University of Vermont AAHS

Pitfalls of Leasing Camp Horses


by
Lucy Dillon*

It is absolutely vital that a lessor will trade horses back as there is invariably a situation that will arise when you cannot use a horse - be it on veterinary advice or due to an accident or that a particular horse is just not suited to a camp situation. Make sure that the lines of communication are open and that the lessor is willing to trade.

Speak to the lessor before Camp starts - make sure he knows exactly what is required for your particular camp. Whether you require trail horses only or lesson horses only or both and the ages of the kids you will be teaching. Let him know all of this so he can attempt to give you horses that are suitable for your particular camp. Don't ever just give the lessor half the story.

Speaking from experience... With our lessor (this was our first year with him) it was pretty easy to tell if the horses that were brought to Camp were lease horses or auction horses, mainly by their condition. If the horses were very poor and looked like they had been fairly shabbily treated, then they were usually auction horses. These are horses picked up at auction to fill camp orders, a common practice with some lessors. Also, if our horses did not have a brand on them, look out! The lessor actually told one of our wranglers that if horses didn't have a brand, they would be getting rid of them at the end of the season.

We traded back over 12 horses during the course of the summer and I eventually ended up with 30 workable horses. Also, to be fair to the lessor, I had not had any personal dealings with him, so therefore, I am not sure how much he was told about the program and how it operates. He came down a few times during the summer to check on horses and see for himself how the program was doing. He was impressed with the program, and the care and upkeep of his horses. However, at the beginning of summer, I had 30 horses that had not been ridden in a long time, and were straight off the pasture. I had two weeks before kids came in to get those horses in shape for an intensive Camp program. Every horse had to be ridden and evaluated and I had to attempt to place them accurately - e.g.: beginner horses, intermediate/advanced horses and trail horses. My main problem was manpower - not enough. Also, I was not prepared to put my wranglers in danger zones or what seemed to be danger zones simply to ride a suspicious, unknown horse. Obviously, wranglers are there to ride horses, but the main part of their job during the summer is teaching, not getting hurt trying out horses. These horses were meant to be there for a Camp program which means that kids should be able to ride every horse that is there.

The first horse I traded back was one that went ballistic during mounting. I had one of my wranglers lined up to ride him, but he looked fairly unruly, and I preferred not to put my wranglers in that position. Then I had a mare and a gelding that were inseparable and put everyone at considerable risk when attempting to separate them. Another horse was totally head shy - 20 minutes to get a bridle on him - no good for a Camp situation. Another horse was quite simply too strong for me or any of my wranglers to control when we had other responsibilities. We tried him a few times as lead on a trail, but you simply spent all your time and energy concentrating on the horse rather than on the kids on trail. One horse reared up and fell over on top of one of my wranglers. Another mare came to us with a neck that was totally out of alignment and obviously in pain. When this mare first arrived at camp, she reared up in the trailer and cracked her head on the top of the trailer, so maybe that was what did it. One mare went back on the advice of vets - navicular syndrome. Another horse was not suitable for children to ride because he was too light.

When lease horses first arrive at Camp, be armed with a camera and a pen and paper. Take photos of every horse (both front and side shots) and write down every marking and anything noticeable about the horse or the horse's condition. Don't forget to check their hooves for thrush or anything else. Keep these on file and you can add to them the whole time. I found these records important and used them the whole summer to write little bits of information. Whatever a horse did was always noted in the file. Any time the vet came to a particular horse, it went on that file. This became the beginning of the history of our horses with this lessor.

These files were also important in that if the lessor had anything to say about the condition that the horse came to camp in - you had evidence of what that horse looked like and what condition the horse was in when he/she first arrived.

We ended the summer with no incidents with children but I and the wranglers did two weeks of hard riding before camp. The benefit is that we look forward to the second year with 30 now familiar, really sweet, useful camp horses.

*Lucy Dillon is an AAHS Instructor and Clinician. She is from Australia, where she works on the family cattle station. For sport, she is a camp drafter (team penner to us). This past summer, she was director of a riding program at a large, west coast camp.


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