So, I’m sitting in front of my laptop “writing a blog”…  In reality?  I’m sitting in front of my laptop playing mahjong…  The subtle art of procrastination…  I’m just letting my mind drift while along while I think what to say – right?  Hmmm…  But, actually, the answer was right there, in my game.  The version that I’m playing ends each completed game with a fortune cookie that, when cracked open gives you your cheesy motto for the day…  I was debating how to write about a lesson I taught a few weeks ago, how to begin, and suddenly the right way to start bounced out of my “Congratulations on Winning” fortune cookie…

Ask not if you are doing this thing right, but if you are doing the right thing!”

A lady walked her horse into my arena, all dressed up and ready to go.  She was a new client, had obviously randomly heard there was a clinic and booked a slot, since none of my regular people knew her.  The problem for me, was, she had arrived with her horse tied down with a pair of draw reins.

I began, as ever…  “So, tell me…  Who are you; who is your horse; what’s your story; what brought you here; what’s up?!”  She chatted for a few minutes – started riding later in life, worked hard, saved hard, after her kids left home and she had time and money, bought herself her dream pony, the one that she had thought about on and off since she was little.  So here, at 50+, she sat, a novice rider with her first pony.  All good, well done to her.  So what, I asked, would you most like to get from today, I asked as her very quiet pony plodded a track around me.

“Well”, she began, and addressed the elephant in the room…  She had learnt to ride at the local riding school, on school horses.  She’d ridden them in simple snaffle bridles with one rein and felt pretty confident in how she was coping with keeping her hand quiet, still and organized.  Then, she’d taken the plunge and bought her pony.  (I have a tendency to call all equines ponies, but this really was a pony, a stocky little cob gelding, who looked as if, if the Hounds of the Baskerville charged him, he may just about break into a jog).  She’d had him a couple of weeks and was beginning to hack out, exploring the local rides.  She was lucky enough to have some great off road riding around her.  And then, her friend and the friend’s teenage daughter came to visit.  The daughter had a jumping pony, who was “hot and exciting, always leaping around as if the ground was on fire” and this girl rode her pony in draw reins, especially hacking, since it was “the only way to be safe”.  She’d advised (as only a 14 year old with vast experience can) that it was dreadfully unsafe to go out with draw reins, and a flash noseband.  And now, here was our rider, coming to ask me – “Am I using these two pars of reins right?”

I looked at her long suffering pony, standing there half asleep, no thought of charging off or flinging his head, with his chin pulled into his chest and my fortune cookie thought was floating through my head – why is she asking me if she is using two reins right, when she would be better off asking me, is it right to use two reins?

“Imagine”, I began “driving a formular one racing car.  Those drivers wear fire resistant, spinal supporting suits, thick gloves and helmets with face shields”

“Yes”, she relied

“So, do you wear a fire suit, gloves and a helmet to driver your Mini to the shopping centre?”

“No, of course not!”

Everything is relative.  Riders of racing mountain bikes who hurl them selves off the top of mountains wear far superior helmets and protection to the person riding their standard bike around the park on a Sunday afternoon.  I remember when I was planning my bumble up Kili, I went into a chain of budget quality sports equipment warehouse and quickly realized that their £19.99 hiking trainer was not going to cut it.  And the £300 pair I did buy would have been over kill for the occasional dog walk.

We discussed the effects of draw reins (by now, yes, I had removed them), why, in my opinion NO horse should be wearing them and what they are actually for and do.  I asked her to compare her pony with the friend’s daughter’s pony.  That jumping pony – maybe it does need it’s pelham, flash and possibly a martingale for hacking (although some lessons would probably be of more benefit – let’s not go there).  But that pony and her pony, they were very different models….  Did she feel safe on her pony?  Yes.  Did she feel in control?  Yes.  Did she buy him on the advise of her riding school instructor, because he was a safe, snaffle mouthed, bombproof, hacking school master?  Yes.  Had he ever threatened to bolt, rear, buck, swing his head around or behave badly?  (As I watched him raising an indignant eyebrow at me – the stupidity of a human suggesting such a waste of energy – really).  Did she hack out wearing a riding helmet, Hi-Viz vest, and good boots, while he wore a properly fitted bridle and saddle?  Of course.

So, maybe the question shouldn’t be, am I using these draw reins right, but rather am I doing the right thing using these draw reins?

I’m very happy to say that we continued our lesson; the pony woke up and had some fun when his chin wasn’t tied to his chest; our intrepid rider had a ball, laughed, figured stuff out and organized her body, and the draw reins staying hanging over the arena fence.  Yes, she took them home with her (tied like a neckstrap around the pony’s neck) but she only took them home to avoid littering the centre.  She intended to add spring clip to one end and use them as a longer dog lead for her puppy who was not ready to go lead-less in the dog park.

How many times should we be questioning what we are doing, rather than how?

Right, I’m off for another round of Mahjong – who knows what is going to come out of my fortune cookie this time – it’s all just about research!

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