Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Horsemanship...A Recollection

SRM on "Sky" at Flat Creek Horse Trial

Go ahead...have a good chuckle.  I looked rediculous, I know, and that's why I debated even sharing these pictures. But looking back now on my days of horsemanship, I still have a lot of mixed emotions about it.  Horses are like most things that require a lot of time, discipline, and training to be truly proficient - you have to love it.  Oh sure, people love the idea of owning horses but the WORK part is what they conveniently forget about.  Horses have to eat (a LOT), they need constant care and attention, they get sick, they get hurt, they can be tempermental, and yes they can be great fun. 

My family owned horses most of the time growing up.  I can't remember a time when horses were not part of my life back then.  My parents had trained and shown semi-seriously in the AQHA circuit, nearly all western halter and pleasure classes.  My mom paid her way through vet tech school running a pretty large barn and breeding program in Tifton, GA while attending Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College (aka ABAC).  My folks taught me from a young age how to handle, care for, and stay on a horse (I wouldn't say ride).  Later I learned how to judge good confirmation and movement, but it wasn't until I was in my late teens that I took any real interest in horsemanship and the skill of riding.

It all started when my parents were returned an older mare they'd sold years back to some folks who used her strictly as a brood mare.  She was fine and sassy in her old age, but was well trained and of excellent confirmation and she looked great.  Sorrel and white with a nice head and neck line.  She had plenty of spirit but as she aged and emphysema took hold, I grew thirsty for more experience in the way of training, so my parents bought a young gelding colt for me to help raise and train.  His name was "Sky" and he was a magnificent and talented animal.  Black with white blaze face and white feet.  He had a great disposition but we trained him in a style that let him retain his spunk and spirit - and he'd show it from time to time.

I was largely ignorant of the challenge this whole process would involve but I was determined to learn. Unlike the cowboy movies, the easy part is getting on the horses back.  Anyone with experience training horses in an intelligent fashion understands the prep work with a horse on the ground makes getting on their back largely a non-event.  The hard part is communicating consistently with the horse so that it understands your intentions.  It is asking this animal to do all the things that are perfectly natural, God given instincts and abilities (walking, trotting, cantering, turning, jumping, etc.), but asking them to do those things on command through a language of shifts in body weight, contact from legs, hand, etc. and all while trying to do it in a way that is gentle and in harmony with the horses movements.  Both horse and rider have to be attuned to enjoy the experience.  This type of riding, let me tell you, is the exception and not the rule.  Only a tiny fraction of people who ride horses actually take the time to understand and apply these principles.  That's because it is not easy to do and takes a lifetime to perfect.  For a young teen, as you might imagine, my patience with the process was sometimes less than ideal.

I soon got an opportunity to working for a wealthy family who owned an estate of epic proportions. They owned their own polo field complete with professional polo players who came to the farm during the season, a huge mansion, full time grounds maintenance crew, barns and arenas dedicated to show jumpers, polo ponies, and fox hunters.  I don't know precisely how much land they owned, but the property was so beautiful I felt privileged simply being there.  I was fortunate enough to get paid (a very meager salary) to train and care for the fox hunters.  There were three of us and it was a grueling job working for quite possibly the most difficult, man hating, terror of a woman I have ever encountered, but the job was so incredible to me at the time, I just put up with it.  The barn was amazing, the horses were these huge imported warm bloods and thoroughbreds, and I got to tack and ride them everyday.  We would mount one horse and "pony" the others on either side all while going cross country or often times just doing trot sets for 30-45 minutes.  We had some close calls but I never came off a horse in a year of riding 2 sets a day.  Riding and tacking up that much can teach you a lot - things became second nature.

About this same time I also had the good fortune of spending time with some very good riders including Kitty Turner of South Winds Farm (advanced certified trainer), Steven Bradley (former Olympic rider) and others some of whom taught me a great deal.  My point in all of this is something that was once a pretty big part of my life, one day, suddenly wasn't.  I eventually got a real job and had to sell Sky.  He went to a great home and I've not owned a horse since.  Life and priorities changed but I still think about horses from time to time.  I think back with great fondness of some of the extraordinary venues I was able to see and experience.  Now that I have children of my own, my wife occasionally reminds me how much she loves horses and that she wants the girls to learn to ride.  I, on the other hand, know that for me this requires a huge commitment and while it is something I would like, I am not sure where or when to even begin.  I'll tell you this, I still own a Stubben saddle tucked away in storage somewhere.  I've just never quite managed to bring myself to part with it.

And now you know a little something else about me you'd probably never believe otherwise...


  1. I too grew up riding horses, and have come to the realization (and acceptance) that I will probably never own one again. A Stubben?! They are the best saddles on earth. I loved mine (can still smell it, oh, what bliss)...but, had to sell it to help pay college tuition. I do still have my riding boots though!

  2. Some days I do miss riding, but every time I think about it, the logical side of me kicks in to remind me of the time consumption. Besides I have no place for a horse right now - not physically or mentally. That said, I would like for my girls to learn to ride once they get in their early teens and from a solid combined training instructor. It's a sport that is great for girls but less lame than some other options that come to mind. I think the ideal scenario would be to find someone with too many horses to train/ride and would just let us come out as often as we're able to help fill in the gap...it could happen.

  3. It could happen...you never know. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a "wealthy benefactor" providing me horse access as well. ;)

    Horses are MADE for girls! Or girls for horses, or however you want to look at it. My dad looked at my horse as keeping me away from boys, which was, in his mind, priceless!