It???s Only Fun Until the Rodeo Starts

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    One of the problems inherent with living in a horsekeeping community is literally living in a horsekeeping community. Honestly, sometimes I envy those of you who board your horses at a rigidly supervised stable or live with your horses on a ranch out in the wide open country. Then you aren’t constantly rubbing stirrups with other riders who, for lack of a better term, disrupt your horseback riding mojo.

    Over the last couple of months I’ve had a few instances where I began to wonder what exactly is going on with the commonsense courtesy and horsemanship skills (or lack thereof) with some of the riders out here. Basically I’m talking about riders who are somewhere between careless and clueless. They tend to ride at one speed: Gallop. Their horses seem to fit in one of two categories: Barely broke youngsters outfitted in makeshift tack, or prancing stallions with an eye on procreation. If this is what these people call “fun” on horseback, so be it. I’d just appreciate it if their craziness doesn’t spill over into my life.

    Just in case you’ve had some of the same experiences, I’ve formulated two theories about these wango tango riders. I’m not sure which one is correct. Maybe both are.

    A) They honestly don’t mean any harm. No one ever explained to them that running their horse at warp speed is not a good thing, especially not on crowded public bridle paths or up the tail end of another horse that’s casually cruising around an arena.

    B) They really don’t care how their riding and the behavior of their horse adversely affects you, your riding and the behavior of YOUR horse. If you can’t control your horse while theirs is zipping around like Zenyatta on crack, too bad.

    Want a specific example? Just the other day, my friends Natalie and Julie were riding with me in the public arena behind my house. Natalie was on Dunzy, her grulla gelding who amicably travels in slow motion. Julie was on Junior, her teenaged, semi-retired western pleasure show horse. And I was riding Danny, whose concept of being frisky is typically expressed with nothing more than a brisk trot for three minutes. The three of us were having a good time, chatting while leisurely working our horses through circles and leg yields and side-passes. At some point, we began talking about how much we enjoy working with our horses; even though we trail ride, we also like spending time getting our horses supple and relaxed and listening to our aids. One of us (I’m not sure who) said, “Unfortunately, all you ever see on TV or in the movies are people running their horses at full speed, so that’s what a lot of folks want to do as soon as they get a horse or start to ride. They just want to go fast.”

    Right on cue here came a young guy on a half-broke, little gray filly. Her tail was short and stubby, as if it’d been chewed off by another baby in the pasture, and her head was flipped skyward, snubbed in place by the nylon rope tie-down that ran between her narrow front legs. He approached the arena at a dead run, galloping down the long, steep hill, a wake of red dust kicked up by the filly’s heels. He careened around the tight turn without slowing down. When he reached the gate the filly halted splay-legged at the barrier in her path.

    Fearing a rodeo, Natalie, Julie and I picked up our reins and headed for the gate to leave. Like a chorus, all three of us said to the guy on the revved up filly, “Wait! Before you come in, just let us get out of here, okay?”

    We couldn’t seem to file out of the gate quickly enough. The young man waited politely. In fact, he seemed perplexed that none of us wanted to stay in the arena while he joined us. But our horses, the sedate, mannerly nags that they usually are, were becoming amped up and energized by some kind of hyperkinetic aura emanating from the wiry little filly. She was rigid with anticipation, ready to spring into the arena like a race horse out of a starting gate. That animated our three geldings, so much that they began to lift their tails and arch their necks. Oh joy.

    Natalie looked back over her shoulder and said to the guy, “Just please let us get around the corner before you take off, okay?”

    He nodded, smiled, and tipped the brim of his cowboy hat. He truly didn’t seem to comprehend that his rowdy riding and his filly’s wild-eyed body language was unnerving our horses. In keeping with his character, however, he slapped the ends of his reins across the gray’s neck and shot into the arena, barely squeezing past us as she bolted forward. We all heard him exclaim cheerfully to his filly, “Come on, Chica! Let’s ride!”

    And off they went at the gallop.

    And off we went with our horses, each of our geldings a little puffed up at the walk.

    See? It’s rarely a dull moment living in a horsekeeping community. But since much of it is beyond my control, I try to make light of a potentially calamitous event. Every now and then, when I see Natalie or Julie on the trails, it’s a contest to see which one of us is the first to say, “Come on, (insert the name of our horse here), let’s ride!”

    At the end of the day, I realize that not everyone agrees on the best, right way to ride a horse. Plus, there’s a wide spectrum of what each of us defines as fun, challenging, rewarding or productive when it comes to riding. But I do think that every rider has a responsibility to make their horse’s welfare a top priority. After that, maybe keeping in mind the safety and serenity of other horses and riders might be nice, too.

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    10 COMMENTS

    1. Out east, I think people lack the same consideration for their horses, but in a completely different way. Here, we see riders who have absolutely no regard for their horses’ mental well-being and just ride them in circle after circle, over the same ground routines and obstacles every day. They never get out of the arena, not even for a nice romp around the pasture if their horse isn’t the trail type. It looks terrible to me. Then they look down their noses at us trail riders as if we have no technical skill. It just makes me angry. I want to warn them that that’s how so many horses get ring sour, but it’s not like they’d listen.

    2. I feel for you! Even though I don’t live in a horse riding community, I see enough of this at my local riding school to make me sick. My number one pet peeve is people cutting in front of me. When there’s literally only three people in a decent-sized arena, NO, you DO NOT need to put your horse’s butt right in front of my horse’s nose. Or when the “faster” horse goes in front and they’re actually about a million miles slower or suddenly seem to slow down :/. My second biggest one is people stealing my cross-ties/pole. Just because the layout of cross-ties/poles is like this: Here’s the horse that bites you, here’s the horse that bites your horse, this one’s a billion miles from the tack room, this one has a veritable obstacle course on the way to the tack room, this one’s awesome, this one’s ok. Repeat if need be. If I’ve used it all week every day every ride without fail, IT IS MY CROSS-TIE.
      Ok, ok, I’m good, lol!

