WRANGLING ON THE RANGE #156
You can't do THAT with a horse,
by Scott Philips
This past summer, I was camping at an equestrian campground with
some friends and our horses. We enjoyed a great day's riding and
had put our horses away in the stalls. After a scrumptious
campfire dinner, I headed back to the stalls to feed and check up
on my horses. Spud, my paint horse, happily began munching on his
hay. I thought, "Hey, what a great opportunity!" 1 climbed the
rail of his stall, and jumped onto his back facing backwards. I
lay down face first and relaxed. If you've never done that before
it's super comfortable! Shortly after I started my nap, someone
across the stalls yelled, "What are you doing!" It took a few
shouts before I realized they were shouting at me. When they had
my attention, I was told, "You can't do THAT with a horse!"
That incident made me think of how much our society has changed
with respect to horses. There are people around that can recall
riding bareback to school with their siblings. They didn't have
helmets. They didn't have expensive riding boots with a heel. Yet
they got there safe and sound. It was a completely normal,
everyday event. Well, almost.
Dave Scott of NorthernHorse.com recalls riding a horse to school:
"When I rode a horse to school it was a painful experience as
much as it was a fun experience. Mostly because the horse my
parents could afford was old with a backbone that stood up like a
2x4 on edge and of course we could not afford a saddle. My butt
would get so sore that my mother would strap a pillow on it to
slow the blisters down. I remember on one occasion when I was
about seven or eight that the older boys told me it would be cool
to go galloping up to my friend Ronnie who was riding his horse
along the edge of the road and knock him off 'Roy Rogers style'
into the ditch. Well I put the plan into action, jumped off my
horse and onto Ronnie but unfortunately when we hit the ditch
there was a huge thorny rose bush waiting for us. When the
teacher, Ronnie's mom and my mom were done pointing out the error
in playing Roy Rogers, I never did it again.
Noon hour was fun as we would all go get our horses out of the
barn and play Cowboys and Indians or polo with a soccer ball or
some other game."
Years ago our society was mainly rural and agriculturally based.
Horses were an integral and necessary part of everyday life.
Daily farm and ranch work that today is accomplished by tractors,
trucks and ATV's used to be accomplished by horses. Although
horses are still used for cattle work, backcountry packing and
recreational animal. They find their uses in trail riding,
competitions and shows, or just as a companion.
As our society becomes progressively more urban, I would hazard a
guess that there is a growing percent age of our Canadian
population that has never seen a live horse, and of those that
have, a large number of people that are unfamiliar with them. And
humans, especially adults, are not comfortable with unfamiliar
things. That is unfortunate, because adults pass that lack of
trust on to their children, who naturally do not have those fear
A young friend of mine, Amanda Kemble, is a great example of
partnership with a horse. I have known her for years and she has
always been comfortable climbing up on her horse bareback with a
halter, and loping around the pasture. She is relaxed, the horse
is relaxed, and they trust each other.
Society as a whole, however, has lost intimacy with the horse,
and with that we lose trust. That trust is essential to a safe
There are three very limiting words heard too often in the
recreational horse world: can't, don't and won't. Where do they
originate? One possibility is that the older we get, the more
nervous we are to try something new. Because that is hard to
admit to, we invent limitations to use as excuses. And then we
start believing and promulgating them. How many times have you
heard, "My horse can't do that," or "Don't do that around my
In my pasture that's where horseplay comes in. You might find me
lying backwards on a horse snoozing. Or using a horse to help
move that empty waterer over to the other corner of the pasture.
Or rebounding exercise balls off of their sides. Or games where
the horse is required to yield in a relaxed manner. Some people
might refer to that as de-sensitization, or exposure training.
Through the games we play, we accomplish several things:
1. We learn about each other.
2. We establish mutual trust and respect.
3. I establish myself as the leader.
They test me with their actions, and I test them with mine. We
learn about each other through our responses. And when we trust
and respect each other we are relaxed. And when we are relaxed,
we are safe and open the door to learning. We can build upon that
foundation, so that when I am on their back, we both are
comfortable trying anything.
If you have 15 minutes a day, try it. Have your horse with you
while you fix a fence or shelter. Read a book sitting on your
horse. Going to get the mail? Take your horse. If you're camping,
is your horse comfortable, standing with you while you sit at the
campfire? Under a tarp?
A trail rider and folk singer, Monique O'Sullivan takes her
guitar out to the pasture to practice. All the horses come around
to listen. It's unique, but it throws something new their way.
There are millions of things you can do.
Getting to know and be partners with a horse is one of life's
most rewarding experiences.
You can do that with your horse. You're a team. AB (Alberta Bits)
Scott Phillips has a passion for horses, which is evident in his
weekly blogs on Northernhorse.com and where he also works as a
web programmer. He spends his summers on horseback in the
mountains and a wrangler and guide. Scott is the proud owner of
five horses that he rides and trains daily. You can contact Scott