Skip to content

Off the beaten path

Riding, Owning, and Loving Horses, With Sue Duncan

This week we’re taking you “Off The Beaten Path” with Sue Duncan. Sue is a
former employee of BSFNRRA, and lives in Jamestown, TN. She has a tremendous
love for animals, especially horses. Sue has been riding horses for many years and
has ridden several disciplines.
She loves to trail ride, in parades, performing demonstrations such as side-saddle
riding, with her horse, use her horse for emotional support therapy and horse
shows. She especially loves to dress up her horse, “Janie”, who is 29 years old, for
horse show costume classes and parades.
We asked Sue what she thought was the best all-around-horse for riding. She
said it is not a specifi c breed issue. She advised that the horse and rider needs to be
suited for each other. And the horse needs to be capable of performing the chosen
task. She added that “some horses don’t need to be on a trail, and some horses
don’t need to be in the show ring.” If you are wanting to trail ride try to choose a
horse that is sure-footed. Some trail riders
choose to ride mules, and/or gaited mules.
Others swear by quarter horses, or other
non-gaited horses, such as appaloosas,
mustangs, arabians, etc. And then you have
the gaited horse lovers who won’t ride any
other breed.
When asked, “What is the fi rst thing you do
when you decide to go on a ride with your
horse?”, Sue told us, you need to decide
how long you want to ride, and where you
want to go. Once that decision has been
made, you need to determine the fi tness of
yourself and your horse to make sure the
both of you are able to make a successful
ride. Getting your horse in condition for
a trail ride at the start of the riding season
may take as much as a month to get him/
her into peak condition for riding. You need
to assess the horses body condition, make
sure shoes are in good condition, not loose
or ready to throw off . These assessments need to be made any time you plan to ride
your horse, not just trail-riding.
We asked Sue, “How do you know if your horse is not feeling well?” She told
us you need to look for signs of sluggishness, a droopy head, not eating and drinking
as usual, rolling, trembling, lameness, and any other unusual mannerisms are just
some of the red fl ags to look for. And this is not a complete list of signs the horse
isn’t feeling well. She says if you recognize any of these signs to take your horses
temperature fi rst. If you have a stethoscope examine your horse for gut sounds. If
elevated temperature, no gut sounds, or too much gut sounds contact your veterinarian
immediately. If you are unable to reach a veterinarian call someone who is more
knowledgeable about horses and horse health than you. If your horse is showing
signs of lameness you certainly do not want to ask him/her to work and aggravate
that problem. Again, you want to assess that situation and contact your veterinarian
or if it’s a lameness issue, you may wish to contact a farrier, as well, to identify the
Once you have determined that you and your horse are fi t for riding you need to
examine your tack and riding gear. Make sure it is in good repair. You do not want
to be several miles from civilization
and have a stirrup or other leather
break, then have to walk and lead
your horse for miles, back home or
to your trailer.
If you are heading out on a trail and
your horse is “green”, or inexperienced,
it is a very good idea to wear
a helmet. It is also a good idea to
have a friend(s) ride along, as well.
Inexperienced horses can easily
spook at things that you don’t even
expect, such as dogs on the trail,
backpackers, deer and other wildlife,
the scent of a bear, or even a plastic
bag. You should “ride defensively”
and expect the unexpected.
Sue told us that after she has chosen
where to ride, completed her assessments,
and organized her ride, as
to who will be going with her, other
preparation needs to be made. She
told us if you do plan to ride alone
make sure you fi le a “ride plan” with someone who will look for you, and know
where to look, in the event you do not return on time, or if your horse returns without
you. And always be sure to take a cell phone and secure it onto yourself, not
on your horse. If you are planning a ride longer than a couple hours other preparatory
plans should include additional items to take with you such as, drinks, snacks
for you and your horse, poncho, fi rst aid kit to include benedryl and epi pen, lead
rope, picket line, parachute cord for small repairs, etc., small tarp, fl ash light, knife,
coggins and health papers for your horse, easy boot, insect wipes for your horse,
and any necessary medicines you may need to take at specifi c times. And remember,
drinking water is essential to a ride of any length away from your barn/property.
While this is an extensive list, it may or may not be a complete list for your specifi c
ride. It is a good idea to make a check list for the items you need for various lengths
of rides. Depending on the ride you are planning, go back and review your list for a
ride of that length.
Make sure your horse has been vaccinated before taking him/her away from
your barn. This is an annual prevention and should be done before you start your
riding season.
Wear clothing suitable for the weather season. If you’re riding in the BSF gorge
the temperatures drop as the elevation drops. So in cooler weather you could possibly
