Working on this week’s TV show about the Budweiser Clydesdales got me to thinking about why big horses allow us puny humans to control them. I’ve heard it speculated that they simply don’t know how strong they are. That may be true. There are many things horses don’t “know” the way we humans know them.
What horses do know – and we conclude this by observing them – is that it’s very important to be able to move one’s feet freely. In fact, in the horse’s world free movement is more than important; it’s an obsession. It is the key to living another day.
Accepting this fact about the horse’s nature is where every horseman’s journey must start. It’s why so much emphasis is placed these days on groundwork, for it is through groundwork that the horseman proves he can control the horse’s movement. Riding then becomes much simpler.
Note that control comes not from the horseman’s weight, muscular strength, or athletic prowess. It comes from understanding, respecting, and expertly using the horse’s nature as a unique animal species. We cannot force a horse to do anything but we can manipulate conditions to where it becomes easiest for him to do our bidding. Our idea becomes his idea. Outthinking the horse, rather than overpowering him, is the horseman’s stock-in-trade.
Horses do not think the way we do, but they do understand this basic truth: a creature that can control the movement of my feet is worthy of my respect. A creature that can do it without making me fear for my safety is worthy of my trust. Someone I respect and trust is someone I will follow, no matter how big he or she may be.