I’ve been having a fascinating discussion with Stella, whose blog, cavaliereattitude.wordpress.com, has a lot of well-considered and thought out insights.
Primarily, what is it that makes one a rider?
Well, of course, first off, you have to be nuts to begin with to get on the back of an animal that is far heavier, faster, stronger, and bigger than you. These critters believe that behind every tree and under every rock is a horse eating troll. They have survived this long by bolting at the first sign of them. Said trolls may be nothing more than a flying pigeon, a paper bag, or,once, in the case of my horse Jordan, an empty, dogless, dog house.
But horses that didn’t cut and run at the first scary thing didn’t live very long. Running fast and far and then turning to see what the hell was that kept them alive.
So let’s take it that one needs to first, be crazy enough to love horses like no other animal.
We want to borrow that indefinite quality about them, the one that makes us gasp when they run past us, the one that makes us feel like we’re in nirvana when we reach that state on their backs.
Being that horses don’t have handles, we have to find ways to stick atop them. So we invent things to help, as we are so wont. We put saddles on their back and wrap a strap around their belly to keep it on. We put a metal bit in their mouth and festoon a bridle on their head to keep it on the head and not the neck. We put metal shoes on their feet so that we may ride them over unnatural surfaces, although I believe the primary reason for shoes is to keep the little bent over man with a hammer in yachts and country estates. (this is not true, really. Farriers make miserable money, considering how hard they work. I will not diss a farrier.)
For whatever reason (actually, I do know the reason, but that’s biology, and this is not a biology blog), horses allow us to do this. Some even seem to enjoy it. Which argues that they aren’t as smart as we think they are. You never see a cat allowing one to saddle and bridle it. You know the old saying about he who rides the tiger…he can’t dismount because that cat is saying, ‘okay, buddy, you got it on me..but you ain’t gonna get it off without losing some meat.’
So now we are atop the horse. I prefer bareback, which a lot of folks think is crazy, so I’ll dismiss that portion for now.
If you ride in an English saddle, does that make you an English rider? How about an Australian saddle, a cross between English and Western? The Aussies can be some truly horse riding folks. Just watch “The Man from Snowy River”. Holy cats.
Western saddles and Mexican saddles are huge things. The old-fashioned riders used spade bits that looked like something out of the Spanish Inquisition.
Here in America, we seem to like to delineate these into categories. If you prefer a Western saddle, you become, by default, a western rider. You sit in a specific way, your reins are held in a certain manner, according to the fashion of the day. When I was a kid hopping on any horse I could, it was always wearing a western saddle, and the horse was steered via ‘neck reining.’ They don’t do that anymore, the western riders of today seem to have their hands waaay out in front of the horn, with no contact whatsoever. It looks very peculiar to me. And riding that way leaves me with no feeling of anything else but Oh shit I am about to fall off.
Or saddleseat: the Saddlebred rider has to wear an oversized tuxedo, sit on the saddle way back on the horse’s loins, virtually standing in the stirrups. The saddle itself has the pommel cutback so the withers are clear. Then they go belting around a ring doing something called a rack. This is not what the original Saddlebred was bred for, it was bred to be a riding horse. It is anything but now.
Then you have the varieties of English: “English”, “Hunt Seat”, and “Dressage”.
The saddles, then, are designed to accommodate whatever you can convince the horse to do, be it rack around a ring or tie a rope around the horn, the other end being attached to a severely pissed off cow (another species that couldn’t be convinced that it needed riding.). All these different styles of riding turn into camps, or perhaps tribes.
There’s some folks who steadfastly remain in their camp of choice. I think they’re afraid to even try to other styles, for fear of cooties, I suppose. Even though we’re supposedly domesticated, we humans are still highly xenophobic. So, at least here in America, if you ride Western, you must look down on the English rider. Dressage is too anal, English too sissy, and jumping a horse is just insane. The english faction look at western riders and comment that the saddle outweighs the rider, if slouching atop a horse could be called riding. The cutting folks have a western saddle with a horn that looks as if it could impale you if you were to fall onto it. One is actually allowed to hold onto it as one’s cutting horse is jumping beneath you . But confusingly, one is NOT allowed to hold onto the conventional, lower profile western saddle’s horn. Shame shame, even if the horn could have prevented one from being catapaulted. I don’t get it. The QH racing people pointedly avoid the arguments from their western progenitors when they put a QH on the track wearing a conventional, english looking racing plate, which is merely a piece of leather with two irons hanging from it. It looks english. No one who wants to win a horserace does so in a western saddle.