need a light jacket. In extreme hot weather be cautious. Heat stroke can occur
for you or your horse if you are not conditioned for the temperatures. Be sure to
spray your clothing with insect repellent. The spray you use only on your clothing
seems to be more eff ective for deep woods riding. Also, it is a good idea to put a
“fl y bonnet” on your horse. The deer fl y is terrible in wooded areas and in the gorge
and the fl y bonnet helps to make your ride, and your horses ride more enjoyable.
Sue advised when you’re riding in the woods in a high traffi c area and you ride
upon a bandanna, hat, or other noticeable item laying in the trail, chances could be
that someone may have marked a yellow jackets nest for you. Avoid this area if
possible, and proceed with caution. Horses are not best friends with bees and hornets.
There are several fun activities that can be enjoyed on horseback. Sue told us
the past couple years she has enjoyed participating in the sport of “fox hunting”. In
America, fox hunting is also called “fox chasing”, as it is the practice of many hunts
not to actually kill the fox (the red fox is not regarded as a signifi cant pest). With
“fox hunting”, you go out with a group of people, and she said there are several
categories in which you can participate for your experience level. Since there is running,
galloping and jumping involved in this sport we asked her if this sport could
be done on a gaited horse. She confi rmed that it can. She did say in this sport the
dogs are not called dogs, they are referred to as “hounds”.
Sue says the most favorite thing for her, about owning a horse, is the joy they
bring back to you. Some of these horses can form such an enormous bond with you,
it is unmatched by anything other than possibly, a dog. It’s the peace you feel from
just being in the presence of the animal.
We asked Sue how does a fi rst-time horse owner go about choosing and buying
a horse. She advised that the prospective new owner get to know some of the
horse owners and stable owners in the area. Learn about horses and decide what it
is they want to do as far as riding or owning a horse. View some videos on owning
and training your horse. There are a lot of good trainers out there and if you want
to become a horse owner watching these videos is time well-spent. Sue told us
about a very popular trainer who once said it takes years to completely train a horse.
They’re always learning, as is the owner/rider. When training you hope to get 1%
per day for100 days to reach your 100%. But that doesn’t mean you’re going to get
100 days in a row. Sometimes you go backwards. Then you have to go back and
repeat that lesson again. But to get to that 100% you need 100 good days. And at
that point you have only reached a beginning.
It’s a good idea to desensitize your horse as much as possible, to all types of touching
and sounds. And remember, what you teach on one side of your horse you need
to teach on the other side as well. Sue advises to spend quality time with your
horse. Play horse games …brush and groom them…spend time just being where they
are. Let them learn to love having you in their space. If your horse misbehaves, you
have about three (3) seconds to let them know their behavior was not acceptable.
This does not require hitting or abusing your horse. A mere stern voice or a brisk
tug on their lead lets them know they did wrong. Horses play off of peoples emotions,
so radical reactions to something
they did wrong can actually
take you backwards in your training
and in your relationship with your
Sue told us that not every horse
may require professional training.
Depending on the age of the horse
and the horses history, a person who
has put forth the eff ort to educate
themselves about horses can often
times spend enough time to form a
bond with their horse and become
successful in teaching their horse
various things.
We asked Sue what her feelings
are about getting a horse for a child.
She told us that giving a horse to a
child can be a wonderful experience
for the child, and the horse. However,
she feels that the child needs to
be old enough to ride and care for the
horse, and accept the responsibility of
the horses daily needs, such as feeding
and watering, grooming, cleaning
the stall, keeping tack clean and in order, among other things. She also added that
horses are very therapeutic for anyone, not just children.
Sue advised that when a fi rst-time horse owner is preparing to learn to ride they
should seek out a professional instructor/horseman for riding instruction. She says
just because a person owns a horse, that does not make them a professional . She
says they should get recommendations from local tack stores and other people who
own horses about who would be the most recommended instructor in the area. She
also added that a new or prospective fi rst-time horse owner may consider off ering
some of their time to a local stable to help out with barn/stable chores. Spending
time in this environment could become valuable knowledge and experience for a
new horse owner.
If you love horses but don’t want to be a horse owner look for a reputable riding
stable in your area where you can go ride and enjoy the animal without the responsibility
and expense of owning a horse. We asked Sue if loving horses is a life-long
affl iction. She replied, “It is truly a love
without end.”
“There is something about the outside of a
horse that is good for the inside of a man.”
-Winston S. Churchill

Leave a Comment