Powerful legs that can carry a burly man or trample an enemy underneath. Flowing mane that moves with the wind. Eyes with unrelenting focus. Sudden turns, circling around, galloping, trotting and a slow gait. All of these belong to a powerful animal domesticated by man in the last four thousand years.
I’m talking about the wonderful animal called horse.
Horses have become a part of human history and society. Prior to the coming of the automobile and other machines, the human race has depended on the horse for fast transportation and for other agricultural purposes. Horses pulled carriage that transported goods and products long before Ford came up with his idea of the automobile. You could imagine the clop, clop, clop of horseshoes as they trod the streets of eighteenth century New York and London. Horses also pulled plows and other agricultural implements to till the soil and farm the land. Because of this, the word “horsepower”, which is still used to measure the power of engines, was created.
Uses of the Horse
Horses also figure prominently in battles and military history. The American Revolution and the Civil War used horses in the army to gain important military advantage. We could imagine the battle cries, the dust created by the charge of the cavalry, and the screams of men in flight from the cavalry. Humans and horse share a long history together. If horses were smaller and can be petted as the dog, they would have been man’s best friend instead of the dog. Instead, horses have served humans as a beast of burden. It has also fueled man’s imagination and gave rise to such mythological creatures as the Centaur and the Unicorn. Not only that, the horse has also given food, clothing and fuel to humans.
Although the world resorted to mechanical tools and machines, the horse is still around. In rural areas, the heavier and bigger horses are still being used for farming, pulling carts and plows as they did for more than a thousand years. Other horses, specially the lighter ones are used for racing and riding. Surprisingly, some horses, especially those that are called miniature horses, can also be kept as household pets. In cities and industrialized countries, horses are kept for sporting purposes and leisure. In other countries, they are kept in ranches for cowboys who look after cows and other animals to move easily over rolling plains and hills.
Riding a Horse: The Basics
Wouldn’t it be interesting to ride a horse? Have you every seen a cowboy tame a horse or ride with the wind? Or perhaps, we may fancy how Gandalf rode Shadowfax in the movie “Lord of the Rings.” When you ride a horse, you feel the wind in your face and feel the power of the horse beneath your legs. As you move with the horse, you feel every movement of its feet as it traverses various terrains. You move together, you move as one.
Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
Taming a horse is difficult. An inexperienced person who mounts a colt would feel the unfettered power of the horse. Worse, that person may even feel the deadly kick of the horse. That is the reason why professional horse trainers and cowboys do the taming and breaking in of the horse. But once the horse is tamed, it is ready for mounting and following orders from humans. Nonetheless, it would still be necessary to remember important lessons on riding the horse.
Before a horse can be mounted, it is groomed first. This involves cleaning the dirt away from the body of the horse where the bridle and the saddle will be placed. The hooves of the horse will also be cleaned, removing rocks and stones which might lead to injury and lameness. The hooves are also shod with horseshoes to protect them. The saddle provides a seat for the rider to sit on while riding the horse. The bridle on the other hand, is put on the head to assist the rider to have control over the animal. The saddle keeps the rider from falling, despite the speed of the horse. The saddle, therefore needs to be of the right fit to the horse, otherwise, it would cause discomfort for both horse and human rider.
Europeans usually saddle the horse from the left hand side. This is believed to have come from the practices of knights and fighters back in the age of cavalry because more often than not, these fighters were right-handed. In other areas of the world, however, the saddle can be put from either side of the horse. Riders usually use amounting block or any object that lends height, especially for tall horses. Through this method, they could easily slide onto the back of the horse, otherwise, the horse might get hurt by the elbows and legs of the rider. For experienced riders, however, a mounting object is no longer needed and they ride the horse from the ground.
As I mentioned, the bridle is used to control the horse. Maintaining this control over the horse is important. With an expert controller, the horse retains its confidence over its rider and would be able to jump, and hurdle any type of obstacles before it. Without such confidence, however, the horse will waver and would follow its own instinct in setting the direction and we will have the proverbial situation where the horse controls the rider.
This control over the horse can be done through several aids. The legs of the rider can tell the horse which direction to go to. By using the legs, the rider is telling his horse to either move forward or conduct a left-turn or right turn. The seat can also help maintain control. However, developing its use is a more difficult challenge for the rider. The more obvious means of control is through the reins. The rider would indicate which direction the horse will take through the direction of the reins. In addition to this, the voice may also be used to control the horse. This tool, however, is usually used when the handler of the horse is on the ground rather than mounted.
There is a correct position that the rider needs to follow so that he doesn’t get in the way of the horse. If this is followed, then both rider and horse will be more comfortable and the maintenance of control and giving of direction is accomplished more easily. The main principle behind this position is the maintenance of the rider’s balance on top of the horse. No matter what speed or kind of movement the horse is executing, the rider has to maintain his balance. He also needs to develop sensitivity over what the horse is doing. While riding, the rider could actually feel the muscles of the horse through his legs and by bonding with the animal over a period of time, the rider will be able to communicate more effectively with the horse.
Harnessing the power of the horse is not an easy job. But given practice and enough time, we can enjoy the speed, the power, and the exhilaration that can only be offered by this friend of humans. The efforts and the energy used for this endeavor will surely be worth it if you feel the speed and power of the horse; and become as one in moving together and riding the wind. By developing the necessary skills for riding, saddling and controlling the horse, we are showing respect for this faithful human servant and friend. We may not be cowboys, but we can be good riders and friends of horses.