2011-03-31 / Education

‘Real Horsemanship’

By Rachel Baumgardner

Students at Houghton Lake High school are challenged to improve their skills in written communication. The following essay, written by eleventh grader Rachel Baumgardner, is from our unit on comparing and contrasting. Using Anne Fadiman’s essay “Never Do That to a Book” as a model, the students experimented with anecdote, rhetorical questions, and hyperbole to compose an essay that has a light, humorous tone.

When I was thirteen and my sister was ten, my cousins came up to visit our horses and go for a trail ride. They were nice people from Maine who owned a few prestigiously bred Hanoverians — a breed I had only seen on TV. They came in a huge horse trailer, polished and newly painted, and parked it next to our barbedwire cow fence, directly across from the fertilizer pile and the broken refrigerator (home to a few ground squirrels). The youngest cousin, two years older than me, was nice enough to keep quiet. Her mother however, almost couldn’t mask her disdain. “What are you running here? This isn’t a horse farm!”

Right then and there, my mother was furious. Our family has a long line of western-born horse lovers. My grandmother allowed free rein to her Quarter Horse around their 120-acre backyard, and the horse still did phenomenal in roping competitions.

That day, I realized that the differences between the Western discipline and the English were vast. Simple differences like large training barns, “pastures” vs. “paddocks,” and even style of dress can mold how these people love horses. The Western has its roots in cowboys, cows and ranches. We use our horses for rounding up cattle, fixing fences, and they become our best friends. English riders have prestigious barns, and nearly worship their horses (when the horse presents a profit). They would think it a horrendous act to do anything but compete with the horse. As a Western rider, the horse is ridden, worked, camped with, and trained into an apt tool just as the tractor is to a farmer. Without them, we are on our own. Sure, we compete in barrel races, roping, cutting; but our roots will always be on the ranch.

It’s foolish to even attempt to sit on a horse on an English “saddle,” if it can be called that. The balderdash is barely a piece of leather strapped onto the 600 lb. beast and given little metal stirrups as an assistant. I can’t imagine anyone larger than an elf could stay on, let alone a 130 lb. human. That hazardous contraption, said to be “elegant,” is nothing compared to the Western saddle. Cowboys rode long, tiring miles on their ranch and needed something comfortable, practical. Thus came the La-Z-Boy on horseback. It was sturdy in the hot weather, and could be used heavily for years and years. Later, the westernized, rough men and women added silver to the leather, creating a show saddle. Bling on the saddle is how we represent ourselves — showy, outrageous, and yet still rough.

Not only that, but our attire makes more sense than the pompous English riders. My father is hardly anywhere without his cowboy hat. The sun and the bugs are kept away as he farms, but if an accident were to happen, he’d take it off before he hit the ground, of course (a dirty cowboy hat is hard to wash!). He would scoff at the ridiculous hunt caps of the English, laugh at the safely beige leggings. We insist on jeans, the more worn and torn the better. Our shirts button at the collar, and the patterns are often bad enough to gain attention in a crowded room. Instead of safe, mundane neutral tones, the most desirable patterns are ones that dazzle and glitter, cause nausea, and shine all at the same time. In fact, I went on a shopping trip with a good high school friend, and I picked out a shirt to model. One look and she exclaimed, “That’s horrid!” I bought it not a moment later and wore it to the show that Saturday.

Why do these imperial men and women make their horses dance in Dressage competitions? What practical use does this bring to society? Our horses, real horses, have use and purposes. They don’t just leap over bushes or dance from point X to A like prim sissies! What do the English riders do for best friends, lawnmowers, or fertilizers? Our horses are all of the above, and possibly more. My pen pal once wrote to me, “I was going to take my horse out for a ride today, but the dust would’ve gotten my boots dirty…” I fought the urge to jump into my horse pasture, full of mud, and send her a picture of the barbaric atrocity. She may have had a small epileptic episode, so I avoided the matter — and did it without the photographic evidence.

Of course, there is an obvious downside to the good ol’ Western ways. We’re often harshly stereotyped with the Southern Hillbillies and ignorant Confederates. While I can’t speak for everyone, I know that I’m not. That doesn’t stop my friends (horse lovers or no) from terrorizing me with jokes and cracks that make them all snicker. Being part of the superior-thinking, England originated style of riding may be better to live with. Not many understand that our way of loving horses is built around the cowboys, the ones who literally made a living with their horses. The day began before the sun rose, getting on the horse, and not dismounting until late when the campfire burnt out. Those are the people to respect. It was people like Roy Rogers, a western actor and one of the best. He purchased the equally famous horse called “Trigger” after bonding with him on the set. Tired of the high-maintenance, hot-blood breeds of English descent, he chose the Quarter Horse for his “laid-back” and “friendly” persona. “When you’re young and fall off a horse, you may break something. When you’re my age, you splatter,” he once said, grinning. “I just can’t deal with the hyper ones anymore.”

In short, it’s hard to see myself in a helmet, leaping over properly trimmed bushes—I’ll always be a Western rider. I enjoy the world where a “little doggie” isn’t a Jack Russell and chaps have leather fringe. No matter what my cousins hold their nose about… my spurs will always jingle when I walk.

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