This is the time of year when I stop and think about the places I have been over the past year, the things I have seen and the lessons I have learned from them. It always amazes me how much of my life is guided by my consuming love for horses. If you are like me, it is a rare day that goes by that you don't pause for a moment and lovingly stroke a horse standing next to you, or touch that warm velvet just above his muzzle.
When you spend your life with horses, you go to places you have never been and get a perspective from the saddle that is denied to those unfortunate people who do not ride. I have ridden past the U.S. Capitol Building in an inaugural parade and past a mud hut in Zimbabwe, done a dressage test in front of a castle in Scotland and tied my horse to a tree in a rainstorm in the Rockies. Horses give us an enormous range of activities and a worldwide location to enjoy them.
But these days, people are specializing more and more in their horse activities and depriving themselves of wonderful experiences on horseback.
My recent trip to the World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, (see Practical Horseman, November 2006, and my online diaries) gave me an added insight into the incredible world of horses. All in one location you could watch people who jump their horses, people who never jump their horses and people who jump off their horses-on purpose.
As I am in an end-of-the-year frame of mind, that train of thought led me to think about all the discussion that has been going on recently here at Practical Horseman and in other weekly and monthly periodicals, in online chat rooms and at the bar of your local competitors party. The general agreement is that we have more horses and riders than ever, but fewer horsemen.
So, what is the difference between a horseman and a rider? In my view, a horseman knows more about horses than how to get them ready for their next competition or how to ride them in the ring. Ernest Hemingway said that you aren't an adult until you have had three careers. In the same way, I think you aren't a horseman until you have done more than one thing with a horse.
I started making a list of the things that a horseman should have done, but my editor told me it was too long, so I made a checklist of a few of the incredible number of things you can do with horses. I put most of them on the list based on personal experience, but a few of them are still out there in my future.
You can make up your own list, but in the meantime, guess which of the following things I have done, and which I have yet to do. You could win a free subscription to Practical Horseman (find out how to enter at the end of this article).
Are you a horseman, or just a rider? Have you ever...
- Led your horse down to the paddock at daybreak, stopped to watch the sunrise and said a prayer of thanks?
- Ridden your horse bareback with just a halter?
- Gone swimming with your horse?
- Gotten back on a horse that has just bucked you off, even though you were afraid?
- Jumped through a flaming hoop of fire?
- Slept with your horse in his stall ... sober?
- Been run away with, put your hands down on his neck and felt him slow down?
- Escaped a forest fire by riding down out of the Rockies in a world lit only by starlight?
- Been the first person to ride a particular horse?
- Held the pommel while your horse cut a cow out of the herd?
- Thrown a diamond hitch on a pack horse?
- Held the reins of a four-in-hand?
- Been hurt by a horse who meant to hurt you?
- Sat against a tree and read a paperback book while your horse grazed next to you?
- Taught a horse to jump?
- Delivered a foal?
- Sat up all night with a colic case?
- Taken off a bell boot while wearing a formal dress or tuxedo?
- Galloped a race horse?
- Thought to yourself "This is really going to hurt" on your way down?
- Made a nervous horse calm?
- Jumped your own height on horseback?
- Ridden in a steeplechase race?
- Had a bad day at the office, said "the heck with it," and gone for a hack instead of training your horse?
- Been the only human there when the foxhounds caught up with their fox?
- Ridden a horse above the timberline?
- Held the lead shank while the vet put your horse to sleep?
- Stopped for a moment to think about how lucky you are to be in a world that has horses in it?
Of these 28 experiences, three are still in my future--at least, I hope so. Can you guess which they are? (See answers below.)
This column originally appeared in the December 2006 issue of Practical Horseman magazine.
Would you add or subtract anything from Jim's list, or keep it as is? Tell us in the Practical Horseman Forum.
(Answers: 10, 11 and 12)