A Step Up

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Horsemen are creatures of habit and slaves to tradition. We’re also a pretty macho lot, a genderless quality when applied to someone clinging to a playful yearling colt. We laugh off breaks and bumps. A black eye is a badge of honor. Our civilian friends think we’re nuts.

These stolid attributes morph into stubbornness when a new idea gets shoved in our faces, especially if it implies that we may be wimps. Look how long it took for safety helmets to gain acceptance and how many people still won’t wear them despite the overwhelming weight of statistical evidence.

We always should be wary of tradition and habit when they bolster our egos. Take the idea of a mounting block. How many people do you know who insist on mounting from the ground' It’s a matter of pride. But, look at it this way: If you’re dragging yourself up your horse’s side instead of just stepping into the stirrup, you may be pulling him out of alignment.

I use a mounting block and keep telling myself that it’s for the benefit of my horse. In reality, I’m just creaky and stiff, and I’m doing it for myself, but it’s made me think about whether the mounting block helps my mare as much as it helps me.

Recently, a fine horsewoman of similar vintage but a whole lot thinner told me she’d changed her own attitude about the mounting block. She used to consider it a point of pride that she didn’t need any kind of help to get on. One day her vet made her jump up on the despised mounting block so she could scan her horse’s bare back. The vet wanted her to see how uneven her horse’s muscling had become from continually pulling her saddle off to the side.

Last year I had a shoulder operation, and my doctor didn’t want me going near the barn. I interpreted that to mean I could handle my mare with my good arm as long as I kept my wounded right wing in a sling. I could longe both directions with just my left arm and lead my mare from the off side.

I now know why it’s a good idea to accustom a horse to leading (and even mounting) from both sides. With me suddenly part of the landscape on her right side instead of her left, she over-reacted to distractions. When she got used to the new protocol, she settled down.

Maybe we look askance at challenges to long-held beliefs and habits because our horses do the same thing, Horses flee something new before they think things through, while humans dig in their heels. A traditional ”back to basics” attitude toward horse care and training is usually the sensible path, but sticking with tradition and habit when they mostly stroke our egos is just being stubborn. We always should be willing to work smarter, not harder.