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This is an axiom among riders. The bad things? It's never the horse's fault.

Now right off the bat that sounds nonsensical. We do have two animals in the game here: the rider, and the horse. The latter animal vastly outweighs the former. Horses, like everyone else, have good days and bad days, and some horses are all but unmanageable by even the most expert riders. So how does any of this get to be my fault as a rider?

There are several answers to this, and they're all fairly obvious if you think about it.

First, let's take the opposite road. Let's take the position that whatever is the problem here is the horse's fault. Anything from not picking up the canter on the correct lead to bucking off the rider and kicking her on the way down. Where does that reasoning end up?

Bad horse.

Bad horse is an obvious dead-end. Then what? Horses are not interested in our moral evaluations of them or their conduct, so you're not going to shame one very effectively. (OMG I really blew that one I'm so sorry!) Not going to happen. He's not sorry.

Then again, if you go sifting through horses and leave out all the horses who don't follow orders perfectly, pretty soon there won't be any good horses left, and you're walking or going back to your motorcycle. Which is OK. Unless you want to ride horses.

I think the key word in the axiom is fault. Do skiers caught in an avalanche say, "it's the mountain's fault?" Do surfers who wipe out at Maverick's say, "it's the ocean's fault?" Horses may well be doing things "voluntarily" (whatever that means in this context), as a mountain or the ocean cannot, but so what? It is the rider's or the skier's or the surfer's responsibility to deal with whatever situation the horse or the mountain or the ocean puts out. I can't master every horse, and there are horses no one can master, but the more resources I have in this area the more horses I can ride. (Again, also true of mountain slopes and waves.)


But on a more personal note, I'm currently having a fight with a particular horse. Petey is a 17 year old 15 hands gelding. He's a reasonably well trained animal, very well trained actually, but he's about the laziest horse in captivity, and in addition he has a dominant personality. If you don't know much about horses, think about dogs. There are submissive dogs whose first reaction is to go with the program; there are also dominant dogs, who are constantly trying to re-order the pack, with themselves on top. (People, too, can be sorted roughly into these two categories.) Petey would very much like to change the herd order I have in mind (me in charge) to something that has him in charge, and he never misses an opportunity to try this out.

Now all this is a colossal pain in the neck, because while I am trying to learn the mechanics of riding, I have to stop every few minutes and beat up on the horse, at least psychologically. Back up when I walk into the stall, don't come rushing at me to assert yourself; no, I'm not going to give you a chance to kick me; sorry, I am going to pick your hooves, even your off hind, the one you don't like me to touch; in the arena we turn the corner when I say so, not when you want to; on and on.

But you know what? This business is part of the mechanics of horseback riding. If I wanted to learn a physical skill, a sport, without having to interact with a stubborn and sometimes peevish animal, I could go surfing, skiing, motorcycle riding....the list is interminable. Riding is unique among sports in that ultimately it's all about the relationship.

When it works it's more like identity than relationship. When the rider and the horse act as one, with the rider in charge, it's like suddenly you, without the aid of any machinery at all, weigh a thousand pounds, have four feet, and are able to run sixty miles an hour. There's nothing like it.

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