Saturday, May 16, 2009

The chrome don't get you home

The chrome don’t get you home

My son is what you might call a Motor Head. Although his job is and has always been working with horses, his love, so unlike mine, is motors. Riding anything with a motor, working on motors, playing with motors, getting better with motors. You know. So, this expression I borrow from him.

Ah, but how it relates to horsemen!

Maybe you’ve seen it: the person who arrives at a clinic or lesson or group ride with the fanciest of tack, all decked out in the finest of gear.

Maybe you’ve even been there… done that….

For better or for worse, I haven’t. I haven’t had the money to spend on fancy tack. Perhaps one day I will. I’m not saying I’m proud of my bridles repaired with copper rivets and leather laces. But in the meanwhile, they work. And I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what my headstall looks like, who made my saddle, or what kind of bit I’m using. If I’m a good rider, and good at communicating with my horses, those things are nothing but fluff, nothing but “chrome.”

Good gear does not make a good rider. The horse and rider may look great standing around there in that fine gear. Oh! And they do! But once both get moving, the fancy gear doesn’t make that horse or rider perform any better.

I’ve mentioned before my intrigue in the revival of interest in the Bridle Horse. In theory, the tack meant something to the Vaquero or Californio rider. The tack represented an improvement, a refinement, and a polishing of the horse and rider. The finer tack was a clear representation (to others) of how far advanced horse and rider had evolved, based on the elegance and fine tuning of the work together, based on time working together and an amassing of skills.

My goal for refinement with my horses and in my own horsemanship is to be the best rider and trainer and horseman I can be… without gimmicks, without fancy gear, without spending a fortune on things that in the long run are not improving my horsemanship. If I can achieve the refined results I seek without all this fancy gear, this chrome, then I will feel I’ve really succeeded. But by putting on the fancy gear, and still not being the rider or horseman I want to be… I’m being as false as a coat of shiny paint on an old beater pick up.

Along those lines, I told you before how I was working to introduce my little stud horse, Flying Crow, to the traditional Hackamore. The next stage in my journey to Chromedom. Yesterday, he and I took our first ride out there in the Hackamore and we felt wonderful, smooth, controlled, understanding. But the day before, we were working together just on ground work with my sweet red mare, Tres (yes, still working on that “learning to lead, learning to follow” lesson). Crow was decked out in all the finest: a hand tied rope halter, and home spliced lead rope. Not too fancy. No chrome there.

When my husband offered to go for a quick trail ride with me, I didn’t want to waste time changing gear, so just rode off up the mountain with Crow in that halter. We worked together beautifully. I was pleased with the lightness and ease of communication between the horse and I. I can’t say I “felt” any difference with the old rope halter as I did with the lovely hackamore. I imagine my horse did not either. If anything, I know the halter “felt” only lighter, more comfortable to him.

I guess what I’m trying to figure out here is although my goal is a great refinement, I would like to achieve this fine-tuning with my skills and abilities, not with my tack. I would like to be able to communicate with my horse just as smoothly, effortlessly and elegantly in an old rope halter, or even bridleless, as I could in a spade bit. And as such, I would personally feel as if I was a better horseman, relying more on my personal strengths and weaknesses, not on any fancy bit.