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Horsemanship - Why Learn To Ride?

( Originally Published 1962 )

KNOWLEDGE SPELLS SAFETY OR AT LEAST THE ABILITY TO AVOID unnecessary danger. Too many people realize the importance of proper riding technique only after they have had their first accident. Even then, some of them can see only one reason for their troubles—the horse did not perform as he should have.

Horseback riding looks so easy that one gets a feeling of security—a dangerously false one—after two or three uneventful hours on a broken-down hayrack. It is this type of customer that makes life miserable for stable owners by insisting that nothing but the most spirited race horse is good enough for him. No wonder there are big signs warning: "You ride at your own risk." Safety depends entirely on the rider's ability to control his mount. If practically every-thing is left to the horse something unpleasant will happen sooner or later, even if every precaution is taken in selecting the right type of horse. The most docile nag is not immune to stumbles, falls, or fright. It is safe to say that go per cent of the common accidents can be avoided, not by threatening the stable with lawsuits but by demanding something besides blank ignorance from the rider. How many of our horsemen who ride for health but risk their own necks know such essentials of safety as how to stop a runaway, prevent bucking, quiet a frisky, nervous youngster, or overcome balkiness? It will, no doubt, surprise most of them that these difficulties can be overcome successfully even by beginners and children.

A certain amount of exercise, pleasure, and fresh air is the reward of anybody who rides a mule, a donkey, or a horse, regardless of lack of technique—provided no accidents occur. Nevertheless the ignorant rider will never know what makes riding the most fascinating of sports. He will never experience the heady exhilaration that comes only with perfect control of the power, spirit, and courage that a good horse displays to those who understand him.

Most people take pride in looking their best under all circumstances. Why shouldn't this be true on the bridle path? It is perhaps fortunate that most Sunday riders are blissfully ignorant of how funny they look. The countryside is made hideous by swarms of riders clinging to their saddles with painful unawareness of grace and attractive appearance. Some get their ideas from Wild West movies and try to imitate the cowboy's seat even when they are using flat saddles. Others have obviously been to the races for their education in horsemanship and are glorying in a kind of jockey seat, with tempo to match. Most of them spend their hour of horseback riding alternately floating above the saddle and coming into violent contact with it. The fundamental laws of gravity and equilibrium have ceased to exist as far as they are concerned. Nevertheless they will walk bowlegged and talk with authority to friends and admirers about all matters equestrian. Sometimes I wonder if a system of mirrors along bridle paths and riding rings would not do more for good horsemanship than all the instructors in the world put together.

No worth-while sport can hold the interest of its participants unless its nature and rules are thoroughly understood.

Riding is one of the most demanding of all sports, but it offers in return innumerable rewards for mind and body. The person who is satisfied with merely knowing how to hang onto a gentle horse will never take more than a cursory interest in riding. On the other hand, the person who is blessed with sufficient curiosity and intelligence to tackle problems the right way from the start will never lose interest. He will enjoy the pleasures and benefits of riding just as much at seventy-five as he does at twenty. Science and experience have shown that no other form of recreation keeps the mind and body as youthful as riding does. It is a sport that requires constant alertness. It develops co-ordination as effectively as Swedish gymnastics. It is not limited to the development of strong and supple muscles but will also contribute to normal functioning of the internal organs. This fact explains why heavy people reduce and underweight ones build themselves up by riding regularly. It also explains the extraordinary feeling of well-being that always follows a brisk morning canter.

From the horse's point of view the difference between an educated rider in the saddle and an ignorant one is the difference between pleasure and play and tormented slavery. He is punished at every step with a heavy thump on his back and violent jerks on his mouth. He is punished for trying to do his best and for not understanding what his rider wants because the rider does not know how to make him understand. He is run beyond endurance because the rider does not know the difference between a horse and an automobile. He is kept pounding over hard roads and stony paths until his feet are as sore as boils because the stupid rider does not know that the inside of his hoofs is soft and sensitive. He is punished with a sore back and painful kidney trouble because the rider does not know enough to keep his weight forward in the saddle.

The ignorant rider has a hazy idea that as long as he does not hit a horse on the head with a club or kick him in the stomach with the toe of his boot he is not abusing him. The horse could tell a very different story.

The good horseman knows how to save his horse from things that will hurt him, how to make his work pleasant and easy, how to make him give his best willingly and gladly. Only by knowing how to avoid punishing and abusing a horse is it possible to get a good ride and a safe one.

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