Monthly Archives: August 2015

Horse People are Born, not Made

I remember the day well.  Four years old, my first pony ride at the zoo, it was the most fun ever!  I had to wait two long years until my first real riding lesson.  It was at a heads up heels down riding academy, George Morris style.  I worked hard the next 12 years for every ribbon, and tried hard to try to get to know and understand horses.  What are they thinking?  Why do they do what they do?  How can I communicate better?  Eventually I figured out if I was honest with them and explained what I was doing, I was able to fabric a sort of communication with horses, though Buck Brannaman I was not.  So I rode horses and treated sick horses and was feeling somewhat like I had arrived.

For almost ten years the husband put up with this horse infatuation.  I would try to get him involved, with no luck. “Overgrown dogs” he called them.  “Nothing but money pits”.  But it was uncanny when one of the students or interns called about a sick or colicky horse. “How much reflux?” He would ask.  Or “did you walk it and give banamine?”

On occasion he would stroll through the barn full of sick horses and sneer, “What good are they, nothing but hayburners!  I wouldn’t give a nickel for one of these beasts” he brayed, until he saw Ada.  She was a gorgeous Belgian mule, smart and trained to the nines.  When her owner whispered “whoa Ada,” she planted all four feet and didn’t move a muscle, let alone flick her tail.

This mule?  Why a mule?  Sure, she was cool and well trained, but why would he choose her as his favorite equid?  Why not of one of the lovely paints, quarter horses or warmbloods?  It was inconceivable and totally beyond me.  Then he proceeded to tell me why mules were far superior to horses; he knew all about their attributes and sturdiness.   I never knew he even thought about mules….  “If I had an equine, it would be a mule!” He claimed. I was shocked.

Two years later we were living in rural Georgia.  Free time after work and weekends was spent trail riding with friends.   The husband sees what a great time we are having and feels a bit left out.  One morning over breakfast came the ultimatum: “I want to start riding.  It looks like fun.”   “What?  How? You don’t know how to ride!” I reminded him.  He was completely nonplussed. “Not a problem.  It doesn’t look that hard.”  So before I knew it he had borrowed Beau for the summer, a 14 hand blonde coonhunting mule, tack and all.

And…. off we go trail riding. I tried to give helpful tips about his seat; I reminded him to keep his heels down….but he would emphatically tell me to shut it.  “I need to figure this out on my own!”  Funny though, I never needed to say a word about his hands.  Most beginners bounce all over the place, and their hands bounce with them. Not his; they were always quiet and low. He was frequently heard cooing to Beau. It was uncanny and annoying. What were they talking about?  How can he communicate with him so well?  What had taken me years to master he picks up in a week.

We all knew there was no doubt about his gift the evening we were out on the trail too late.  The sun sank behind the lake, we were all enjoying the dusk, when suddenly it got pitch dark. I mean so dark you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. We were an easy mile from the trailers through a narrow woodland trail.  We all started to panic- how to find our way home?

“Never fear!” shouts the husband.  “Beau and I will get you all home safely!  Follow us!  Put your hands on their withers,  give ‘em their heads, and let’s go!”  Before we knew it we were crashing through brush and back on the trail.  We did as we were told, and made it to the trailer all safe and sound.  No one ever told said husband how to ride again, or questioned his knowledge and ability.  I guess horsemen are born not made. As it turns out, his grandfather ran a thoroughbred horse farm in upstate New York.  The husband never met his grandfather Matthew Linn, but I reckon he did inherit those horseman genes……

Dr. Elizabeth Bruce