Written by: Doug Breen

Humour columnist Doug Breen offers advice to horse sport newcomers.

Thumbnail for Humour: PhD (Poor Horse Daddy)

Tommy Truong illustration

Last weekend, at a Bantam football game, there was very nearly a donnybrook because a couple moms got hollering at each other like they were on a Jerry Springer episode. There were references to trailer parks, random threats of physical malfeasance, lots of finger waving and that side-to-side head bobbing thing that women do. An unusually high number of parents with their kids in sports are remarkably unstable. If you don’t know what I mean, go to YouTube, and type in hockey parents fighting – there will be countless hours of the most juvenile behaviour you can possibly imagine. I’ve never seen a fight break out at a horse show – just a lot of passive aggressive over-politeness.

At the other end of the spectrum, are house league soccer parents. They show up five minutes before the game, with a fresh Tim Horton’s in one hand and a Tupperware container in the other, filled with enough healthy snacks for the entire team. The goal is to be in and out in an hour, with no concern for the game whatsoever, and back into the minivan for lactose-free frozen yogurt on the way home. We don’t even keep score in soccer in Ontario, until they’re in high school.

The parents of kids that ride are fairly evenly scattered along the continuum between nutty goalie dad behind the net, mimicking the proper stance and movement of their kid on the ice – and the soccer mom on the cell phone, facing away from the field, making brunch plans for the weekend. But regardless of how “involved” parents want to be in their kids’ riding experience, there are some things that we really ought to tell people before they get started. At least, these are things that I wish my wife had told me going in.

The first trick is figuring out what poker table you’re sitting at. Some barns will be perfectly happy to let you take a couple lessons a month and that’s it – that’s a $100/month poker table. But many barns will expect you to take a lesson every week and go to a show once a month and have your own horse and trailer within a year – that’s a $1,000/month poker table. Both are fine tables, but woe to the Poor Horse Daddy (PhD) who sits down at the wrong table by mistake. It all ends with crying and Dickensian poverty either way.

Although you’re not likely to see two horse mothers screaming at each other at the exit gate, some are still little over the top. For example, we used to know a woman who kept a book on the preferences and tendencies of every “A” circuit hunter judge in our region. She’d know before the competition even started whether that judge preferred tall vs. stocky, fast vs. slow, or hated all greys. She’d call to find out who the judge was going to be before she’d decide whether to enter her daughter in a show.

On the other hand, many horse parents (I’d put myself in this group), have absolutely no idea what is happening, but have just decided that they’re willing to spend the money, because it makes their kids happy to ride. Lots of minor sports could benefit from having a bunch of parents like that. Figure out which one you are and gravitate to the similar minded, or it will be a long summer in a lawn chair beside a ring, tolerating people you don’t like, and listening to them talk about things you don’t care about.

There will be someone in your child’s lesson wearing a $700 helmet, but you don’t need one. The $50 helmet on sale at the tack store has exactly the same CSA safety sticker on it. It’s like a Coach purse – a shopping bag will serve exactly the same purpose, and it costs five cents. The $700 helmet will in no way make her a better rider; although, in a hunter show, she will probably win. In a jumper show, the $700 helmet is usually beaten by a kid wearing a $50 helmet with no cover and the peak busted off. That always makes me very happy. Same goes for riding pants, boots, gloves.

The saddle that you help your child put on the lesson pony, is often worth more than the lesson pony. There are $50,000 horses, $5,000 horses and $500 horses – guess which one your kid’s on. Unless, of course, your daughter falls in love with it, and the barn is willing to sell it to you…then it will suddenly be worth $5,000. The truth is, that lesson pony your child rides will either be a $500 pony or a 50-year-old $50,000 one. They don’t let 13-year-olds test drive Jaguars.

Every time a riding coach tells you that your kid has potential, it will cost you $1,000. I just walk around with a blank cheque in my wallet at all times, in case somebody offers one of them a compliment. And they all have the PERFECT horse for your child that they hate to part with, but would be willing to sell it to you for – you guessed it – $5,000. See the paragraph above, to see what it’s really worth. Just like boats, cottages and vacation homes in Florida, the best ones are ones that other people own, but you have access to.

When people sign up for rep hockey or house league soccer, they know what they’re getting in to. But when they bring their wide-eyed youngster to their first riding lesson, most haven’t a clue what’s about to happen. We really need to spend more time finding out what the happy people, new to this adventure, are looking for and guiding them in the appropriate direction. After all, there’s no way that they could ever know what questions to ask.