I'm not able to ride a horse anymore. After three Eastern lessons, four Western lessons, and a couple of trail rides, here’s where I’ve netted out: I just can’t do it.
It was Story that changed my mind. Story was a former show horse, and the oldest horse I’ve ever been on. He came after Oliver and Hamilton and Milo. I fell in love with all of them, though to be honest, Story I wasn’t drawn to like the others. I now realize it was because he had a lesson to teach me.
My trainer wanted me to pace him, and told me that he would give minimum effort. So he wanted me to keep kicking to move him forward when he started to slow down. Kicking, kicking, kicking. “Do I squeeze instead of kick?,” I asked him. Some trainers had suggested that to me instead. "It depends on how the horse is trained," he said. But for Story, kicking was prescribed. Story felt me, and listened, but his heart and spirit were not in what I was asking him to do. I certainly didn’t enjoy kicking. My trainer simply called this hitting a “pressure point” on the horse. I don’t think Story would agree.
At one point, my trainer left the huge ring to take a phone call, and Story and I were there by ourselves, with no one else around. We hadn’t really bonded since there wasn’t time before the lesson, so I patted him and said “good boy.” I know it works for dogs; I haven’t a clue if that was the right endearment for Story. But when I did that, I felt him sigh. Greatly. A huge sigh, full of the weight of not just the day or me upon him, but it felt to me like a dimensional sigh. One that echoes from the past and is a long time coming. The saddle, the harness, the tricks, the forcing of will on him (for fun, for “kicks”) that he had been made to experience throughout his long and Storied career. He was in the last chapter of his story, to be sure. But that sigh told me everything, and especially what I didn’t want to know.
So I can’t ride horses anymore. I see them, I love them, and yes, I know they have helped humankind plough fields and fight battles and have given enjoyment to many on their backs. I heard a trainer recently say that equine spines suffer from the weight they carry. That’s enough for me. Hanging out by their stalls and seeing them cooped up, seeing the carriage horses in New York with their blinders on, breathing fumes, I’m just moved to stop. It’s so unnatural for them. The lesson I speak of happened sometime last year, and every time I see a horse, I see him the way I see Story.
I don’t think we should break horses anymore. If the “natural” training method lets a horse be an equal that may be a different story. Yet I don’t think that’s how training happens for the most part.
I know what you may be thinking: It was a bad experience; just get back on the horse. But for me, I think of it this way: People were once considered chattel in eras past – women to their husbands, and slaves to their owners. Why should animals be any different? They feel pain, just like we do. Understandably, the sense of freedom a rider feels when riding is very real. But it isn’t that way for the horse, unless it’s what they themselves are moved to do. I wouldn’t want anyone hitting me with a crop, would you?
We don’t need horses for transportation anymore, either. So why not evolve, for the benefit of these sentient creatures? And interact with them in a way that doesn’t rob them of their autonomy?
Why not let them revert to being their free and instinctual selves, the wild creatures they were born to be?
* “Wild Thing” lyric by the The Troggs