(I have had this happen!)
Thank you for all of your thoughts on yesterdays post. I love when this blog allows me to explore some aspect of this crazy world we call horses. Only a horseperson can appreciate how consuming the concepts or problems that horses present us with can be. I often find myself- while walking or waiting to fall asleep at night- turning over ideas in my head, trying to find solutions to fencing problems, tying issues, or some baffling training method… Last night, just before I drifted off to sleep, I was mulling over your comments and the issue of tying…
With horses it seems that we are always trying to find the balance between teaching them do something, and trying to stop them from killing themselves in the process. Actually, it seems a little ironic, given the safety hazards we face in handling horses, that more often than not it is us that try to stop them from getting hurt. I weigh-… well… actually, I am not going to tell you what I weigh but lets just say that it is (I hope) significantly less than your average horse and yet the responsibility for my horses safety lies in my very small (and often futile) hands. When I think about training a young horse or helping an older horse work through some issue, I relish in the problem solving aspect of training- trying to figure out how to work them through it without hurting them or myself in the process. I love visualizing how such and such a method could work and the satisfaction that would come from such an achievement… But then, I also have to think (as a horseman) about all the things that could go wrong and how to prevent such things from occurring. In that moment, when I visualize the wreck, the danger, the pain and the panic that a one thousand pound, 100% flight animal can inspire….I get a little queasy in the stomach. Because being able to anticipate what can go wrong, most often than not, is a result of having watched it go wrong in the past…. And there is nothing more terrifying (to me)….- nothing that makes me feel more mortal, than the vision of what a real wreck looks like first hand.
What is frustrating is how often it is impossible to stop the same accident from happening twice- because horses are inherently dangerous creatures and have a God given knack for getting themselves into trouble. Often, the concerns nearest and dearest to our hearts are drawn from our own traumatic experiences. For example, having a horse rear under saddle doesn’t scare me nearly as much as having a horse rear on the ground. Why? Because I have never been hurt *knock on wood* by a horse rearing under saddle, where as I was nearly killed by a horse that struck me while rearing on the ground. Tying is just such an issue for me- I have watched it go wrong to many times and in so many different ways! No matter what the snap, the object you tie them to, the type of halter, the length of the slack you put in the rope, the kind of rope, or the knot you tie, and so on…things still sometimes go wrong. Some people believe you should always tie a horse hard and fast while others believe in breakaways or never tying a horse at all. Personally, tying a horse in a rope halter or with a lot of slack makes my stomach do flip flops.
Have you ever watched a horse really “pull back”? Not just the kind where they give the rope a good hard pull just to be an ass, or test your knot tying skills …I am talking about the type that quite literally loose their freakin minds and don’t quit until they have either broken loose or come to rest, half unconscious, lying on the ground with their head hanging from the rope. Have you ever watched someone get caught behind or beside that kind of pull back? Have you ever seen someone get caught between the horse and the wall they are tied to? I haven’t, thank god. But I’ve heard the stories. Because when a horse gets tired of pulling, they lunge (with all their might) straight into the object directly in front of them. It doesn’t matter if it is a fence or a cement wall- a panicked horse will try to go through it, like a line backer, and they wont pause to consider that you’re in their way.
I have seen so many wrecks due to tying, that thinking on the subject gives me a stomachache. But then I also know how impossible it can be to have a horse that doesn’t tie at all. So how do we do it safely? The answer is we cant. No matter how old or steady a horse may be, there will always be some circumstance wherein he might just loose his marble in animalistic attempt to survive…and there is a likelihood- a much higher likelihood that we care to admit- that he may hurt, injury or kill us in the process of saving his own life. It is the inherent nature of a horse to be reactive. A horse will, quite literally, kill itself to save its own life. Sometimes, seeing the reality of that concept come to life, or imagining how it could, scares the living bageezes out of me.
Just when I get to feeling a little confident or cocky, when I think about training a colt or working through some issue, I am reminded of the value of a truly broke and sane horse- one that is time, tested and true. I am not so deluded as to think that a “Steady Eddie” cant be just as dangerous as any other horse but do believe that he is at least he is much less likely, (than some young or unseasoned horse) to react dangerously when pressed. It is a little wee concept us horse people aught to consider more seriously…. Something called risk mitigation. Because while I am willing to accept the danger that comes with riding and handling horses (in order to reap the rewards, both spiritual and physical that such an interaction affords me) I would think it prudent to do so in as safe of a manner as possible.
The horses you choose to ride, the challenges you choose to accept, or risks you chance to take are personal decisions. Each to their own! Whatever floats your boat! But I don’t always find that decision so simple! I am tempted by the thrill that comes with riding the challenge and the reward that comes when you have done so successfully! I am tempted by the idea of starting a horse fresh or fixing a problem horse so that he can go on to have a better life…. at the same time, I want to walk the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, I want to hike Blacktusk and cycle Kettle Valley, I want to ride a camel before the pyramids and stand in awe at the foot of Niagara Falls. I have other dreams and aspirations, outside of the realm of horses. So I aught to take what care I can to ensure that the risk and reward ratio horses tempt me with does not one day inhibit my ability to explore other aspects of life.
Horses aught to come branded with a “handle with care” stamp! Don’t you think? It is downright silly to consider it faux pas to acknowledge or talk about how dangerous horses can be. Do not allow the brash and the bold to belittle your concerns, do no be scared to acknowledge your fear or to allow it to motivate you to caution but do be careful to not allow fear to control or rule your thoughts and actions. I believe that horses are worth the risk and that a health amount of respect and fear keeps me safe.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way…. my itch to challenge horses beyond my ability is what led to the torn cartilage in my knee, an injury that has stopped me from doing some things that I love… like wearing high heels.
And I love a great pair of heels, don’t you?
So, for goodness sakes, be careful!!