I have an ex husband who was utterly convinced that if he had a saddle that looked like the ones in the above named Australian movie, why, voil a’, he became as good a rider as they were.
Wrong. Which he learned the hard way, Magic Saddle or no. Smoke knew he was no rider.
That’s the point. It’s not the tack that makes the rider. It’s the horse that makes the rider. It’s a physical act. It’s finding one’s balance, keeping it, moving with the horse, in sympathy and harmony. That takes a long time to acquire. One has to fall off a couple of times. Riders know that somehow, someday, they are going to be hurt. (which is another indication that we’re all nutsycoocoo.)
It takes finding a horse with whom one can get along with. I guarantee you, if that horse doesn’t want you on his back, you aren’t going to stay there, not unless you’re Larry Mahan, and even he came off. Besides, he rode bulls, which is a TRULY INSANE thing to do, but is the best part of the rodeo, because seeing a bull stomp the shit out of a knucklehead bullrider can be wierdly exciting. It’s the one game where the animal has the best chance of winning.
We are breeding horses that are amenable to our doing things like tie saddles to their back and then make them jump over and over again. Some horses actually like it. (aka Tuffy, whom I shall write of soon)
So it’s not what style of riding that makes you and I riders. I see no reason to not mix and match tack. If I want to ride in a dressage saddle and the horse has a western spade bit in his mouth, what is wrong with that? (by the way, I won’t ever use a spade bit. I don’t trust myself to not hurt a horse with one.)
Well, okay. I won’t win shows. Oh DARN. That means I can save all the money and not spend it on entry fees, registration fees, association fees, trainers, the ugly clothes (come on. A top hat or a derby? Ick). I won’t need a truck, a trailer, and a horse willing to board it. I won’t need a fifty thousand dollar warmblood (it would be nice, mind you) who has cost umpty bucks for the training. My boots are what I walked in wearing: Vasque hiking boots that are most definitely not traditional, but if my horse bolts and I have to walk home, I CAN, and not have blisters on blisters afterwards. Besides, it’s a lot easier to cuss the horse for dumping you then the boots you are wearing.
The western folks will sneer at me because I ride in breeches and don’t have a lime green, rhinestone studded shirt with the push up bra (alas…I have nothing to push up anymore). I don’t have the matching color cowboy hat, the ugly boots that are so pointy and unwearable that god help you if you have to WALK anywhere, and of course, the silver on the saddle, the bridle, the bit, the spurs, etc.
No, I ride bareback if at all possible, and in a dressage saddle if I have to. Bareback is so nice. It keeps you warm in winter. You can feel, really feel the horse. You don’t have issues like the horse blowing up when he feels a girth tighten and then, half a mile down the road, you are suddenly upside down and disturbingly close to four very nervous, steel shod feet. You don’t have a saddle to clean up after you ride. Your jeans absorbed his sweat, so all you need to do is pop them into the wash machine later on. I don’t worry about where my feet are while I’m aboard, they are on the ends of my legs and who cares if they’re dangling.
Of course, if said horse erupts, you have nothing to grab onto save mane, and that’s pretty useless when he really, REALLY wants you off.
This is where being a rider comes into play. I’ve fallen off many times, but I’ve stuck aboard often enough when the horse spooks or shies. Of course, I don’t push my luck. I know there are folks who can ride bareback at a flatout gallop…witness Alex Reno in “The Black Stallion”. Wow. That boy could flat ass ride. I will never be there. He was…and he was bareback.
I don’t do that. I don’t push a horse into a fast gallop. I don’t go jumping him over anything. Does this make me a good rider?
Probably not. But a sane one, for sure.
And people will look down on me for being a peasant, I suppose.
OK. I can live with that.