It has been an emotional roller coaster for two weeks – I hate roller coasters of any kind! Tremendous recognition at work was followed by a serious set back to the project I’ve been shepherding for over a year. Lovely moments with the horses were coupled with facing some tough decisions. Plans for the future that brought happy expectations are now ended or on hold. And in the middle of all of my trials, unimaginable tragedy in Orlando. Needless to say, it was not a good time to write, hands clenched tight just trying to hang on.
But, not wanting to stay silent for too long, I decided this was a perfect opportunity to share another gem from Mount & Man. Please enjoy!
Everyone knows the “horse is a docile animal,” but it is not everyone who thinks about it. The thing is so obvious and commonplace we do not dwell upon it any more than we ponder over wet pavement after rain or any other established everyday fact. And yet, matters that are verbally admitted are often not mentally grasped or, in other words, the subject, like so many things in this world, has not been viewed through every aspect and examined with care and detachment. As we all admit that the horse is docile, let us, for once in a way, pursue this apparently unproductive pathway of thought, and see where it leads us.
The horse, in its docility, will do all kinds of things for us with extremely little effort on our part, provided we are going slow. He will walk and trot and stop and turn at our pleasure, and as often as we wish. It is only when we begin to arouse his excitement by speed or pain that we find any difficulty at all. Not only will he walk and trot, but he will do a variety of more complicated feats, such as passaging, reining back, jumping, changing his legs, and so on, which are all well known to anyone who has done any riding-school work. But, in spite of this amazing tractability, we find that when we go hunting or playing polo we have horses that won’t stop or won’t walk or won’t turn, horses that pull and yaw, and horses that jig and tire us dreadfully by their indocilities.
Now, why is this? Why does tractability suddenly become intractability? It seems odd, somehow, doesn’t it? The answer often given is that it is speed or excitement which produces this result, and that under such conditions the horse’s mentality gives way and he is incapable of understanding what is required. This reply usually passes unchallenged, and the subject is dropped. But is it correct? …. Personally, I think that the question should be tackled in a somewhat different way.
I submit that docility and intelligence are constant factors, no matter what we are doing with a horse, provided — and here is the real crux of the matter — the horse understands what is required of him and he is free from anxiety. Young horses, of course, have to learn, and youthful spirits are often very trying; but that is not the point. Once a horse really understands what is wanted and he has no apprehension of jabs on the mouth or irritation from the spur, he will do what we ask of him.
Horses will not stop, because they do not understand they are meant to stop; horses will not walk, because they are fretting; polo ponies will not turn, because they have either not been properly taught or because the rider has quite forgotten to give them the right “aid” or because their mouths are so sore they can think of little else. It is not the motion or the excitement that causes the apparent waywardness, but lack of training or faults in riding. … So we get back to the old motto, “Blame yourself before you blame your horse,” and, once we understand that, we are already well on the road to understanding the thoughts in the horse’s mind.
From Mount & Man, Lieut-Col M.F. McTaggart, 1925
Post-script: Apparently I was even at a loss for a title, only just now noticing I had not created one. Oh well! When I get my head back in the game, I’ll be back with more reports and ponderings. Until then, be good to your horses! Lia