is incorrect) competing at the Jim Bridger Days Youth Rodeo riding home-raised gelding Del's Blue Streak(4 years old).
Though we were competitive, we also loved hanging out with the other competitors, lending a piece of tack when someone forgot something, helping each other get ready to run and supporting one another when things didn't go to plan. I always considered it a privilege to be riding and competing, never an entitlement.
Help Wanted - No "Sissy La-La's Need Apply..."
As a professional trainer, it's difficult to find good help around the barn. Young adults and kids today have an unprecedented sense of entitlement. Many expect to show up, ride their horse and leave. They don't know how to take care of their horse, what he eats, how to tell when he's not feeling well or lame. They have no sense of gratitude for getting the opportunity to ride and haven't learned how to really develop a relationship with a horse because of it. I've gone through PILES of high school and college students who say they want to work for me to learn my system. In the end, the price was too high for most of them. Cleaning pens, grooming horses, cleaning tack, packing trailers, hauling feed, checking fence, saddling and cooling out horses - these things were NOT what they wanted to be doing! All they wanted to do was ride - but even then not too many and DEFINITELY none that had issues to work on! They were not up to putting in the hours it takes to learn all there is to being a true Horseman. If I have to follow behind and check their work, I may as well be doing it myself, so those kids didn't last long.
For the intrepid few who survived, the rewards were great...
Left to Right: Wyatt Blackmore serving as a Groom for Heart T Ranch riders at a jumping show; Wyatt catching and saddling horses for me at Heart T Ranch(that's right...that Cowboy can tack an English horse just as well as a Western and give English riders a leg up when there is no mounting block! Horsemanship knows no separate disciplines); Sydney Anderson helping with a Sales Photo Shoot at Heart T Ranch.
I think it's a lot harder to raise kids up with The Cowboy Way today than when I was growing up. Society today lends itself to coddling kids and young adults, allowing them to develop a sense of entitlement never before witnessed in our country. Everyone gets a trophy. The honor of striving for excellence is dampened by the attempt to make the lazy and complacent feel valuable. Kids bully one another, spend more time in front of a screen than interacting with other human beings face to face. It's a disturbing trend. I see a whole generation of young people emerging who have seriously hampered interpersonal relationship skills, little or no sense of responsibility and lack of respect for other human beings.
If you follow my Blog, you know how I feel about Riding For The Brand. I don't ask my working students to do anything I don't do myself. We all get down in the trenches and do the dirty work. Kids are expected to conduct themselves professionally, be polite and courteous. They will answer when spoken to and be respectful of adults and other competitors alike.
The kids who step up to meet these expectations develop great communication skills and learn to feel comfortable speaking to anyone about what they are doing.
In 2013, Sydney was 9 years old. Her parents had invested in Brand's Famous Keys for her and Sydney showed the mare(only a 5 year old...)in Dressage that summer. Since she was competing in pony classes, the pony had to go through official measurement with a USEF Steward. We were showing at a big show in Parker, Colorado the first time the pony was measured. I had instructed Sydney on how to present her pony and off we went to the measurement. When we arrived, Sydney was the ONLY kid there! The other ponies were presented by trainers. Sydney marched her pony up to the Steward and said, "Hi! I'm Sydney Leigh Anderson and this is Brand's Famous Keys! We are competing in Youth Pony Training Level Tests 2 and 3!" The Steward was wonderful. I handed her the paperwork and Sydney put her pony through the inspection herself, answering all the questions articulately and professionally. When we were finished, Sydney headed back to the stalls with her Mom and her Pony.
The Steward said to me, "You've got a rare one there..."
"I know..." I replied!
Syd mixing supplements(age 11), Syd body clipping horses (age 12 and 16)
I think one of the most important things for kids to learn from their experience working with horses is how to have fun doing it! My chosen career is full of difficult, physical labor. It simply can't be avoided. I enjoy having my hand in EVERY part of managing my horses, their care and their environment. I strive to teach my working students to have that same joy for the work.
If you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work.
Life Lessons: 1)Make sure there is plenty of pizza when you are body clipping a barn full of horses 2)Laugh Often 3)There is ALWAYS time for ice cream...
The Unfiltered Equestrian Podcast - April Edition will feature Heart T Ranch student Sydney Anderson. Sydney turned 16 in March 2020 and has been a student of Heart T Ranch for 10 years. Join us as she talks about growing up on her family's ranch, working to help pay her way in the expensive world of English riding and what she has gained from her experience. She'll be talking about her horses, goals, challenges and success in this heartfelt, entertaining interview.
Listen to Reflections Of A Barn Rat HERE.
SO...if your kid wants to learn to ride, encourage them to be a Barn Rat! They'll likely learn more about themselves than they will about horses.