Archive for March 16th, 2009

For all our sakes, learn to ride!

As I may have mentioned, the field I rent for the pigs is bordered by a small country lane, frequently used by people walking their dogs and riders from the livery stable just up the road.

The dog walkers (and just walkers!) are lovely and generally stop for a quick chat with the pigs, who have cottoned on to the fact that if they stand by the fence, they’ll get some attention.

But the riders are, in my mind anyway, split in two groups.

You’d think it would be those whose horses don’t mind the pigs and those that do but it’s actually the riders who can ride, and those that can’t, regardless of what their horses think of the pigs.

In order to be in complete control of your horse, you need to sit so that you’re completely balanced and to keep your horse “on the bit” with “two thirds in front of your leg, one third behind”. In other words, your horse needs to balanced, controlled, responsive and willing to let you make the decisions. This is a big leap for a horse as the herd leader isn’t normally on its back but that’s what you need to be: the herd leader.

Unfortunately, there are more horse owners than good riders and I am dreading the day someone inevitably falls off when their horse spooks at the pigs – and then blames the pigs (ie me) and/or their horse, instead of the real culprit: his or herself.

What generally happens is that the horse is walking or trotting down the road and gets a whiff of the pigs. Horses don’t generally like pigs, probably a left over reaction from the days of wild boars and tusks at the perfect height to rip open a horse’s belly, leaving it helpless to attacks from predators or, the worst case scenario, leading to all sorts of infections and a slow, lingering and painful death, abandoned by the herd as it won’t be able to keep up.

A horse’s natural instinct is flight and it’s up to the rider to ensure that this does happen. If you’re not in control, if you’re sitting badly in the saddle, if you’ve got no contact with the horse’s mouth, the horse gets to put its head up in the air, making it extremely difficult for you to prevent the inevitable. The horse will also start jogging and because you’re sitting badly, you’ll pitch forward in the saddle, yanking at the reins in a ridiculous effort to stop the jogging and sideways bouncing. But leaning forward encourages the horse to go faster and the yanking at its mouth, probably accompanied by frenzied swearing and shouting will simply put one thought in the horse’s mind: it’s scared of something and the boss is clearly scared as well. Better get out here, fast.

I see this several times a week and it doesn’t matter how hard the rider yanks on the reins or how loudly they shout, the horse never comes back under the rider’s control until the horse has passed the pigs.

This is obviously dangerous as the rider could fall off onto the road, the horse could slip and fall, possibly trapping the rider under its heavy weight, or they could get hit by one of the cars that drives extremely fast along the road, never mind the blind corners and the fact that it’s too narrow for two cars to pass one another.

But if it does happen, and they blame me, I’ll say to them what I’ve said here: if they rode properly, the horse wouldn’t have bolted in the first place. And I’ll place money on the certainty that if a good rider were to ride the same horse down the lane past the pigs, the horse might flare its nostrils, but it would recognise that a strong and capable rider was in the saddle and would trust the gentle hands and guiding legs and would walk calmly past the pigs.

I know, because I’ve seen it. A few months ago, one woman was having real problems with her young horse, who was terrified of the pigs and was doing his best to turn round and get the hell away from the pigs, as fast as possible. It took her over half an hour to get him past the pigs, but she managed it, staying calm but firm, never letting him make the decisions. She never raised her voice, but kept murmuring to him. Eventually, she made it – and then turned him around and made him walk past them again. She spent two hours walking him up and down the road until he eventually got the message that when she said he had nothing to fear, she meant it. He finally relaxed and walked calmly past the pigs, his head hanging low on a long rein: the classic sign of a relaxed horse. This rider never flinched or panicked, and never raised her voice, never grabbed at the reins, never pitched forward or moved her legs away from the girth.

I’ve seen her ride past many time since that day and her horse hasn’t spooked once in all that time, even when the pigs have been bickering or calling for their food. He was scared and his rider came through for him. I wish all riders were like her: horses wouldn’t just be happier, they’d be safer.