I recently found a file of articles written about Latigo that I’ve clipped and saved for the past 25 years. This was written by a first-time guest, and I thought it was profound when I read it in 1995. It still is.
“Lately I’ve learned a lot about horses. And humans. Our family was vacationing in Colorado at a guest ranch. It wasn’t my idea. The thought of spending a week in the mountains without my work sounded like a sacrifice for the sake of my family. But knowing that such sacrifices must be made, I agreed to go along. I brought a thick book.
As it turned out, I didn’t get much of that book read. Horses were happening.
I think it was the education, the sensitivity training about horses that intrigued me. I saw it happening to the other vacationers, too. The wranglers were good, they cared about the horses, and they did not want them to get messed up by a group of fledgling riders. So they took pains to tell us what would make them run, or walk, or operate in any way. It was classroom instruction before riding, but the seats were rails of the corral fence.
They talked about the bit and how it works in the horse’s mouth; how the horse puts up with it and learns how the rider is using it to express his will for turning right or left. We learned how the horse would really rather not have his mouth yanked at all, so if the rider can just send a little hint, the horse will likely obey before it gets any worse.
It isn’t always that way. Sometimes the horse has his own idea of what’s best and where he should go. If the rider isn’t firm, or sends mixed messages, frustration arises – on both sides of the saddle. But if the horse finds he can get away with the less-than-perfect way, that’s just going to make it harder for the next rider.
To make the horse go takes a kick in the side. I’ve always known that. What I didn’t know was how little a kick it takes when the horse and rider know each other well. Actually, it can take as little as a squeezing of the knees. Pull on the reins to stop, but not too hard. When he obeys he’s responding to the hope of pain stopping as much as anything.
Riding a horse isn’t like riding a motorcycle. The horse has a mind and a personality. You don’t just turn him on and go; you have to respect him, learn how he thinks, and maintain consistent control.
In the best horse and rider relationship, the rider needs to send just the slightest signal for the horse to obey. A horse can even get to the point where he knows what the rider will want to do without commands being given.
I’d like to think that I could become that meek, that sensitive to what my master wants, and that I’d be ready to do his bidding with little coercion.
I learned another thing about horses; not all of them are so obedient or responsive, even with able horsemanship. I had one for part of the week that moved along without much nudging, but when he came to a creek, he would go no farther. Though other horses would wade or jump across, Happy Jack would suddenly cease being a horse and become a mule.
I also rode another horse that was good in every way. He was the kind of horse described at the end of Job – majestic and fearless. Dakota was known among the wranglers as obedient, dependable, intelligent, strong and gentle. He’d move at the slightest signal; he was a delight to ride and talk about.
It occurred to me that there are three kinds of horses: the untrained, the trained but independent, and the trained and obedient. The latter, of course, is the noble one. He’s the one who has gotten beyond the need to express his independence by disobedience and has learned to obey his master out of trust and habit.
Whichever the category, he gets a reputation. It occurred to me that we are also gaining a reputation among those around us and by Him who sees all things perfectly. It would seem it pleases Him to be able to say, “Do you see my servant? He is blameless and upright, always goes where I want him to go, and jumps a creek when we get to one.”
I enjoyed Happy Jack, despite his weakness, but it was Dakota that gave me the greatest pleasure.
Like I said, I didn’t get much reading in that week, but I did do some learning.