What in the world is an OPH?!? The acronym, coined by my friend Linda is for Other People’s Horse. The OPH comes in handy when your horse is out of commission or you are between horses, maybe you are a first time distance rider and some “friend” conned you onto an OPH to get you hooked, maybe you want to travel and need a race to justify the plane ticket, maybe you need some more rides to qualify for a certain event. Whatever it is, the OPH is not like riding your own horse.
I got my start in the sport thanks to the existence of OPHs. I have flown across oceans to sit on top of OPHs. I have begged and pleaded for OPHs when Bentley is NQR. I have even flipped the coin and offered Bentley out as an OPH when we need a RNT sponsor or I have a friend coming to visit. Having been on both sides of the coin, I have compiled some tips for the aspiring OPH rider.
1. Do your homework
Don’t expect the owner of the horse to do all your paperwork. Whether you ask for the ride or they ask you, make sure you have all your memberships and insurance up to date and complete. Check with the owner of the horse if they would like to submit the entry or if you submit the entry. Who is paying for the entry fee? Are you paying for anything else? (day lease, shoes, any additional horse paperwork?). If time allows, work this out several weeks in advance.
2. Arrive Prepared
Talk with the owner of the horse in advance to find out what you need to bring. Does the horse have it’s own tack or will you need to bring yours? Is the owner bringing an enclosure? Food? Electrolytes? If you are flying overseas to ride, what is provided for you? Do you need to bring your own food, arrange accommodations or bring a tent and a bedroll? Is there a crew kit that you can use or do you need to bring that too? Don’t forget to print out all that paperwork you have already done so!
3. Ask all the questions
Whether you are riding with the owner of the horse or alone, have crew or not, its important to ask questions about your horse prior to mounting. You can never ask too many questions and you can never ask a stupid one… its just not possible. Here are some of my standard Qs:
- What are your expectations for us?
- What is an average finish time for this horse (and/or last finish time)?
- How quickly do they tend to recover in these weather and terrain conditions?
- Do they have any common “Not normals” which are ok (IE inversion, saddle slipping to the side, fussy eater, doesn’t drink at first trough, or certain things on the vet card that could be usual – like a minus on a certain gut quadrant, or maybe their skin tent is slower than the average horse)
- Do they have any common “Not normals” which need to be managed or could indicate a problem? (are they prone to thumps, do they trip or get crooked when tired, do they get girth galls or interfere on the legs easily, etc), How honest are they in telling you something is wrong?
- Does the horse have a preferred pace, gait, and or place in the group?
- Are there any terrain factors that you need to accommodate? Things like running by foot down hills, walking gravel roads, are they likely to kneecap you on a tree in the forest?
- Does the horse have any friends, enemies, or frenemies that they need to avoid?
- What is your electrolyting protocol? Holds only? In food or via syringe? Before or after eating? Do they like their elytes so much they may just chow down on the syringe and fingers attached? Is there a certain routine the horse is used to following in the crew area?
- Do they eat, drink, pee, poop well or will I need to dress up the food with extra yum yums? Do they prefer water from troughs or puddles or streams? Do they pee when you whistle? Are they going to slam on the breaks and launch me when it comes time for #2?
- Is there anything I might do that will get me dumped or have them hate my guts for 50 miles? (think things like putting a jacket on while mounted, getting caught in the pack at the start, how much contact with their mouth, will they walk through a puddle, will I get kicked if I sponge between the legs?)
- Anything else I need to know?
4. Be the rider you want on your horse
None of us are perfect, and add Rider Brain into the equation and we probably aren’t our best selves. That being said, while you should always treat your horse with dignity and respect its even more so when you are riding an OPH because you are not the one who will suffer the consequences down the line from a poor ride.
Imagine the person you would want to put on your horse – for me its someone who is bold but kind, and will always put his needs first while not being afraid to discipline when he takes advantage. Whatever it is for you, be that rider!
Its very hard to trust an animal you have only just met to carry you 50+ miles, likely in foreign territory. Its also very difficult to get through the mental hurdle of disciplining or pushing a horse that doesn’t belong to you (which you will have to do, no owner wants to get a horse back that has learned to be pushy or other new bad habits from a lousy rider). There is a fine balance, but I find if I just go back to this guiding principle when I experience a bad moment, I can make it work… you can too.
One last note on this too – being the rider also goes back to homework. Take lots of lessons at home, enroll in every clinic and training session available, volunteer and learn from everyone. Your education is paramount on an OPH.
5. Be Thankful and Grateful
It should go without saying right?! Its important to smile and thank the owner for allowing you to climb aboard their 4-legged furbaby (even if furbaby acts like an idiot for 50 miles or you get pelted for 8 hours with dime sized hail). Make sure to thank them lots and gifts don’t hurt! They don’t have to be big: a bottle of wine, a souvenir from your home, a gift card (If anyone’s asking I like Starbucks!), or something special from the heart – like an Eat Sleep Ride Repeat shirt – just sayin’. Leave any attitude at home, don’t act like you are doing them a favour, and offer to help wherever you can.
If you have the pleasure of being offered a ride on an OPH, take my advice and go for it! It may be a little scary at first, but its a wonderful way to improve your skills as a rider and see the world.
Until next time… I will be in BC riding some OPHs! Happy riding guys!