    3. I blame the movies and music videos! All you see is this image of people at full gallop then suddenly hitting a dead slidding stop. It’s not real and it’s not right. Also many families have no idea which end of a horse is which. So they think they can just hop on a horse, ride how they want and hop off….like an ATV. Again it’s not right! The lack of respect and concern is just too much to take sometimes. I was never allowed to treat any animal that way. I’m 23 and many people my age make me sick with their lack of concern about animals of any kind. We need more people who care and take the time to learn about the horses they plan on riding/owning, and more parents who say no when they see their children treating animals badly.

    4. I can’t tell you how often I deal with this kind of thing. Hordes of unsupervised young teens careening up behind you on narrow trails and almost crashing into your horse. Self-taught middle aged beginner riders with minimal control trying to run the barrels and cutting you off when they run so wide they almost hit the rail.
      The worst are the self-proclaimed “trainers” who think it’s fun to yank, spur, and crank on their terrified, bullied and angry horses deliberately into your path. Seriously, one guy who is a well known “trainer” in our area was intentionally trying to run or back his horse into my student’s horse while I was teaching a lesson in a public arena. When she was forced to take evasive action, he actually laughed at her and smiled at me. He kept harassing us until we finally gave up and left.
      Another such “trainer” thought that it was fun to sideswipe me and my students; and if we staked out a small area of the large public arena, he would send HIS students into our way to disrupt us until we gave in and left. When I tried to ask him to politely respect our right to ride also, he assured me that he was sorry, and would stop, and then immediately resumed having his horse and his student’s horses sideswiping us. When I confronted him, he laughed in my face, and I made a formal complaint to the park management. But these kinds of things are commonplace.
      The most disturbing people to share trails or an area with are the “charro” riders. These riders break horses younger than two, tie them to poles with a rider on, and beat them with sticks or whips to make them “dance”. Then they “dance” their horses all over town, yanking on their mouths with Cathedral and Spade bits, literally bloodying their sides with sharpened spurs, running them into trees or fences to make them rear and spin, hitting their hind ends with sticks to make them buck and kick. One charro in my area actually rode a horse to death several years ago by galloping him on trail in 100 degree heat until the horse collapsed. We only have Animal Control, and they deal almost exclusively with small domestic animals, not livestock, so repeated calls, complete with photo and video evidence of the abuse has yet to yield any results from the authorities. Even sending evidence into the police and submitting a statement has only earned me the response of “not everyone agrees as to what good horse training is.”
      So Cindi, I really do feel your pain. It’s so sad that the ignorant, the mean, the stupid, and the abusive share the trails and arenas with those of us who want to enjoy our horses in a safe and fun environment.

    5. THANKS FOR ALL THE COMMENTS! APPARENTLY I’M NOT THE ONLY ONE WHO WISHES MORE RIDERS WOULD DEMONSTRATE COMMON COURTESY AND PLAIN OL’ ETIQUETTE ON THE TRAILS AND IN THE ARENA.
      SAMANTHA, YOU MENTIONED THAT YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH CHARROS IN YOUR AREA. UGH. DON’T GET ME STARTED ON THE WHOLE CHARRO ISSUE. *SIGH*
      I BELIEVE I UNDERSTAND– AND EVEN APPRECIATE– THE LONG TRADITION OF HORSEMANSHIP THAT GOOD VAQUEROS REPRESENT. BUT CHARROS (PERHAPS DUE TO THEIR ASSOCIATION WITH MEXICAN RODEO EVENTS) EXUDE AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT DEMEANOR. WHY DO THEY INSIST ON RIDING PRANCING, BARELY BROKE STALLIONS, MANY OF WHICH ARE NOT BREEDING QUALITY ANIMALS? MEANWHILE, THE REST OF US ENJOY RIDING COMPLIANT YET SPIRITED HORSES. AND WE CALL THEM “GELDINGS.”

    6. Cindi – I have great respect for the Vaquero tradition. Taking years to mold the perfect working partner into a true “bridle horse”, slowly and progressively is a beautiful thing. I’ve seen true Vaqueros working their horses, and it’s inspiring. But the Charros are very, very different it seems, and do not share the same respect for the horse that the Vaqueros they so poorly imitate. It may be different elsewhere, and I’m sure as with any group there are good riders who are kind to their animals and call themselves “charro” but sadly, I’ve yet to meet them.
      And frankly, in my area, trail riding just isn’t as fun as it once was. There are so many people, riders, mountain bikers, hikers, and campers, who have no respect for the other people sharing the trails. I’ve actually gotten to where I will usually trailer out to “trail ride” on the bridle paths in town, rather than hit the park’s trail system, because at least the bridle paths are flat and open with visibility that allows you to better anticipate potential problems with other trail users.

    7. HEY, I’M WITH YOU, SAMANTHA! I DON’T EVEN BOTHER TO TRAIL OUT TO PARKS ANYMORE BECAUSE THEY’RE SO POORLY SUPERVISED AND OVERRUN BY NON-EQUESTRIANS WHO SEEM “PUT OUT” THAT THEY HAVE TO SHARE THE OUTDOORS WITH A HORSE. THE IDEA OF A MULTI-USE PUBLIC TRAIL SYSTEM SOUNDS GOOD, BUT IT RARELY WORKS IN REAL LIFE. SO I’M USUALLY SPENDING MY TRAIL TIME AROUND HERE, TOO, WHERE THE TRAILS ARE TRUE BRIDLE PATHS.
      AS FOR WHAT YOU WROTE ABOUT VAQUEROS: DITTO. 🙂

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