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Can You Pack a Parachute?

By Cindy Hale

Friday, April 2, 2010

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Let’s say you get an uncontrollable urge to go sky diving. Would you just hang around the airport for a few days, observe some experienced sky divers, and then climb aboard an airplane and leap to Earth? Of course not. But that’s the approach some people seem to take toward riding.

First they fall in love with a particular equine that meets the qualifications of Dream Horse. Then they buy all the tack, all the clothes and order every natural horsemanship DVD available. The one thing they don’t do? Take some riding lessons. They don’t have any remorse about shelling out hundreds of dollars on paraphernalia but they have some kind of mental block against seeking any structured advice from a more knowledgeable horse person. Instead, they’re determined to figure it all out on their own, either by osmosis (merely hanging around experienced riders) or by asking a few pertinent questions.

Again, I refer back to the sky diving scenario. I think it’s a reasonable comparison because both sky diving and horseback riding are risky endeavors. But if you were to immerse yourself into the world of sky diving, wouldn’t you seek out some learned guidance? Rather than merely watching someone pack a parachute, wouldn’t you make the effort to learn how to pack the parachute properly? Shouldn’t you rehearse, step-by-step, the whole leaping out of the airplane procedure in a dry run a few times before free-falling into oblivion? I mean, asking questions of experienced sky divers is a noble notion, but it’s not equivalent to personal sky diving instruction.

In some cartoonish universe I imagine this conversation, taking place about 12,000 feet above Earth:

"I forget. Do I pull the ripcord on the count of ten? Or twenty? What? I can’t hear you. The wind is whipping past my ears so fast that I’m deaf. Plus my eyes are tearing up. I can’t tell if I’m heading toward the lake bed or if that’s the sky I’m staring at. What’s that? I was supposed to be wearing goggles? Oops.”

Haven’t we all had the same type of conversations with riders we encounter in arenas or on the trails? I have. Interestingly enough, it’s typically an adult rider who started riding late in life and bought a horse without bothering to first learn the fundamentals of horsemanship. Instead, when they’re suddenly faced with a do-or-die situation they resort to the quick, easy fix. They just want to ask someone how to make their horse pick up the canter. Or stop at the street corner and wait calmly until the signal changes. Or not be barn sour. Or cease rearing. Or quit bucking. I can never seem to get across to them that a horse is not a motorcycle or a car. You can’t just pop the clutch or slip it into gear and voila! Now it goes forward in a straight line.

So now I take a more pro-active approach. When one of my relatives or an acquaintance announces that they’ve decided to buy a horse, I ask them if they know how to ride. I don’t mean ride competitively. I don’t care if they never step foot nor hoof in a show arena. But I want to know if they grasp the basics of horsemanship. Usually they reply that sure, they rode a horse on the beach in Maui. How hard can it be?

Uh-huh.

So then I hit them with the Big Question. "Let me ask you this. Let’s say you get to a cross road in the trail and you want to go to the right. How are you going to steer your horse in that direction?”

That’s when they become suddenly silent and stare blankly at me. I guess they never contemplated how they’d actually communicate with a horse. Apparently, in some fantastic world of their imagination, human and horse just blissfully correspond on a psychic network. We know that isn’t so. We know how long it takes to develop a bond, a true connection with a horse. We put in the hours with a mentor who shared their knowledge. We suffered with the blisters on our feet, the raw rub marks on our knees and shins, the frustrations that came with learning how to control our horse’s pace and direction. But eventually, we learned how to truly ride. We learned how to pack our own parachute.

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Reader Comments

Kathy M.    OPA, CA

4/6/2010 10:02:28 AM

OMG, this sounds like someone I know. She wanted a horse so I told her to get an older, been there done that sort of guy. But no, she bought a STALLION that had been used for pasture breeding and hadn't been ridden in 3 years because she though he was beautiful. At least she got him gelded. But she never got him totally trained and she will not take lessons for some reason i don't know. Now that she's been dumped and hurt a few times all she will do is ride at the walk.

Not 13 anymore    rural usa, MO

4/5/2010 11:11:04 AM

I too have seen my share of these people. They really don't want a partnership with their horse, they just want to ride when they feel like it. But I have also been on that side myself as a 13 year old " horse crazy kid". I had a barn w/ 1 acre out back. My family knew ZERO about horses. I had learned to ride as an 11 year old by being throw up on a welsh pony and learning to stay on. I bought a weanling and never had a lesson in my life. Through trial and error I learned and so did my horse. He was with me for 21 years and we did it all. While I wouldn't recommend it for everyone, it can turn out alright in the end. Part of the blame is on the seller as well.

Ange    Mertztown, PA

4/5/2010 8:42:40 AM

I agree with Marie. I always feel bad for the poor horses who end up with clueless people, and it's often those horses that end up having serious problems in the future. What I don't understand is how a seller could allow that....

Denise    Hayden, AL

4/5/2010 7:44:53 AM

I think lessons aren't just for the beginner rider/owner but for those that have taken a hiatus
from horses, for whatever reason. It really helped me to brush up on my knowledge and bolster my confidence.

Great article.

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